In the 1920s and 30s Australian audiences avidly followed the results of European GP and motorcycle trials. Lengthy articles appeared in the newspapers tracking the best performing machines and newest developments in motorcycle design. This wasn't simply a conceit - performance in motorcycle racing directly translated into motorcycle sales. Consequently Australians first heard about DKW in the late 1920s when their two-stroke motorcycles began to make their name on the racing circuit. Several dealers began importing their motorcycles but the Australian market remained firmly dominated by British brands.
DKWs cars were virtually unknown until a story was published in The Sunday Times, Perth on 17 August 1930 about a German brother and sister driving their DKW across Africa. The story was sponsored by Vacuum Oil Company who commented that their "small DKW car, which only has two-cycle engine of 7 1/2 h.p. is lubricated with Mobiloil." It was the "the intention of the motorists to make 'round Australia' tour at a later date." Adventurous travels like these generated great publicity for DKW.
Mr W Aufermann (second from the right) and his sister Marianne Aufermann with their DKW before setting off on their round the world trip. "The brother and sister have already done considerable traveling all over Europe, and have encountered all kinds of experiences. In Bulgaria they were chased by bandits in an old model car, but a breakdown enabled them to make their escape."
Interest from this and similar stories led to more detailed articles in appearing in 1931 and 1932. A typical example is this story published in The Sunday Times (Perth) on 17 May 1931:
CHEAP GERMAN CAR
Front Wheel Drive and Articulated Rear Axle
Several baby cars selling at less than £100 have made their appearance in Germany of late, testifying to the popularity which the miniature machine is achieving. One of the most interesting of these is the D.K.W, which sells in Germany for the equivalent of £84, and which possesses some unusual features, such as front-wheel drive and articulated axles. The power unit consists of a 500 cc. water-cooled two-stroke cycle engine developing 15 b.h.p. It is built in unit with the clutch, gearbox, and differential, and the two cylinders are set across the frame. The three speed gearbox embraces a vibration damper. Suspension is by inverted semi elliptic cross-springs shackled to the end of the articulated axles.
A larger model powered with a six cylinder engine of 50 b.h.p. is also built by the same maker.
By 1935 DKW was in a position to began looking for export markets for their cars outside of Europe. On 22 October 1935 The Argus (Melbourne) announced that an Australian agent for DKW had been appointed. "Mr. R. S. Williams, of Williams Motor House, Victoria street, has been appointed as makers' representative in Australia, and he has already imported one of these cars for his personal use, and a further shipment will arrive before the end of the year."
A follow up article by The Argus on 28 January 1936 provided more details.
REMARKABLE GERMAN CAR
D.K.W. AUTO UNION HERE
Two-Cylinder, Two-Stroke of 7 H.P.
One of the most remarkable cars that has been landed in Australia for many years is a trim little D.K.W., a popular German ear manufactured by the Auto Union. It has an exceptionally small two-cylinder, two-stroke engine rated at 7-horse power. Fitted with saloon coachwork which can seat five persons, it has excellent acceleration and a top speed of more than 60 miles an hour. The car has a central backbone frame, slung below transverse leaf springs at the front and rear. The drive is through the front wheels.
Imported by Mr R Williams, managing director of R F Williams Pty Ltd, Victoria Street, City, who has been appointed factory agent in Australia for three years, the D K W has already undergone severe tests here, including a run to Sydney and back and has proved its ability to withstand tough usage and work in the country.
For simplicity of construction and economy of moving parts, this car is remarkable. The petrol tank, battery, engine, gearbox, and drive are all housed under a normal-sized bonnet. The absence of the usual tailshaft and differential allow the body to be set very low, while keeping a generous load balance, thus increasing the stability of the car. Coupled with the front-wheel drive, which assists the car to pull itself around corners and out of skids this gives it excellent load holding qualities.
The power unit is no larger than a motorcycle twin-cylinder engine. Being a two-stroke there are no valves, tappets, or camshaft and the moving parts in the engine itself are limited to the pistons, connecting-rods and crankshaft. The main bearings are on rollers and run in semi-grease. Even the oil pump is eliminated as sufficient oil is fed in with the petrol to lubricate the cylinders. There is no water pump or fan. A cleverly designed radiator gives sufficient cooling with the normal thermo-syphon action. The crankshaft is connected by a gear-wheel to the gearbox which is situated immediately in front of the engine. Incorporated in the flywheel is the starter and generator.
The generating system is also unusual. The battery charging rate is automatically controlled to maintain the battery at an almost constantly fully charged condition, thus considerably lengthening its life. The greater the electrical load the greater the charging rate, and as soon as the battery becomes fully charged the rate drops to maintain the battery just fully charged.
The driving compartment of the DKW is roomy and the floor is free of obstruction. The gear lever is mounted in a very accessible position in the centre of the dashboard and the handbrake lever is placed between the front bucket seats, where the drivers hand falls naturally to it in an emergency. Powerful mechanical brakes are fitted. A complete range of instruments is provided and the finish of the coachwork is good. Generous provision is made for luggage in the boot at the rear. The car has a wheelbase of 102 inches and weighs only 14 cwt.
Mr Williams will shortly take delivery of another shipment of these cars and he intends to fit them with Australian built bodies and sell them for approximately £285. Tests here have shown the D K W to be capable of from 45 to 50 miles a gallon using the freewheel. Coupled with the low cost of registration (£3/0/6 for the saloon) and the absence of mechanical troubles because of the simple construction it should be very economical to operate.
If the Commonwealth Government decides to alter the method of assessing the duty on German cars to facilitate the barter of wool for motor cars, Mr Williams and other importers of German cars will probably establish agencies in the State.
There was a lot of support in Germany for such a trade arrangement, but the Australian Government was reluctant to enter into negotiations with the Nazis. Consequently, import-export arrangements moved very slowly. The first model sold in Australia was the F5, which trickled in in small numbers. It wasn't until 1937 that DKWs began to arrive in any quantity. These were the new F7 models. To avoid the excessive Customs duty the Government applied to imported vehicles, the cars were shipped as Complete Knock-Down (CKD) kits without bodywork. Bodies were fitted by local carriage builders.
DKW's were a novel vehicle in Australia but evaluation by the motoring media was everywhere positive, surprisingly so given Australia's general fondness for things British and American, such as this article in The Benalla Ensign on 1 July 1938.
AUSTRALIA'S: CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS IN THE LIGHT CAR FIELD:
DKW THE LITTLE WONDER.
The Car that 100 Makers Are Wishing They Thought of First. Now See it and Ask for a Demonstration Run.
IN the deserts of Africa, in the Jungles of South America, in the tropical heat of India, and in freezing northern Europe, D.K.W's are giving greater safety and economy, greater performance, comfort and reliability to hundreds of thousands of delightful owners. With this reputation behind it as an introduction, the DKW now comes to Benalla to take its rightful place as champion of champions in the small car field. DKW torsion-proof central box frame, floating rear axle and independent front double springs, combined with instantaneously responsive front wheel drive and the extraordinarily low centre of gravity gives a margin of safety and road holding ability without parallel in any car elsewhere near its size. 40 to 50 miles per gallon, only five moving parts to the engine, amazingly light on tyres and maintenance. Add to this its low registration costs and the fact that it will take four or five adult passengers, and you will understand why DKW is known as the world's most economical motor car.
One of the features of the DKW is its lightning acceleration. There has never been in Australia a light car which is quicker off the mark than "The Little 'Wonder." It travels effortlessly from 0 to 60 miles per hour in top gear, and is a “Tiger” for hills. The driver of a DKW has no need to slacken speed appreciably in turns because the front wheel drive "trails" the car without danger of skidding in the direction in which the front wheel is turned. This means that on long journeys where it is the average speed over the whole trip that matters, the DKW gets there first! The base of comfort in car travels is the wheel base. The longer the wheelbase the better the rise. Because of its wheel base of 103 which is longer than that of any light car, the DKW is exceptionally comfortable, even on rough roads and at high speeds. All seats are between the axles. The front wheel drive does away with the drive shaft underneath the body. The equipment is elaborate, the upholstery lavish. To those who are accustomed to the ordinary motor car, the DKW "ride" is a delightful change. The simple construction and reduction of moving parts in the DKW is naturally makes for an extraordinary reliable car for long distance touring. There is less to go wrong and what remains has been strengthened proportionately. In the biggest reliability trials in Europe during the last ten years DKW have been the most consistent prize winners. Their reputation as a touring car stands just as high as the world famous Union racing cars.
Mr T. Hamond. of Broken River is the authorized distributor for Benalla and district, and he will be pleased to demonstrate the car and give particulars to anyone who may be interested.
Baron Klaus von Oertzen was Auto-Union's Sales Director and chairman of the Board of Directors. He was the prime mover behind Auto-Union's Silver Arrow racing program. But in 1935 he decided to immigrate to South Africa. There they found a ready market for the hardy little DKW. He and his wife undertook a number of cross Africa promotional journeys in their DKWs. In 1937 the von Oertzen's visited Australia The Sunday Times published an extensive account of their visit on 14 November 1937.
German Baron Brief Perth Visit
Auto Union Cars for W.A.
ONE of the principals of the Auto Union of Germany, Baron von Oertzen is now in Perth. Chief reasons for his coming to Australia were to study economic conditions and to make arrangements for the distribution, on a larger scale of the D.K.W. light car, one of the units manufactured by Auto Union, an extensive German group of car makers employing 21,000 people.
The Baron arrived from Victoria on Tuesday. His headquarters are at Johannesburg, South Africa, but before returning there he will tour Australia thoroughly, then go on to New Zealand, China, Japan, the United States and South America. His tour in all will occupy about two years.
Accompanying him is his charming wife who after spending three months in Melbourne has found a place in her heart for Australia, for Australians, their MANNERISMS AND CUSTOMS. Particularly does she admire Australians for their courtesy and assistance which they offer the traveler from overseas.
The Baron, too, was sincere in his praise of Australia and was amazed at the motor consciousness of the Australian people. The excellent roads and facilities offered the motorist in our country were other features which forcibly impressed him.
To the uninitiated in motoring activities it is well to explain that the Auto Union was formed in Germany in 1932 and now markets four makes of cars - Audi, D.K.W., Horch and Wanderer. The amalgamation of the respective factories associated with these makes, aimed at increased production by pooling the valuable experience of these four works.
To students of motor racing overseas the success on success which has come the way of Auto Union products in international events, both in Europe and overseas, is widely known.
Already being marketed and gaining popularity in Western Australia are the D.K.W. motor cycles. D.K.W., the Baron explained, is Das Kleine Wunder, or, as we would say, the little wonder, or miracle.
"While in Victoria. I finalised arrangements for the manufacture of sedan bodies for these little 7 horsepower units," the Baron explained. These will be made by the Kellow Falkiner company of Victoria which thus far has confined its activities to the making of the bodies for such world famous names in automobiles as Rolls Royce, Bentley and Packard.
On the matter of motor body construction the Baron expressed surprise at the progressive strides made in Australia. He never anticipated construction on such a large scale. For the present he considers, chiefly on account of limited population, it would be unwise to manufacture engines.
Brought to Perth by Baron von Oertzen is a D.K.W. cabriolet of graceful and distinctive lines and a machine whose performance under test, measured admirably to the claims made for it by its owner.
Baroness von Oertzen with her DKW F7 roadster.
Here is an amazing little motor for which there must soon be ready sale in Australia. This little two-seater with AMPLE LUGGAGE ROOM has the unusually long wheelbase of 103 inches, a 20 h.p. two-stroke engine, front wheel drive, independent wheel springing, central girder chassis frame and "floating axle."
Its low setting and springing arrangement combined with the fact that it is front driven enables it to be taken in and out of corners at astounding speeds. It is vibrationless at six or sixty miles an hour in top gear, it has the getaway and pick-up of a much higher horse-powered job, and its general performance is faultless.
The Baron, 25 years an aviator, and the member of an old north German family, is a champion at the wheel, and has had years of racing experience and association with the design of racing cars.
He is thoroughly versed in the requirements of the Australian market and looks to the future of the D.K.W. in Australia with every confidence. The D.K.W. is particularly suited for light carrying and utility work and chassis imported for this purpose will have bodies fitted locally in each of the Australian States.
Baron von Oertzen hopes the money going out of Australia for German cars will be compensated by the purchase of Australian 'wool and raw materials by Germany."We have no gold," he explained, "and we must try to balance our trade if we are to carry on business on an equitable basis."
Baron von Oertzen and his wife will leave Perth on Thursday and will cherish fond memories of this city and its environs.
Things now began to move rather rapidly. Official agents were set up in each state and with positive media exposure, including a number of write ups about rugged trips through the outback, sales began to increase.
Binns Motors, who had long been the agent for DKW motorcycles, became the Western Australian agent for DKW cars. The Sunday Times wrote on 8 May 1938:
Demonstrations will be arranged by local agents, Binns Motors, 280 Albany-road, Victoria Park, just below Broken Hill Hotel. By phoning M1160 a salesman will visit you and take you for a drive in the D.K.W., without obligation of purchase. D.K.W. is available in wide range, including cabriolet with imported body, which is convertible to a sedan or tourer in a few minutes, and sports roadster of handsome sporty lines.
Dalgety's Motors were the New South Wales agents.
Like many small dealerships, Dalgety Motors sold a variety of cars. Dalgety's sold a range of English, American and Continental cars.
Inside Dalgety Motors showroom. In the centre are a row of Alvis'; to the right a row of DKWs.
Continental motors in Adelaide was established as the South Australian agent.
Regent Motors in Melbourne became the official Victorian agent.
D.K.W. AND ALVISVon Oertzen and Auto-Union soon came to regret these arrangements with separate agents and builders across Australia as they were unable to ensure either consistency or quality of their products. DKW's Australian vehicles differ substantially from cars in other countries.
Regent Motors for many years the Victorian distributor for the Alvis has a second attraction in the German D.K.W. a two-cylinder car with two-stroke engine. The DKW has a number of interesting constructional details. For example, it is one of the few cars in Melbourne with the front wheel drive. Free-wheeling and independent suspension also are incorporated. Most interesting of all is the fact that there are only five working parts in the engine.
The body styles shown are sedan, utility, truck, tourer, and panel van. The country man will find the utility truck most interesting, because it has a load capacity of 10 cwt. and yet is capable of traveling about 50 miles to a gallon of fuel. Luxury car buyers will find an interesting, exhibit in the Crested Eagle Alvis, which has imported coachwork. The Argus, Melbourne. 27 September 1938.
D.K.W. SALES INCREASE
Sales figures released by Regent Motors Pty Ltd the Victorian distributor last week reveal in increase in the population of the DKW. For the six months ended December 11, 254 DKWs were sold in Victoria. Monthly sales were - June 22, July 29, August 37, September 24, October 47, November 60, and December 35.
To cope with this increase the distributor has token possession of a building with one acre of floor space in Sturt street South Melbourne where an assembly line and modem service station are being established.
Australian body styles were unique. Unlike their German contemporaries, almost all cars were fitted with steel bodies manufactured locally. These two cars are fitted with Kellow Falkiner bodies.
The ubiquitous ute was ever popular in Australia.
In late 1939 a consignment of DKWs as Complete Knock Down kits was shipped to Melbourne. By the time it arrived, war had been declared and the stevedores refused to unload it. The ship was turned around and the cars unloaded in Fremantle. The cars were all bodied by Boltons and sold through Binns Motors.
DKW records reveal that 1290 DKW cars were exported to Australia between 1936 and 1939.
After war plans
As the war in Europe began to turn in the Allies favour, Australian politicians began to plan for the future. Australia did not have its own car industry so plans were made build an Australian DKW using commandeered patents. The Singleton Archer, NSW wrote on 6 September 1944:
AUSTRALIAN-MADE CARS LIKELY
SERVICEABLE AT A REASONABLE PRICE
The Minister for Trade and Customs, Senator Keane, says he is confident that a serviceable motor car would be manufactured in Australia after the war at a reasonable price. Senator Keane is a member of the sub-committee which was appointed by the Federal Cabinet a week ago to investigate the possibilities of motor car manufacture in Australia. Unofficial reports state that it is proposed to manufacture in Australia a car similar to the German low priced two-stroke D.K.W., to sell at less than £300, and refrigerators to sell at about £30. Parts will be produced in South Australia, and assembly plants will turn out the finished products in Melbourne and Sydney.
These plans however proved to much harder to implement than originally thought. In the end the DKW patents were not used, but the fact they had been seriously considered demonstrates that DKW cars had achieved a good reputation in Australia even though they were on the market for a very short time.
ALL-AUSTN. CAR BUILT BY AN ADELAIDE FIRM
A new all-Australian car has been built in Adelaide.
Managing director of Wiles Manufacturing Co. (Mr. Ken Wiles)said his firm had produced the prototype of a new light, car which was now undergoing extensive road trials round Adelaide. The car is a replica of the latest type German DKW. Mr. Wiles said no price had yet been fixed but "our aim is to produce a car within the reach of the average salary earner." Price and cost details would be announced soon and a subsidiary company formed in Adelaide to produce the car. The car is a five-seater with ample leg space, capacious luggage boot, and attractive stream-lined sports body.
Mr. Wiles said its two-cylinder 7.2 h.p. engine developed 20 h.p. at 3,500 revolutions. It had a front-wheel drive with four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Mr. Wiles said the car had a cruising speed of 40 to 45 mph and had been averaging better than 40 miles to the gallon on road tests. By the end of this week it was hoped to have 5,000 miles on the speedometer, said Mr. Wiles.
Tourer Model Only
It was planned to restrict production to a tourer model specially adapted to Australian conditions.
A number of firms in Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne had already agreed to produce parts for the car, which would be assembled in Adelaide. Mr. Wiles said none of the German-held patents had ever been taken out in Australia. A team of nine Australian engineers led by an English automotive engineer (Mr. E. Davis) specially brought from Britain, had been working on the car at Wiles' Mile End factory for nine months.
DKWs unsuccessful attempt to return to the Australian market
DKW were forced to relocate to West Germany after the war and it wasn't until 1950 that car manufacturing recommenced. There was immediate interest in Australia and a number of newspapers and trade magazines predicted the imminent return of the marque to Australian shores. On the 24 August 1950 The Advertiser, Adelaide wrote:
D.K.W. Twin-Cylinder Cars Here Soonhttp://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/wheels-magazine-dkw-review-january-1958.html
The first of the new D.K.W. cars has been released in Europe by the Auto-Union in the Western zone of Germany and are expected to reach Australia by the beginning of next year. Mr. Kurt Hanser, Auto Union representative in Australia said in Adelaide yesterday that the post-war D.K.W., developed from the popular pre-war design, had many new features, including low frame and chassis, a more powerful engine, and a completely new all-steel body.
The Auto-Union DKW factories before the war were situated in what is now the Russian zone. Before the complete occupation, the management and the important technicians escaped to the Western zone. The Russians completely dismantled the factories and deported some technicians to Russia. Fortunately, the Auto-Union commanded an extensive organization in the Western zone and raised additional capital to build new factories at Ingolstadt and Dusseldorf.
The DKW, with its twin cylinder two-stroke engine and front wheel drive, was well known in Australia before the war. The engine is still mounted transversely, but it has been turned around and the radiator is now at the rear. This has permitted a reduction of 101 inches in the wheelbase, while retaining the same passenger and luggage space. Power has been increased to 23 bhp and the engine has an aluminum head. Front suspension has been changed, having a transverse leaf spring with two wishbones below it. Transmission is front wheel drive through a multi-plate clutch and enclosed chain drive from crankshaft to 3 speed sliding pinion gearbox without synchro-mesh.
Mr. Hanser said that although the old Auto-Union organization in the Russian zone had seen liquidated, the name DKW was still being used by this nationalized enterprise and it was not impossible, therefore, that two motor cars and motor cycles with the same name would be competing on the world market, one of each produced on each side of the Iron Curtain.
It was not to be however. A trickle of test cars arrived here but DKW were in no position to supply export volumes. About ten Schnellaster vans were exported to Melbourne in the 1950s. In 1955 DKW stated they would sponsor a team in the 10,000 mile REDex Round Australia Car Trial, a grueling cross country rally that pushed cars and drivers to their very limits. Cars that performed well in REDex were guaranteed sales. When the Peugeot team unexpectedly won the first REDex in 1953, Peugeot's entire stock of new models was sold out in a week. Other obscure German car makers, such Goliath and Lloyd fielded cars but unfortunately DKW never managed field a team. But another German small car company did - Volkswagen. Much to everyone's surprise the Volkswagen outperformed absolutely everything in the field and sales in Australia sky-rocketed. Volkswagen went on to demonstrate its success was no flash in the pan with wins in the Ampol and Mobiloil Round Australia Car Trials in the late 50s and early 60s. http://www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au/redex_trials.htm
Volkswagen's success was the death knell for DKW's chances to regain a market in Australia. In 1958 Australian Motor Industries imported ten DKW 3=6s and a 1000s' as a trial. Road tests were positive but they simply could not compete with the VW and the newly imported Japanese Toyota. In early 1960s about 30 DKW Munga jeeps were imported in Cowra, NSW and sold relatively well as agricultural vehicles.
DKW however managed to recover their export market in South Africa and New Zealand, thanks again in part to Baron von Oertzen's influence, but that's another story.
The great French Forum Auto has a great deal of photos and information.