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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: DKW

Zweirad Union Type 115/155

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Regular readers will know that Zweirad Union was the parent company for several brands, most notably Victoria, Express and DKW, and has been featured several times in these pages. The late 1950s saw the death of many German motorcycle producers, and Zweirad had acquired an ailing Victoria in 1957, a dying Express in 1958, and a castoff DKW in 1959. The idea of the new Director Dr Odilo Burkart, was to leverage models and tooling in Nuremburg to produce models for all three brands.


One result of this approach was the avant-garde Zweirad Union Type 115/155, produced from 1960 to 1963. The 115 was a Victoria model, and the 155 was the almost identical DKW. They were aimed at younger buyers in an attempt to keep them on a sportier looking two-wheeler rather than going to one of the many affordable small cars that were on the market. The first thing that jumps out at you is the futuristic styling, evoking images of jets and space-age conveyances. The body lines suggest forward motion even standing still, and the chrome finned engine cover contribute a sense of speed. All of this is ironic, given that this is a 50cc 4.2 hp machine. Styling was polarizing at the time, but sales were fairly solid with 13,551 Victorias to 13,345 DKWs over the production span.

The machines became affectionately known as “Blechbanane” or Tin Banana.

Down the Lane

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Nashville, Tenessee naturally brings to mind Country Music and the Grand Ole Opry, Whiskey, and the smoky mountains. A great automotive museum ? Not so much. Which is why the Lane Motor Museum is such a surprising discovery. Not that it is unknown in museum circles, as it is another of those Family-owned marvels that we the public benefit from immensely, and which are fairly well known among gearheads regionally. The museum is a 501c3 established by Jeff Lane in 2002 around his personal collection. Now there are three aspects of the Lane Museum that make it particularly attractive to Classic Velocity. First, it specializes in European vehicles. Second, every vehicle is a running, driving specimen that gets some usage. This is no small feat, as you will see. There is a real mix of near showroom cars, and many with a healthy patina. Third, the museum is housed in a 132,000 ft2 former Sunbeam Bakery complete with brick walls and maple floors. It compliments the collection and vice versa.

If there is a theme for the museum, it is probably "interesting cars" as our basement tour guide described it. The main floor is 40,000 ft2 of those cars along with a history of the bicycle exhibit, which was interesting in its own right. The vehicles (they include a smattering of motorcycles and scooters) are roughly, but not entirely, grouped by the region of Europe. Scandinavia included Volvos and Saabs. A highlight of this area was a Saab 92 from 1950 which only came in aircraft green because that paint was surplus from the war. Next on my circumnavigation of the floor was an impressive collection of micro cars which crossed all geographic boundaries. Well known Isetta, and Messerschmidt shared space with a Zundapp Janus, a Heinkel and a Hoffman. Hondas and Berkeleys and Subarus were intertwined. The French and the Italians were not to be outdone with entries from Renault (a dauphine Henney electric car from 1959!), Citroen, Fiat, and a delightful Vespa. DAF, Daihatsu, and an American Davis were also included. A well executed Tata Nano from India was also present. A truly "interesting" group.

Back to the regions, Italy blurred into France which was dominated by Citroen, but had an iconic Renault 5 Turbo. At this point I need to jump back over to a small group of race cars to highlight the bright orange Citroen DS Ice Racer, complete with snorkel and studded tires. Enough said. The next section was dedicated to Tatra from the Czech Republic, so technically it was regional. However, there were about a dozen Tatras on display, and more in the basement. They are a theme of this museum, and run from a 1925 car to  a 1994 truck. Interesting design, interesting engineering, interesting history. Eastern Europe continued with a Polish FSO, Skodas, and then into Russia via Zil and ZAZ. 

I left Germany for last, given the focus of this blog. This was a great opportunity to see vehicles in person that have been covered on these pages, from marques which went away decades ago, and are not normally seen even at vintage events. Perhaps my favorite was back in the race car section where there was a 1 of 1 Shirdlu powered by a BMW 700 engine. Minimalist at 1000 lbs and top speed of 127 mph. Designed and built by 3 Californians. The collection included a couple of Hanomags, a Hansa, a few Lloyds, a Steyr, several DKWs (including a lovely Monza), a Wartburg, several NSUs, a Goliath, and more.  Incredible, and knowing that all of them were or soon would be running driving examples made it all the more impressive.

If you are anywhere near Nashville, you owe the Lane Motor Museum a visit, but pay the extra for the basement tour. It is well worth it.


Framo 2-3-4 Wheels

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Innovation in frames and platforms was the norm in the early days of the internal combustion engine, and many companies were simply trying to find the most efficient means to accomplish a task. One such company was Framo, founded in 1923, the same year as BMW. Although founded in Saxony, Germany, it was started by Dane Jorgen Rasmussen, who also founded DKW. The main idea was to use Framo to produce components for DKW motorcycles. After 3 years, that lead to the production of a commercial motorcycle-based vehicle, Basically, it was a trike with a cargo platform. This TV300 model emerged as a Framo vehicle in 1927. Variations for Framo included a single wheel at the front driven by an engine directly above it, a single wheel at the rear, enclosed cockpits, and open trikes with a covered rear. In other words, many permutations and configurations were tried.  Three-wheeled experiments in turn lead to the 4-wheeled Piccolo and Stromer models in the 1930s. All models were powered by 200cc-600cc 2 stroke motorcycle engines. Sales were simply ok in many instances, and weak in others, with no real sales successes.

Postwar, the factory was dismantled and shipped to Russia. Production resumed however in 1949 with what was essentially a pre-war model. Although there were further attempts at passenger vehicles, commercial applications were the only consistent sales. Even this was not to last very long, as the company became VEB Barkas and then concentrated on compact passenger vans. But that is a story for another time....

A Most Important Failure

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What are some of the hallmarks of modern Audis? Front wheel drive on larger sedans, odd numbers of cylinders, etc. Well many of those attributes were introduced with the DKW F102 in late 1963. The F102 went into production in 1964, but it was a car between two eras. Mercedes ownership held onto old formats and technology, while new thinking and performance standards were already evident among the competitors. As such, the car was unibody construction, and front wheel drive, but with a two-stroke three cylinder engine. It was 168.5 inches long and weighed 2945 lbs. The engine was 1175cc and produced 69hp, along with 76 ft-lbs of torque. This propelled the car to a top speed of 84mph, and a 0-60 time of 16.8 seconds. Not horrible for the time, but far from being among the leaders. It was offered in a 2 door coupe initially, with the 4 door following six months later. Given what was being produced or designed by Mercedes at the time (Gullwing, Pagoda, etc), many believe that they were also concerned about competing with themselves.

It is no surprise that the car sold poorly with just over 53,000 units in its' short life. The public had already been moving away from 2 strokes, and there were great alternatives in the emerging class of modern sedans. Mercedes happily sold a controlling interest in Auto Union to Volkswagen in 1966, and the new owners quickly killed off the DKW brand and facelifted the F102 to make it the F103 branded as an Audi. They also inserted a four stroke four cylinder engine.  The F102 is one of those commericial failures that forced a sudden course correction and gave birth to a successful platform with many of its' attributes carried forward. 


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The DKW RT 250 was a single cylinder model introduced at the Frankfurt motorcycle exhibition in 1951. It was the larger displacement version of the RT 200, having increased the bore to 70mm while keeping the stroke unchanged, but it featured several improvements. First of all, the frame now had a plunger rear suspension. The engine performance improved to 14 hp with the RT250/2, as did the gearbox moving from 3 to 4 gears. Engine and gearbox combinations allowed DKW to present 3 different models of the 250 for sale; the RT250, the RT250/1, and the top of the line RT250/2. A sportier S model was introduced for 1956 with a new front fork, a larger tank, and finned cylinders to better dissipate the heat it generated. Other changes from the 175 and 200 included a larger toolbox, switching the exhaust to help with sidecar use, and a locking steering column on the left side. The models all featured the enclosed primary chain design that was a DKW signature element. 


DKW Monza

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The DKW Monza was a sports car built on the chassis of the successful DKW 3=6 coupe. It was produced from 1956 to 1958 in limited numbers, and featured a fiberglass body fitted to the chassis and equipped with the same engine as the coupe. That engine was a 900cc two-stroke producing about 40hp. However, the Monza was much faster than the coupe due to far better aerodynamics, and a weight of only 1720lbs. A prototype was first shown at the Frankfurt show in 1955. Designed by Gunther Ahrens and Albrecht Mantzel, the car has interesting styling cues that are similar to the Mercedes 300SL, the BMW Glas coupe, BMW 507, and the Alfa Veloce Sprint Speciale. It was a compact and stylish car. DKW used several different coach builders for the car, and so there were resulting variations and uncharacteristic gaps in the record keeping..


In late 1956, a quartet of drivers (Gunther Ahrens, Heinz Meier, Roberto Barbay, and Georg Thieler) set five international records with the car around the circuit for which it was named at Monza. The car proved popular on the heels of these records, particularly in the USA. Ultimately though, only somewhere between 230-250 cars were produced. The primary reason for this was that parent Auto Union already had a sporty successor in the works. The Auto Union 1000SP was launched in 1957 and the short reign of the Monza came to a close in 1958.

Globe Trotting

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For many of us who are into vintage iron, there is a deep interest in brands and machines that we have no interest in owning. If we like one particular marque, then there is usually an interest in one or two others that we may never have owned or have any desire to in the future. For some strange reason though, we have accumulated a level of knowledge about these other brands or vehicles. For me it is French cars. Perhaps it is because I have never owned one that there is such interest as I have owned vehicles from many countries ear to France. Countries such as England, Italy, Germany of course, and Sweden, but nothing from the country which founded motor racing.


This makes Carlisle's annual import show an anticipated event, as you can see all of these nationalities and more in one place. It is also one Of a few events of the year where Saab may outnumber BMWs, or where Opels may outnumber MGBs. By the way, what is the plural of Saab? It seems like one of those words where the plural should be the same as the singular ie: I have 9 Saab. But I digress.....the French section is a mixture of Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault. Perhaps because of the multiple Citroen DS present, it feels like there is an air of sophistication surrounding the ownership of French cars. Not in a snobbish way, it's just that there are no ratty unfinished French cars at any event where I have seen them present. Even the common man's 2CV is usually well preserved or restored. They seem much more like Jaguar or Mercedes.


Speaking of Jaguar and Mercedes, both were well represented on the showfield. Mercedes W109 models and Jaguar E-Type were particularly plentiful. The aforementioned Opel is another reason that this show is a delight. While the Opel GT is most abundant, this is the place to see multiple generations of Rekord, many Mantas (Manti?), Asconas, and more. This is another favorite section of the showfield. Favorite section #3 is the for sale corral. Just for variety it cannot be beat. A fully surface-rusted beetle, a Triumph TR4, a BMW 2002, a Cobra kit car, a Jaguar E-Type, a Mercedes SL, a Subaru Microcar, a Porsche 356 Replica, a Volvo PV44, etc. the prices were just as varied as the machines from the ridiculous to the great deal.


I have not even touched on the growing Datsun/Nissan presence, the Rovers, or the Volvo wagon brigade. This is the beauty of the event, you can walk across the globe and sample vintage vehicles. But be warned, globe trotting can be very time-consuming, and does not lend itself to a rigid schedule. You could get stuck in Sweden drinking vodka with the natives as the sky grows dark.....

The Screaming Threes

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DKW is no stranger to this blog both in two-wheel (see DKW 350) and four-wheel (see DKW 1000) versions. On two wheels, DKW was a competitive force in more than one era. Ewald Kluge rode a 250cc motorcycle to victory in the 1938 Isle of Man lightweight TT, and followed that up with a second place finish in 1939. Following the war, DKW (now part of Auto Union and headquartered in Ingolstadt), resumed the production of small bore two stroke machines and was eager to return to competition.

Once Erich Wolf assumed the leadership of competition machines, new 2 stroke works racers were developed in 125cc, and 250cc, displacements. After a disappointing 1951, the megaphone exhausts were replaced by expansion chambers, and a 3 cylinder version of the 350cc machine was introduced in 1952. The triple was developed by adding a nearly horizontal cylinder (75 degrees) to the nearly vertical twin cylinder arrangement previously in use. The machine also gained a four speed gearbox. The outcome was a 46 HP machine that would hit 140 MPH. The machine was thirsty though, and required a large alloy tank similar to NSUs and the AJS "porcupine". Despite this, results initially were not very good as reliability and handling issues prevented further successes.


Then in 1954, Robert Eberan Von Eberhost, a former assistant to Ferdinand Porsche, was placed in charge of racing efforts. He chose Hellmut Georg to work on the competition engines, and it is believed that there was a specific charge to make the 350cc machine competitive. A series of changes were introduced, including adding 38mm Dell Ortos, and a bevel-driven Bosch Magneto. Other changes included direct oiling, telescopic forks, and four drum hydraulic brakes.  This was ground-breaking innovation at the time. The result was that DKW finished 1-2-3 at the Nurburgring in the 350cc class despite being down on top speed.

In 1955, a revised version of the "screaming three", so named because of the sound and the fact that it made peak power at 9500RPM, emerged complete with streamlining. On the improved machine, August Hobl was able to win the German championship, and finished third in the World championship. In 1956, Hobl followed that up by finishing second in the world championship. However, with motorcycle sales in a major slump, racing efforts were cutback. Then Auto Union, controlled by Daimler Benz by share count, merged DKW, Victoria (see Victoria Ventures) and Express, into a combined motorcycle unit called Zweirad Union. The DKW motorcycle brand rapidly faded into history.


DKW 350

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Dampf Kraff Wagen (DKW) has roots that go back to 1906 in Zschopau, Germany where its founder Jorgen Rassmussen had moved from his native Denmark. Their early years were spent making engines, and were particularly successful with their 2 stroke 118cc motor that attached to rear bicycle wheels. That became known as Das Kleine Wunder (The Little Wonder), creatively using a play on the company's initials. It was not until 1921 that they began to produce their own motorcycles. However, they progressed quickly and by 1929 were the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. Also like many others, they produced cars and we have previously touched on the DKW 1000 in an earlier post. Following the war, DKW was already part of the Auto Union empire (one of the four rings that make up the Audi logo today), but continued to produce motorcycles under its own identity. 125Cc machines begat 250cc machines which begat the 350cc machines, and DKW went racing with all of them. They enjoyed some success in Germany where the supercharging that they had developed as far back as the late 1920s was not illegal. They competed heavily with BMW and NSU on the track and in the showroom.


The most celebrated of the DKWs was the 350cc. The 350 had been produced pre-war, and had enjoyed good success. Most notably, the 350SS which was a supercharged water-cooled DKW from the 1930s !! Success continued after the war as a streetbike in the form of the RT350, and as a formidable competitor in race trim. The RT350 was a very handsome bike from the early to mid 1950s. Black with white pinstiping seemed to be the uniform of that time, but the DKW also sported some chrome, unique engine covers, and red accents which made it appear much more stylish. The bike was a relatively square parallel twin (58X62) with Bing carburettors, producing horsepower in the mid 30s. It featured a telescoping fork, a swingarm in the rear with twin shocks, and hydraulic rear brakes. Overall it was a very nice package and initially sold very well. DKW also produced 125, 175, and 250 models that also did well in the frugal climate of the time.


On the competition front, the 350 triple became the area of focus after a reorganization of the racing effort put Helmut Gorg in charge. Essentially the triple was the twin with a horizontal cylinder in front. It initially suffered problems producing power from the third cylinder, and a series of refinements ensued during 1954 and 1955. The racing effort was responsible for the hydraulic brakes at both ends, and a number of other features that moved rapidly to the production bikes. The development of the 350 presented one of the few instances in history where increasing weight helped performance !! The fairing, plus beefing up the crankcase, a bulbous gas tank reminiscent of the AJS Porcupine, hydraulic brakes, etc resulted in a more competitive motorcycle even though it weighed more than the lighter earlier versions, and more than the competitors. Surtees on a DKW350The result though was a 350cc motorcycle producing just 46hp, but reliably exceeding 140MPH by 1956. The same techniques were applied to the 125cc version, and DKW gained wins in Germany, and a 3rd place in the world championship. Just as the triple was finally reliable and fast, DKW fell victim to the same malaise that attacked all of the German marques in the late 1950s and the 350 production ceased in the late 1950s.

A thriving club scene exists today, and motorcycles along with parts can be found with patience. DKW did not go away however and interesting DKW motorcycles were produced in the 1960s and beyond (see Herculean Effort post). Elements of the DKW machines and the 350 in particular went on to influence remaining pieces of the Auto Union empire and beyond.

The DKW 1000

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wikipedia.orgIn the years following WWII, all German manufacturing was just trying to recover. Cars had to be practical and affordable because there were no customers for anything else. The German auto industry dusted off pre-war designs and generally used whatever had survived to provide what was needed and to begin rebuilding a market. Dampf Kraft Wagen (DKW), which was part of the Auto Union empire, was typical of this thinking at that time. It began like many after the turn of the 20th century making engines and then motorcycles and in fact by 1929 it was reportedly the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. DKW went on to produce cars and it utilized 2 and 3 cylinder 2-stroke engines to power some of its prewar and postwar cars. This continued well into the 1950s with 900cc motors producing 38hp.

4851257-9204719-thumbnail.jpg DKW 1000 was produced from 1957 to 1963 in both 4 door sedan and 2 door coupe flavors. There was also a Coupe and a 3 door station wagon. They were 980cc in displacement and used an inline 3 cylinder 2 stroke engine producing about 44hp. In order to herald in the new decade, the car was rebadged as an Auto Union 1000S and given a styling update consisting mainly of a wrap-around windshield. The Auto Union badge was also an attempt to make the car more appealing to the upscale buyers that were now emerging. Even so, the styling seems to be a mix of eastern europe and french influences. About 170,000 cars were produced, making this a pretty popular car at the time. As with almost all German sedans and coupes around this time, some of the cars went racing. In both Germany and South Africa, DKW and Auto Union badged examples went road racing and even Rally racing !!


www.ritzsite.nlIn the late 1950s, America was arguably at the height of its influence. Combined with the need by Auto Union to provide a vehicle even further upscale, they introduced the Auto Union 1000SP. This was a blatant attempt to copy the popular Ford Thunderbird. It was heavily influenced by designer William Werner who was of US origin, although the stylist was Josef Dienst. The styling was visibly similar even down to the tail fins !! However, underneath the sheetmetal was the same chassis and much of the running gear from the 1000S. Two 500cc 3 cylinder engines were combined to produce a 6 cylinder lump which put out about 55hp. Because of its high price, the 1000SP did not sell well. About 5000 coupes and 1600 cabriolets were sold, so it was a minor segment of the AU1000 numbers.


The cars were officially imported to the US, but they were rare then, and even more so today. One turns up now and then on Ebay, but you have to search long and hard. They are yet another good example of the engines serving motorcycles and cars, and of the longevity of the 2-stroke engine in Europe. Auto Union and DKW became absorbed along with other components into what we now know as Audi, but the DKW 1000 and its variants were popular vehicles, and among the last before the dominant 3-box design conquered all.