Sunday, June 29, 2014

Graff and Stift and the Car that Launched World War I

The Car in which Archduke Ferdinand Died

With yesterday marking the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I, I thought it was a good time to give a little information about the car the duke was riding in on that fateful day. Gräf and Stift was an Austrian manufacturer that not only built automobiles but busses, trucks, and trolleybuses. They were a long-lived company, churning out vehicles from 1902 through 2001 and, like many early automobile manufactures, they began existence making and servicing bicycles.

The Graf brothers first automobile was the Voiturette, a one cylinder front-wheel drive that was built sometime between 1895 and 1898. The car never saw mass-production though it remained in working condition until the beginning of the 1970's.

In 1901 the Graf brothers teamed up with Austrian businessman Wilheim Stift who had tried auto manufacturing under the marquee Celeritas. Graf and Stift manufactured automobiles for Spitz until in 1907 when Spitz went bankrupt. After that they began manufacturing automobiles under their own name.

The car the Archduke and Duchess were riding in on June 28, 1914 was a Graf and Stift Double Phaeton, which requires a bit of explanation. The term double phaeton refers to a sporty body style where the driver and passengers are open to the elements. There are no windows and, in many cases, a convertible top. The double merely means that there were two rows of seats, front and back.

When World War I began, Graf and Stift manufactured trucks, buses, and special vehicles which became the company's money-earner through the lean wartime years. They returned to the passenger car market after the war, but the business proved unprofitable and they pulled out in 1938, concentrating on bus manufacturing.

Mergers through the seventies left Graff and Stift a division of MAN AG which ceased using the name in 2001, killing a piece of history.

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