New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Quin­ton Tay­lor Pho­tos: Adam Croy, Newzealand­clas­s­ic­car Ar­chives

The modern-day Audi AG and the fa­mil­iar Auto Union four-ring badge rep­re­sent a mo­tor­ing and sport­ing her­itage rec­og­niz­able world­wide. It is a vast or­ga­ni­za­tion, en­com­pass­ing some of the most in­no­va­tive en­gi­neer­ing es­tab­lish­ments in the world, in­clud­ing Volk­swa­gen, Audi, Porsche, MAN, SEAT, Lam­borgh­ini su­per­cars, and Du­cati mo­tor­cy­cles, among oth­ers. The four rings sym­bol­ize the join­ing to­gether of Audi, Horch, Wan­derer, and DKW.

In the late 1950s to the 1970s, the dis­tinc­tive two-stroke, Ger­man DKW / Auto Union cars sold rea­son­ably well in New Zealand, and were a sur­pris­ingly reg­u­lar sight and sound on our roads. They were quirky and dif­fer­ent, mak­ing them un­usu­ally pop­u­lar com­pared with the reg­u­lar Bri­tish makes. Beau­ti­fully built; well-en­gi­neered; and with dis­tinc­tive styling fea­tures, of­ten in two-tone colours, DKWS stood out in the traf­fic.

Two fiercely loyal en­thu­si­asts of the DKW / Auto Union mar­que, John Farmer, of Whi­tianga, and Bren­dan Odell, of Welling­ton, both own these ve­hi­cles in var­i­ous states, from fully re­stored to works in progress.

Auto Union pas­sion

When the Auto Union 1000SP coupé was launched in 1958, it was seen as a style and per­for­mance state­ment in Europe. Its re­sem­blance, in minia­ture, to the 1955 Ford Thun­der­bird was no ac­ci­dent. Pro­duced in very small num­bers, the coupé was an im­pres­sive, well-built car for its day. It was nick­named the Sch­malspar Thun­der­bird — which loosely trans­lates as ‘nar­row-gauge Thun­der­bird’.

John Farmer was at­tracted to DKWS and Auto Union from quite a young age. He is pas­sion­ate about these quirky lit­tle cars, and has owned a num­ber of ex­am­ples. Six months ago, he com­pleted an 18-year restora­tion of what is quite a beau­ti­ful-look­ing lit­tle road­ster: a 1000SP Auto Union.

“To be per­fectly hon­est, when I was grow­ing up my par­ents al­ways had Bri­tish stodge — Hill­mans, Mor­rises, Austins, and all that sort of stuff, and it re­ally was pretty or­di­nary,” he ex­plains. “I find these very dif­fer­ent: re­li­able, with good han­dling and good per­for­mance; well built; re­ally, re­ally, dif­fer­ent en­gi­neer­ing — as far away from the old Austins and Mor­rises of the 1950s as you could pos­si­bly get. Ev­ery time I get in one and drive, I re­ally en­joy it.”

It doesn’t just look good; it goes quite well too

John found his 1000SP road­ster af­ter re­search­ing the in­ter­net for some time. “I’d al­ways wanted one. They are quite un­usual, re­ally. They have the same chas­sis as the con­ven­tional pas­sen­ger car, but [Auto Union] tweaked the en­gine a bit, changed the port­ing, changed the car­bu­re­tion, and got about an ex­tra 15–16hp [11–12kw] out of the en­gines. It made the car just a bit quicker.”

Auto Union in­tro­duced the model in 1958 in coupé form only. Then, in late 1961, it in­tro­duced a road­ster ver­sion.

“The car it­self was in­tended to be the pre­mium of­fer­ing, if you like. It looks quite cool, es­pe­cially be­ing made in Ger­many. DKW pretty much copied a 1955 Ford Thun­der­bird. If you have a close look at the de­tail­ing of the car, [you can see that] a lot of ef­fort and prob­a­bly a lot of ex­pense have gone into man­u­fac­tur­ing it. DKW only made 1640 of the road­sters, so re­ally didn’t make that many at all. Most of them are dead be­cause of cor­ro­sion.

“I bought [mine] from a car dealer in Seat­tle in 1999. I’m guess­ing that pos­si­bly an Amer­i­can ser­vice­man took it back af­ter mil­i­tary ser­vice in Ger­many, and that’s how it ended up in the States,” John tells us.

The car was in very poor con­di­tion when he bought it, and that meant a lot of work and a lot of ex­pense over many years.

“It’s taken 18 years to get it on the road. It’s now reg­is­tered and war­ranted and I’m driv­ing it. I’ve got an­other car four years older with a 900cc en­gine, and it goes quite well, but the 1000cc en­gine in the SP is a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish,” he ex­plains. “It has a very, very, thick and wide torque band, so, when you put your foot down, it re­ally takes off and goes quite well for a 1000cc.

“They are only about 930kg, so they are quite light. They are quite nice on the road. Front-wheel drive with rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing, quite taut sus­pen­sion, and it just feels re­ally lively. It doesn’t ac­tu­ally just look good; it goes quite well too.”

A lit­tle help from my friends

Parts were dif­fi­cult to find, so John went to Europe look­ing for them. He found most of what he wanted in Gothen­burg, Swe­den: “I went to Ger­many and then to Swe­den. I met a guy there who had seven cars as wrecks. I bought a big suit­case and brought back all the miss­ing bits from Gothen­burg.” A busy ca­reer meant that there was no time for John to tackle the car him­self. He or­ga­nized some­one to do the chrome work, and an­other to do the panel work. He sourced a new crank­shaft and pis­tons, and had the en­gine re­built. A friend in Whanga­mata re­did the chas­sis and added the body; an­other friend fin­ished off the me­chan­i­cals and chas­sis.

In the short time that the 1000SP has been on the road, a wa­ter-pump is­sue has meant ma­chin­ing the shaft and a new seal. Other than that, and a re­cent paint touch-up, it is ready for a de­cent run.

“The car it­self was in­tended to be the pre­mium of­fer­ing, if you like. It looks quite cool, es­pe­cially be­ing made in Ger­many”

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