Born on: 16 July 1905 in Patschkau (Upper Silesia)
Died on: 24 December 1989 in Aidlingen
Walter Häcker joined Daimler-Benz AG in the early 1930s. As a body designer he was entrusted with the design and technical realisation of production vehicle bodies, including several landmarks in company product history. Among other things, after the Second World War he designed the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL (W 121 I).
Walter Häcker’s career was shaped by engineering and design work. After attending upper intermediate school in Göppingen and Ulm, he completed practical training in the fields of general mechanical engineering and metallurgy at Rheinische Metallwerke (Rheinmetall) in Düsseldorf and at Deutsche Werke (D-Werke) in Berlin-Spandau, where he got his first taste of the engineering profession. He then trained as a skilled craftsman, initially working as a machine fitter – a job that helped him appreciate the immediate connection between the use of materials and the challenges of practical work. This experience had such a formative influence that Häcker later often gave preference to prospective job applicants with a strong practical bent.
Häcker chose to undertake further professional training and attended the State Mechanical Engineering School in Cologne from 1924 to 1926. After graduating, he found a position at the coachwork factory of Deutsche Werke in Berlin-Spandau. Here he met Hermann Ahrens, one year his senior – a meeting that would acquire considerable importance for his further career as a coachwork engineer and designer. When Deutsche Werke sold its coachwork unit to the American bodybuilders Ambi Budd, which also had a factory in Berlin, Häcker first went to Ambi Budd, which was versed in the production of all-steel bodies based on patents of its own. The manufacturing methods were exceptionally progressive for that period, when it was still common practice to build vehicles from a chassis, a wooden auxiliary frame and sheet metal planking.
Häcker moved on from Ambi Budd when he was offered a position at Horch-Werke in Zwickau at the instigation of his former colleague from his Berlin days, Ahrens. Ahrens himself had gone to Horch on 1 October 1928; four years later, on 12 September 1932, he took over as head of special coachbuilding at Daimler-Benz AG in Sindelfingen. Special coachbuilding referred mainly to the design and production of one-off bodies built to customer specification.
Ahrens was asked by the then manager of the Sindelfingen plant, Wilhelm Haspel, if he knew of a capable design engineer for production car manufacture. Ahrens recommended Walter Häcker, who began work as a body constructor at Sindelfingen on 1 October 1933. This job involved not only body styling, but also its constructional realisation – styling and design engineering were not separate disciplines in those days.
Häcker’s most important pre-war designs – little known to this day – include the Mercedes-Benz models 170 V (W 136 series), 170 H (W 28), 230 (W 143 and W 153), 290 (W 18) and 320 (W 142). For Häcker, esteemed for his calm and level-headed manner both among employees and in his family, was very modest and retiring in the way he presented himself to the outside world.
Having been employed to make bodies for military vehicles during the Second World War, in 1950 Haspel appointed him chief engineer for passenger car bodies. In this work he was responsible also for the production body of the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL (W 121 I), again a little known fact. The vehicle was presented in 1954 and went on sale a year later with marked changes in design compared with the original version. Häcker’s design was a fundamental part of the great success enjoyed subsequently by the SL model series. In particular, the 190 SL, as the first “volume-built SL”, owes much of its huge success to the winning proportions of its body.
Häcker, who was already invested with commercial power in 1937, was granted power of attorney for the Sindelfingen plant in 1950. In 1955, he was appointed department head for passenger car body design and was given the title of departmental director. During the course of his work, 120 patents in the field of body design were registered in his name. So altogether we can speak of a highly successful professional career.
Häcker retired after 37 years of service with Daimler-Benz on 30 September 1970. He died on 24 December 1989 at his home in Aidlingen.