What is the best way to follow up a glamorous, powerful luxury car? A miserable tiny utility vehicle, obviously.
The year is 1946, germany’s darkest chapter has just been brought to an end by the allied forces, and rebuilding the utterly destroyed country would prove difficult to say the least. IMPs old CEO, Hermann Pandel had fled to Switzerland in 1941 once he came to the conclusion that a government contract for 50.000 heavy trucks was not worth contributing to the death of millions of people. IMPs headquarter and main manufacturing plant in Düsseldorf were completely destroyed by the allied bombings. Only the small Grevenbroich plant which used to manufacture three-wheeled utility vehicles comparable to the Goliath Blitzkarren and Tempo Hanseat had survived in a state which enabled it to resume production of motor vehicles relatively quickly. Fortunately however the allied occupying forces did not request what was left of the tooling to be shipped abroad as reparations. The new old CEO who had just returned from the safe island of Switzerland had a monumental task in front of him, if he wanted his and his fathers lifetime achievement to survive and not be forgotten in obscurity. Thus, in a desperate attempt to save what they had built up, he moved the surviving tooling to Grevenbroich, and set up a new engine assembly line. It was fairly obvious to him that his dream of his own automobile had to be postponed yet again, and he decided it would be wisest if IMP recovered doing what it could do best: Simple and reliable utility vehicles. On March 4th, 1946, the first of the old IMP three wheeled utility carts ran off the production line. However when Hermann became a witness of one of his vehicles rolling over due to its singular front wheel just two weeks later, heavily injuring its driver, he immediately sent his engineers to work on revising the chassis to accomodate a fourth wheel for greatly improved stability and safety. During the design process, the engineers realized that this would increase weight massively and require a more powerful engine. Since IMP did not have enough funds to develop a new engine, they combined two of the three-wheelers 700cc 2cyl four stroke engines to create a new 1400cc 4cyl. The additional power also allowed the engineers to increase the payload capacity of the vehicle. Retooling the plant went smoothly, and on June 23rd, 1946, the first “LN-K46” ran off the assembly line.
It was neither fast, nor comfortable, but the new frankenstein 4cyl engine was immensely powerful and robust for its time, with its 35hp and 95Nm enabling it to safely carry loads of much greater weight than its competitors, which were usually powered by tiny 10hp two stroke engines. It quickly filled a niche in the market and became an astounding success, so much so, that people began calling it simply “Esel” (=Mule). Once it had stabilized the company, the engineers went back to the drawing board to capitalize on the LN-K46s versatility. In december of 1946 two new “Esel” were launched, a Van as well as a five seater Station Wagon:
Until 1952, nearly 83.000 LN-K46 were built and its capability and durability played no small part in cleaning up Hitlers dust. Wherever you went in late 1940s Germany, you could probably see an “Esel” working as hard as it could. The LN-K46 was the car that enabled IMP to recover from the massive hit it endured during the war, but it also meant a big shift in the company’s direction. While the company proved to be excellent at building trucks and engines before the war, automobiles were few, expensive and far inbetween. With the truck plant being completely destroyed, the LN-K46 “Esel” was the first true mass-produced automobile of IMP, and it would become a formidable foundation on which the company could expand and finally become a true car manufacturer.