Thursday, 27 July 2017

A second DKW F9 prototype discovered

It was long believed that of the ten DKW F9 prototypes built in 1939, only the single example at the Audi Tradition museum in Ingolstadt has survived to this day.

The DKW F9 prototype at Ingolstadt with its luxury stablemate, the Horch 920S, in the background

The story of the Audi Tradition car's survival is quite extraordinary and worth retelling. The car was built in 1939 and used for road testing and exhibitions during the early war years. As the war dragged on however, the German army increasingly turned to confiscating personal cars for military use. Auto-Union executives were forced to hand over their Horch, Wanderer and Audi cars but DKW cars were exempt from confiscation because the German army disdained their two-stroke engines. Auto-Union chief designer, William Werner, who was the lead designer on the F9 project, adopted this particular prototype as his personal vehicle.

On 6 May 1945, Auto-Union management held an emergency meeting and decided to flee westwards to escape possible Soviet retribution for the company's use of slave labour and Soviet POWs during the war. Werner set out in his F9 to Flensberg, near the Danish border, in the British Occupation Zone. There the British recognized the car as a new type and seized it for technical evaluation. After testing the British handed the car over to the Australian government as part of a war reparations exchange. At that time the Australian government was interested in establishing a domestic automobile industry and the studies done during the war years had recommended manufacturing a cheap and robust car "like the German DKW." However, in 1948 the government decided to back the American backed General-Motors Holden project and the DKW idea was dropped. The car was now deemed surplus to requirements and was sold off at an army surplus auction in 1949 (along with the very early VW Beetle that now in the York Motor Museum).

Werner's F9 therefore became the first post-war DKW on Australian shores. Although attempts to restart DKW sales in Australia in 1953 and 1958 failed a smattering of personal imports trickled into the country as the private imports of migrant families.

Because the car was a prototype with a unique engine (the 3=6 engined F93 wouldn't arrive in Australia until late 1958), it was virtually guaranteed that any serious breakdown would be fatal to the car and at some point in the mid-1950s the engine did indeed fail. There still were DKW mechanics in Australia at the time servicing and supporting pre-war DKWs and they solved the problem the same way DKW did, by transplanting the F9's body onto a pre-war DKW chassis with a two-cylinder engine. In this hybrid form the car continued to provide many more happy years of motoring. Fortunately the owner retained the original chassis and engine.

The car as it looked when Peter owned it. It has F89 running gear and bonnet.

In the 1980s the car, along with its original chassis and engine, was acquired by Melbourne DKW Club member Peter Thorogood, who intended to restore it to its original spec. Unfortunately the boom years of the 1980s did not last and he was forced to sell it before the restoration could be undertaken. The car eventually returned to Audi Tradition in Ingolstadt where it is now on display.

The 'new' car
In late September I was contacted by a friend in Germany with some exciting (and disappointing) news. This fellow has long been on the trail of the lost F9 prototypes and had even managed to locate a pre-production 1940 engine in the hands of a collector, which he hoped to use in a F9 replica he was planning to build. To build his replica he began searching for a very early IFA F9 to provide a donor body, as the East German version of the F9 is very similar to the pre-war DKW original.

East German brochure for the IFA F9. Early F9s are identifiable by their split front and rear windows.

From a client in Estonia he obtained a lead on a promising car, but upon inspection he found that it was not a 1949 IFA but one of the lost 1939 DKWs. The car had been commandeered by a senior officer in the Soviet engineering corps that was tasked with supervising the dismantling of Auto-Union's factories for shipping to the Soviet Union. This officer took the car back to Russia with him and used it for many years. Like Werner's car, the engine eventually failed and was replaced with a four-cylinder four-stroke engine and the car converted to rear wheel drive. After many years of service the car was parked up in a shed and then forgotten.

My friend attempted to buy the car immediately but his interest in this wreck (as the car is in very poor condition) led the owners to suspect they had something of greater significance. They contacted Audi Tradition independently, who after examining their records confirmed the car was indeed one of the lost prototypes. This confirmation led to a bidding war for the car and unfortunately my friend was outbid. The car has now gone to another collector in Germany who intends to restore it. The car itself is little more than a shell and will require extensive restoration, but it will be great to see it saved.

Cars were hard to come by so when they broke down every effort was made to fix them. The car received a new engine with rear wheel drive, necessitating some drastic modifications. This wasn't uncommon. I have seen many photos from Russia of Tatras and Volkswagens re-engined with conventional front mounted engines, and even IFA F9s with rear mounted VW engines!

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