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History of the Biggest Pre-War Hungarian Car Maker

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

by Paul Negyesi

During the last three decades of the 19th century the capitalist politicalm reached Hungary, the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. The government'spolicy to support the smaller and bigger businesses, lead to their blooming.The agriculture also started to develop, the harvest results were on therise. E.g. between 1871-1880 and 1901-1910 the productivity of the wheat rose60 per cent, the corn 60 per cent. But the industrial equipment wasn't enough for this level. Therefore in the 1870s the agricultural industry started to catch up. Especially the alcohol, the sugar and most of all the mill industry. The Hungarian mill industry was among the leaders in Europe. Due to the changes the grinding capacity doubled. The big-scale industrial development required the need for machine accessories, engines and otherparts. Most of the turner workmen were foreigners, Hungarian weren't trained to manufacture these kinds of equipments.

The government tried everything to help: they promised 15 years exemption of taxes to factories which manufacture goods Hungarians never produced before.

History of Podvinecz & Heisler

Among these economical circumstances met two young ambitious enterpreneur,the 25-year-old Dániel Podvinecz and the 24-year-old Vilmos Heisler andopened their showroom in 1884. Both of them came from the countryside andknew the lack of machines and accessories. So first they traded milling andthreshing machines but soon they added bigger machines to their offer. Whilethey traveled throughout the country they saw the possibilities in the millindustry. They supplied accesories to the mill-owners. They also realisedthat repairing these equipments would mean bigger profit. Both Podvinecz andHeisler got their trade licence as iron turners and machine repairers. Theyalso moved to bigger premises. From this moment they manufactured theaccessories themselves. Beside this they were open to repair any brokenmachine. They didn't actually built anything into the mill. This step wastaken in 1895, when the company name change to "Malomépészet és Gépgyár"(Mill-building and Machine factory). They covered Budapest and the regionaround, but not the whole country. When foreign companies appeared inHungary, they offered cheaper prices, because they were bigger, manufacturedmore etc. So the governent stepped up again and announced a few decrees toprotect the intern industry. Around the turn of the century steam was slowlyreplaced by petrol as the fuel of the engines. Podvinecz&Heisler realized theneed for these engines, bought some lands and built a whole new plant in1901. Here they tooled up to manufacture stationary engines. They did lots ofother goods but in small scale. The company wasn't profitable enough.

There are sources which indicate that they started assembling Leesdorfercars around 1901. Leesdorfer was an Austrian company, making cars underFrench, Amadee Bollee licence.

The first checked car, made by Podvinecz&Heisler was the Phönix. This wasthe German Cudell, made under licence. The Cudell was among the biggestcarmakers in Germany during the pioneer days. First they madevoiturettes after the DeDion pattern and then self-designed machines.They introduced the first OHV engined car in 1905.

As I mentioned before there weren't enough skilled workers available inHungary, but Podvinecz and Heisler managed to go along. The press didn'tdiscover their efforts, although at the 2nd Budapest International Autoshow,in 1905, one of their cars won a prize, the magazines wrote only a few wordsabout them.

Phönix 1906
    The following types were taken over from Cudell:
  1. - 10/12 bhp, 2-cylinder,sv, aircooled.
  2. - 4-cylinder: 12/14 bhp, 16/20 bhp, 20/24 bhp and 35/40 bhp.
    All of them were equipped with multitubular radiator, skinconed clutch, 3+1speed transmission, chain-drive, semi-elliptic springs and two-wheel brakes.Bodies weren't available, they were built by carriage builders.

After they won a prize at the aforementioned exhibition, the IndustrialCommittee of the Hungarian Automobil Club visited the factory. This meant anofficial approval and contacts to government circles. A report in thecontemporary article mentioned "two cars which are waiting to be transportedto Bukarest to advertise the awaking Hungarian industry". One Phönix won agold medal at the Bukarest International Fair.

But these cars were no match for the likes of Fiat, Mercedes and Benz. Wherethe big guns participated in races, advertised in magazines, the marketing ofPhönix didn't went so smoothly.

And the production was so small scale. To make things worse, economicalrecession raised its ugly head in 1907. The government created a newindustrial law, to save the Hungarian industry.

Looking at the bright future Podvinecz&Heisler asked loan from thePest Bank of Commerce. The Bank promptly provided the necessary fund,after rigorous examination of the company.

This allowed Podvinecz&Heisler to expand. In 1908 Podvinecz died. Heislerbecame the sole managing director.

With Heisler the company survived the problematic years and their carsbegan to be known.

Heisler discovered a new way of promotion:
On 16/20 HP chassis they built buses whose route was around the frequented villas of the Budapest elité. These comfortable and elegant buses guaranteed enough interest and free advertisement for the company.

To transport tourists during the summer holliday season they built a 45 bhpbus. Its capacity was 14 people, but it was only filled with passengersduring the summer. That's why they didn't built any more.

And here's passenger car from the early '10s:

45 HP engine, double-phaeton with American top. Look at the hand-craftedbody. It was kind of baroque and very elegant.

History of MÁG

In 1912 the company was transformed, the name was changed toMagyar Általános Gépgyár Rt (Hungarian General Machine Factory Ltd). As anabbrevation their cars were called MÁGs. Possible orders from the Post,the Army and other organizations promised enough orders to concentracteon cars.

When the Hungarian Post announced a competition to supply postal transportercars in 1912, MÁG was a sure winner: the possible competitors,Röck,Rába,MARTA were occupiedwith other orders. And their calculation was right: the Post commissionedthem to supply 200 chassises! They were designed by János, Csonka atalented Hungarian designer. Csonka entered one of these small, 10 bhpcars under his own brand to the 1912 Hungarian Small car competition whereit was the smallest car to enter. Despite this fact, it ran the course withoutany mechanical problem.

MÁGs, other, bigger model was the 25 bhp type, designed by Jenô (Eugene)Fejes. Fejes studied car-making in France at Westinghouse and thenwas employed at MARTA. Three of his 25 bhp MÁG tourers were entered at the1913 Tátra-Adria "Rallye". Two 2nd places and a third proved thedurability of the construction. But the first World War broke out...The MÁG cars were later called Magomobils, because a Swiss company, MAGintervened. The Swiss MAG made the Motosacoche motorcycles.

During the first World War the factory prospered: made airplane engines underAustro-Daimler licence and then complete airplanes. This required newbuildings. So they built a very big plant at the outskirts of Budapest,Mátyásföld.

After the lost War, MÁG was reorganized: ceased the cooperation with Austro-Daimler and concentrated again on cars.
Fejes, the chief-engineer soon left the company and established his owncar-making company.

First the pre-war, small 10 bhp model was re-introduced. In 1923 a totallynew MÁG appeared, the 20/25 bhp Magomobil. It was built under Germaninfluence. Later a 6-cylinder engine was also offered and the type wascalled Magosix:
MagosixMagosix Sport 1926

As You can see it broke no new ground in terms of technical innovations,but it was reliable.
Magomobil 1927 SportThe Budapest Taxi Company also employed MÁG cars in bigger quantities.These models were offered throughout the years.

Smaller developments were made, racing victories happened - but thefactory had a normal, healthy production level - in Hungarian conditions.

Although the government tried everything: asked all official organizations andbigger companies to prefer Hungarian-made vehicles (cars, trucks,motorcycles) they were more expensive than the competing brands from abroad.

MÁG and its owner, the Hungarian Loan Bank tried to introduce changes, butthen the economical recession brought the company down.

After and beside MÁG there were other companies which tried to make passengercars, like Rába under Praga licence but none were so succesful as MÁG(I keep repeating: among Hungarian circumstances). All in all about 2000passenger cars were made (a snack for Ford :-)), 150 trucks and autobusesand 1000 automobile engines. There's no definitive data on war-time airplaneproduction.

There are a few surviving MÁG cars, mostly from the mid-'20s. An early,Wohl-MÁG from 1919/1921 (it was called so because a batch of cars wereexported to Britain, where a certain Mr. Wohl handled the distribution)now rests in a private collection.