Monday, 31 July 2017

DKW - Germany's Post-war Wonder Car

The Second World War put an end to all Auto-Union vehicle production. Audi stopped manufacturing cars in 1938 while Wanderer was wound up and de-registered in 1940. The same year Horch began building heavy duty military trucks and DKW's car factories were turned over to manufacturing aircraft components. DKW's Zschopau motorcycle plant continued building motorcycles both civilian and for the army.

DKW never built vehicles for the Wehrmacht but as the war progressed many were commandeered for military use and were inevitably destroyed.

Auto-Union's factories in the East managed to avoid serious bombing damage, but after the war found themselves in the Soviet occupation zone. The Soviets systematically stripped all German industrial facilities of every piece of useable equipment and shipped it back to Russia. Through necessity, the Soviets had turned factory relocation into an art-form and within a matter of years the Soviets had factories up and running building their own versions of DKW motorcycles.

A display of war damage from the August Horch museum in Zwickau. This is a Horch general purpose truck.

Some of the Auto-Union management who were captured by the Soviets were summarily executed for the use of slave labour during the war, while others were shipped off to the Soviet Union to help rebuild the commandeered factors. Most however fled west ahead of the Soviet advance but even so their prospects were bleak. The Allies had agreed between themselves that Germany would be stripped of its industry and agriculturalised. German companies lost all rights to their patents, which were distributed among the Allies. DKW's famous RT125 motorcycle was commandeered by everyone, becoming the British BSA Bantam, the American Harley-Davidson Hummer, and the Soviet Moskva 125. Famously, everyone
rejected the KDF-wagen, the British snidely commenting that it failed to "meet the fundamental technical requirements of a motorcar." The car was left to the Germans almost by default and went on to become the world beating Volkswagen.

It didn't take long for these plans to unravel. Russia, France and England were all exhausted by the war and could barely meet the needs of their own people, let alone prop up a restless German workforce. Slowly but surely, the Allies permitted German industries to be resurrected to meet the country's basic needs, such as manufacturing pots and pans, household goods, and agricultural tools.

As relations between the Soviets and the Western Allies began to deteriorate, the Western Allies came to realise that an economically dependent Germany would be a millstone around their neck and its unemployed and demoralised workforce susceptible to Communist propaganda. Rebuilding a strong German nation was felt to be the best form of defense against the Red Menace. In 1947 West Germany's economic recovery and international rehabilitation got a boost from the Marshall Plan. Millions of dollars in aid was poured into the country, commandeered patents and designs were returned, and the country began to stagger back onto its feet. 

Post War Recovery
Auto-Union's factories in the east were nationalised by the East Germans in 1947 so a new Auto-Union company was registered in West Germany in 1948. Operations recommenced around a small DKW engine reconditioning factory outside Dusseldorf. Using the factory's stock of spare engines and parts, the company began building and repairing pre-war motorcycles and cars. Fortunately, as DKW cars were rarely commandeered for military use, during the war there were more than 60,000 pre-war DKW cars still registered on the road needing servicing and repair. From this small start the company raised a small amount of capital and purchased a damaged aircraft plant and began planning the company's return to car manufacture. 

DKW's first new post-war vehicle was very much a product of necessity. Germany needed to get back on its feet so DKW focused on building a light commercial vehicle. The company had lost all access its designs when its factories were nationalised in East Germany so they were forced to use what they had to hand. Using their reliable pre-war F7 chassis and engine as a template, they conceived any entirely new type of lightweight commercial. Up to this time, most light commercials were little more than standard spec cars with modified bodywork.
A pre-war DKW Meisterklasse commercial van in post-war Holland.

By moving the cab forward and above the engine, the new vehicle maximised the usable carrying space. The low floor, unhampered by a drive shaft, was also very handy. The "Schnellaster" or Rapid Delivery Van came in a variety of body styles, from simple flat tray with drop sides, panel van, half panel and mini-bus.

By today's standards the Schnellaster is strikingly modern looking with its sharply sloping, streamlined cab and pressed steel body, but it was radically different for its time and set a new standard. Within a year a dozen companies would release similar vehicles.

Released in 1949, the F89L Schnellaster was an instant winner and was soon exported all across western Europe. Demand was such that DKW licensed production of the Schnellaster to a company in Spain, where they made such an impression that all transit vans in Spain came to be known as DeeKaVees. The name 'Schnellaster' was something of a misnomer though as the original 688cc 3-speed engine gave the van a maximum speed of only about 70 kilometres per hour. In 1952 they received a 4-speed gearbox which lifted the speed to about 80-85 kph. The engine was finally upgraded to the 3 cylinder engine 900cc engine in 1956. Over 28,000 Schnellasters were built and they remained in production, virtually unchanged until 1965.

This contemporary photos shows how the layout of the engine maximised usable space. The whole engine bay includes the fuel tank, radiator and engine. The black rectangle opposite the fuel tank is the radiator. which is cooled by a fan on the left hand side of the vehicle. In fact, the 'grill' at the bottom had no function. The engine is almost completely invisible in the photo. You can just see the top peaking over the front grill.

A DKW 3=6 in BBC livery. The Schnellaster was exported all across western Europe and as far away as Australia, South Africa and South America. They were built under license in Spain, South America, Argentina and Brazil.
The F9 is Reborn

In 1950 DKW unveiled its version of the pre-war F9 in the new F89 saloon. Three F9 pre-production cars had escaped destruction during the war. One was found in Leipzig and was used by IFA (the nationalised East German DKW factory) as the template for their IFA F9. The second was seized by the British and passed to Australia for evaluation, where it disappeared, and the third was a bodyshell at the DKW Spandau body works. DKW did not have access to the new 3 cylinder 900cc engine that went with the car so were forced to compromise by mounting the new body over a modified pre-war  F8 chassis and two cylinder 688cc engine. The streamlined modern bodywork made the car look sleek, but it was ultimately underpowered. With only a three speed gearbox the car's speed was optimistically rated to about 100 kph. The new 'Meisterklasse' was available as a two-door or four-door saloon, convertible, coupe or estate wagon.

The engine bay of a DKW F89. The little two cylinder engine sits transversely at the front of the engine bay. The column running through the radiator housing is the gear shift column, which is mounted in the centre of the dashboard like DKW's pre-war models.

The F89 Meisterklasse sold extremely well, selling over 60,000 cars. It must be remembered that these were the lean years of the German Miracle. The economy was only just beginning to recover and people could not afford expensive cars. Established auto companies like BMW basically had to abandon their entire pre-war range in favour of budget and microcars like the BMW Isetta. Although its old 699cc engine was rated little more powerful than that of its microcar competitors, the Meisterklasse offered customers the comforts, styling and appearance of a bigger, modern car.

F91 - DKW's rally champion
In 1953, thirteen years after it was originally developed for the pre-war F9, DKW had finally reverse engineered the car's 3=6 engine. The new F91 model featured The new 3 cylinder engine had a 896cc capacity and could push the car up to 115kph.

The engine bay of the DKW F9. The engine is now mounted longitudinally. Everything in the engine design was simplicity - there was no water pump, no petrol pump and each cylinder had its own condenser coil, which gave the engine built in redundancy. It could run easily enough on two cylinders.

The F91 carried forward the handsome styling of its predecessor but it was its engine that guaranteed its success. The 3=6 had great acceleration and, combined with its sure footed front wheel drive, made it a successful rally car. The F91 was a market winner in its class and sold over 76,000 cars.

Despite its small size, the 3=6 was an outstanding engine that was both powerful and economic. It helped push the DKW team to victory in the 1954 European Rally Championship. The marketing department of course made the most of it.

DKW F93 - the quintessential DKW

In 1956 the F91 was substantially redesigned, stretched, widened and re-styled and released as the F93. The car was given a fourth gear, improving its performance at speed, allowing the F93 to follow in its predecessor's footsteps on the rally circuit. Following the introduction of new European safety regulations in 1957, the original rear hinged suicide doors were replaced with modern front hinged doors. Over 176,000 F93s were sold by time the model was retired in 1960.

The F93 was 10cms wider and 6cm longer than its predecessor, which made it a much roomier vehicle.

The Power of the Two Stroke

After the 3=6's rally victories in 1954, two race drivers, Guenther Ahrens and Albrecht Mantzel, developed a customised racing model on a 3=6 chassis, with tuned engine and a lightweight fibreglass body. The car set five world records for speed and endurance in 1956. Limited production of the sports coupe followed, with DKW supplying the chassis and engines and Ahrens and Mantzel organising bodies and fittings. The best estimate is that 70-80 cars were built before Auto Union stopped supply in 1958. There were a range of other custom sports models built over the years, such as the Brazilian DKW Puma, but that is another story.

Prestige in its day. Collectors item today.

The Swinging Sixties

This contemporary street scene in southern Germany shows a broad cross section of the autos on the roads. We can see a BMW-Isetta micro-car, a Mercedes, plenty of Volkswagens, a couple of DKW Juniors, several Opel Rekords, a DKW Schnellaster, a Gutbrod van, a Hanomag van and a couple of Ford Taunus'.

As the end of the decade approached DKW began reviewing their designs. The F93, as popular as it was, was almost twenty years old and was beginning to look it.

Ingolstadt's cabinet of curiosities. Full size mock ups of a range of new DKW models that never saw the light of day.

In 1959 DKW introduced the newly designed F11 Junior model, with a new rear suspension, 791cc 3 cylinder engine and new 'American' styling that appealed to the youth market. Production of the new car commenced at a new factory in Ingolstadt, while the old Dusseldorf plant continued to manufacture the F93.

The nippy little Junior came a two door sedan, coupe, and convertible and was a popular seller in Germany and overseas. 118,000 cars were sold.

The resurrection of Auto Union

The introduction of the Junior and the move to Ingolstadt marked a turning point in DKWs history. Daimler-Benz bought a controlling stake in the company and began looking to diversify the brand. As the F93 was still popular, the company decided to continue production but re-badged under the brand name Auto Union. "Auto Union" and the four rings symbol had appeared on all Auto Union productions, whether manufactured by Audi, Horch, Wanderer or DKW, but no production vehicle had actually been branded Auto Union before. From this point on Ingolstadt products would continue under the DKW brand name while products from the Dusseldorf factory were branded Auto Union. The company began to position Auto Union as the prestige brand.

The Junior and Auto Union 1000S share a showroom. Note the price tags on the license plates.

Despite the introduction of the new name, the DKW F93 3=6 and the Auto Union 1000S were basically identical vehicles, although the Auto Union 1000S claimed to have more 'luxurious fittings.' In 1961 DKW upgraded the engine to 981ccs, known as the "Big DKW 3=6." Once again the engine was a winner on reliability, power and fuel efficiency. 84,000 cars were built.

The F93 and Auto Union 1000S side by side. The differences are basically confined to trim and badges.

Thunderbirds are go!!

The Junior and 1000S continued in production through the early 1960's, but public tastes were changing and car companies needed to constantly update their styles to retain customer interest. In 1964, Auto Union released the 1000SP. The chassis and engine came directly from the sturdy 1000s, but the body was a cross between the DKW Junior and a Ford Thunderbird. This sleek and exciting sportscar certainly gets enthusiasts' hearts racing nowadays, but 1960s Germany was not 1960s America and the model flopped. Only 1,640 cars were built. They are highly sought after today.

At the same time DKW released the F12, an upgraded version of the Junior. The F12 inherited the old 896cc engine of the F93 which gave it a little more kick, and it featured a new automatic oiler. Unfortunately it too failed to make much of an impression, possibly because it looked a little too much like a notorious East German two-stroke car, but also because the newly introduced oiler failed to work properly, resulted a wave of engine failures. Only 2,800 cars were sold.

Bizarre Swedish advertising - "Look, it has wheels!"

The Age of Square
At the midpoint of the decade Auto Union looked like it was in trouble. The times they were a changing and two-stroke motors were increasingly seen by the buying public as an outdated technology. With two recent flops on its hands, Daimler-Benz decided to get out of the game and in 1964 sold its stake in the company to DKWs' erstwhile competitor, Volkswagen.

The same year, DKW released the F102 as the successor of the 1000s. The F102 featured a new 1300cc engine in a completely redesigned, contemporary styled body. The F102 was a success and managed to claw back some some of DKWs market share. In two years slightly over 52,000 cars were sold.

There was nothing small car about the F102. It did a lot to improve DKWs image after several disappointing failures.

In 1966 Volkswagen management stopped two-stroke development at DKW. The new DKW F103, due to be released later that year was re-engined with a four cylinder four-stroke engine and rebadged as an Audi, starting anew that lineage of prestige cars that continues to this day.

The new Audi F103.

Although Volkswagen didn't know it yet, it would be DKW-Auto Union's front wheel drive technology and heritage, rather than Ferdinand Porsche's rear wheel drive, air cooled technology that would take Volkswagen forward. By the early 1970s sales of the Volkswagen Beetle were terminally declining so Volkswagen management decided to rebadge Audi's new A50 as the Volkswagen Polo. It was the beginning of the end for Porsche's peoples car and a new direction for Volkswagen.

Although DKW auto production had come to an end in Germany, their amazing little engine would not quite die. In Brazil, DKW-Vemag continued building their version of the Auto Union 1000s right through into the late 60s, but that is another story.....

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