"He is worth the wait!"
Auto-Union was only a little over 21 years old in May 1945 but it was questionable whether the company would see 22 years. The company's factories in Saxony were all within the Soviet Occupation Zone and their empty shells, stripped of all useful material by the Soviet reparations crews, would soon be nationalised by the new East German government. The company's executives, fearing for their lives, had fled to the west after the capitulation of Germany and scattered. What remained of the company's assets was either destroyed or lost. The future looked very bleak indeed.
Auto-Union managing director Dr Richard Bruhn and deputy director Dr Carl Hahn found themselves in Bavaria after the war and a core of former Auto-Union management and technicians began to coalesce around them. The group decided to undertake an audit of the remaining assets of the company and found this amounted to a small DKW engine reconditioning plant, the sales and service office in Munich, and scattered stockpiles of spare parts. DKW's Spandau bodywork factory was located in West Berlin but this was deep inside the Soviet Zone.
North of Bavaria, in Oldenberg in the British Occupation Zone, former technical director William Werner had founded a small repair and service company for Auto-Union vehicles. This bought the legal questions of company ownership and the rights to the name 'Auto-Union' into sharp relief. In divided Germany each occupying power instituted their own legal regime. Who knew whether there would once again be a single Auto-Union for all Germany or successor companies in each of the four occupation zones? Drs Bruhn and Hahn took immediate steps to protect their interests and registered a new company, Central Store for Auto-Union Spare Parts Ingolstadt Gmbh.
Auto-Union managing director Dr
Richard Bruhn (left) is joined by motoring journalist W Ostwald, August
Horch and Dr Carl Hahn (right) inspecting the new F89P in 1950.
Setting up a central parts store and service company was a logical first step in the post-war chaos. Of all Germany's automobile companies, Auto-Union had a unique advantage; due to the Wehrmacht's disdain for DKW's two-stroke powerplant, DKW cars were never commandeered for military use. Consequently, 65,000 DKW cars of all types were still registered on the road in the West Germany, and these still needed regular service and repair. Slowly but surely the new company struggled to its feet. In two years the company turned over 3 million mark in parts sales and servicing.
A later photograph of DKW Schnellasters leaving the Central Store building.
The prestige of Dr Bruhn and Dr Hahn meant that the Central Store company was quickly recognised as the true successor of the old Auto-Union. Discussions were held with Werner's independent company in Oldenberg, but an agreement to consolidate the companies was not reached. Werner eventually struck out on his as a consulting engineer and his Auto-Union company dissolved.
The new Auto-Union set up its offices in a former army commissary and storehouse in Dusseldorf. The premises were spacious but not really suitable for an auto factory but they made do. In 1948 the East German government de-registered the old Auto-Union company and nationalised what remained of the company's assets. This opened the door for Drs Bruhn and Hahn to register a new company, Auto-Union Gmbh, as the official successor of the prewar company. The State Bank of Bavaria advanced the company a line of credit.
The Central Store building in Dusseldorf
Things moved rapidly once the legal ambiguities were resolved. The Swiss dealership and bodyshop, Holka AG, became a majority shareholder in the company and injected much needed capital. Thoughts immediately turned to building a new vehicle. The prewar dealer network had been prepared to wait, but their patience was not infinite. By August the first post-war vehicle was unveiled, the DKW F89L Schnellaster van. This was soon followed by the RT125W motorcycle.
The new DKW range on display at the 1949 Hannover trade show. The Schnellaster was the right vehicle at the right time, helping get Germany back on its feet. But once the recover had started, personal vehicles were the priority.
The Schnellaster was an entirely new vehicle concept with its forward control cab, front wheel drive and low, flat cargo tray, and was an immediate hit. The Schnellaster had been designed in early 1947 and the first 500 had been built in an open air courtyard at the Dusseldorf parts store. Nothing could have highlighted the Central Stores' unsuitability as an auto plant so the company began searching for a new location. The location chosen was a vacant aircraft factory in Ingolstadt. This factory needed extensive remodeling but by 1950 Schnellasters were beginning to roll off the new production line.
Desperate times require desperate measures. The Central Store no room for a full production line so the final fitting out of Schnellaster vans was done out in the open in the courtyard. This was only a temporary measure and by 1950 the production line had moved to newly refurbished premises in Ingolstadt.
To keep the dealers happy it was essential that Auto-Union release a new passenger car. Production of the pre-war DKW F8 was considered, but there were substantial difficulties. The first problem was that the new factory had no experience of, or machinery for, building chassis. The tooling, presses, designs and skilled workers were all back in Chemnitz working on the IFA F8. Auto-Union were forced to turn to stockpiled replacement chassis' from the parts store and reverse engineer them from scratch. Ultimately this resulted in an improved, more modern chassis with better suspension, brakes and modern telescopic shock absorbers, but it meant the new car took longer to develop.
Another fundamental problem was the difficulty of accessing the Spandau
karosseriewerkes in Berlin, where DKW's wooden car bodies had been
built. Spandau was out action and soon liquidated.
Spandau was primarily a wood working shop. The pre-war DKW bodies were produced on a production line capable of turning out dozens of bodies every day, but the work was labour intensive. Trade and transport restrictions between East and West Germany meant that the factory was isolated from the west.
Instead, as a stopgap, the Baur karosseriewerkes of Stuttgart presented Auto-Union with a handsome new steel body that could be fitted to both the new or prewar F8 chassis. Available in either hard or soft top, the Baur bodied DKW F10 went on sale in 1950 and was quickly snapped up by those who had the cash to afford it.
The F10 however was to be a short-lived affair. In fact, only 200 of the new F10s would be built before Auto-Union withdrew them from sale in favour of their new flagship car - the DKW F89P 'new Meisterklasse.'
The F89 Comes Together
Although the Schnellaster and the Meisterklasse share the same designation - F89 - they are in fact quite different vehicles. The Schnellaster chassis was based on a modified F7 ladder chassis while the Meisterklasse had the modified F8 trapezoid chassis. The F8 chassis, which widened towards the rear of the car provided better stability and road handling.
Although always described as the 'prewar' engine, the two cylinder 700cc two-stroke motor of the F89 series was an improvement over its prewar predecessor. The engine put out 23 horsepower, which was still quite meagre, but the addition of a fuel pump and a new carburetor gave it a slight edge in performance over its predecessor. It's interesting to note that DKW's F9 prototype triple cylinder 900cc engine of 1940 only put out 28 horsepower.
The prewar motorcycle style multi-plate clutch was replaced with a single dry plate clutch. The three speed (and later four speed) gearbox was unsynchronised on all gears.
The most important feature of the new car though was its body. Auto-Union may have lost both the plans and all the prototypes of the F9 during the war, but the liquidation of the Spandau karosseriewerkes had revealed on particular treasure. A test body, nearly complete, and a number of presses were obtained and shipped back to Ingolstadt. Work immediately commenced on melding the new body to the new chassis.
The new car was unveiled in August 1950 in film and print. "He is worth the wait!" the ad men declared and the public agreed. Although the car was slightly underpowered it had all the characteristics that made the prewar DKW such a market winner - reliability, build quality, low maintenance and style to boot. The meisterklasse came in a two door coupe, limousine and sunroof model.
Karmann built a stylish four seater convertible model, which came in a two tone colour scheme, while Hebmuller built a sleek two seater coupe.
The Hebmuller Meisterklasse was the luxury model and, given the economic circumstances of the time, did not sell particularly well. Few were built and fewer survive. The Karmann convertible fared slightly better but remained a rare model.
Although a compromise vehicle, the DKW Meisterklasse sold well with almost 60,000 cars built over four years. For Auto-Union the next natural step was to begin development on the three cylinder engine the car had been originally designed for. The engine was sourced easily enough from the IFA F9 in East Germany and reverse engineered. This took longer than anticipated and required redesigning the F89's chassis to accommodate the larger engine and gearbox (see the post on the challenging development of the F9 http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/1939-dkw-f9-prototype.html ).
The new car, designated the F91, was not ready until 1954. Externally the F89 and F91 were almost identical but the new cars engine pushed it into a class of its own. It became an instant rally champion and a market leader. The old F89 was still continued for a few months before it was retired.
The DKW Meisterklasse continued to give its owners sterling if not stellar performance, but brand loyalty to Auto-Union undermined the model's survival. Meisterklasse owners were only too happy to invest in the new, improved 'Sonderklasse' and its 3=6 successors and their Meisterklasse' rapidly lost their value. Most cars were eventually scrapped and few cars have survived.
Links to related articles:
The DKW F9 prototype: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/1939-dkw-f9-prototype.html
DKW F89 Factory photos: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/dkw-f89-factory-photos.html
DKW's forgotten model: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/dkws-forgotten-model-dkw-f10.html
Germany's Post War Wonder Car: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/dkw-germanys-post-war-wonder-car.html
Audi Tradition Museum: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2016/12/audi-tradition-ingolstadt.html
DKW F91 record breaking rally car: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/dkw-f91-dkws-record-breaking-rally-car.html
East Germany's People Cars: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/veb-sachsenring-east-germanys-peoples.html
DKW F89P German owners manual: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/1953-dkw-f89p-meisterklasse-german.html
DKW F89P French owners manual: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/1954-dkw-meisterklasse-le-manuel-du.html
1951 Meisterklasse brochure: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/1951-dkw-meisterklasse-brochure.html
1951 Auto Union Frankfurt show program: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/dkw-program-frankfurt-motor-show-29.html
1953 Auto Union magazine: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/1953-auto-union-illustrated-magazine.html
1951 Motor and Sport Magazine: http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/dkw-program-frankfurt-motor-show-29.html