John DeLorean once bought a 300 SL Gullwing for research
Try searching Heinz Pringham on Google—zero hits. Do it again with his Anglicized name, Henry Pringham, and you’ll find no biographical information, just a handful of fuel-injection patents from Studebaker-Packard. But for Henry’s son, Frank Pringham, there’s so much more to the story, and it’s all unforgettably tied to a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing made possible by John DeLorean.
Like so many automobile engineers, Henry Pringham worked in complete anonymity. Pringham was born in Leipzig, Germany, in about 1916, Frank says. After a stint working as a mechanic with the Auto Union hill climb effort—where he once got to drive in the Freiburg Hillclimb—he traveled to England in the late 1930s to study engineering at Loughborough University. While there, he not only earned his degree, but met Hilda Sebba, a nursing student from the free state of Danzig (now Gdańsk).
After several jobs in the UK, including working on a guided missile program for de Havilland aircraft company, Pringham left for America in early 1954. With sponsorship from an uncle who was already there, he flew on ahead to interview for jobs while Hilda Pringham and the couple’s two young sons, Peter and Frank, followed by sea, and Henry met them in New York.
With his heart set on joining the automobile industry, Pringham was soon hired by John DeLorean, then in engineering at Packard. Before long, the German “Principal Design Engineer” had convinced DeLorean that Packard needed to explore fuel injection for future models. When DeLorean asked which company and model did it best, Pringham was quick to cite the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL’s Bosch unit, and that it would be helpful to get a first-hand look. With his usual decisiveness, DeLorean charged Pringham with simply going out and buying a Gullwing.
Using the Mercedes-Benz Bosch system as a guideline, Pringham began developing his own take on fuel injection. Along the way, he patented several injection components and built a prototype system, which he installed on his own Packard Patrician.
Although he was only in kindergarten at the time, Frank Pringham recalls a six-month period when his father drove him to school in the Gullwing, which he said “made me feel like the big man on campus”—the elementary school campus. He also remembers a time that DeLoren and his first wife, Elizabeth Higgin, had dinner at the Pringham home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
As Packard began to weaken financially, DeLorean left for General Motors in 1956. According to Frank, his father “stayed until nearly the end of Studebaker-Packard.” The elder Pringham would also flee Packard for General Motors, followed by a stint at engine manufacturer Continental Motors, before taking a final position at Ford. He passed away from particularly fast-moving cancer in 1972.
Frank Pringham is understandably proud of his father’s innovations and accomplishments, the most noteworthy of which may have been the ultimate business expense, talking DeLorean into buying one of the most innovative supercars of the day. No wonder Frank remembers his formative years so clearly.