Two Strokes to Postwar Recovery: The DKW F-Series & Auto Union 1000

Posted by: Audi UK in Member Blogs


In the aftermath of World War II, Auto Union, like many other companies, looked to start rebuilding their fortunes. However, they faced one immediate problem - most of their factories had been destroyed during the war, and those which were still standing were in East Germany, meaning the company had to recapitalise, relocate (which it did - to Ingolstadt) and start selling some cars again.

Given the lack of manufacturing capacity, and the lessened demand for big luxury cars, the brand Auto Union chose to revive was DKW, which had a reputation for manufacturing solid, reasonably-priced vehicles for the masses. It would be some twenty years before another Audi appeared and Horch and Wanderer remain on ice to this day.


The F-Series Meisterklasse and Sonderklasse

In common with many other motor manufacturers, DKW looked to their pre-war technology as the quickest way to start producing again. Unlike some of the others who tried this strategy, though, Auto Union had been producing technologically advanced cars in the run-up to the war, so its post-war offerings seemed a lot more modern than some of those offered by its competitors.


The 1950-54 DKW F89 Meisterklasse

The first post-war passenger car, the DKW F89 or Meisterklasse appeared in 1950. Under the streamlined bodyshell, the F89 was essentially the same car as the DKW F8, which had been introduced in 1939 and produced until 1942, powered by a water-cooled two-cylinder, two-stroke 684cc engine that drove the front wheels and which would propel the car to a top speed of about 60mph.

The F89 stayed in production until 1954, one year after its official replacement, the DKW F91, was launched. With similar but prettier styling and class-leading interior space, the F91 boasted one additional engine cylinder, the same FWD setup as its predecessor and an extremely complicated nomenclature.


The 1953-59 DKW 3=6 Sonderklasse

All DKWs had a "F" number, the "F" standing for Front Wheel Drive and the number being the factory designation. But the F91 was also known as the Sonderklasse (where the F89 had been the Meisterklasse) and the 3=6, from Auto Union's assertion in the car's advertising materials that the power produced by a two-stroke three-cylinder engine was equivalent to that of a four-stroke six cylinder).

Further complicating things were the variants that followed in the years after the 3=6's first launch, which shared the 3=6 and Sonderklasse designations, but all had different F-numbers. The original F91 debuted at the 1953 Frankfurt Motor Show as a two-door saloon, a coupe, a cabriolet built by Karmann and a three-door wagon - which got an additional name: Universal. The coupe had boasted a three-piece "panoramic" rear window from the start, and by 1954, this had been adopted on the saloon as well.

These early cars featured an 896cc engine, producing 34hp. However, in 1955, the F93 appeared, also known as the Grosse 3=6 due to being 10cm wider, slightly longer and taller. It also had a restyled front grille and four more horsepower, although it was available in all the same body styles as the F91 except the Universal, which remained in production but stuck with the F91's less powerful engine. The F93 also boasted a stronger chassis and better braking system.

Two years later, the F94 replaced the F93. Now the 896cc engine produced 40hp and was fitted to the Universal too. A four-door version arrived as well, with a wheelbase extended by 10cm. By 1958, when the car's successor, the Auto Union 1000 arrived, Auto Union wisely decided to abandon this rather over-complex naming system and dubbed the car the DKW 900 for its final year in production!

Throughout its life, the 3=6's hugely roomy interior was helped by its FWD setup, which meant that there was no driveshaft to intrude into the cabin - indeed, the shifting was done via a column-mounted gearshift, so even the front floorspace was kept flat. Early cars had a three-speed manual, although by late 1953 a four-speed was available and an automatic arrived in 1957. The manual gearboxes were highly unusual in that they incorporated a freewheel on all speeds - if the driver lifted their foot off the accelerator, the car would coast along.

The technical oddities didn't stop there, either - the engine was still water cooled and longitudinally mounted in traditional fashion, but the radiator was behind it, between the engine and the firewall. Advertising for the car also made much of the fact that as the engine had just three moving parts, it could be expected to perform reliably for a long time in almost any conditions. Auto Union further claimed that the two-stroke powerplant  allowed for ultra-efficient engine lubrication - since the design meant that owners had to mix oil with the petrol when filling up the car (one pint of oil to three gallons of fuel) and this allowed fresh oil to reach all the engine's internal lubrication points.


This picture of the 3=6 engine bay clearly shows the unusual positioning of the radiator, located behind the engine

It may have been unconventional, but the 3=6 did very well for Auto Union and DKW, selling well in Europe and around the world - most notably in South America. The car's design was actually licensed by VEMAG, a Brazilian company, which made its own Fissore-styled version of the 3=6 from 1956 until 1967, long after the car had gone out of production in Germany. The 3=6 enjoyed success in motorsport too, winning first, second and third place in the 1954 European Touring Car Championships, during which they won first place in 18 out of the 19 races they entered.


The Schnellaster

During its lifetime, the 3=6 also donated its engine to the sporty DKW Monza and another Auto Union vehicle - one which played a crucial role in helping get Auto Union back on its feet. The F89 Meisterklasse car may have been the first Auto Union car to appear after the war, but the first post-war vehicle was the F89L Schnellaster (or Fast Delivery), a versatile little van, with quirky bug-eyed frontal styling, that first appeared in 1949.


A DKW Schnellaster with mini-bus bodywork, finished in stylish two-tone paint

Initially powered by the 700cc pre-war F8 2-cylinder two-stroke, the van didn't exactly live up to the "schnell" part of its name, producing just 20hp - although it was a reliable workhorse. It was improved, however, in 1955, when it got the three-cylinder unit.

Like the DKW cars, the van benefited enormously from its front-wheel drive, which meant it could offer a very low floor (just 40cm above the ground) that made it easier to load through the large single rear door. The Schnellaster was also available as a pickup and mini-bus, and remained in production until 1962


DKW Sonderklasse & Schnellaster - The Models

Schuco's charming 1:90 scale Piccolo series appeared in 1957, the same year as the DKW F94 Sonderkalsse, and were an immediate success, with their unusual one-piece castings, tiny chrome hubcaps and rubber tyres. The original series continued until 1969, but since the mid-1990s, Schuco has delighted their many fans by producing new limited edition castings and sets.

This Audi Piccolo Set comes in its own solid-wood display box and includes a red 3=6, a green Schnellaster and, for good measure, a pre-war Auto Union Type C Silver Arrow GP Car (you can read all about those here). The red and green colours are exclusive to the Audi set, and the set itself was limited to just 1999 pieces.


The Schuco Piccolo set in its presentation box



The Auto Union 1000Sp

While the DKW 3=6 had been in production, the DKW Monza, a small sports car produced in limited numbers by an outside concern, had proven quite successful. So when the 3=6 was superseded by the Auto Union 1000 with an enlarged 981cc engine, Auto Union decided that with the increased engine power, a sportier version produced in-house might go down well.


Brochure Art for the stylish 1000Sp Coupe

Its styling inspired by the first-generation Ford Thunderbird of 1955, the first 1000Sp Coupe made its debut in 1958. "Sp" stood for "Special" and the car boasted a top speed of around 90 mph. A convertible version followed in 1961. The cars' bodyshells were built by specialist coachbuilder Baur in Stuttgart and then transported to Ingolstadt for finishing.


The 1000Sp Convertible

With the arrival of the convertible came slightly less pointy tailfins (in the interest of increased safety!) In the same year, "Frischölautomatik", a "clean-oil regulator" system was introduced, meaning that the owner of an Auto Union two-stroke car no longer needed to add oil to the petrol tank, as it now went in a separate tank. One year later, both cars also got front disk brakes.

Both body types of the 1000Sp stayed in production until 1965, by which point around 5000 Coupes and 1640 Convertibles had been made.


Auto Union 1000Sp - The Model

Finished in eyecatching two-tone red and white, Minichamps 1000Sp Coupe perfectly captures the mid-Atlantic styling of the little Auto Union Coupe.

Made in 1/43 scale, like all Minichamps' models of this size, it boasts a wealth of detail, including rubber tyres, separate wipers and mirrors, inside and out and a cool cream interior. The headlamps, tail-lights and other details are all separate plated parts and just like the real car, the wheels are finished in body colour under the chrome hubcaps, and the model boasts authentic number plate decals. It comes with its own display box and plinth and this colourscheme is, like that of the Piccolo set, exclusively available from Audi.


The Minichamps 1000Sp in white over red


The fantastic Schuco Piccolo set and Minichamps 1000Sp coupe featured above are now up for auction in our special forum section here, along with all the models from the last two weeks. All proceeds go to the Helen & Douglas House, which provides hospice and respite care for children and young adults.


For more information about the range of model cars available from Audi, please visit

Next Week: The return of the Audi nameplate!

Tags: Vehicles, The Audi Centenary

GunnerJim on May 21, 2009

Thunderbird look alike.

Actually the sporty look of the of the DKW Monza reminded my more of the Studebaker Lark and cross bread to the Thunderbird. Anyway very interesting article, well done Mate.
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