30,000 Miles with a D.K.W. In South Africa



There can be few countries where motoring may be more freely enjoyed, at present, than in South Africa.

Petrol is unrationed and costs 2s. 10d. per gallon at the coast. An Austin A50 sells for £730, a D.K.W. for £693 and a Volkswagen for £569. There are thousands of miles of excellent, uncrowded roads where the tourist may potter at ease, or the enthusiast savour the full performance of his car, unhampered by petty speed limits and restrictions between towns, which are seldom less than 30 or 40 miles apart. At this juncture I feel I must apologise to our British motorist friends if the foregoing notes seem a bit like twisting the knife in the wound!

Perhaps my reasons for the choice of a D.K.W. 3 — 6 may be of interest. By 1952 my ever-faithful 1937 Pontiac had completed 100,000 miles and I surveyed the uninspiring post-war light cars without enthusiasm. Their owners confirmed my suspicions with their unending chronicles of woe.

May, 1955, and the Pontiac’s mileage was 142,000 and its first rebore seemed imminent, a set of rings and gudgeons at 100,000 milts having been the only major engine replacements to date. All the light cars were quite familiar to me by then as I drove them fairly often and knew their good and bad points.

The B.M.C. cars would never have merited consideration even if they had been excellent, due to the fatal lack of spare parts and poor service facilities. Replacements which owners of my acquaintance have failed to obtain include pistons, bearings, water-pumps, oil seals, gearbox parts and most body parts. Poor cornering ability, the dreadful gear shift and short mileage between decarbonising (6,000 to 10,000) plus chronic oil leaks and squealing brakes condemned this marque anyway.

The Hillman with side valves had by now earned a reputation for going up to 40,000 miles without requiring decarbonising and for being mechanically reliable. Over a wavy tarmac road, however, I found that speed had to be reduced to 35 m.p.h. to avoid severe bottoming front and rear, with my wife and two young children as passengers. The D.K.W. or Volkswagen takes this same road in its stride at 60 m.p.h. or more with four up and luggage. The bodywork on the locally assembled Hillman too was poor, draughts and rattles being much in evidence. Performance, also, was very moderate, but the gear-change was good, as were steering and brakes.

Vanguard and Standard Ten repelled me by their unattractive appearance.

Friends who owned the former model all complained of very heavy fuel consumption—as bad as 17 m.p.g. and at best 23 m.p.g. with heavy maintenance costs too. Resale value was poor.

The Consul failed to appeal, its tiny wheels and high waistline giving it an ugly dumpy appearance. The engine was very noisy at the higher speeds, when fuel consumption was heavy too, down to about 22 m.p.g. Differential troubles were common, and I found the continual diff. moan annoying. There seemed little to recommend the Zephyr as one would have American-car running-costs with “12-h.p.” bodywork! Resale value of these models was good.

The most attractive British car up to my price limit of about £800 seemed to me to be the Vauxhall with its well-tried Chevrolet-type o.h.v. engine and good performance. Points that made me pause were the excessive tyre squeal at low cornering speeds and the lack of rigidity in the monocoque body which caused rear doors and boot lid to fly open when the suspension was bottomed. A friend lost two suitcases before he discovered this disconcerting failing in his new Vauxhall!

I considered the Continental cars. Citroen was good, but obviously obsolescent, and petrol m.p.g. not too good at 60 m.p.h. The Peugeot 203 handled well and performed well, but was rather high-priced at £800, the narrow gutted body was obsolescent, finish poor and resale value extremely low.

The very attractive Renault Fregate had by now appeared, and charmed all with its good looks. Two of my friends had purchased examples. I thought my search had ended, but I was disillusioned during my first trick at the wheel, one disappointment being the board-hard bench seat.  The handling qualities of the car left little to be desired, but the dismally poor gear-change mechanism with the weird movement from third to fourth speeds was quite unacceptable. Subsequent gearbox failures in these cars was, I feel, due largely to this bad linkage.  One of my two friends has just been quoted well over £100 for a gearbox overhaul at 28,000 miles. Depreciation on this make too is heavy; a 1954 model in good condition, with radio, sells for £375, the present new price being £890. A VW by contrast sells for its new price after two years’ use, and the waiting list is enormous.

Two years previously I had tried out a VW and had been completely captivated by this quite superlative little car so obviously in a class by itself. Unfortunately the instruments of my calling demand a lockable boot where they do not tempt the car-pilferers who abound in Cape Town. Regretfully I had to turn it down for this lack alone.

In the meantime I had been studying a number of overseas road-tests of the D.K.W. They were all pretty enthusiastic about the handling characteristics, the performance, fuel economy and finish of this car and this seemed to be the answer to my quest.

This make had achieved a legendary reputation before the war in South Africa for its extreme longevity, reliability, fuel economy and ability to survive on the worst roads.

Thousands of them are still to be seen in everyday use and they usually exact fanatical loyalty from their owners!

Motor Sport, whose road-tests I have always found to be absolutely fair, objective and fearless, gave it a favourable review and I decided to buy subject to a personal inspection and demonstration run. When the first D.K.W. arrived in Cape Town I examined it carefully.

The high quality of the baked enamel paintwork and chrome was apparent at a glance and the finish near perfect. The interior appointments were strikingly superior to anything else under about twice its price. The perfectly fitting rubber mats on the flat floor for example are 3/16 in. thick! The sturdy box-section chassis, high mounted transverse springs with sea-legged telescopic shock-absorbers, rack and pinion steering and duplex hydraulic brakes showed whence it derived its sporting characteristics. The neat and business-like layout under the bonnet was impressive in all respects.

One noted the heavy glossy plastic-covered electric cables clipped along meticulous routes, to bulkhead and side panels, away from oil and acid, a pleasant change from the untidy tangle of cotton-braided wires so haphazardly disposed about the engine rooms of some competitors! The cast aluminium multi-bladed fan of true aerofoil section, making a water pump unnecessary, was noted with approval, also the accessible fuse-box with no less than a dozen fuses protecting the various circuits. It was a pleasure to find finely engineered ball-jointed gear and throttle linkages with neoprene seals, after the crazy, punched, flat-iron strips and bent wire and split-pin contraptions now current. The road springs were protected by neat gaiters. Perfect simplicity was apparent in the triple coils and contact breakers, rendering a distributor superfluous.

The tie rods and half-shafts were of impressively large diameter. The liberal use of aluminium alloy in the transmission housing, etc., told of careful and costly weight saving.

A demonstration run served to amply confirm the eulogistic reports on the car’s behaviour. A soft comfortable bucket seat with perfect, well-raked wheel location; plain, clearly-visible circular instruments placed straight ahead of the driver, and well-spaced large pedals gave me a feeling of self-confidence at once. A ten-minute run convinced me that this was the car for me. The engine was quiet and lively at speed, the gears went in like the proverbial hot knife through butter, the synchromesh as unbeatable as the VW’s. The car hugged the verges easily when cornered at speeds that would have capsized several family hacks of my acquaintance, and roll was quite negligible. The brakes were unbelievably light — 50 lb. for maximum deceleration. Vision fore and aft was first-rate, the minor controls all within easy reach without stretching and the powerful functional handbrake lever between the seats locked the wheels with ease while travelling fast. (What a relief after the universally abhorred umbrella-handle contrivance!)

The only points that displeased were the distortion in the centre of the windscreen and the strain of controlling the extremely light accelerator pedal without support. This I overcame later by fitting a side foot-rest of the excellent Ford-type. On returning to the showroom I could hardly sign the order quickly enough. Three weeks later I took delivery of my car. The running-in bore was obviated by the makers’ instructions — not to exceed 55 m.p.h. for the first 300 miles, thereafter go as fast as you like!

In my two years of ownership the mileage recorded is 30,000, and the little car has proved one of the best of the thirty odd cars I have owned in the last thirty years. Total cost of repairs and replacements to date is £3 10s. for brake linings fitted by the agents. The hitherto unused spare tyre was fitted at 26,000 miles and one new tyre bought for the other front wheel — cost £4 10s.

No adjustments have been necessary to a thing, not even to the low-speed breakers, and in spite of the makers’ instructions to renew every 6,000 miles, the original Bosch plugs still spark evenly and start the engine instantly. (I replaced these standard 175 plugs with the cooler 225s before long high-speed journeys.)

The D.K.W. really comes into its own on long, fast journeys with four up and luggage, with curves welcomed, to enjoy its superb cornering qualities. For example, on the beautifully-engineered du Toits Kloof mountain pass (height 2,700 ft.) I swept around the fast bends dropping down towards Worcester with the speedometer steady on 75 m.p.h. at 2 a.m. recently, while my three passengers slept peacefully!

A trip of 900 miles from Johannesburg to Cape Town accompanied by my family, with luggage for a month’s holiday, was accomplished at the following speeds :

Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, 261 miles between breakfast and lunchtime in 3 hr. 51 min., average speed 67.8 m.p.h. Bloemfontein to Beaufort West, 360 miles at an average of 64 m.p.h. in 5 hr. 37 min. The final 300 miles to Cape Town were completed in 4 hr. 40 min. at 64.2 m.p.h. During the 2,000 miles we were passed by no other car, while passing hundreds of others.

On two occasions I have taken my family to holiday on the farm of relatives in the Orange Free State on the Basutoland border. The 724 miles was easily completed in under 12 hours’ running, leaving after an early breakfast and arriving for dinner on each of the four runs. When we arrived home at 8 p.m. from the last trip, my wife even did some sewing until 11 o’clock, she felt so fresh!

Here are some of the best average speeds recorded over short distances: 71 miles at 77 m.p.h.; 17 miles at 78.5 m.p.h.; 74 miles at 72 m.p.h.

Eighty-eight m.p.h., indicated, is the absolute maximum it seems. I have on numerous occasions watched the needle stop there, but even on a long downhill stretch it can’t be coaxed beyond this point! The engine is barely audible and quite vibrationless when cruising at 70 m.p.h. and there is no transmission noise — this contributes greatly to one’s unfatigued and relaxed state after covering over 700 miles in a day.

Petrol consumption varies, naturally, according to road and traffic conditions and speeds maintained. The worst figure I get is 35 m.p.g. in city driving and the best 42 m.p.g. on a long easy run.

On a recent 600-mile round trip with four up, and luggage for a week-end with five fairly steep mountain passes to surmount, the consumption was 42.2 m.p.g. with an average speed of 56 m.p.h. At 60 m.p.h. the consumption rises to 40 m.p.g. These figures are for premium fuel.

Another much appreciated feature of the D.K.W. is its ability to slog up a 5,000-ft. pass with a hot following wind in the blazing sun of mid-summer without any sign of overheating. This must surely impress the dozens of less fortunate motorists I pass, pulled up off the road with bonnets a-gape and blowing off clouds of steam! Starting at temperatures far below freezing is instantaneous. The only points of criticism are :

1. Bad vibration period at 1,600 r.p.m., i.e., approximately 27 m.p.h. in fourth gear, which shouldn’t be used anyway at this low speed!

2. The hooter is nearly inaudible to other motorists at high speed.

3. Slight brake squeal at certain speeds. (I intend trying Ferodo linings at the next relining.)

4. Passenger seat not adjustable while occupied.

5. Gearbox lube level would be more easily checked by dip stick than present level-plug in casing.

6. Rear handbrake cables are slung rather too low, making them vulnerable on rough rocky tracks. Ground clearance at 7 ¾ in., however, is still above average.

7. Wiper speed should be higher for torrential South African rain, and the blades judder badly on the screen in light rain.

8. The rear red reflectors are very vulnerably placed below rear mudguards. Both cracked within first month.

9. Steering wheel too slippery. Driving gloves almost essential in hot weather.

10. The usual flimsy ineffectual continental bumpers.

11. Considerable wind noise at higher speeds.

12. Forward opening doors.

13. Rear windows should be capable of being slightly opened for better ventilation.

Using a big side-lever grease gun I do the chassis lubrication myself and find it an easy operation. Oil is poured into the fuel tank first—one pint to four gallons of petrol, mixing being automatic. I stop for petrol at between 300 and 350 miles on long trips.

Outstanding testimony to the rigidity and general ruggedness of the D.K.W. I think is the fact that after 30,000 miles of every sort of motoring, including several thousands over very rough tracks and open veld, there is not the slightest squeak or rattle in the body or elsewhere, and no tightening of bolts or other attention has been necessary. I cannot honestly imagine any chassis-less vehicle being able to withstand such a hammering.

The highest mileage achieved by an owner of my acquaintance is 87,000. No work on the car had been done except routine attention such as decarbonising. Parts used were brake linings, points and plugs.

The agents provide good service, and carry huge stocks of every conceivable spare part. The factory honours its guarantee punctiliously and jealously guards its good name.

A gearbox part which failed on my car at 22,000 miles was replaced and charged, with labour, to the factory. — M. v. Holdt.

[Reading “30,000 Miles with a D.K.W. in South Africa” reminds us that very little has been said about the D.K.W.s which have served Motor Sport.

Our present three-cylinder two-stroke front-wheel-drive little marvel is the four-door saloon and is the third which it has been our good fortune to own.

The first Sonderklasse was of 1952 vintage. Its life was cut short at about 7,000 miles by an elderly Jaguar which came over a “Halt” sign and hit the poor little thing with three occupants some twenty yards down the road and finished spectacularly by knocking down a lamp-post. In spite of the elaborate fuse-box a short-circuit on the wrong side of it started a fire which, with the help of an “efficient” fire brigade, not only destroyed the car but created a considerable blaze for yards all round it. Up to that point, apart from three plugs, and a set of points, the car had been faultless, having been driven really hard all the time. Its successor had a trouble-free life for and a set of points, the car had been faultless, having been driven 36,000 miles before it became a victim of circumstances. The engine end of the water thermometer was located in the hose joining the engine to the top of the radiator. One unhappy day it left its seat in the hose and found a resting place on the top of the quickly overheating engine. Driving very hard on an arterial road, the engine having been cleaned only a few days before and the thermometer showing a normal temperature, a set of circumstances was created which lulled the driver into a sense of false security and finally a heavy bill for a complete engine overhaul. On the new models the business end of the thermometer is located in the cylinder head itself, so it is possible we were not the only ones to suffer from a bit of bad design.

Apart from that unfortunate occurrence this D.K.W. completed well over 50,000 miles, the only replacements being points, plugs and tyres.

Now 10,000 miles is already showing on the mileometer of the present four-door D.K.W., which we feel is not quite so exciting as the two-door to drive but is very much easier for our older and larger clients to get in and out of the back seats.

All these D.K.W.s have good acceleration, and it is done with virtually no undue wear, no ultra-skilled tuning and on low-grade petrol. The guaranteed oil consumption is one pint to about every 180 miles, and no sump to drain and refill.

We have never driven a car in South Africa, neither have we driven a D.K.W. on an autobahn but we are quite prepared to accept these incredibly good figures mentioned by M. v. Holdt, for on many occasions we have put 67 miles into one hour without being a menace or a danger to ourselves or to others on British roads, and with such ease that many a sports-car driver has given up after an hour’s “scrap.”

We enjoy driving these exciting and unusual cars, and whilst we are conscious of the fact that they are too pricy for many (do not forget that a cheaper car with a heavy repair bill can prove more costly in the long run), we sincerely hope that for the sake of the British Motor Industry no one exposes us to a dose of European Free Trade.—J. W.]

Miniatures News

Apart from their Austin-Healey and Triumph TR2 replicas, Corgi Toys have introduced a very good M.G. MGA two-seater miniature, priced at 3s. and available in green and yellow or in a striking red and cream finish. This model has gear-lever, facia panel, divided seats, etc. Other additions to the Corgi range include a dropside trailer (3s.) for towing with the Commer lorry and a Bedford A.A. road-service van (3s. 6d.). They are introducing racing-car models, commencing with a realistic Vanwall, complete with wrap-round screen. Details from Playcraft Toys Ltd., 120, Moorgate, London, E.C.2.