This is a nostalgic comparison between two great machines of the 1930s. The infamous Junkers Ju-52/3m and the 1932 Mercedes-Benz Type SS sports cruiser. The Junkers Ju-52/3m enjoyed both a civilian and military career with Lufthansa (and a number of foreign airlines) as well as with the German Luftwaffe. The Mercedes-Benz Type SS was a toy for the rich and famous. A car made for the gentleman racer.

We begin by examing the time period. These were the turbulant 1930s, when 6.1 million Germans were unemployed and the future looked bleak. Those few who have the wealth to enjoy life, enjoy it to the fullest. And this where these toys of the rich come into play. Those with money often took a trip to sunny Italy in the Lufthansa Junkers Ju-52/3m. For those who preferred to stay on the ground and enjoy Europe from the road in an expensive luxury cruiser, the Mercedes-Benz Type SS was virtually the only choice.

The Junkers Ju-52/3m debuted in 1932 and is an improved version of the single-engined (and underpowered) Ju-52. The three BMW 132 engines with 650-horsepower each give the 10,500 kg heavy Junkers Ju-52/3m a top speed of 280 km/h. Cruising speed however is 180 km/h - about the same as one of Germany's most prestigeous luxury cars with the star on the hood.

The Mercedes-Benz Type SS is that luxury car. It does not quite reach the horsepower output of a single BMW 132 engine, but the polished 7.1-l straight-6 with a Roots-Kompressor is good for 200-horsepower giving the Type SS a top speed of well over 180 km/h - fast for the time. Even the type numbers are impressive: 27/140/200 PS, 27,160/200 PS, 27/170/225 PS and 27/180/250 PS. Those who know their past Mercedes will know that the first number indicates the engine capacity horsepower tax, the second number is the horsepower output with the Kompressor turned off, while the last number is the horsepower output with the Kompressor engaged. These performance figures are for the Type SS and the equally famous Type SSK.

Junkers Ju-52/3m "Tante Ju" and Mercedes-Benz Type SS, these two machines fit together as they represented luxury travelling during this time period. They represent elegance, luxury and speed. Speed in this case is subjective. Those that are used to modern cars will find the seating position of the Type SS a bit akward. The cushy leather bench-seat is elevated upfront and the gigantic wooden steering wheel of the Type SS can be frightening, even moreso since there is no power-steering (wasn't even option). At low speeds, or when trying to park, the power needed to steer can cause blisters - if you have delicate hands. The Type SS was meant to be driven by athletic males. The use of muscle power when steering was seen as a challenge as it defined the sportiness - both of the car and the driver. Does this luxury car come with a heater or a airconditioning unit? No. Wasn't an option. A cloth roof protects against wind and rain, but most Type SS drivers of the day had to dress appropriately in heavy leather clothing, a scarf, goggles and a leather cap.

The 7.1-l engine of the Mercedes delivers ample power. The first Type SS, built from 1928 to 1930, produced 140-horsepower in naturally aspirated form while the second Type SS (1930-1932) delivered a healthier 160-hp with the Kompressor set to off. The Kompressor is activated by pushing the accelerator pedal to the end. The engine begins to wail and a few seconds later, the driver can feel those extra 40-horses galloping. 200-horsepower in action. And for those who want it more extreme, a factory option was available to have the the camshaft of the Rennsport Type SS installed. This installation means a longer stroke and brings the final horsepower output with Kompressor up to 225-horsepower - enough to beat the Junkers Ju-52/3m in an acceleration race by 10 seconds.

Driving the Type SS could have been a lot of fun, but the appearance of affordable cars for the masses, who's top speed was inbetween 60 and 80 km/h meant that one had to watch the road ahead! Speed limits also meant that travelling by airplane was indeed quicker.

Deutsche Luft Hansa, which becomes Lufthansa in 1933, offers the flying adventure in the form of the Junkers Ju-52/3m with its characteristic rippled fuselage. The Junkers Ju-52/3m has a proven record of reliability. It was the reliability of the Junkers Ju-52/3m that lowered the overall aircraft crash landing quotes from 7 to 1.5 per one million flying kilometers. The airplane from Dessau is also rugged. In 1932, a Ju-52/3m collides with a small training aircraft and is still capable of flying, much less landing, despite the severe damage. This incident led to Lufthansa employing the Ju-52/3m in great amounts. By 1936, the airline had 44 of these aircraft in service: a staggering 75% of all Lufthansa aircraft.

The comfort of the Junkers Ju-52/3m exceeds that of the Mercedes Type SS. For one, the good 'ole "Tante Ju" offers an encolosed cabin with heating. Pressurized cabins were not yet in style, but the 17 passengers could be given oxygen masks when flying over areas with thin air such as the Alps. There was no sound absorbing material to keep the engine noise out however. Yet this has a charm of its own. The three BMW engines, with a maximum RPM of 2,050, induce calmness and relax you.

The Ju-52/3m in our photo shoot belongs to a Swiss Airline company and is one of six flyable Ju-52/3m's still surviving in todays world. Due to noise emission laws, each engine has been limited to producing a maximum of only 500-horsepower.

Flying or driving? That was also the question in the 1930s. Both were expensive in their own right. A Junkers Ju-52/3m will consume a staggering 380 liters of gasoline in one hour. The Mercedes-Benz Type SS is more fuel efficient. It "only" requires 27 L / 100 km. Expensive indeed.

1932 Mercedes-Benz Type SS vs 1932 Junkers Ju-52/3m

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