Karl Maybach was born on July 6, 1879 in Deutz near Cologne as son of the designing engineer August Wilhelm Maybach and his wife Bertha Wilhelmina, a daughter of the postmaster and innkeeper Karl Gottfried Habermaß. At the age of 17, Maybach graduated from the municipal intermediate secondary school and became a trainee at the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Canstatt near Stuttgart, then, in the fall of 1897, worked as unpaid assistant at the Maschinenfabrik Esslingen. In the spring of 1900, he went on to the Königliche Baugewerkschule, Abteilung Maschinenbau (royal school for civil engineering, department of mechanical engineering) in Stuttgart, from which he graduated as an engineer with the overall grade of “good.”
In early 1901, Karl Maybach went to Berlin for half a year, where he worked for Ludwig Loewe & Co., an industrial concern dealing with mechanical engineering and the production of weapons and munitions. In fall, Maybach took up a new occupation at the Centralstelle wissenschaftlich-technischer Untersuchungen (center for technical and scientific research) at Neubabelsberg, followed by stays abroad: 1902 in Lausanne and Oxford 1905, work for the newly founded society for scientific studies in Paris and in September 1906, at Count de Lavalette´s Societe d´Atelier de Construction in Saint-Ouen.
Due to Wilhelm Maybach´s and Ferdinand Count Zeppelin´s initiative, the Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH based in Bissingen was founded as a subsidiary of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin in Friedrichshafen. Karl Maybach was appointed the company´s managing director for technical operations and also took over one fifth of the company shares. When the company – now named Motorenbau GmbH – was relocated to Friedrichshafen, Karl Maybach also moved to Lake Constance. In addition to building airship engines, the development of high-altitude engines began.
On October 26, 1915, Maybach married Käthe Lewerenz their daughter Liselotte was born on November 17, 1916, followed by a son, Walther, in 1920, their daughters Marianne (1922) and Irmgard (1923) and, finally, their son Günther in 1927. On May 16, 1918, the company was changed into Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH in 1919, work on high-speed diesel engines as well as engines for passenger cars and commercial vehicles was taken up.
In 1923, a new airship engine was developed. Another focus of Karl Maybach´s work was the development of the Mekydro transmission for railcars, the only practical method of transmitting diesel power to rail at the time. In 1936, Maybach purchased a house in Garmisch, there he and his family spent most of their leisure time. With the relocation of the design and test department to Wangen/Allgäu, the Maybach family then settled in the Allgäu, in Wohmbrechts, where they stayed until the end of World War II. Walther, the eldest son, had been killed in action in Tunisia.
On September 12, 1946, Maybach entered into an agreement (“convention”) with the French government for development of a gasoline engine producing 1000 HP which also had an auxiliary engine, as well as a diesel engine of the same cylinder displacement. Work began in Vernon, France. From September 1947 until mid-1951, Maybach lived there with his family. In late 1952, Karl Maybach resigned from his position as president of Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH – at his own request for reasons of age – and retired to Garmisch. There, he celebrated his 75th birthday on July 6, 1954, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Federal Republic of Germany. His 80th birthday 1959 coincided with the 50th anniversary of Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH and was celebrated extensively in Friedrichshafen. Karl Maybach died on February 6, 1960 in Friedrichshafen and was buried in a tomb of honor donated by the city of Friedrichshafen.