An Unconventional Small Saloon from Germany with 980-c.c. Three-Cylinder Two-Stroke Engine Driving the Front Wheels. Smooth-running Power Unit, Spacious Body, Complete Equipment and Free-wheel Transmission Revealed during Road-Test of a Car Formerly Known as the D.K.W.
THE Auto Union concern in Germany, remembered by motor racing enthusiasts for the fabulous rear-engined Grand Prix cars of pre-war days in which drivers like Rosemeyer and Nuvolari challenged the might of Mercedes-Benz, has long been an advocate of front-wheel-drive and the two-stroke engine.
I recall being more than fascinated before 1939 when I road-tested the vertical-twin f.w.d. D.K.W. small car, a spacious saloon which, with Audi, Wanderer and Horch, made up the four rings of the Auto Union emblem.
Since the end of Wold War Two the proprietor of Motor Sport has derived great satisfaction from a series of D.K.W.s he has owned, and I have been able to test the vastly-improved but still spacious and smooth-running D.K.W., in the form of the three-cylinder “Sonderklasse.” That was six years ago and recently, to celebrate the taking over by Daimler-Benz of the Auto Union combine (which means that in England these cars are sold and serviced from new premises on the Great West Road adjacent to the London Mercedes-Benz depot and no longer handled by A.F.N.),I was able to sample two Auto Union 1000S saloons, one of them over a considerable mileage. Here it should be stated that the old term D.K.W. is today reserved for the little 750-c.c. Junior and that the former three-cylinder “Sonderklasse,” now enlarged from 890 c.c. to 980 c.c., is known as the Auto Union 1000 or, in sports form, as the 1000S. Both models have the in-line three-cylinder two-stroke power unit with ignition by a separate Bosch coil for each “pot,” but the 1000S develops 6 b.h.p. more than the standard model.
The cars I tried are called coupés by the makers but I should call them two-door saloons able to seat six people if necessary and leaving pillar-less side windows which wind flush into the sides of the body. The latest cars have a wrap-round windscreen, involving the knee-bruising lip common to such screens, an instrument cluster dominated by a vertical Vdo ribbon-style 100-m.p.h. speedometer, a flexible non-glare facia of “crocodile skin” with padded upper edge, and synchromesh on all the forward gear ratios.
The interior of the Auto Union is spacious for a car of under one-litre engine capacity and it is individually and comprehensively equipped.
The separate front seats, of generous dimensions and deeply upholstered, can be lined up to carry three people abreast if required and the back seat is also spacious, with a deep parcels-shelf behind it and excellent visibility from a three-section rear window. The wide doors trail and are opened from within by lifting up the arm-rests. They have strong “keeps” and sill-interior locks. There are push-button exterior handles. The doors shut “tinnily.” The front windows wind flush with the body side after 4½ turns of the plastic-covered handles, which have proper finger pivots. There are oblong quarter-lights with neat handles incorporating safety catches but no rain gutters. The back windows also wind down flush (6½ turns of the handles) but on the test car were stiff to wind up due to the rubber beading turning under. With the windows opened thus the entire sides of the car are freed of glass.
The equipment includes twin anti-dazzle vizors with mirror in the l.h. one, these swivelling to stop side-glare and clipping back very neatly into the normal positions. There is a small interior lamp on each side, but courtesy action of these is controlled by the driver’s door only, and only the off-side lamp possesses a switch. The small-diameter steering wheel has a single cross-spoke and finger grips on its rim. From its column extend the gear lever, on the left, the shorter lamps-control stalk, also on the left (on r.h.d. cars) and the direction flashers stalk on the right. The flashers are non-self-cancelling. The lamps stalk, after a knob on the facia has been used to switch on the sidelamps, provides for selecting dipped or full headlamps beam and can also be used for flashing a full-beam warning in daylight, a good feature so seldom found on British cars. The lever moves up from sidelamps to full headlamps beam and up again for dipped beam, whereas the sequence side lamps, dipped beam, full beam would be more convenient. Depressed further it gives the daylight warning without need to switch the side lamps on, an excellent feature.
The gear lever is not spring loaded and the locations are “upside down,” i.e. up and towards the driver for first gear, away from the driver for second gear, down and towards the driver for third gear, and down, but away, for top gear. Reverse is well-protected, the lever having to be pressed in to bring it beyond the second-gear position. In a plastic hooded “tower” rises the speedometer, marked clearly every 10 m.p.h. by clear figures alternately on either side of the scale. On the first 1000S I drove there were marks for maximum permissible speeds in the gears but on the test car proper these were absent. Flanking the speedometer scale on the right is a total mileage recorder with clear figures but no decimals and no trip setting with, above, a water temperature gauge stroked towards freezing and boiling points, topped by oblong warning-light windows, the lower for ignition-on, the upper for r.h. direction flasher functioning. Similarly, on the left of the scale a blank with the Auto Union ringed emblem balances the mileage recorder and above it is a vaguely-calibrated petrol gauge the needle of which is apt to float (there is a red segment indicating low tank contents) and warning lights above this, the lower blue one for headlamps full beam, the top one for the l.h. direction indicator.
The unusual fibre-facia has a cubby-hole before the passenger, with press-button non-lockable lid of the same material. Vertical plastic knobs convenient to the driver’s right hand control choke, sidelamps, and panel-lighting, the latter with rheostat control. To the right of these is a small Kienzle electric clock, prone to lose time on the test car. The heater and fresh air supply are neatly controlled by three small vertical quadrant levers, the only indication of their functions being small blue and red spots (cold and hot, respectively). Another knob, unlabelled like the rest, controls the self-parking screen wipers. The wiring is unusual. in as much as when the ignition is off the wipers can be used but the horn, controlled by the steering wheel knob, is inoperative. There is a cigarette lighter, and a grab-handle for the front-seat passenger. The test car had parking light control of the side and rear lamps from a tiny tumbler-switch under the facia and Bosch fog and spot lamps which only worked with the ignition on.
Under the facia are three white knobs. That on the right of the steering column locks or unlocks the transmission free-wheel. The centre one controls winter and summer settings of the heating and ventilating system. The one next to it is the hand-grip of the hand brake, with normal ratchet control and quite well located, although a protruding split-pin did its best to puncture the driver’s right thumb on early acquaintance, an episode which momentarily depreciated the luxury aspect of the Auto Union! On the extreme left under the facia there is a pull-out toggle handle controlling the radiator blind; this protrudes a long way and could be lethal to the passenger’s stockings or trousers.
The ignition key actuates the starter and can also be used to lock the steering, while an unusual but excellent item is a foot-operated screen washer. The treadle accelerator has dual pressure action, the initial depression sufficing for speeds up to 69 m.p.h. after which heavier presssure is required to attain greater velocities, this being a fuel conserving measure.
There are side arm-rests in the back compartment and in the roof on the left is a small coat-hook sliding on a strap. Access to the back seat is by folding forward the front seat squabs. Ash containers are provided in both compartments and the doors have elastic-topped pockets. There are small side arm-rests for the back-seat occupants.
The massive petrol tank filler cap at the off-side rear is provided with a lock, operated by a separate key. The finish, in primrose yellow with green upholstery, drew praise and was further enhanced by white Styla tyre trim bands over the Firestone tyres. The Auto Union has an extremely roomy luggage boot, the lockable lid of which has to be lifted by hand but is self-propping by a strut which has to be released before the lid can be lowered. The recess of this boot has a flat wooden platform but the spare wheel is laid flat on the floor, presenting sharp edges to any contents which slide towards the rear of the boot. The bonnet is opened by pulling a toggle under the scuttle and springs up automatically; the radiator is behind the cylinder block and with front grille removed the engine and 6-volt electrics are rendered very accessible. The Hella headlamps are powerful and the Blaupunkt push-button radio was loud and clear.
From the driving seat the view is “old fashioned” in as much as the near-side front wing is not normally visible, although otherwise the driver’s vision is unimpaired. The pedals are well placed and all occupants benefit from a flat floor, legacy of properly-executed frontwheel-drive. The steering column gear change works extremely well, especially when the free-wheel is in use, but, human reactions being as they are, drivers accustomed to the normal gear positions will be many days before they subconsciously know their way about the Auto union change; I found I was all too frequently in the wrong cog when in a hurry! But if the “upside-down” action and small movement across the gate are conquered the changes with the slender little lever go through very quickly indeed. Bottom gear causes a crunch only if selection thereof is really brutal. The clutch is light and reasonably smooth, a jerky get-away being due to the rapid surge of bottom-gear acceleration following the slight two-stroke hesitation (the driver being apt to imagine he is using second gear!) rather than to fierceness on the part of the dry plate clutch.
The Auto Union’s best characteristics are its good acceleration and effortless cruising at advanced speeds. The engine, with torque like a six-cylinder four-stroke and no limit imposed by valve bounce, surges the car off the mark, indicated speeds of 30 m.p.h. in bottom and 51 m.p.h. in second gear coming up quickly, so that from rest it cruising gait of a mile a minute is reached in something like 20 seconds, providing the little engine is revved freely, on which treatment it thrives, to the accompaniment of “two-stroke noises.” Indeed, so quickly does it reach its peak that second gear, in which 4,000 r.p.m. represents 30 m.p.h., seems too low. The gear-lever is essentially there to be stirred about—the 4.0-to-1 top gear is in the nature or a built-in overdrive, and third, in which an indicated 76 m.p.h is possible, will be employed very frequently, while in either of these ratios speed will pick up in a decidedly leisurely fashion unless second gear is called in to assist. This will not trouble the keen Auto Union exponent, may even give him pleasure, but does make the car tiring to drive in traffic—clearly, like so many other imported cars, it is at its best in its own country, cruising around 80 m.p.h. along the autobahn, for instance!
The stalk controls for lights and flashers are excellent, the warning lights do not dazzle, but a dial-type speedometer might be preferable as easier to read than the strip or ribbon instrument which Auto Union now fit—not that they are alone in this by any means, except that theirs has a vertical scale. As lamps dipping is controlled by hand it would be slightly more convenient to have self-cancelling flashers. The view in the mirror is good although it is hung from the roof on a long stalk and slightly impairs l.h. vision. The wipers, working in opposition, are extremely efficient and work quietly.
The engine makes itself heard as it accelerates the car commendably briskly, but once the desired speed has been attained there is an entire absence of noise or fuss—the turbine-like, flow of power is quite unobtrusive. In this the Auto Union is well suited to motoring trends of the future, which will entail fast driving along Britain’s new motorways.
In the matter of chassis design the car is rather the reverse. A beam axle is used at the back, although front-wheel-drive lends itself to all round independent suspension. Although this axle is cranked the back of the car is relatively high, suspension being by a high-set transverse leaf spring and trailing arms; at the front a similar spring is used in conjunction with wishbones. The separate chassis is a box-section structure This suspension system gives a fairly comfortable ride on good roads but far too much quite violent up and down motion on secondary roads and the car is unhappy over really rough surfaces. On tight corners there is pronounced roll. The back-end easily becomes skittish, breaking away early on slippery surfaces. This is not to imply that the Auto Union 1000S cannot be cornered fast—it can, if power is kept on. If the throttle foot is eased back on a fast bend the moderate understeer changes to considerable oversteer.
The steering itself, by rack and pinion, is good, being light, even for manoeuvring, free from lost motion and decently high-geared at 2½ turns, lock-to-lock. It gives firm accurate control but on bad surfaces very considerable vibration, rather than kick-back, is transmitted to the driver’s hands. Incidentally, the engine “idles rough,” when similar vibration is evident. Only at the very lowest speed is any faint snatch from the front-drive universal joints felt.
The brakes are adequate, given firm pedal pressure, although the test car was not quite so impressive as the first Auto Union 1000S of the two I sampled, there being more sponge to overcome. However, these are brakes capable of coping with free-wheeling from high speeds.
The manner in which this roomy 980-c.c. saloon leaves larger cars as its driver weaves through the traffic, making full use of the excellent acceleration, is well calculated to captivate enthusiasts, particularly those who esteem unorthodox cars and the two-cycle power unit. To lubricate the Auto Union engine S.A.E. 40 oil is required at the rate of a pint per five gallons of petrol. This means that if the least-expensive petrol is used, on which the engine “pinks” when accelerating, the cost per gallon equals that of medium grade fuel to which oil is not added. Using better grades the price exceeds that of 100-octane and resorting to two-stroke mixtures costs the Auto Union owner from 5s. 2d. to 5s. 5d. a gallon. Moreover, oil consumption never varies from 1,000 m.p.g., be the Auto Union old or new! Against this, the sump never requires replenishment. However, whichever way it is computed, on this score the Auto Union 1000S is not economical, for fuel consumption, discounting the oil content, averaged only 25.7 m.p.g. under normal all-round conditions, using the free-wheel, and driven by a rally driver could well drop below 20 m.p.g. The tank holds 10 gallons, so the range is from 200 to 300 miles depending on how hard the car is driven. Towards the end of the 760-mile test the engine developed an unpleasant habit of stalling for no apparent reason and restarted with reluctance, which made driving through London a nightmare and caused the horses to lie down when we were still in front of a Lotus after many miles of A 30. There were no rattles from the body apart from an irritating one from the driver’s quarter-window. The free-wheel can be used continually if desired, at the expense of some snatch as the drive is taken up.
In conclusion, the Auto Union 1000S is not everyone’s ideal but it is a car which offers considerable individuality and a good performance from a very smooth-running engine,of the sort that has “only seven moving parts.” Top speed of the 1000S is rather better than 83 m.p.h. and there is also available the handsome 1000 Sp. coupé with 55 b.h.p. (62 S.A.E. h.p.) engine, for which 90 m.p.h. is claimed. The Auto Union is made additionally as an estate car and four-wheel drive cross country pick up and for lady drivers Saxomat two-pedal control is available as an extra. And the car described is available in 4-door form.
This Auto Union is not the writer’s “cup-of-tea” but he expects to be taken to task by staunch admirers of this unusual two-stroke small car for admitting this. Now that Daimler-Benz has financial control of Auto Union it is possible that the design may soon be modernised in those aspects that detract from the otherwise attractive general make up of these cars. The 1000S, without extras, costs £1,259 2s. 6d. in this country inclusive of p.t.—W. B.