Hymer’s history as motorhome manufacturer stretches back nearly fifty years, although the company owes its existence to events at least another forty years earlier, in the last century. Herr Alfons Hymer (1897-1973) gained his diploma as a ‘Meister’ in the craft of coach building in 1921 in Ravensburg, Germany. He began to work independently within his parent’s business, initially specialising in farm carts, but then in 1924 he built a workshop and house in Bad Waldsee, also in Germany.
After marrying in 1925, Alfons expanded his activities into car repairs and started to sell ‘Aral’ petrol. His son, Erwin Hymer, born in July 1930, studied mechanical engineering and then joined the Dornier aircraft company in Spain, where he was one of the team responsible for the very successful DO27 short take-off and landing aeroplane. Later, still with Dornier, he moved to Munich where he developed the Dornier Delta bubble car. One of a crop of ‘micro-cars’
created in the 1950s to bring cheap motoring to the masses. His unusual four-seater design (two occupants faced forwards and two rearwards) was taken up and built by motorcycle manufacturers Zundapp as the ‘Janus’.
In 1956 Erwin Hymer made a timely move to join his father’s firm in Bad Waldsee, back in Germany. Alfons Hymer had just bought land from his neighbour Erich Bachem to extend his works. Bachem not only was another man with an aircraft industry background, in 1944/45 he had headed the ‘Natter’ rocket-assisted interceptor aircraft project, but had, together with Wolf Hirth, built a small caravan, the ‘Aero-Sport’, in 1938. Now he had new ideas for a caravan for his own use and had asked Hymer senior to build it for him. Alfons put his son in charge of the project and the result brought together Erich’s and Erwin’s thoughts on caravan design, which was influenced in no small measure by their aircraft industry experience..
Caravanning only started to take off in Germany in the mid-1930s. After the war there were more pressing priorities and caravan construction was slow to revive, but by the mid-fifties an upturn was underway. The Hymer/Bachem team were quick to appreciate the possibilities stemming from their first design exercise and prototype caravans were ready in 1957 in time for the Hymer and Bachem families to be able to check out their practicality on their summer holidays.
Now the Hymer family business was to take a new direction. It would build the caravans and Erich Bachem would market them. The name for the new caravan was derived from a combination of their names, ER
Ich and Bachem; hence the ERIBA caravan was born. Production of the caravans began in February 1958. In fact the Hymer workshops built the ‘Puck Luxus’,MOTORHOME‘Faun Standard’ and the ‘Faun Familia’ models, whilst the ‘Troll Luxus’ top-of-the-range model, based on the caravan created for Bachem’s personal use, was at first put out for manufacture by the glider makers Schempp-Hirth. By the second half of the year one Eriba caravan was being built every day; the annual total was 167.
In 1959 output rose to 455 units and it wasn’t loo long before the magic figure of 1000 a year was achieved. Sadly, however, Erich Bachem did not live to enjoy the meteoric rise of his partnership with the Hymer. He died in 1960 after a severe illness. His friend Armand F. Protzen took over as head of the Eriba marketing organisation. From touring caravans the next logical step for Hymer was a motor caravan.
Although Westfalia had paved the way for the post-war motor caravan industry in Europe with their ‘Camping Box’ conversion of the Volkswagen Transporter, and had moved on to refine their concept, there was a decade later, still no other volume producer in Germany.
Erwin Hymer picked a vehicle with rather more conversion potential than the VW with its ‘layout-constraining’ rear engine. His choice was the Borgward B611, a forward control,MOTORHOME3.5-tonne van nearly 17 feet long, over six-and-a-half wide, offering over 11 feet of flat floor length. Lack of adequate headroom could be overcome by using a pop-up roof of the kind already fitted to most Eriba caravans. The engine options,MOTORHOME42PS diesel or 60PS petrol, provided performance considered more than adequate in 1961.
Three layouts were planned for the Borgward ‘Caravano’. up front were two couches facing a central table and converting to a double bed; for youngsters a bed could be rigged in the cab and a sideboard unit at the rear opened up to form the fourth berth. At the rear was the sink/drainer and hob, a 60-litre fridge, wardrobe and storage for two gas bottles.
One layout provided a toilet cubicle with foldaway basin, chemical toilet and a folding door to increase the enclosed space, while there was also a gas fired heater. The floor plans were similar to those of the period built in Britain and not miles away from some models still on sale today. However, just three Caravanos rolled out of the Hymer factory in 1961. No doubt the choice of base vehicle, the right one on technical grounds, was made a year or more earlier. But by early 1961 Borgward were in trouble (‘The Motor’ in February ’61 reported debts of £16M) and the company ceased trading in 1962. Hymer dropped their motor caravan, put the episode down to experience and concentrated their efforts in the now lively caravan market.
Not for another ten years would they return to the motorhome game. Through the 1960s they took ‘Troll’ production in-house, introduced a new ‘Nova’ range of tourers and numerous design advances, set up Hymer Leichtmetallbau making aluminium ladders and other caravan components. Output rose to 1500 per year and in 1966 the 10,000th caravan left the production line.
In March 1968 a massive fire swept through the now much enlarged works and leaving only the cabinet making shop and the office building standing. Amazingly, some production re-started after only two weeks and by June was in full swing again in new buildings which provided 2000 sqare metres of additional production space.
Hymer France SA was set up in 1970 at Thann in Alsace and moved two years later to a newly-build factory in nearby Cernay, where it remains today. With a large part of the caravan manufacture transferred across the border, it was time to expand once again into the motorhome business.