Experiences with Two D.K.W.s
M.P.H. and starkness alone do not make a sports car, and these are often present in a vehicle which does not come within the category at all. A sports car is rather one with a character of its own, yet containing certain standard qualities of control and roadholding, and, more often than not, with an excellent reputation as a marque. Those who must have their sport ” vintage-fashion ” will please overlook this lapse. The others, whose recognition of sports cars dates from 1890 to 1945, may here find a new one to add to their collection.
Although I had seen and admired the D.K.W. in Belgium as long ago as 1935, it is my constant regret that I did not seek more practical acquaintance until 1941, when conditions dictated extreme economy. Since then I have actually owned two of the marque myself and, more important, have met, or been in communication with, a great many other owners.
A brief specification for those who have forgotten, or who never knew : wheelbase 8 ft. 7 in., front track 3 ft. 91 in., rear 4 ft. 11 in. Turning circle 37 ft. Engine, 2-cylinder, 2-stroke, with inverted scavenge, 76 by 76 mm. (684 c.c.$), quoted 20 b.h.p. at 3,800 r.p.m. Lockable freewheel, three forward speeds, 6.1, 10.8, and 19.2. Front-wheel drive with i.f.s. by two transverse springs, the rear axle beam being also suspended by transverse spring and located by torque tubes. Cable brakes. Two-door bodies made of impregnated plywood covered with fabric, as 2or 4-seaters, or fixed-head saloon, or cabriolet. Backbone chassis. These facts cover the more popular models up to 1939. There was a cheaper model with 584-c.c. engine and no free wheel offered in 2-seater form only, and a de luxe range with metal cabriolet, reminiscent of a miniature Horch. The kerbside weight of the popular range was 141 cwt. In 1939 the chassis was altered to conform with convention and the all-metal body was fitted. The writer has no experience of the last type.
This car was originally designed by the great Dr. Porsche, and its total sales probably exceed those of any other European or British popular small Car. But even these two facts in conjunction failed to impress the British purchasing public to any great extent. Why ? It was not a cheap car, selling here at 1185, but then it was not cheap in Germany either, where its sales are said to have exceeded 200,000. It was entirely unconventional, but continental use proved it to be a complete success. The body dimensions were as much, and the luggage space greater, than many British twelves, yet, because it weighed 21 cwts. less than the British 8-h.p. class, it could nearly reach 60 m.p.h., and would cruise all day at 50-52 m.p.h. Why ? Unless the answer is a very derogatory one in respect of the public (which I expect it is) I do not know. I have owned two examples, both secondhand, and I have been fortunate. There have been rumours that the allroller cranks of these engines are not Regular readers will have observed that MOTOR SPORT has made a practice of publishing readers’ detailed experiences with Continental utilitytype cars. At first sight this may appear unpatriotic, but in actual fact we consider that British manufacturers should have every opportunity of studying these successful foreign cars and of heeding how they handle so well that they seem more sports than utility designs to British drivers. We hope post-1945 British cars will be so good that it will soon be unnecessary to point this moral. Meanwhile, here is Graham C. Dix in praise of the D.K.W. Will someone continue the series by giving views on the f.w.d. Citroen, please ?
Ed. entirely satisfactory, it being contended that they wear rapidly, and break down after a very moderate mileage. That this is not so has been proved by many cars of my acquaintance. Any bearing troubles lie with the drivers, past or present. As the engine employs crankcase induction, lubrication is by petroil, the makers’ recommendation being 25 to 1, although as a personal fad I have increased my own to about 23 to 1. Owing to the Aryan mentality, if the manufacturer tells Germans to mix oil with petrol in the same tank in given quantities, they do So without question ; but not so in this country. I believe that non-mechanical British owners may have been guilty of omission. But I know from actual personal experience, repeated many times, that British garagemen have a phobia about it. When I have ordered a certain quantity of oil to be put in the petrol tank I have caught them putting in one shot of upper-cylinder lubricant, or
even refusing to add oil altogether. The engine is kept cool by the petrol vapour under these conditions and will carry on indefinitely without seizing up but, of course, the wear is terrific. It is not apparent at the time, and later the car is most unjustly blamed for what is the most flagrant abuse. Suffice it to say that when at 30,000 miles I dismantled my cabriolet the bearings were virtually as good as new, and it is a well-known fact that in Germany these cars were normally expected to do 70,000-80,000 miles between major overhauls.
While both my cars were on active service I never had occasion to touch them for repair or maintenance, other than brake adjustment. That one can say this of two vehicles bought “on spec.” without a trial shows something of their sturdy qualities. Added to this, there are no valves to grind in, no tappets to adjust, and the Bosch plugs were surely the forerunners of our new ones that will fire in oil. Filthy, they were in the cabriolet when I bought her. They have acted as spares while I have burned out two sets of British and American plugs, and they are now back in harness.
With every other car I have had, Sunday morning has been the time to make mechanical adjustments in search of some modicum of perfection and, as a result, chassis and bodies were sadly neglected. With the D.K.W., after one had taken up the brakes (a weekly job, and my only criticism), one could only while away the time ” until they opened ” by washing the body and greasing the chassis. Incidentally, it is wise to keep the universals on the half-shafts well oiled. I never have used “grease,” and the D.K.W. likes chassis lubrication with thick oil as well as any of them. Owing to the absence of mechanical trouble, I did not appreciate the full beauty of the design until the cabriolet was laid up and a major overhaul commenced. After the usual riveted and spot-welded 10-h.p., I was greatly re
freshed to find everything in or around the body secured by bolt, washer and nut, and the holes in all metal panels slotted for alignment. Accessibility was unrivalled. All work on the engine can be done through large detachable panels in the wings, or from the top. But why bother with mud or an uncomfortable working position when, if tools, block and tackle are to hand, it is possible to remove the engine, gearbox and differential from the chassis in one unit in about half an hour from scratch ? Infidels have discounted this statement, but I have proved it to my own satisfaction. There are only four retaining bolts to remove, followed by the electrical and carburetter connections and gear lever. A wire can then be threaded round the whole unit which can be withdrawn through the bonnet aperture, after releasing the top transverse spring shackles a…t the wheel end to allow the half-shafts to drop out of their splines. Similarly, when overhauled, as the dynamo and starter are in one unit on the flywheel, it is possible to rig up a test apparatus on the garage floor as the complete flat-bottomed unit rests in its normal position ; though, if the bonnet panels and wings are removed, it is more convenient to use the chassis as a bench. The crankcase, clutch-housing gearbox and differential casing are all of aluminium sections which, when bolted together, make a trerhendously rigid unit. The cylinder block, which is detachable, and head are of cast iron. There are plates on the transfer ports for cleaning purposes. Care should be exercised in reassembly as the angles of the similar ports for each cylinder are not identical. The port entries into the cylinder arelarge in area, and there is no reason why they should ever carbon up in normal use. Three pegged rings are provided for each piston, and it is advisable to free these from carbon every time the engine is decoked, otherwise they will stick and break when eventually removed. The dynamo and starter windings are attached to the flywheel housing, and when removed, resemble a pork pie in elevation. The flywheel carries the copper field, which revolves between the pork pie and the housing. A projection of the crankshaft carries a cam which works a separate make-and-break and condenser for each plug. On the other end of the shaft is a freewheel of the ordinary rollers-in-aninclined-plane principle, from which the drive is taken forward by duplex chain to a clutch running in oil at much reduced speed. Thence via the gearbox and spur wheel the drive goes forward to the differential. The inner universals of the half-shafts are remarkable in that the spline starts in a fork, the prongs of which are bedded in a rubber ring, the drive from the differential being similarly bedded, but at right-angles. This system has the advantage of being very simple, and cheap to replace. The exhaust pipe is of generous dimensions, and has one silencer close to the engine, and a small additional one almost at the end of the tail pipe. . In the course of four years’ use this pipe tended to choke with oily carbon, and it is well to clean it out occasionally. There is a separate coil for each plug, and a separate fuse for each light and for nearly every accessory. The fuse box is located below the dash in
front of the driver’s seat; and is readily reached. The inside of the lid to this box contains a chart of the fuses moulded in the bakelite.
In use, when the car is puffing, the twostroke is not noticed, but on the overrun one has to become accustomed to a certain amount of four-stroking. This is not noisy and, of course, has no mechanical effect so long as the free wheel is in use. If the transmission is locked, there is a certain amount of snatching on the overrun. Personally, I always used the free wheel because the braking effort of such a small engine was negligible, anyway. The three-speed box is controlled by a ” walking-stick ” from the dash in the usual f.w.d. manner, the linkages being very stout, and completely free from slackness or bending. There is no synchromesh, and with little practice changes up or down can be accomplished at great speed, doubtless aided by the low gearbox revs, referred to above, without using the clutch.
Carburation is by Solex. When I first took over my cabriolet, it was doing about 37im.p.g. Careful tuning gave 42i m.p.g. over all running. As petrol restrictions became tighter still, I fitted a very old Terry extra-air valve. This, combined with great care in the use of the choke and accelerator, eventually rewarded me with 471 m.p.g. on longish trips. This Terry valve was really much too large for the engine, yet the car could still run on a weaker mixture, with the valve wide open. This leads me to think that carburation could be greatly improved, and I am toying with the idea of trying a S.U. or Vauxhall-type Zenith. Perhaps I should make it clear that the Solex referred to is the German model.
Having dealt at such length with the constructional aspect, there is little space for paeans or praise upon its capabilities. I have mentioned its excellent gear change. The extremely short-stroke engine will run quite happily at any speed required, and is content to cruise all day at 4,000 r.p.m. plus. But the excellent torque at low speeds, which is one of the advantages of the two-cycle principle, enables it to run equally smoothly at very low speeds, and yet give rapid pick-up on a high gear. While it may not be good for the motor, one can demonstrate its slogging qualities by setting it at a steep hill in top, when its speed will gradually diminish to m.p.h. without a snatch or misfire. Its very low build, widely spaced transverse i.f.s. and high-mounted rear spring, together with excellent steering, enable its f.w.d. to pull it round a bend as quickly as any car I know, while the good weight distribution enables maximum cornering speed to be used, the tail breaking away just in time to prevent the accident. Of course, technique is required for f.w.d. if one is to use the capabilities of the car to the full, just as with more conventional cars. For any corner, it is safe to approach at any speed, providing the car is not flat out. In other words, if one always keeps just a whiff of throttle in reserve, that can be applied on the corner, and is guaranteed to enable the front wheels to pull the car round. Incidentally, if maximum speed is not used, this car will corner as safely on the overrun as when pulling. The over-run has no bad effect upon the steering, and does
not make the car unstable. The D.K.W. performs so well on twisting roads that it can put up better times than models with an engine capacity several sizes bigger. Its springing is on the hard side, and it does not heel at all on corners, yet when I tried mine over some farmland, it was quite happy at 30 m.p.h., and was able to make circles round a British Ten whose springs were bottoming at walking pace.
I have heard bad reports of f.w.d. on mud. I have had little experience of this, but my car, loaded with four adults and luggage, has pulled away from a standing start on a grass slope on the side of Dunkery Beacon which must have been at least 1 in 5. I will not say that there was no wheelspin. There was. But one gets into the habit with f.w.d. that, when spin on starting is to be anticipated, one gets away on full lock, straightening up immediately the car moves.
The D.K.W. really conies into its own on snow or ice. My home is on quite a steep hill, not far from “the Ladder,” the ascent being immediately preceded by a right-angle bend, with another, less severe, half-way up. I have never failed in any car to climb this hill without chains, though sometimes only at the third or fourth attempt, and employing a lot of rear seat bounce, even on family saloons. But, with conventional drive, one needs the whole 30-35 ft. available on the first corner to counteract “the dreaded sideslip,” and the second corner half-way up often brings the vehicle to a standstill, and it has to be edged down again for another effort. But the D.K.W. can take the bottom corner at 20 m.p.h. with only a slight snatching of the rear wheels, which corrects itself without any help from the driver. For the rest of the way, one can give it nearly full gun. R.W.D. experts have complained to me that the front wheels spin vigorously. So they do, and let them carry on. Provided one ” feels ” them a little, and maintains ” way ” on the car, spin does not matter, for it is straight ahead. The pulling motion of the front wheels stops them digging in, and the independent suspension permits them to grip much more easily than would a conventional axle. I never failed on this hill with f.w.d. either, and, what is more, I never had to try twice. On the level, under these conditions, the only limiting factor is the distance it takes to pull up.
I hope the above does not sound like a line shoot. It is most certainly not intended to be, but when one reads letters criticising f.w.d. so frequently, mostly by those who have had little experience of it, I feel that we who have tried it and not found it wanting, should give our verdicts the utmost publicity.
My opinion is that the greatest experts will, with numerous hair-raising thrills for passengers, get further up an impassable hill with r.w.d. For the ordinary man, however, in his ordinary car, f.w.d. is not only safer, but, in bad conditions, he will actually get further with it. Those who criticise continental practice should not forget that there are steep hills, mud, snow and ice there, too. Under some of the worst conditions Citroen, Adler, D.K.W., Tatra, Aero and several others operate perfectly happily. Is our Johnny Bull the only one in step ?