THREE LETTERS WITH A MAJOR MOTORING ROLE
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”