An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Airships and Automobiles : Twenty Years Downwind

Automobiles and airships make a perfect combination as you usually drove one to get to the other and they both provide human interest. A 1929 Packard Phaeton is seen in the above photo with the famous Graf Zeppelin, in what appears to be a Packard advertising photo. Right up near the the Graf can be seen a Packard Club sedan and to the left another Packard appears to be driving away.


The center photo (above) shows an engine of the type used to power the mighty Graf. The craft’s five Maybach VL-2 12-cylinder 550 horsepower engines could burn either  gasoline or Blau gas, an artificial illuminating gas similar to propane. 


Press photos (above)  of the Graf  Zeppelin were taken in Germany when it was new and being tested during six domestic shake-down flights. 

Twenty years later, the great ocean hopping Zeppelins were history, but their little brother blimps were being used for observation and short commercial flights. Their slow airspeed also made them very popular for use as flying billboards. The Tydol Gasoline emblazoned airship above was being used for promotional purposes circa 1949. The Cadillac convertible parked near it appears to be a 1949 model as well.

To learn more about the Graf Zeppelin and other German and U.S. Navy airships, visit Airships, one of the best online resources about them. Graf Zeppelin control room photo and all other photos courtesy of Imagerie Mécanique’s Facebook page. You can also see an excellent BBC film of the famous 1929 Graf Zeppelin around the world flight here on The Old Motor.

12 responses to “Airships and Automobiles : Twenty Years Downwind

  1. In 1933, Dr. Hugo Eckener (the Germany Zeppelin company’s director) was asked to include the Chicago World’s Fair (Century of Progress) on its route. When the USA agreed to issue a postage stamp recognizing the Graf Zeppelin, the October 1933 Brazil to Germany flight was altered to include Miami, Akron, and Chicago on its route back to Germany.

    Eckener took Graf Zeppelin on a aerial circuit around Chicago to show his ship to the residents of the city, but he was careful to to fly a clockwise pattern so that Chicagoans would see only the tricolor German flag on the starboard fin, and not the swastika flag painted on the port fin under the new regulations issued by the German Air Ministry.

    “Note that the postage stamp shows the port side of the fins, but without the swastika.”

    Tom M.

    • I love the whole Zeppelin/blimp history, inspired when visiting Chicago in the 1960s as a kid and seeing the Goodyear blimps constantly going over, which were way louder back then than they are now. I checked out a book called “Giants In The Sky” and was amazed at this history that I had no idea about.

      A few points alot of people don’t know.

      * The Hindenburg was made for helium, but the USA ended up refusing to sell it to them. Hydrogen, which actually has greater lifting power for its volume, was used, and the gas bags were therefore not fully inflated.

      * There was actually a cot in the engine pods of the Hindenburg, as if the tech could sleep next to that.

      * The Graf Zeppelin actually made thousands of miles of trips with little or no issues. It was smaller than the Hindenburg but comfortable.

      * There was a Graf Zeppelin II. It was a duplicate of the Hindenburg! But it was scrapped after the Hindenburg exploded.

      * The Akron and the Macon, US rigid airships, were only 20 feet shorter than the Hindenburg!

      * To give you an idea of the monstrous size of these ships, the Queen Mary, a huge liner now docked in Long Beach, California, is a tad over 1000 feet. The Hindenburg is only 150 feet shorter….think of an 85 story building, or something a big shorter than that ocean liner, flying over your head.

  2. You may know that Tydol had the U.S. contract to service the Maybach engines . In my collection of Zeppelin memorabilia I have two little glass vials of used motor oil which was drained after the Tokyo-Los Angeles leg of the 1929 Round the World Flight. These vials were sealed and packed in little orange colored tubes with the information printed on them. As far as I know they were given to some Tydol customers (but I don’t know by what method)

  3. You have to be at least as old as I am (79) to realize how the Zeppelin captured the imagination of a whole cohort around the world from 1900 until 1937. The Hindenburg disaster (whose cause has never been forensically determined) put a damper on things, but when you consider the fate of R101, Shenandoah, Akron and Macon before that happened; the fascination died hard and not completely. By the way, Hitler hated Zeppelins because he feared such a spectacular propaganda failure. It is a myth that we wouldn’t let Germany have Helium; they didn’t want any because Hydrogen had far more lifting power than the inert Helium The export restrictions on Helium were a symbolic gesture by congress.

    • You make some very interesting points, Don. I’m not quite old enough to have actually seen any of the great dirigibles in the air (I’m “only” 62), but it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how a generation that witnessed the sinking of the Titanic in their lifetime would be completely awestruck by craft almost as long that could actually fly and traverse the same route at 65 miles per hour!

      • Gene: We have the scene at Lakehurst emblazoned on our collective imagination and it totally obscures the wonderful safety record of the peacetime German dirigibles which clocked up tremendous mileages (the record-holder was the Graf Zeppelin, which alone had been flown over a million miles in its life. It was finally scrapped in 1940 for the salvage aluminum and magnesium. After the Lakehust disaster in 1937 we sent the five Diamler-Benz V-16s back to Germany.

    • Sorry Donald it is not quite right. The Germans originally designed the LZ-128, at 761 feet. But because of the explosion of the R-101, plans for the LZ-128 were shelved for the longer and sleeker LZ-129, the Hindenburg, designed for Helium and whose greater capacity made up for the lesser lifting power of Helium. But it went out the door with hydrogen.

      It is a fact that the Germans never officially requested helium, because we refused to sell it to them or export it at all, based on the 1927 Helium Control act, and the Germans were aware the US would not rescind that act.

  4. Kevin: Thanks for the information. With all those redundant safety measures, I not aware of a Hydrogen explosion among the German peace time Zeps after the disaster in the very early teething stage. It is hard to see how a Hindenburg designed for Helium could be converted to hydrogen without a major structural alteration. We say that the only Helium in the world is in west Texas. I don’t think that is actually true.

    • You bring up an excellent question Donald and I had to go read up. According to my sources, the Los Angeles was apparently hydrogen filled when it left Friedrichshafen during testing, and sometime after delivery to Lakehurst it was filled with helium. In fact, there was so little helium available that the Navy waited until the Shenandoah needed repairs, deflated it and used its helium for the Los Angeles!!!

      BTW, have you seen the famous picture of the Los Angeles almost straight up (due to winds) on the mooring mast? One of many frightening airship episodes!

  5. Kevin; That’s one of my favorite images! Zeppelins didn’t do squall lines very well. Have you heard it said that Hugo Eckener had training as a meteorologist and that accounts for his success as a Zeppelin helmsman?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *