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A LITTLE WONDER WITH OPULENCE ESCHEWED

EARLY SIXTIES AUTOMOBILES were less opulent than those of the Fifties. GM popularized the hardtop convertible (an oxymoron for the pillarless sedan), Ford exhibited a concept car called the Mustang I, and Chrysler lagged behind in retaining fins of earlier fashion. Also retaining fins, though little other opulence, was the DKW, Das Kleine Wunder, “The Little Wonder.”

Heritage. DKW was the German two-stroke, front-drive, small car offered by Auto Union GmbH, reformed in 1949 out of the four-ring DKW, Horch, Audi, and Wanderer, together with its prewar racing powerhouse Auto Union Rennabteilung. By 1959, Daimler-Benz had acquired complete control of the Ingolstadt-based firm; in 1964, Audi ownership went to Volkswagen. Auto Union GmbH’s larger cars, arriving in 1965, were responsibility of the surviving Audi nameplate (the name, Latinized Horch, German for “listen”).

The 1962 DKW Junior Deluxe. This and other images from R&T, July 1962.

DKW Styling. Despite its fins and “Deluxe” moniker, the 1962 DKW tested by R&T displayed a lack of opulence otherwise. Where domestic cars of the era featured chrome, the DKW made use of steel trim. Even its fins appeared somehow subdued.

“The fit and finish of the Junior Deluxe,” R&T wrote, “was approximately what one would expect of a car made by Mercedes-Benz. Both overall styling and detail appointments were somewhat heavy, in the best Teutonic manner, and the quality was generally better than others in the same price class….” 

The 1962 Junior Deluxe had a list price of $1595, just a penny more than a dollar per pound given its 1575-lb. curb weight. By contrast, Ford’s small-car Falcon in 1962 weighed 2297 lb. with prices starting at $1990 (87¢/lb). Thus, the premium for approximate Mercedes fit and finish?

The DKW’s Two-Stroke. The car’s three-cylinder two-cycle engine differed from earlier two-strokes by having its necessary oil injected rather than simply (and potentially haphazardly) added to the fuel tank. One of the benefits of precise oil injection was mitigating the blue fog following an ill-maintained two-stroke. Its curious two-stroke ring-a-ding combustion remained.

The DKW’s three-cylinder popper produced 34 hp at 4000 rpm. Its fuel consumption was rated at 24/32 mpg; oil consumption, “very reasonable,” R&T reported.

Two-Stroke Oil Consumption. “Indeed, our tests indicate that a single quart of oil will provide lubrication for about 730 miles of fairly stiff driving. When one considers that this is approximately equivalent to a car having a 4-stroke engine with a 3-quart sump that must be drained and refilled every 2200 miles, the oil consumption of the DKW Junior Deluxe seems very reasonable.”

Times have changed: Modern cars have oil-change recommendations of 5000 to 7500 miles, as long as 15,000 miles with synthetic lubricants. 

The Controls. The steering wheel is asymmetric (for thigh clearance). The instrument panel is a modest array of speedometer, fuel level, water temperature, and four lights.

“The gauges are marked,” R&T noted, “the lights just stare blandly from the panel.” Actually, the lights advise about directionals, oil, ignition, and high-beam.

Fairly Stiff Driving. R&T’s comment of “fairly stiff driving” can be put in perspective. The four-speed DKW’s performance was modest, though not out of line for 1962: The DKW took 24.2 seconds to reach 60 mph, with an all-out top speed of 71 mph. By comparison, figures for a supped-up Volkswagen Beetle tested that year were 19.3 seconds (versus a stock VW’s 27 seconds or so) and 80 mph; those for a V-8 Buick Skylark, 10.2 seconds and 107 mph; for a Porsche Carrera 2-Liter, 9.2 seconds and 122.7 mph.

How Fast Do You Want to Spend? The DKW was priced at $1575; the Empi-modified Beetle, $1995 + $369.50 Empi mods + eight hours installation; the Skylark, $2548; and the Porsche Carrera 2-Liter, $7595.

Consider too: The Porsche offered “too much noise inside the car, and its engine appeared to have that certain roughness well remembered from older Carreras… Also, of course, the rear seating compartment remains impossible—at least for grownups…” 

The Buick “was cursed with power steering and power brakes, which we could see no earthly reason for.”

Supped-up VW owner prospects: “If common sense is not used, then he can expect, at best, repair bills of increasing size, and, at worst, a serious accident caused by counting too strongly on inadequate brakes.” 

R&T reported of the DKW, “Rare in a small sedan: really adequate trunk space.”

And, in conclusion, R&T wrote, “At the price, the DKW Junior Deluxe is about as good a piece of transportation as is being brought into this country, It offers many unusual and worth-while features, with a liberal dash of peculiarities that may or may not be endearing…. America may acquire a taste for that ‘ring-a-ding’ flavor even yet.” ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

2 comments on “A LITTLE WONDER WITH OPULENCE ESCHEWED

  1. Mike B
    August 18, 2021

    What ever happened to Borgward?

    When my dad went looking for a small 2nd car (ended up with a ’63 Beetle, new, only options an outside rear view mirror (driver’s side only) and front lap belts – driver’s door only locked from outside, passenger’s door only on the inside), I remember him looking at Borgward (nice, but a little pricey), DKW (just, not), both with 4-on-the-tree, and Morris Minor (they all leaked something, though the convertible at least was interesting). The performance level you note was pretty standard for non-hopped-up small cars; the Beetle (a 1200cc model) was a tiny bit quicker than your stock model, but had a stated top speed of 72 mph and meant it, though it would go (figuratively, with a 6 or 7 gallon tank iirc) all day doing that. The ’63 was the first year with a gas gauge! And the Beetle was very maintenance-intensive, with some kind of service (such as an oil change – no oil filter back then unless you got one as part of a hop-up kit) at least every 1000 miles. Over the years he had it (I learned to drive in it) and about 40K miles, he had to buy 4 clutches and 3 sets of brakes while driving, mostly, in San Francisco. Replaced with an Opel 1900 with an automatic when my sisters started driving (that’s another story).

  2. simanaitissays
    August 18, 2021

    R&T’s Road Test No. 112, in September 1956, was of the Borgward Isabella TS, which was several notches pricier than the DKW. Borgward’s downmarket sibling was the Lloyd. The firm went belly up in 1961. You can read about a 21st-century rebirth, of sorts, by Googling it. Briefly, the grandson of the first Herr Borgward cut a deal with a Chinese truckmaker.

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