Saturday, 19 July 2014 20:49

The Steyr-Puch 500 and 650

Written by  Guus Docen
The Steyr-Puch 500 and 650

The Steyr-Puch company, initially known as Josef und Franz Werndl and Company was founded in 1864 as a rifle manufacturer. During the First World War the company grew rapidly and in 1918 it employed 14,000 people. The company began producing bicycles in 1894. In September 1917 Steyr recruited Hans Ledwinka, now remembered as one of the great automobile engineers of the twentieth century, to the position of chief-engineer, to lead the creation of their automobile manufacturing business. The first Steyr car appeared in 1920. The company changed it’s name to Steyr-Werke AG in 1924. In 1934, Steyr merged with Austro-Daimler-Puch to form Steyr-Daimler-Puch. After the second world war, Steyr-Daimler-Puch built diesel engined trucks, buses and tractors and also resumed passenger car production. First, Steyr assembled the Fiat 1100E, then put their own engine in a Fiat 1400, renaming the car the "Steyr 2000". Most prominent, however, was its range of off-road cars, from the two-cylinder Haflinger and the 4x4 or 6 x 6 Pinzgauer, the Fiat Panda 4x4 (999cc) to the Mercdes-Puch G. The Haflinger was produced from 1959–1974.

The development of the Steyr-Puch 500
In 1954 Steyr-Puch decided to develop a small car to resume car production after the war. Because of the high costs associated with the development of a completely new design, an agreement was made with Fiat to acquire and adapt the complete bodyshell of their 500-model.
The engine cover and the roof was produced in-house. The front axle including steering system was also supplied by Fiat, independent suspension with wishbones and a transverse leaf spring. The great difference between the Steyr-Puch and the Fiat 500 was the completely different engine-unit , the Fiat was equipped with a in-line 2-cylinder engine with a long crankshaft which was not supported by a centre main bearing. The Puch 500 had a two-cylinder 493 cc. (16 bhp/12 kW) air-cooled boxer engine which proved to be far more smooth running than the in-line 2-cylinder engine used by Fiat. The boxer-engine had a short and rigid, nitrided crankshaft with three main bearings, a central camshaft, hemispherical combustion chambers, large valves and a tube-and-fin oil cooler. The advanced engine-layout provided that the engine could resist high revs for quite a long time. Also the transmission, differential, driving axles, rear suspension and brakes were developed by Steyr-Puch.
The single circuit brake system had remarkably large ribbed brake drums made ​​of cast aluminum with a cast inner liner. The complete engine-unit was secured with three rubber bearings to the car body. The transmission was synchronized from 2nd gear, the rear axle was a 2-joint swing axle with coil springs.
The first Steyr-Puch 500 was launched in 1957 and it was a immediately a hit in Austria. It was offered only with a long folding roof and rear-hinged doors ("suicide doors"). Another great advantage of the Steyr-Puch compared to the Fiat 500 was that the back seat was installed deeper. The space-saving boxer engine made this possible, so the car was a 4-seater and not a 2+2 seater. The 'Puchwagen' as it was called, was the official car for the Austrian AA-service. It was anticipated that the buying audience would be motorcyclists. Compared with other small cars of that time it had a good driving behaviour, especially during mountain rides.

Steyr-Puch 500 D and Steyr-Puch 500 DL
In 1959 the first revision was introduced. The model Steyr-Puch 500 D received a solid roof (actually a screwed-on hardtop), the "D" stands for "roof"!. The distinctive raised roof-end created better headroom for the rear passengers.On request,a convertible version was still available, or a relatively easy-to-use conversion kit.Finally the new model received a new front emblem, a glove compartment and an improved heating system. The new variant 500 DL ("roof-luxury") was equipped with an upgraded engine,19.8 bhp instead of 16 bhp. The power-output as given by the factory was always in compliance with the Austrian tax charges. Usually the engine delivered a bit more power. In the spare-parts list two or more carburator-jets could be found for more efficiency or more power. From the outside the DL-version was recognisable by the long blinkers on the front fenders and the fin-like taillights. lnside there were reclining seats. The DL-version was also available with an automatic clutch, called Saxomat, The Saxomat consisted of two independent systems, the centrifugal clutch, and the servo clutch. The centrifugal clutch was engaged above certain engine rmps by centrifugal force. The servo clutch was disengaged automatically whenever the gear shift lever was touched. So 500 DLs with a Saxomat, didn’t have a clutch pedal. From the introduction in 1957 until the end of production in 1962, 39,045 cars were made of the models 500, 500D and 500DL.

Steyr-Puch 500 E and Steyr-Puch 500 S
In 1967 Steyr introduced a modernised body, in fact it was the body that Fiat already changed in 1965, so from now it had front-hinged doors but also the ‘normal’ shortfolding roof of Fiat instead of the roof with the spoiler-like back-end. The modernised 500 was called the"Europe". In 1969 the factory decided to take over not only the body but also the complete drive unit from the Fiat 500 because of falling demand. In combination with the 19.8 bhp engine, the model was now called the 500 S ("Sport"). From 1967 until the end of production in 1973, 4.175 cars were build of the models 500 E and 500 S. Despite restrictive licensing clauses from Fiat, quite a few cars were exported outside Austria, most of them went to Germany (2597 units), Finland (303 units) and Hungary (227 units).

Steyr-Puch 700 C and Steyr-Puch  700 E
In 1961 a new body variant was introduced, namely the stationcar version called the 700C ("Combi") or 700E ("Economy", with a less powerful engine and a shorter transmission ratio). This model was also similar to the Fiat 500 Giardiniera. The 700C had a 650 cc engine producing 25 bhp, the 700E had also this engine but produced only 19.8 bhp. In Austria, these vehicles were mainly used as company vehicles. Most of these cars suffered a hard life and not surprisingly just a few 700 models have survived of the 9.077 cars produced.

Steyr-Puch 650 T and 650 TR
In 1962 a new engine version was created, instead of 493cc it could be ordered with the 650cc of the 700E, the new model designation was 650T ("Thondorf"). This model replaced the 500DL, the series was taken of the market. The 650T was produced until 1968, 5,400 cars were build. In fact the 650 cc. engine was developed for the Haflinger, it was a redesigned 500 engine-block with gear-driven camshaft and several other improvements. This engine developed 22.8 bhp and it was the basis for all engines that were to follow over the next 15 years. In 1964 an even stronger model was presented called the 650 TR (the "R" stands for "rally"), which was initially intended for the authorities such as the police and gendarmerie as emergency vehicles. With dual carburetors the 650 cc. engine developed 27 bhp. In both types, 650T and 650TR, the body and equipment remained largely an unchanged 500D/DL.
The most powerful version was available in 1965, called the 650TR II. It was a special racing version, a"sharp" camshaft, the so-called Monte-Carlo exhaust system and a number of other modifications gave the engine 42 bhp at 6000revs/min. Nevertheless, the basis of this engine was still the original 500 engine from 1957. In total 486 cars were produced of the model 650 TR I and II (suicide door-version and the Europe version). Most of the 650TRs were purchased by starters in motorsport as a cheaper (but competitive) alternative for Mini Coopers, NSU 1000 TTS and BMW 700s. The 650TRs were especially well suited for slaloms, hill climbs and ice racing. Countless successes were booked in national and international competitions. In the 1963 Monte-Carlo rally the Austrians Pöltinger and Merinsky were by far fastest in their class, driving a Puch 650 T. Sadly it wasn’t a victory as the Austrians had simply forgotten to homologate the new model by the international sports authorities. It was the works rally-version which created the greatest sporting success for the Steyr-Puch factory. The Pole Sobieslaw Zasada won the 1966 European Rally championship title for Group 2 touring cars in his little Puch 650 TR II ahead of the Finn Mäkinen (BMC Cooper) and Swede Trana on Volvo.

Steyr-Fiat 126
1973 was the last year that the model 500 was produced. In 1974 a new model with the 650 cc boxer-engine was introduced. Again it was a Fiat model, the 126 and the successor of Fiat 500. The complete bodies came from Italy and at Graz the Puch engine was installed. In 1975 the production of the 126 ended and the last cars were sold in 1976. The era of small Steyr-Puch cars was over due to the relatively high price and the diminishing demand.

Purchasing a Steyr Puch
Although the Steyr Puch 500/650 was never a low-cost small car, it sold well, with around 57,000 units produced between 1957 and 1973. Nowadays the 500/650 models are absolute rarities, just the last built versions 500S and Steyr-Puch 126 can sometimes be spotted on the roads in Austria and Hungary. The Steyr-Puch engine is generally considered very easy to maintain and durable. Just check valve clearance, spark plugs, contact points and the oil level. The Steyr-Puch gearbox and it suspension are very robust and in everyday traffic, there are virtually no problems. Due to the small number of cars ever produced, some parts have become scarce and expensive. A fresh, completely rebuilt 650TR-engine and gearbox can cost you the same amount of money as a roadworthy Fiat 500. For Steyr-Puch cars built after 1968 most of the original parts are not longer available but a lot of parts are similar to that of the Fiat 500 (bodywork, glass, rubber parts and lighting) and can be found for reasonable money from Fiat-specialists. Many remanufactured parts are available from the firm Autoquariat in Vienna and Robert Prokschi in Wöllersdorf (close to Vienna). As with the majority of classic cars the condition of the body is the most important point to check because it is the largest cost factor during a restoration process. So when you have found the car of your dreams, first do a visual inspection of the outside of the body, check for cracks in the hood, worn rubber seals of the windows and of course check for rust of the door edges, sills and wheel arches. Check also the boot floor and spare wheel well for rust. Do you smell any fuel from the petrol tank ? Special attention is needed for the early models with the door-hanger in the B-pillar, these cars are prone to sagging doors. That rarely happens for the post-1966 models and only if the A-pillar is rusted through. A typical weak point of the Steyr Puch is the entire front axle and suspension, so check for excessive play, worn bushes and rubbers in the mounts for the leaf spring. Now go to the inside of the car and move the seats upwards and lift the backseat so you can check the sills, floor panels and welding-seams. Attention should be given to the front footwell area where the pedals are mounted on the bulkhead plate (there should be no cracking noise when using the pedals), also check the retaining plates of the suspension in the wheel arches. In this area several sheets were welded over each other and not properly sealed. A professional repair is very time consuming. Check also for excessive steering play.
Nowadays Steyr-Puchs 500s and 650s aren’t cheap cars to buy, the most produced models, the first series 500 and the second series will cost around 12,000 Euros for a good, original car. A first series 650 T in the same condition will put you back around 14,000 Euros. Beware of cars which are offered as an original 650 TR, many people converted their 500 or 650 into a 650 TR I or II. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these replicas aren’t worth buying but they don’t fetch the price of an original 650 TR I or II. According to the research of the German Steyr-Puch club it is likely that 110 cars of the models 650 TR I and TR II have survived. The most desirable model is the pre-1966 TR II with the suicide doors and the roof with the spoiler-like back-end. This model is rarely offered for sale and expect to pay more than 35,000 Euros for a car in mint condition.

Many thanks to the members of the German Steyr-Puch club ‘Steyr-Puch Freundeskreis Deutschland’ for their information about this fabulous little car !

Top row – left to right:
Early Steyr-Puch 500 - Grille with the link to Fiat – Two pre-1967 Puchs 500

2nd row – left to right:
Puch 500 D – Puch 500 DL – Puch 500 DL Saxomat – Puch 500

3nd row – left to right:
Puch 500 DL Saxomat - Puch 700 C – Puch 700 C – Puch 650 T

4th row – left to right:
4 pictures of Steyr-Puchs 650 TR

5th row – left to right:
Steyr-Puch 650 TR - Steyr-Puch 650 TR – Haflinger – Several Puchs at the Nürburgring

6th row – left to right:
Steyr-Puch 650 TR during the 2012 Historic Monte-Carlo rally - Steyr-Puch 650 TR in the 1965 Monte-Carlo rally - Modified 650 TR engine - Steyr-Fiat 126

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