Who is ZF?

Not-So-Catchy Name

I was raised German and it was my first language, although I wasn’t born in Germany.  One of the things one tends to take for granted in German culture is the practicality of everyday things.

For example, in German culture, if you had an ice-cream factory in Mannheim, your company would probably be called the Mannheim Ice-cream Factory.  If your product became very popular then parents might talk about buying their kids a MIF, meaning your product, the one from the Mannheim Ice-cream Factory. The underlying long name would still be the basis, and your ice-cream would be a mouthful in more ways than one.

And so, if you made engines in two locations, Augsburg and Nuernberg, then you might call your business the Engine Works at Augsburg and Nuernberg. In German that would be Maschinenwerke Augsburg-Nuernberg which explains big diesel truck driving around with MAN on their radiator grilles.

If you were located in Bavaria instead, and you made motors, then you might call your business the Bavarian Motor Works. In German that would be Bayerische Motoren Werke, which explains passenger cars driving around with BMW badges.

As a second-to-last example, if you were located in Baden, and you had a soda and aniline factory, you might call it the Baden Soda and Aniline Factory, which in German is Badische Soda und Anilin Fabrik, which is the full name for the now-massive German chemical company BASF.

And so lastly, if you were located in Friedrichshafen, and you had a gear (or to be precise, since Germans are precise: gear-wheel) factory, you might call it the Gear Wheel Factory at Friedrichshafen, which in German is Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen, with the acronym ZF. Hence the name.


Amongst many other things, ZF makes high-quality automobile transmissions such as used by Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Peugeot, Porsche, Volvo and Volkswagen — high-end automobile manufacturers.

As an example, the ZF automatic 4-speed transmission named ZF 4 HP-22 is used in the BMW 318i, 325, 528e, 533i, 535i, 633 CSi, 635 CSi, 733i, 735i and probably other BMWs too, yet it’s also used in the Volvo 740 series. I know that for a fact because when the ZF 4 HP-22 in my BMW 633 CSi failed, I went to a local junkyard and pulled one out of a Volvo 740, and it’s been living happily in my BMW for the last ten years or more.  It was also used in the Peugeot 505 and Maserati Biturbo – the latter a very powerful car and yet while being strong, that transmission is so light that a slender blonde girl (me) can, and has, personally pick one up such as when I carried it into a repair shop.

At the time this transmission came out, 1984 or so, most other transmissions were still 3-speed automatics, and car buyers were always deciding whether to go with the convenience of an automatic or the better power and fuel economy of a manual transmission. The ZF 4 HP-22 gave them both.

Not just does it have four forward speeds (hence the name) but it also has a lock-up torque converter, which works like a 5th overdrive gear so that (at cruising speeds) this particular automatic has the same low power loss and fuel economy as a manual transmission.

Several of my BMWs have this transmission and although they will eventually die when neglected or some muffler shop hangs the exhaust directly from the transmission using a heat-conducting steel rod (guess how I know this) they live a long and happy life when serviced with anything resembling half of a reasonable maintenance schedule.

So, now I own an Audi A6 with the ZF 5HP-24A, which deserves an entire essay as to its technical merits.

For now, I’ll just say that the world is a much better place thanks to ZF.







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