Max Hoffman – Success Story

Max Hoffman Showroom

Max Hoffman did much more to the car world than just importing cars, thanks to his distinctive knowledge about the American market, this businessman inspired many European car makers, leading them to the development of iconic models. That made him an essential part of the success for Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Alfa-Romeo and BMW in the US market.

Max Hoffman – Success Story

Maximilian Edwin Hoffmann born in Vienna in 1904 – his father had a workshop for sewing machines and bicycles – started racing cars and motorcycles at a young age. In the early 1930s he and a partner founded “Automobilhandel Hoffmann & Huppert”, making it Europe’s first importer for Volvo. Business went well until the Nazis took over power in Germany and included Austria into the “Reich” in 1938. Because of his Jewish origin, he fled to France, leaving it after a short time on a Portuguese ship with destination USA in 1941. Due to the war, the private market for cars was very slow in the USA, making it impossible to follow his passion for automobiles. Thanks to his impeccable intuition for possibilities and market niches, he started creating jewelry for women, using metallized plastic and hit spot on. Even in wartimes, starting with just 300 Dollars he earned a small fortune. With the war being over, he turned himself to following his true passion – fast and luxurious automobiles.

Max Hoffman portrait

Max Hoffman – Importer and talented salesman

Not even a whole year after the war, he invested his money earned in fashion founding the “Hoffman Motor Company” to import European cars. By that time he got rid of the second “n” of his last name, making it more American. He chose New York´s Park Avenue as the location for his showroom and no other than famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed his building. His first and then even only car exhibited was a Delahaye Coupe with bodywork from Figoni and Falaschi. By 1948 Hoffman Motor Company became the Jaguar dealer on Americas West Coast, also adding Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Austin, Cooper Healy, Morgan and Lea-Francis to his portfolio. In 1950 he became the exclusive Volkswagen importer on Americas East Coast, giving up on this just after three years, Volkswagen Beetle sales didn´t meet his expectations. Porsche sales instead went remarkably better. By the mid-fifties, one third of Porsches overall production was sold on the US market by Hoffman. To make Porsche more popular in the USA, Hoffman let several 356 race in various events – with big success. One first and significant milestone he set by establishing the Porsche-Emblem, which Ferry Porsche designed thanks to his urgent request. Other than that, his demanding wish for a cheaper, racier version of the 356 gave birth to the 356 Speedster.

Max Hoffman – businessman and aesthete

In 1952 he let go of his Jaguar dealership for a cooperation with Mercedes-Benz, strongly promoting a serial production of open two seater sports cars. That gave birth to another icon – the 300 SL Gullwing. And also to the Gullwings little sister, the 190 SL. Being completely passionate about it in a Daimler-Benz board meeting, he spontaneously was willing to take 1000 cars for the US market alone. Right from the start of production, Hoffman demanded a roadster version of the 300 SL, Mercedes let him wait for three years on that. Finally in 1957 the 300 SL Roadster went into production. Once again Hoffman´s variety of talents showed results, next to his intuition for upcoming trends and his salesmanship he had an undeniable intuition for shape and aesthetics. Further along the line, Mercedes had a structural change in their distribution network which let Hoffman and Mercedes-Benz to split their ways. Although getting a compensation and having no power on that, Hoffman deeply regretted Mercedes´ decision. At the same time, Hoffman was cooperating with another notable German car maker, BMW. In 1954 he criticized a sports car prototype, stopping it from production. An attempt with which BMW wanted to tackle the American market. Short time after that, Hoffman got to know the designer Albrecht Graf Goertz and asked him to reshape BMW sports car attempt. The result became the iconic 507, which along with Elvis Presley found many other prominent admirers.

By the mid-sixties he step by step retired from his business, withdrawing from his dealer contracts and focusing completely on his cooperation with BMW. It´s the Bavarians to whom he finally in 1975 sold Hoffman Motor Company, dedicating himself solely on his variegated and extensive art collection. On August 9th in 1981 Maximilian Hoffman died, leaving an unforgotten life´s work that in 2003 got appreciated and introduced to the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Fluegeltuerer W 198 - Vorstellung

BMW 507 Elvis

Photos: Classic Trader, Daimler AG, BMW Group

Autor: Jan Fröhlich

Jan Fröhlich ist Redakteur beim Classic Trader Magazin und begeistert sich leidenschaftlich für klassische Fahrzeuge. Traum-Klassiker: Mercedes Benz 300 SL & Porsche 356 Eigener Klassiker: Velo Solex 3800 von 1968

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