Industry Automotive
Fate merged to Auto Union in 1932, last DKW branded car was made in 1966
Founded 1916
Defunct 1932
Headquarters Saxony, Germany
Key people Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen, founder
Products Automobiles, motorcycles

DKW is a historic German car and motorcycle marque. The name derives from Dampf-Kraft-Wagen (German: steam-driven car).

In 1916, the Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen founded a factory in Zschopau, Saxony, Germany, to produce steam fittings. In the same year, he attempted to produce a steam-driven car, called the DKW. Although unsuccessful, he made a two-stroke toy engine in 1919, called Des Knaben Wunsch—"the boy's desire". He also put a slightly modified version of this engine into a motorcycle and called it Das Kleine Wunder—"the little marvel". This was the real beginning of the DKW brand: by the 1930s, DKW was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer.

In 1932, DKW merged with Audi, Horch and Wanderer, to form the Auto Union. Auto Union came under Daimler-Benz ownership in 1957, and was then purchased by the Volkswagen Group in 1964. The last DKW car was the F102 which ceased production in 1966; after this the brand was phased out.


Automobiles made before WWII

1931 DKW F1

DKW cars were made from 1928 until 1966. They always used two-stroke engines and, from 1931, the company was a pioneer in front-wheel drive and transverse mounting. The most well-known cars made before World War II, bearing model names F1 through F8 (F for Front), had front-wheel drive and a transversely mounted two-cylinder engine. Displacement was 600 or 700 cc, power was 18 to 20 hp (15 kW). These models also featured an innovation with a generator that doubled up as a self-starter, which was mounted directly on the crankshaft. This was known as a Dynastart.

They also produced a less well-known series of rear-wheel drive cars called Schwebeklasse and Sonderklasse with two-stroke V4 engines. Engine displacement was 1,000 cc, later 1,100 cc. These engines had two extra cylinders for forced induction, so they really appeared like V6 engines but without spark plugs on the front cylinder pair.

In 1939, they made a prototype with the first three-cylinder engine. The engine had a displacement of 900 cc and produced 30 hp (22 kW). With a streamlined body, the car could run at 115 km/h (71 mph). This prototype was to be put into production only after World War II, first as an Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau (IFA) F9 (later to become Wartburg) in Zwickau, East Germany, and shortly afterwards in DKW-form from Düsseldorf as the 3=6 or F91.

DKW engines were used by Saab as a model for the Saab two-stroke used in their new Saab 92 automobile manufacturing venture, in 1947.

Automobiles made after WWII

Osmo Kalpala servicing his DKW during the 1956 Rally Finland.

As the Auto Union company originally was situated in Saxony in what became the German Democratic Republic, it took some time for it to regroup after the war ended. The company was registered again in West Germany as Auto Union GmbH in 1949, first as a spare-part provider, but soon to take up production of the RT 125 motorcycle and a newly developed delivery van, called a Schnellaster F800. Their first line of production took place in Düsseldorf. This van used the same engine as the last F8 made before the war.

Their first passenger car was the F89 using the body from the prototype F9 made before the war and the two-cylinder two-stroke engine from the last F8. Production went on until it had been replaced by the successful three-cylinder engine which came with the F91. The F91 was in production from 1953–1955, and was replaced by the somewhat larger F93 in 1956. The F91 and F93 models all had 900 cc three-cylinder two-stroke engines, the first ones delivering 34 hp (25 kW), and the last ones 38 hp (28 kW). The ignition system of these engines comprised three independent sets of points and coils, one for each cylinder, with the points mounted in a cluster around a single lobed cam at the front end of the crank shaft. The cooling system was of the free convection type assisted by a fan driven from a pulley mounted at the front end of the crank shaft.

The F93 was produced until 1959, and was in turn replaced by the Auto-Union 1000. These models where produced with a 1,000 cc two-stroke engine, with a choice between 44 hp (33 kW) or 50 hp (37 kW) S versions until 1963. During this transition, production was also moved from Düsseldorf to Ingolstadt where Audi still has its production. From 1957, these cars could be fitted with an optional saxomat, an automatic clutch and, at the time it was the only small car offering this feature. The last versions of the Auto-Union 1000S also had disc brakes as option, an early development for this technology. A sporting 2+2 seater version was also available as the Auto-Union 1000 SP from 1957 to 1964, the first years only as a coupé and from 1962 also as a convertible.

In 1956, the very rare DKW Monza was put into small scale production on a private initiative. This was a sporting, two-seater body made of glassfiber mounted on a standard F93 frame. The car was first called Solitude, but got its final name from the several long distance speed records it made on the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy in November 1956. Running in Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) class G, it set several new records, among them 48 hours with average speed 140.961 km/h (87.589 mph), 10,000 km with an average speed of 139.453 km/h (86.652 mph) and 72 hours with an average speed of 139.459 km/h (86.656 mph). The car was first produced by Dannenhauer & Strauss in Stuttgart, then by Massholder in Heidelberg and at last by Robert Schenk in Stuttgart. The total number of produced cars is said to be around 230 and production was rounded up by the end of 1958.

DKW Junior (1962)

A more successful range of passenger cars was sold from 1959. This was the Junior/F12 series based on a modern concept from the late 1950s. This range consist of Junior (basic model) made from 1959 to 1961, Junior de Luxe (a little enhanced) from 1961 to 1963, F11 (a little larger) and F12 (larger and bigger engine) from 1963 to 1965 and F12 Roadster from 1964 to1965. The Junior/F12 series became quite popular, and many cars were produced. An assembly plant was licenced in Ireland between 1952 and c.1964 and roughly 4,000 DKW vehicles were assembled ranging from saloons, vans, motorbikes to commercial combine harvesters. This was the only DKW factory outside of Germany in Europe.

All the three-cylinder two-stroke post-war cars had some sporting potential and formed the basis for many rally victories in the 1950s and beginning of 1960s. This made DKW the most winning car brand in the European rally league for several years during the fifties.

In 1960 DKW developed a V6 engine by combining two three cylinder two-stroke engines giving a single V6 engine with a capacity of 1,000 cc. Over time the capacity was increased and the final V6 in 1966 had a capacity of 1,300 cc. The 1,300 cc version developed 83 hp (62 kW) at 5,000 rpm using the standard configuration with two carburettors. A four carburettor version produced 100 hp (75 kW) and a six carburettor version produced 130 hp (97 kW). The engine weighed only 84 kg (190 lb). The V6 was planned to be used in the DKW Munga and the F102. About 100 V6 engines were built for testing purposes and 13 DKW F102 as well as some Mungas were fitted with the V6 engine in the 1960s.[1]

The last DKW was the F102 coming into production in 1964 as a replacement for the somewhat old-looking AU1000. This model was the direct forerunner of the first post-war Audi, the F103. The main difference was that the Audi used a conventional four-stroke engine. The transition to four-stroke engines marked the end of the DKW marque for passenger cars.

From 1957 to 1967 Vemag built some models of DKW cars in Brazil. The Vemag factory was added to Volkswagen Group in 1967. From 1956 to 1961, Dutch importer Hart, Nibbrig & Greve assembled the cars in an abandoned asphalt-factory in Sassenheim, where they employed about 120 workers, two transporter, that collected the SKD-kits from Duesseldorf and build about 13.500 cars. When the DKW-plant was moved, the import of SKD-kits stopped, as it became to expensive[2]

Vans and utility vehicles

DKW Munga

The DKW Munga was built by Auto Union in Ingolstadt. Production began in October 1956 and ended in December 1968. During this time, 46,750 cars were built.

From 1949 to 1962, DKW produced the DKW Schnellaster with a trailing-arm rear suspension system which incorporated springs in the cross bar assembly. Spanish subsidiary IMOSA also produced a modern successor, introduced in 1963 and called the DKW F 1000 L. This van started with the three-cylinder 1,000 cc engine, but later received a Mercedes-Benz Diesel engine and finally was renamed a Mercedes-Benz in 1975.



During the late 1920s and 1930s, DKW was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer.[citation needed] In 1931, Ing Zoller started building split-singles and this concept made DKW the dominant racing motorcycle in the Lightweight and Junior classes between the wars.[3] At the same time, the company also had some success with super-charged racing motorcycles.

The motorcycle branch of the company produced very famous models such as the RT 125 pre- and post-World War II, and after the war it still made 175, 250 and 350 models. As reparations after the war, the design drawings of the RT125 were given to Harley-Davidson in the US and BSA in the UK. The Harley-Davidson version was known as the Hummer, while BSA used them for the Bantam. IFA and later MZ models continued in production until the 1990s, when economics finally brought production of the two stroke to an end. Other manufacturers also copied the DKW design, officially or otherwise. This can be seen in the similarity of many small two-stroke motorcycles from the 1950s, including a product of Yamaha, Voskhod and Polish WSK.

Automobile models

DKW motorcycles and scooters

DKW Super Sport 500
  • DKW ARE 175
  • DKW ORE 250
  • DKW Golem (Sesselmotorrad)
  • DKW KM 200
  • DKW KS 200
  • DKW SB 200
  • DKW SB 350
  • DKW SB 500
  • DKW ZS 500
  • DKW ZSW 500 (watercooled)
  • DKW SS 500 (watercooled)
  • DKW SS 600 (watercooled)
  • DKW Sport 250
  • DKW NZ 250
  • DKW NZ 350
  • DKW NZ 500
  • DKW RT 100
  • DKW RT 125
  • DKW RT 175
  • DKW RT 200
  • DKW RT 200H
  • DKW RT 250 H
  • DKW RT 250/2
  • DKW RT 350 S
  • DKW Hobby-Roller
  • DKW Hummel

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