TWO subjects which can always be relied upon to get a good argument going are front-wheel-drive and two-stroke engines. The subject of this road test has both of these and is therefore of more than usual interest. Front-wheel-drive is now used in several leading designs such as the Citroan DS19, Saab, Austin Seven and the larger Auto Union 1000, while at least two other major manufacturers are expected to bring out new f.w.d. designs in the near future. It can therefore be truthfully stated that f.w.d. is now respectable and indeed just as rear engines are de rigeur for racing cars at the moment so may front-wheel-drive be just as fashionable in a few years’ time. However, two-stroke engines have not been accepted so easily and they are still generally regarded as merely suitable for bubble cars and the like. The main disadvantage of the two-stroke is the generally high fuel consumption combined with the need to mix oil with the petrol at every fuel stop which the modern motorist is very often loth to do. Against this we have the fact that there are far fewer reciprocating parts in the two-stroke engine and therefore far fewer to wear out; one crankshaft, three pistons and three con-rods to be exact.
Having had a good deal of success with the Auto Union 1000 series which cost over £1,000 in this county the company decided to introduce a smaller model under the D.K.W. name, appropriately of course as the letters stand for Das Kleine Wunder. Introduced just over a year ago the Junior features a box section frame, well braced with five cross members: Front suspension is by wishbones and torsion bars, replacing the leaf springs of the 1000 models, while the beam rear axle is also supported by torsion bars. The axle which is split along its entire length is torsion resisting itself and lateral location is looked after by a long Panhard rod. The 8 in. turbo-finned front brakes are mounted inboard while the 7 in. back brakes are mounted in the conventional position. The handbrake works on the front wheels.
The engine is a development of the familiar three-cylinder engine, having a similar cast iron block and crankcase, light alloy head, four ball-bearing crankshaft and roller bearing big-ends but the capacity has been reduced to a capacity of 741 c.c. giving a power output of 34 b.h.p. at 4,300 r.p.m. on an 8 : 1 compression ratio with maximum torque of 47 lb./ft. at 2,500 r.p.m.
Since its introduction last year some improvements have been made to the Junior, most important of which is the shortening of the movement between gears as on the early models the gear lever poked up vertically in front of the driver when in the top gear position.
Aesthetically the Junior is quite pleasing, having a certain family resemblance to the Auto Union. Some of the metal pressings have a ” tinny” look and the-interior finish is not up to the standard of its larger cousins, the gaudy plastic door trimming being rather tasteless. The dashboard layout is sensible, with the speedometer and its ancillary instruments being clearly visible through the top half of the steering wheel, the latter having only two spokes. The fibre-board facia has obviously had to be specially made for right hand drive cars unlike so many popular cars which have symmetrical dashboards.
To the right of the speedometer are switches for driving lights, panel lights, windscreen wipers and choke and on the other side are the heater and fresh air controls. Incorporated in the speedometer are a fuel gauge, mileage recorder with no tenths or trip recorder, a water temperature gauge and a main beam warning light. Mounted to the right of the steering column is the flashing indicators stalk of the non-self-cancelling variety and on the left is the high beam selector and flasher.
The engine is started by twisting the ignition key and the choke knob is almost always required, although drivers are instructed not to pull the knob out fully unless the weather is really cold. To reach the column mounted gear change lever one must stretch almost to arm’s length as it is mounted well down the steering column. The pattern is quickly learned and with synchromesh on all four gears no difficulty is experienced with the change. The engine shows a pleasant lack of the clatter so common to four-stroke engines and draws the car along quickly with a mechanical whine which is not unpleasant to hear. Acceleration is quite impressive for such a small engine especially if the throttle is fully depressed and the special “economy” spring is overcome. If the initial pressure is fully taken up the Junior will go up to about 55 m.p.h. in top gear but if the throttle is fully depressed it will go to over 70 m.p.h.
Like most two-stroke engines the Junior unit is not particularly economical if driven hard as beyond a certain throttle opening the engine produces little more power and just wastes fuel. The sensible owner will determine by experiment where this position is (although the makers have gone a long way towards helping by providing the throttle spring) and his fuel consumption will benefit.
On the over-run the Junior snatches in all gears while under heavy acceleration the engine vibrated a good deal. The engine is not particularly tractable and the gearbox needs to be used frequently if anything like smooth progres is to be made. Steering is accurate but is surprisingly heavy and transmits a good deal of shake to the wheel. Castor return action is strong and the car tends to pull to the right if hands-off steering is attempted. However, the Junior can be cornered very quickly indeed with a minimum of roll and with fairly neutral steering characteristics but it is best to keep the power on round corners as with all f.w.d. cars. This torsion bar suspension system seems to be a great improvement over the leaf spring arrangement of the 1000 series. The ride is on the firm side but bumps are smoothed out in a commendable manner and one would almost imagine that i.r.s. was fitted.
Although braking efficiency is high the pendant pedal is placed high above the throttle pedal and until the new driver becomes accustomed to this he is liable to miss the pedal altogether. Consequently heel-and-toe gear changes are difficult to make. The turning circle of 31 ft. 2 in. is typical of front-wheel-drive designs and should be taken into account by anyone transferring to this car from a vehicle with a better turning circle as one can get into awkward situations when parking or manoeuvring if care is not taken. Fuel consumption worked out at 36.8 m.p.g. in conditions ranging from town crawling to fast main road driving. The petrol/oil ratio required is 40 : 1 so that a pint of oil is needed to every five gallons. Auto Union recommend an SAE40 grade oil.
Priced at £799 17s. 6d. the D.K.W. Junior is not cheap and has to compete against much larger and equally economical British cars but with the increasing number of front-wheel-drive adherents it could easily gain a foothold in the British market. The expected long engine life, separate chassis with easily replaceable panels and chassis lubrication restricted to 16 points requiring greasing every 4,500 miles and two needing attention every 18,000 miles could well be influencing factors in helping the Junior to become popular.