Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

| 14 Jul 2022
Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

Hans Glas knew what to do next.

It was 1956. His Goggomobil had been an instant success, knocking his microcar rivals into touch by offering a real car in miniature, just at the moment when West Germans were going off motorcycles.

With the economy of the Federal Republic thriving, what was needed was a bigger model to which Goggo owners could trade up.

Something to rival the increasingly old fashioned 600cc Lloyd, and maybe – why not? – head off a few people who might otherwise have spent a bit more on a Volkswagen Beetle.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The Glas T600 and T700 had the tough job of following the very successful Goggomobil

You see the result here, and you can’t help thinking that with the T600 and T700 the ambitious Bavarian firm had hit its target spot-on.

Germany, as elsewhere, was moving away from the lumpy first generation of pontoon-styled saloons towards something crisper and more American.

Ford of Germany’s edgy Taunus 17M, unveiled in August ’57, would herald that change, in company with the 1958-season Opel Rekord.

The ‘big Goggomobil’ fitted in perfectly, its swooping chrome trim, duotone paint and panoramic ’screen neatly echoing the presentation of these exciting new mid-sized saloons.

All Karl Borgward could manage was a late-life tart-up to his Lloyd, sadly summed up by a rather pathetic attempt to make the car look less roly-poly by giving it new fin-like tail-lights.

BMW, meanwhile, was stuck with its mega-Isetta, the 600.

The advantage was clearly with Glas.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

This Glas T700 saloon wears its original part-buttoned vinyl trim

Or so it appeared, at any rate, when the T600 was introduced at the autumn 1957 Frankfurt show.

In fact, the newcomer from Dingolfing was to prove a disappointment to its maker, and set in motion the ultimate demise of the company 10 years later, when it was taken over by BMW.

Perhaps commentators should have started feeling uneasy when the first production models were seen, in June ’58.

At the Frankfurt show the T600 had front-wheel drive and independent rear suspension.

Yet the lightly restyled T700 that was put on sale a bare nine months later had drive to the rear wheels and a conventional leaf-sprung live back axle.

Rushing through such a radical change of direction ought to have set alarm bells ringing: what sort of an impact would that have had on pre-production testing?

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The Glas T700 estate’s rearmost windows can be opened

Alas, the answer wasn’t long in coming.

Early owners found that the monocoque developed cracks at the A-post and leaks around the ’screen.

The air-cooled flat-twin overheated, to the point that the cowling distorted.

Questionable front suspension geometry led to premature tyre wear.

With the twin Bing carburettors then fitted, fuel consumption was wretched at about 28mpg.

Word inevitably got out and the cars acquired a poor reputation, one they would never shake off.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

Out of the 87,000 Glas T600s and T700s produced, only 14,275 were estates

The sadness is that the T600/700 was basically a respectable design.

Nor was it necessarily a bad thing that it had abandoned front drive, supposedly because of nose-heavy handling.

Going to rear drive can only have lowered production costs, but it also made the Goggo the only German small car with this configuration.

This was a marketing advantage, it was felt, because it aligned the T600/700 with more prestigious cars rather than tiddly rear-engined yoghurt-pots or ring-a-ding front-drive two-strokes.

The heart of the car was its flat-twin.

This was inspired by the BMW motorcycle engine, and was the work of Leonhard Ischinger – a leading BMW engineer who had been responsible for the all-alloy V8 of the ‘Baroque Angel’.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The Glas’ spare wheel can stow under the bonnet, thanks to the low-set engine and clever conical air filter unit

Delivering 20bhp in 584cc T600 form and 30bhp in the 688cc T700, the unit was mounted low down and mated to a slender-cased four-speed gearbox with Porsche-patent synchro on all four gears.

Front suspension was unusual.

An orthodox lower wishbone acted on coils with concentric telescopic dampers; beside these were rubber helper springs, brought into action under load.

The top wishbones, however, operated longitudinally, and were positioned well above the delicate swivel pins.

These were linked by a worm-and-sector steering box with a high-set two-piece track rod.

Quite why such an odd set-up was chosen is lost in the mists of time, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that wheel location risked being less than ideal.

At the rear, things were resolutely unexceptional, with the leaf-sprung axle damped by a pair of inclined telescopics, again backed up by rubber helpers.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

This Glas T700 saloon features the later type’s square-cut rear lights

For a rear-drive car, the mechanicals were compact, allowing a spacious cabin and a generous boot.

Ischinger had in particular set out to offer more luggage room than in the Beetle.

He also wanted performance to be on a par with the VW, achieved via lightweight construction: the T700 had a kerbweight of 12cwt, against 14.7cwt for a De Luxe Beetle. But the all-welded structure lacked the bolt-on wings of the Volkswagen.

Such were the Goggomobil T600 and T700 as launched in 1958. After the traumas of the first year, a revamped car was announced at the September 1959 Frankfurt show.

The engine and front suspension were revised, the body reinforced, the engine mountings re-thought, and the two Bings replaced by a single Solex.

At the same time a Kombi estate was announced, along with a cute S35 – sadly never made – using the body of the dinky rear-engined TS coupés over the floorpan and mechanicals of the T700.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The Glas T700 saloon’s diagonally split backrest allows for decent rear access

By then called the Goggomobil Isar, the cars were much improved, as Glas sought to underline by publicising the 1000km proving trip it had carried out in North Africa and Libya.

But the damage had been done.

After the 6740 made in 1958, output had hit 25,000 in ’59.

Never again would it approach such a figure, and in 1962 a mere 12,000 examples would leave the Glas works.

A facelift for the 1961 model year brought bigger square-cut rear lights for the saloon – and in ’62 for the estate.

In the latter year an unlimited-mileage one-year guarantee was offered on the engine, to assuage any lingering doubts about its reliability.

By that stage it was too late, though.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

‘They feel cheap but not cheapskate, with a quality clunk as the doors close’

The car was looking old-fashioned, and the German market place was more competitive than ever.

With Glas moving on to the bigger four-cylinder 1004, introduced for ’63, the only surprise is that the Isar lasted as long as it did.

But after output had fallen to 5000 units in ’64, the plug was pulled the following year.

In all, 87,000 had been made, when the break-even point was apparently 100,000.

Put another way, the profits made on the little cars had been lost by the bigger one.

Had Glas not stumbled with the T600/700, he might have been better able to support the costs of bringing his larger models to market, but by 1966 the company had run out of money.

With fewer than 100 survivors, of which 60 or so are in Germany, the chances of seeing an Isar are slim. They were, however, sold in Commonwealth countries as the Royal saloon and Esquire estate.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The Glas T700’s dashboard features minimal dials and no fuel gauge

A few years ago Goggomobil enthusiast Mike O’Ballance acquired just such a brace of 700s, imported from New Zealand.

Sadly, he died shortly after we photographed and drove them.

With their duotone paint and smart tubular bumpers, the Isars look chirpily good-natured: no wonder the bargain-basement single-colour Standard was a 1961-’62 two-year sales turkey.

Inside, the cars are sparse but well presented, with a dash that is neat but lacks a parcel shelf.

Only the saloon has armrests, and solely at the rear; on the estate, there is just a void between the edge of the seat and the side panel.

Yet the essentials are right: a comfortable split bench at the front, with a little wind-out stop to change the rake, and a neat slide mechanism using rollers.

The front is spacious, but the rear is tighter – fine only for small adults.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The Glas estate has a roomy boot

In compensation, the saloon boot is a good size and the estate luggage area simply huge for a car just 11ft 3in long; there was also a camper variant with individual front seats, allowing a 6ft bed to be created.

In all, the cars manage not to seem low-rent: they feel cheap but not cheapskate, an impression reinforced by the quality clunk as the doors close.

Slip behind the typically Germanic white wheel – the final cars had the black item and individual seats of the bigger ‘04’ series – and the first thing to confront you is a back-to-front gearchange gate, but you quickly adapt to it.

Start up, and there’s a twin-cylinder thrum reminiscent of a Fiat 500.

You soon find that the little knitting-needle of a lever – allied to a smooth clutch – slots beautifully from gear to gear, and drops lightly back into third whenever required.

That’s quite often, because top is relatively high, and third is the most usable – and used – ratio.

On the level, the cars struggle to pull top at 30mph, but performance is reasonably impressive if you use the gearbox.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

This T700 estate is an earlier model with the first style of tail-light

It doesn’t take much to hit an indicated 55mph, and a 60mph cruise is happy enough. At that speed the car is about 10mph inside its maximum and the engine is quite vocal; stick to 50mph and it’s much more contented.

Around town or out in the country are, in any case, more the natural habitats of the cars than along the motorway, enabling you as they do to profit from the flat-twin’s 40-45mph sweet spot when the soundtrack smooths out.

On the open road, chassis behaviour is fine.

The steering is light and quick, and the ride generally comfortable.

Rough sections do get the cars a bit out of shape, jouncing around on undulating surfaces.

The brakes – always all-drum, right to the end of production – give no cause for worry.

I came away from the T700s impressed by what pleasant, usable things they are.

Classic & Sports Car - Glas T700: the Goggomobil grown up

The snazzy two-tone paintwork seems to suit both the Glas T700s well

Indeed, I thought I’d quite like one: they are not an effort to conduct; you’re not locked in mortal combat with the terrain, as with an early 2CV; they are zesty little cars, with decent accommodation, a big boot and straightforward but not crude trim.

Something such as a Ford 100E feels clumsy in comparison.

But when O’Ballance told me that he’d had five low-mileage engines to bits, and they’d all had bearing problems, the sad truth behind the Glas came bouncing back.

Whatever the virtues, reliability was an issue that stayed with the car all its life.

Later ones might well have been improved, but evidence suggests that there was still a way to go.

What a shame.

Images: Julian Mackie

This was originally in our January 2015 magazine; all information was correct at the date of original publication


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