Wilhelm Maybach was born in Heilbronn on February 9, 1846, where he grew up with his five siblings. He became an orphan at the age of ten. He went to school at the Bruderhaus Reutlingen, a Christian institution founded to give homes and work to the socially disadvantaged, whose founder and head master recognized Maybach’s technical talent at a very early stage and gave him encouragement.
In Reutlingen Maybach also made the acquaintance of Gottlieb Daimler in 1865, becoming his collaborator and devoted friend until the latter’s death. From September 1869 Maybach worked together with Daimler in Karlsruhe, then moved to the Deutz gas engine company. There he was inspired to design a lightweight, high-speed internal combustion engine which would be suitable for vehicles on land, on water and in the air.
Daimler had left Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz in mid-1882, following differences of opinion with the management. In October 1882 Wilhelm Maybach followed him to Cannstatt to realize the idea of a lightweight, high-speed internal combustion engine. During his extensive research Maybach came across a patent by the Englishman Watson describing an unregulated hot-tube ignition system – an important precondition for higher engine speeds. In 1883 he developed the first experimental horizontal engine which was followed by the so-called Grandfather Clock, an engine with a vertical cylinder which was suitable for installation in a vehicle. In 1885 a wooden Riding Car was equipped with this engine, followed by a coach in the subsequent year. But Maybach was not content merely to build engines for coaches.