The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966

  • 29 June 2024
  • 3 min read
  • 5 images
The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966 image

Photo credit: Audi, Wheelsage

Roarington's journey to discover lost automotive brands continues today with the German DKW, an acronym derived from the founder Jorge Skafte Rasmussen's early experiments with steam power—Dampf-Kraft-Wagen (steam-powered car).

In the early 1900s, young Danish engineer Jorge Skafte Rasmussen moved to Saxony to study engineering. Shortly after, he and his friend Ernst founded a company initially focused on components, with the ultimate goal of producing automobiles. Despite the challenges of World War I, Rasmussen's ambitions remained undeterred. Between 1914 and 1918, he tested the first steam-powered car prototype, which he eventually abandoned due to high costs after the war.

The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966 - 1 In 1931, the first mass-produced DKW car, the F1 with front-wheel drive, was unveiled at the Berlin Motor Show.

DKW designed and produced a small 40cc two-stroke engine that was used in motorcycles, which were also exported to numerous markets. This story mirrors that of Triumph, which also focused on two-wheelers before producing cars. The first four-wheeled DKW finally arrived in 1928, a two-seater roadster with rear-wheel drive and a two-stroke engine. However, it took three years to launch the modified model at the 1931 Berlin Motor Show. The new model, named F1, featured front-wheel drive, providing weight savings, reliability and performance.

The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966 - 2 In 1932, DKW was integrated into Auto Union alongside Audi, Horch, and Wanderer. The chosen symbol was the four rings, which still represent Audi's logo today.

In 1932, amid the American depression and European crises linked to severe inflation and as Germany neared the end of the Weimar Republic, the German automotive sector was rationalized with the creation of Auto Union. The four-ring emblem represented DKW, Audi, Horch and Wanderer. This merger gave each brand a specific focus. For DKW, this meant continuing its success in the motorcycle sector and producing mid-to-low-range cars. The Auto Union brand became a symbol of excellence for the four included brands: Audi, DKW, Wanderer and Horch, particularly excelling in Grand Prix racing with rear-engine cars designed by Ferdinand Porsche.

The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966 - 3 The DKW F89 debuted in 1950, representing the first post-war model produced by the German brand.

Despite all DKW factories ending up in the Russian-controlled eastern part of Berlin after World War II, DKW built new facilities in West Germany, in Düsseldorf and Ingolstadt, to produce the Meisterklasse in 1950 and the Sonderklasse in 1953. Today, Audi's headquarters remain in Ingolstadt. DKW cars performed well in rallies worldwide with their small two-stroke engines, winning the East African Safari Rally and the Finnish Thousand Lakes in 1956. The Auto Union 1000, equipped with the DKW three-cylinder engine, won the overall victory at the 1958 African Safari and the 1959 Acropolis Rally.

The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966 - 4 After World War II, all DKW factories ended up in the eastern part of Berlin, forcing the German manufacturer to build new facilities in Düsseldorf and Ingolstadt.

In the late 1950s, Mercedes-Benz acquired 88% of Auto Union shares, responding to the high demand for affordable cars. During this period, models like the Junior, the F102, and the Munga were introduced. However, it became clear that the popular car segment belonged to Volkswagen, which took control of DKW and Auto Union in the mid-1960s. The days of two-stroke cars were coming to an end. In 1966, the F102 was adapted to use a four-stroke engine and marketed under the Audi brand. Volkswagen's strategy, as we see today, was to leverage the Four Rings brand. From that moment, DKW disappeared and the emblem of the four rings soon became the premium brand of the Group. DKW, with its globally sold motorcycles and technically brilliant but image-lacking cars entered the realm of memories.

The Nostalgia of Forgotten Gods: DKW (Cars), Germany, 1928-1966 - 5 One of the last cars produced by DKW was the 1964 F102, which, after Volkswagen's acquisition, was marketed under the Audi brand.