Little wonder DKW up for grabs

DKW is a brand not well known in Australia, despite efforts by Auto Union to establish a market in the mid-1930s.

By contrast, the cars gained a popular enthusiast following in South Africa, largely due to the arrival of a pair of Auto Union Grand Prix cars for major races in East London and Cape Town.

The huge cars, driven by the legendary Berndt Rosemeyer and Ernst von Delius, were brought in to help launch the DKW brand and they delighted the crowds with their tremendous speed and bellow from their 6.0-litre supercharged V16 engines.

That came about thanks to Klaus-Detlev von Oertzen,  a former sales director of Auto Union.

Legend has it he moved to South Africa in 1936 to build an export market for DKW — and also to get away from Hitler’s Germany, since he had some Jewish connections.

In 1937 he arranged for a pair of the famed Auto Union racers to compete in South Africa, and it proved to be a perfect move, even if the cars they were to promote were very different: small, 750cc twin-cylinder, two-stroke vehicles, some with fabric bodywork.

People rushed to acquire the little cars, which were soon renowned for their reliability, endurance and economy and which provided a fresh alternative to the other littlies of the time, like Austin, Hillman and Morris.

Herr von Oertzen did make a trip to Australia and did manage to get a few cars sold, but local sentiment and conservatism did not favour the weird-sounding little foreign machines and the brand found few buyers.

Then came 1939 and WWII, which brought the fairytale DKW story to a halt.

However, it fired up again in 1953, and soon after DKWs were back on the road all over Europe, South Africa, Argentina and in Brazil, finally morphing into what we know today as Audi.

The post-war Deeks, as they were often called, had 896cc three-cylinder two-stroke motors and a stunning aerodynamic body shape, the product of wind tunnel technology. 

They had ‘3=6’ badges, suggesting their three-potter was equivalent to six cylinders and a further attraction was the Sonderklasse badge, which translated to ‘in a class of its own.’

The motor had a unique exhaust note and they could go like the clappers.

They featured strongly in motorsport, taking away loads of silverware in production car races.

The fabled Archie Scott-Brown campaigned one in the UK and in South Africa Jan Aukema scored numerous victories.

My late brother had three Deeks in succession, 1955, ‘56 and ‘57 models and I spent many glorious hours at the wheel of each of them. 

DKW, by the way, stood for Dampf Kraftwagen,  a relic from 1916 when it started life as a steam-powered car.

But they were popularly called Deutsche Kinderwagen (German kiddie car),  Das Kleine Wunder, (the little wonder) or Deutsche Kleine Wunder (little German wonder.)

Production ceased in 1966 when DKW was swallowed up in the giant merger that ended up as Audi and there are few of the gems around these days.

However, a lovely 1959 model has just come on to the classic car market.

It arrived in The Netherlands in semi-knocked down form in November, 1958, and was assembled in early ‘59 by the Dutch importer Hart Nibbrig & Greeve in Sassenheim. 

That course of action attracted substantial tax relief. 

In 1959 it was registered for the first time in neighbouring Belgium. 

In 2019 the diamond blue coupe was fully restored by a DKW specialist and the engine was not only fully rebuilt, but also treated to some beautiful detailed work, including a brass-finished radiator.

 Inside, it sports perfectly preserved original rubber mats as well as the decorative strips on the boot. 

The factory documents confirm the matching chassis and body.

Since the restoration the car has been expertly driven for some 2000km to allow for further tuning. 

It is now “ready to go” at Holland’s Gallery Aaldering, one of Europe’s leading classic car specialists.

The price is 26,950 Euro, or about $43,000 Australian.

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