Sinsheimer Motoren Aktiengesellschaft - Est. 1904
A Brief History
Sinsheimer Motoren Aktiengesellschaft – more commonly known as Sinsheimer AG, SMA, or just Sinsheimer – is a German automaker founded by the Sinsheimer family in 1904. Originally the company was a coach builder and built bodies on top of the platforms made by other manufacturers. The company breifly dissolved between 1938 and 1945 as the Sinsheimer family had Jewish roots and went into hiding during the Nazi Third Reich.
After World War II, in the face of a pulverized economy, Sinsheimer helped take up the torch of reinvigorating Germany and Europe’s automotive industry. The early postwar years were rough and colorful including a major family spat over whether or not to join the Zionist movement in 1948; this schism nearly killed the company again with some family members emigrating to the newly-created Israel and others remaining steadfast German citizens. But they eventually established themselves as a renowned maker of cheap and durable family cars and entry level makes.
In the mid to late 1960s, Sinsheimer vehicles, in particular their vans and utes, began filtering across the Atlantic into the United States as imports. They were low volume at first but as the volume began to increase Sinsheimer sought a way to start selling domestically in the US. President Lyndon Johnson’s tariff on light trucks however, better known as the Chicken Tax, made this a difficult prospect. Fearing that the mainstream American buyer would also find its original 4-cylinder engines to be woefully underpowered, Sinsheimer sought out not only a loophole but a better engine. The better engine that they found was the Fenton Holdings, Ltd. 90 degree V6, a compact engine that could effectively replace Sinsheimer’s own engines with very little reengineering.
A deal was struck in 1976 between Sinsheimer AG and FHL for FHL to import Sinsheimer vans and utes without engines and perform “final assembly” by installing FHL V6s, thus making the vehicles domestic makes by technicality and therefore circumventing the Chicken Tax. Sinsheimer paid FHL per engine and for assembly costs plus an overhead fee (all still cheaper than the dreadful 25% Chicken Tax) and began selling under their own name in the US in 1977. FHL later licensed the designs to produce under their own newly established brand, Shuttle and Commercial Vehicles or SCV, in 1981. Sinsheimer AG and FHL maintained a loose partnership throughout the 1980s and 1990s, often licensing engines and occasionally entire vehicles. Sinsheimer was FHL’s in to the European market in the mid 1980s.
In 2002, though, Sinsheimer’s partner needed help. Sinsheimer AG ended up acquiring an 80% stake in FHL to keep them from going bankrupt. They helped rebuild FHL by contributing engineering and management resources, by replacing FHL’s poor quality new millennium cars with rebadge Sinsheimers, and getting FHL into the 21st century with their sales practices, particularly for SUVs and trucks. They helped FHL rebound so well that FHL was able to buy themselves down to just 20% of shares owned by Sinsheimer by 2008 but their partnership was permanently altered to be a rock solid alliance rather than merely calling in favors and IOU’s. Murmurs and whispers in the 2018 business world suggest these two companies may be considering an all-out merger.
1999 Sinsheimer Zenit - An Econobox By Any Other Name
Also known as the ‘Apogee’ in the US market – and rebadged and sold by FHL’s Everette brand as the ‘Kent’ in 2002 – the Zenit was Sinsheimer AG’s New Millennium family car. A straightforward design with a transverse front engine, struts in front, double A-arms in the rear, and a durable steel body, the Zenit was really not that notable as a car. It was simply a car designed to be the ride for someone who probably didn’t want to think about their car very much.
The Euro spec Zenit came with a 5-speed manual transmission attached to a one of four engines: a 1.5L turbocharged L4 making 86 kW; a 1.7L low-cost engine making 82 kW; a 1.7L tuned-up engine making 93 kW; or the big one, a 2.3L V6 making an even 100 kW. A 6-speed manual was an option as was a 5-speed automatic, though the automatic was mostly offered because of and mostly purchased on the US export ‘Apogee’.
Fuel economy was good to great depending on transmission and engine. 1.5L turbo models were able to get as high as 5.7L/100km (~ 41 US mpg) with the 6-speed manual. All other engine and transmission combos hovered pretty consistently at about 7.7 L/100km (~31 US mpg), but could all be coaxed higher if driven carefully.
The US spec Apogee did not offer either the 1.5L or 1.7L straight-4s, all three variants being part of Sinsheimer’s K2 engine family. Instead, the base engine was a 2.0L Sinsheimer J2 straight-4 engine making 87 kW with an option on a 2.4L variant making 101 kW. The top engine on the Apogee was a 2.5L Sinsheimer V6 making 110 kW, simply a stroked version of the 2.3L V6. The larger engines in the US spec were offered for three reasons
- The larger displacement allowed for the same power to be made on lower grade fuel since 91 RON was ubiquitous in the US while 95 RON was considered premium.
- The larger displacement also allowed for more conservative tuning in order to comply with US EPA emissions regulations, in particular NOx emissions which were created in larger volumes by the higher strung K2 engine.
- The American market tended to like larger displacement and more power over fuel economy.
Fuel economy was impacted by the larger engine and conservative tune but still remained to be in a healthy range of about 8.3 to 9.0 L/100km (~ 26 to 28 US mpg) depending on engine and transmission of course.
The Euro spec Zenit was offered in a 5-door estate body style while the US spec Apogee was only offered as a 4-door sedan. Estate models were available with all-wheel drive and were equipped with a lifted suspension for better utility and comfort.
While not a selling point for the target market, the car became known for its excellent handling and near instantly gained a tuner crowd, especially in the US where its low cost and good build quality made especially favorable to early 2000s US makes. V6 models are the most desirable since they have the highest tuning potential. And though illegal in many jurisdictions because of the failure to meet emissions regulations, engine swapping a US spec Apogee with an imported 1.5L turbo engine is nonetheless common.
Colors offered were:
- Sky Blue
- Premium 6-disc switching CD player
- Premium sound system
- Remote entry (base model only had power locks)
- Fog lights
- Sport Package - included larger brakes, aerodynamic improvements, front lip and rear spoiler, stiffer springs and dampers
(Everette Kent seen here)
With some slight adjustments to the styling (seen above), the US spec Apogee was also sold as the Everette Kent from 2002 until the end of 2007, at which point the Zenit was replaced. It supplanted Everette’s own 5th generate Ellston, which had devolved into a dumpster fire of a car and helped FHL to get back on their feet after their near bankruptcy in 2002.
(Everette Kent seen here)
The Zenit ultimately accomplished its objective of being a basic, reliable car and ended up selling 4.3 million units across all makes in its 8 year lifespan. And in all honesty, its almost so boring that its not worth mentioning in the company’s history. But boring cars have to exist because they are the bottom line; they pay the bills and keep the mainstream customers happy. The world of cars can’t all be pro-touring Mustangs or Phantoms or Zonda Roadsters or SL550s.
Some cars are just regular cars.
NOTE: Some of you know I also claim Fenton Holdings Ltd. I am starting this company since its something different, it helps make for more interesting history particularly for FHL, and also gives me a much more valid excuse and use for the upcoming boxers and straight-5s . I am probably not going to be posting much in here until July 13th at least, but I figured I would at least claim it while the name is still available. On that last, sorry if this seems at all rushed or hacky or not fleshed because that’s accurate - trying to make sure I get squatter’s rights.