DKW love an early sign of Audi-ction

By Jacqui Madelin

Jacqui Madelin meets two owners of classic German cars from the '50s

The DKW 3=6 is named after its 3-cylinder, two-stroke engine. Pictures / Jacqui Madelin
The DKW 3=6 is named after its 3-cylinder, two-stroke engine. Pictures / Jacqui Madelin

It was easy to find John Farmer -- there's no missing his 1958 DKW 3=6 parked on the verge. It's a quirky little car, one of three DKWs he owns -- I've already met his 1967 DKW Munga 4x4 restoration project.

"Three's enough, if I had another I'd be divorced."

We've barely sat down to chat before the characterful sound of another triple chugs past the window -- it's Dean Salter in his 1960 Auto Union 1000S, the car that replaced John's on German saleyards.

Dean's not an addict, he says. This is his only classic car -- and he's had it 29 years.

How did John get started?

"A friend bought one at uni when drunk. He sobered up and realised he wasn't mechanical, so I paid him the $100 he'd paid..."

The car was a DKW Junior, a front-wheel-drive with the engine in the boot and wasn't going, so he fixed it. Someone he worked with saw him driving it, and had a DKW F102 at home. "He said if I could tow it away I could have it. The clutch and brakes and battery were stuffed. I had it going in a week." John usually does his own mechanicals and Dean did most of the work on his car too, though "a mate painted it, an upholsterer and panel beater got involved, but the rest I did. It took a while, that was in the 1980s and there was no internet."

The cars were three-cylinder two-strokes from 1954 onwards, water-cooled. John's 3=6 has a 900cc engine -- they went to 1000cc in 1959. "They're quite reliable, so they get driven until they're crocks." John does the weekly shop in his car. "I do the cooking," he adds. But other than that he hasn't had it out a lot, though it's been to Hamilton and Whangarei.

"Last year I went to the UK and a guy I know there with nine DKWs -- he really has the disease -- he lent me a car, and four of us drove to Ingolstadt [to Audi's factory], about 1300km in two days, on the autobahns at 120km/h. There's not a lot to go wrong ... "

I don't recall seeing many of these cars -- there are only 36 DKWs and Auto Unions currently registered here.

The pair, who have tons of spare parts between them, hope to start a DKW/Auto Union register one day.

By now I'm being tucked into the red leather-clad bench front seat accessed via "suicide" doors -- "You've got to be weird to own one of these," John says as I get settled. "My wife tolerates them. She'd rather I mucked about with old cars than chased women."

The cabin's simple, and very tidy, still with the original two-colour door trim, the original instruments, tiny dash-top rear-view mirror and the now-cracked steering wheel.

The quirky DKW 3=6 wasn't a looker but it epitomised German reliability. The four rings of the badge represent Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer.

The car starts well enough ("You have to give it a little bit of revs.") and it's away. "Right low down they're dead flat but there's a big fat torque band, not like a two-stroke motorbike, which is peaky.

"Top speed is about 130km/h, so you can get a speeding ticket. They have a very tall top gear for the autobahns in Germany. Four speed manual column change, with in theory no synchro first but this has a later gearbox, and there's a button on the right to freewheel, so you can do clutchless gear changes."

It's there because otherwise, with the two-stroke engine, not enough fuel went in if you trailed the throttle heading downhill at speed, and the engine could seize, "so that's how they got around that."

The suspension is all independent. "They were renowned for their good handling, and the two-door ones raced. They had good brakes -- from big drums -- and being two-stroke you could hot them up. Dean's was 50hp [37kW] standard, the racers developed double that." John's car boasts 30kW, to shift 930kg.

Refuelling means calculating how much petrol went in and doing maths to add the right amount of oil. Thirst?

"About 30mpg [9.4l/100km], which for the 1950s was quite good -- a 900cc four-stroke would be gutless, and wouldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding."

Give these two half a chance and they're off, now talking about old Rileys, Merc design, and finally the four-ring badge, symbolising the merger of Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, though only Audi remains.

"The Audi people are pretty supportive, though they don't especially like the two-strokes," John says.

"But I like them, they're quirky, so individual."

Bit like John himself, really ...

- NZ Herald

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