In 1935 the DKW design team started work on a new car project. The 'hohe-klasse', or 'high class', was conceived as a wholly new design and was a quantum leap away from DKW's budget car heritage. The driving force behind the project was the recognition that Hitler's KDF-Volkswagen would come to dominate the budget car market in Germany by 1940 and if DKW were to survive, they needed a new and modern car to compete.
In 1936 DKW began trialing a new 3 cylinder 900cc engine. There is some evidence to suggest that this new engine was derived from the British Scott Triple motorcycle engine of 1934. It is on the record that DKW purchased two Scott Triples from Scott’s French importer in 1935 or 1936 and the layout and the capacity of the Scott and DKW engines are strikingly similar.
At any rate, DKW tested the new engine in a series of three streamlined, endurance racers. The racers featured a new chassis, new suspension and each car was fitted with a different engine - the standard 688cc two cylinder two-stroke; the V-4 1000cc two-stroke; and the new 896cc triple. In line with DKW’s standard practice, the triple engine was mounted transversely in the engine bay, although this was a very tight fit and widened the frontal aspect of the car. The new engine compared very favourably against DKW’s other engines and the trio of cars performed well in the 1938 Rome-Berlin endurance race. http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/auto-union-streamliners.html
Auto-Union adapted the streamliner concept in its stunning 1938 Horch 930S. After it was unveiled to great acclaim, Auto-Union began designing a version for DKW.
As stunning as the Horch 930S looked, it was a very expensive, coach-built car and very few were built. If the new DKW was to compete with the Volkswagen it would need to be cheap and mass producible. Auto-Union designers recognized that a unitary, self-supporting steel body would be cheaper to produce than the traditional separate body and chassis method, but few companies had experience in this field. The Ambi-Budd Karosseriewerks held the patent in Germany from their US parent and it was used almost exclusively by German Ford and Opel. Auto-Union approached Ambi-Budd but felt the license costs were excessive.
In 1938 Auto-Union consulted the independent engineer, Friedrich Maier, who offered an alternative solution. Maier had been an aircraft engineer for Junkers but in 1934 he had struck out on his own as an auto designer. In response to Adolf Hitler’s call to build ‘the cheap car’ for the German people, he built a single all steel prototype vehicle called the ‘Maier Lightweight.’ Maier’s unorthodox, highly streamlined vehicle was powered by a rear mounted 600cc DKW engine and featured a self-supporting pressed steel body for which he held the patent. http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/1935-maier-leichtbau.html
Maier assured Auto-Union that his patented method could be used to manufacture the new DKW. Extensive discussions were held with Maier but Auto-Union eventually decided to continue with the traditional construction methods as Maier’s company was simply too small a player and Auto-Union couldn’t convince themselves that Ambi-Budd wouldn’t opportunistically sue for patent breach. Besides which, time was running out.
In 1938 the Volkswagen was unveiled to the German public, and tens of thousands of Germans immediately signed up to the purchase scheme. Almost half a million would have signed up by the start of the war. DKW sales immediately took a hit. The new car needed to be unveiled soon.
By 1938 the new triple engine was production ready even if the car it was to power wasn’t. As a stop gap, DKW considered installing the triple engine in the new DKW Sonderklasse in place of that car’s poorly performing V4 engine, but this idea never came to fruition. http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/the-big-dkw-48.html
For road trials, the new engine was installed transversely in the engine bay of modified F8, but it quickly became apparent that this was not a suitable placement so a second car had its chassis modified to accommodate an inline engine. This change, originally intended solely to provide sufficient access for the driven stub axles, led to a complete redesign of the engine bay and vehicle layout.
A mystery DKW engine discovered by Winfried Kuhl. It appears to be a 3=6 prototype engine but has a production serial number. Did DKW begin small scale production of the 3=6 engine in the mid-1940s?
The compact engine-gearbox layout of the F8 was not possible in the F9. As the gearbox needed to be positioned behind the engine, the engine had to be pushed forward and lower. This supported a more streamlined profile, however, the reduced frontal profile and gently sloped bonnet was inadequate for a front mounted radiator, so the radiator had to mounted behind the engine. Cooling was achieved by thermo-syphonic effect so there was no water pump, but ensuring sufficient airflow to the radiator required the addition of a fan,which was driven by a pulley from the front of the camshaft. The pulley also drove the Dynastart, which combined the function of generator and starter motor.
Placing the radiator behind the engine meant there was no room in the engine bay for the petrol tank. All earlier DKW cars had their petrol tank mounted behind and above the engine, allowing gravity to feed gas to the engine. The fuel tank was moved to the boot, as in most modern cars, but this required the addition of a fuel pump - a novelty for DKW. In accordance with DKW's design principle of economy and simplicity, the fuel pump was a very basic affair that used the vacuum within the crankcase for its motive force. It was simple and it worked but it was a weak point in the engine.
In 2015 the Werner car was part of an exhibition about the early development of the IFA F9 'People's Car' in Chemnitz. This very successful exhibition included a prototype transverse mounted engine (seen here in the foreground) from one of the early test vehicles. How this example survived is anyone's guess. Other vehicles on display included a prototype chassis, several very early IFA F9s and F9 racer. http://fahrzeugmuseum-chemnitz.de/?event=der-f9-ein-gesamtdeutsches-auto&event_date=2014-12-18
The Plastic Car
By 1939 the Auto-Union Central Design Bureau had finalised the car’s modern, streamlined form and work began on the pre-production prototypes. No sooner had work started than Auto-Union’s steel allocation - a scarce strategic resource in Nazi Germany - was substantially reduced. This provoked a crisis at Auto-Union and a rationalisation of projects in development. A more expensive Wanderer version of the F9 in the pipeline was cancelled after two pre-production prototypes, but as Auto-Union’s future was tied to the new DKW an alternative to steel was required.
The stillborn Wanderer W31 project reveals that Auto-Union was planning to standardize the F9 concept across their range. Only two full size cars were built.
Fortunately, Auto-Union had a solution in hand. For many years Auto-Union had been working in partnership with the chemical company Rommler AG to develop a synthetic product called Duroplast. Duroplast was manufactured by pressing phenol resin impregnated wood pulp in a heated press. Once dried the Duroplast panels were strong and flexible. From 1938 DKW undertook extensive road and crash testing of Duroplast bodied F7s to prove the utility of the new product, in the process becoming the first company in Europe to undertake professional crash testing.
Auto-Union undertook crash testing for all its cars in the 1930s, from steel bodied Audi's to plywood and Dynoplast bodied DKWs.
For DKW the benefits of Duroplast were obvious. Firstly, the component raw materials of phenolic resin and wood pulp were both waste products and therefore low cost. Secondly, Dynoplast could be pressed into complex curves which could substantially reduce manpower effort spent building and weatherproofing DKW's wooden bodied cars, which were very labour intensive to fit out. In 1939 DKW began using Duroplast on the rear body of the F8.
DKW's Duroplast bodywork panels on display at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show. Duroplast is probably most famous for its use in the Trabant, but DKW's Duroplast was developed from wood pulp while the Trabant panels were manufactured with cotton waste.
By September 1939 though, ten steel-bodied prototypes had been built and were being put through road trials. Advertising material was prepared and the car was scheduled to go into series production in early 1940. However, these plans were put on hold with the start of the Second World War. Road trials and further enhancements went on until 1942 when all the military situation began to turn against Germany and all civilian projects were shut down.
Two prototypes on a test drive. This photo must have been taken during the early years of the War as both cars have their headlights masked and the left hand car has a black-out light over its headlight.
From 1942 things went progressively downhill for both Germany and Auto-Union. Both Wanderer and Horch plants were given over to war production from 1940; Horch producing trucks and Wanderer a wide range of military vehicles. DKW was the only member of the group exempted from military takeover, largely because the Wehrmacht deemed their two-stroke engine unsuitable for military use. Production of DKW civilian motorcycles and F8 cars continued until 1943.
By 1944 transport shortages in Germany had become acute and the military were forced to confiscate private vehicles for military use. Only a few vehicle types were exempt, such as the Mercedes-Benz 130H, which had a poor reputation, and DKW vehicles. Auto-Union’s executives lost their Horch, Audi and Wanderer limousines and were forced to make do with DKWs. The ten F9 prototypes, along with the Wanderer and DKW endurance cars, were distributed among the Auto-Union executives as replacement cars. Head of Design and Development, William Werner, who had headed up the F9 project, took possession of a hard top sedan.
Technical director William Werner studies a model of a Wanderer sedan around 1938.
The Spoils of War
In April 1945 at an extraordinary meeting of the Auto-Union board in Chemnitz the chief executives of the company agreed it was in their best interests to flee from the Soviet Occupation Zone to the west. Werner took his F9 and fled to Oldenburg, near Bremen in the British Occupation Zone. There he set up a DKW spares and servicing company to eek out a living.
All across Germany Allied specialists were combing the ruins for hidden German technology and in 1946 the British Ministry of Supply seized his car and sent it to the School of Tank Technology in Cobham, Surrey for evaluation. Auto-Union executives, including Werner, were interviewed about the genesis and development of the F9 car. The British report noted:
"The F9 car was developed solely to meet competition offered by the Volkswagen. The Volkswagen (subsidised) was cheaper than their F8 model, and had more room and was faster. They reckoned that in producing the F9 which had a much better appearance than the Volkswagen and was about 15 kph faster, they would hold the market somewhere between the Volkswagen and the higher priced cars." Quoted from Karl Ludvigsen's "Battle for the Beetle" page 373.After a period of testing in England the car was handed over to the Australian Army. The war had convinced the Australian Government that the country needed to develop an indigenous automobile industry and in 1944 proposed that Australia begin manufacturing "a car similar to the German low priced two-stroke DKW", so the British handed the car over to the Australians for the purposes of evaluation. Nevertheless, after extensive testing, the F9, along with other confiscated German vehicles (including a 1946 Volkswagen), was put up for public auction in 1949 and sold.
After changing hands a number of times, the car was purchased by Mr Leo Redfern of Victoria in the 1960s. Having a pre-production engine without any possibility of spare parts, it was inevitable that the engine would one day fail. This forced Mr Redfern to make significant changes to the car, transplanting the body onto a pre-war DKW F8 chassis and engine. An F91 bonnet and radiator screen replaced the original bonnet.
The car changed hands a couple of times before it was tracked down by DKW collector, Peter Thorogood in the 1980s. Peter also obtained the original chassis and engine (which was dismantled in a box) and planned to do a full restoration, however, when the economy turned bad at the end of the 1980s he was forced to put the car up for sale. By this stage Audi AG had become aware of the car and were keen to obtain this important vehicle for their collection. Forty odd years after it had left Germany the prototype finally returned home. Audi Tradition undertook the long awaited restoration. An early IFA F9 bonnet and grill replaced the missing original. The engine however was not fully repairable. The car is now on display at Audi's Ingolstadt museum where it can be enjoyed by everyone. http://www.audi.com/com/brand/en/experience/audi_forums0/audi_forum_ingolstadt/museum_mobile.html
In late 2016 a second F9 prototype made a surprise appearance. This car had been confiscated by a Soviet engineering officer involved in the dismantling of the Auto-Union factories in the 1946-47. The car returned home with him and served as the family vehicle for many decades. As with the Werner car, the engine failed at some point and with cars being something of a luxury in the USSR, a new engine was grafted into the vehicle. Creative Soviet mechanics converted the car to rear wheel drive by installing the complete drive train, inclusive of a floor mounted gearbox and transmission tunnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the battered and mutilated car was found derelict in a farmhouse in Estonia. It has now been purchased by a German enthusiast for restoration. http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/a-second-dkw-f9-prototype-discovered.html
The F9 is reborn
Auto-Union’s factories in Chemnitz, Zwickau and Zschopau were stripped by the Soviets as war reparations between 1945 and 1947 leaving the company with nothing but the empty halls. Nevertheless, a few items escaped the net. When the war turned against them, the Nazis distributed heavy machinery into mines, forests and villages to protect them from bombing. Once the East German government was established it nationalized what was left of the auto industry under the name VEB, which meant something like public owned company. The Auto-Union factories were re-badged IFA. Stocks of spare parts for DKW cars and motorcycles were recovered from their hiding places and IFA began to flicker back into life repairing pre-war cars and building motorcycles from spare parts. In 1948 production of the pre-war F8 car began
Another F9 prototype had been recovered in Leipzig and was returned to the old Audi factory in Chemnitz. This car was dismantled, examined and reverse engineered to become the template for the IFA F9. In external appearance, IFA F9 was a faithful replica of the original F9, however cost cutting measures resulted in a few noticeable differences. For the sake of simplicity the IFA engineers initially placed the petrol tank in the engine bay, buttressed between the radiator and firewall. It meant a smaller tank but it did mean that the fuel pump was no longer necessary.
The new car was unveiled at the Leipzig Motor Show in 1949 to great excitement. However, production at Chemnitz was painfully slow due to the chronic shortage of parts and only 1600 cars had been built there before VEB transferred production of the F9 to the former BMW autowerkes at Eisenach.
Eisenach were then producing two cars, the large EMW 340 sedan and the sleek EMW 310 roadster. Neither car found a market in East Germany’s straitened circumstances so production had ground to a halt leaving the workforce underemployed. Eisenach's workers were horrified to be asked to build the cheap F9, which they regarded as beneath them. Nevertheless, they set to work and very rapidly made improvements, such as increasing the size of the rear window, replacing the ‘walking stick’ centrally mounted gear shift with a column shift and otherwise improved the fittings and build quality of the car. In 1956, they undertook a complete restyling of the car, which was renamed the Wartburg 311.
Revival in the West
Over in West Germany things were in much the same state of disorder. The surviving Auto-Union executives met in Dusseldorf and agreed to reconstitute the company. Former managing director, Dr Richard Bruhn and Deputy Director Dr Carl Hahn secured a line of credit from the State Bank of Bavaria based solely on their good standing and a new company, Auto-Union Spare Parts Depot Gmb was registered. Former company assets across West Germany were located and bought into the new company and contact was made with the numerous service stations and selling agents. As in the east, the new Auto-Union started on the road to recovery by offering repairs and servicing to DKW car and motorcycle owners, and here Auto-Union had a particular advantage. Due to the Wehrmacht’s wartime prejudice against DKW there were 65,000 privately owned DKW cars still on the road in 1945, and large numbers overseas.
The original DKW F89 prototype in Ingolstadt. Despite the oddly overblown bumper, the design closely resembles the original F9 design, especially in respect to the styling of the grill and the split windscreen, however, as the IFA F9 already on sale, DKW were forced to restyle their car.
Auto-Union had managed to recover a test body for the F9 from the DKW bodyworks in Spandau, outside Berlin. It was far from a complete car, the find included many of the machine presses used to construct the original cars, so it was shipped to Auto-Union’s factory in Dusseldorff where it became the template for a new DKW. Auto-Union had briefly considered building the pre-war F8, but the Berlin Spandau werkes was now located on the other side of the new border with East Germany, making transport to and from difficult. They felt it was better to simply start with a new car from scratch. Several hundred F8 chassis from DKW’s stock of spares were bodied with a new, steel bodywork from Baur as the F10, but this venture was quickly abandoned once the F9 body was recovered. Minor modifications were made the F8 chassis to mount the F9 body, and the resulting hybrid car was named F89P. Being powered by the F8's two-cylinder 688cc, 23 horsepower engine meant the new car was underpowered, but it looked the part and was on par with other budget cars of the early 1950s, such as the Volkswagen Beetle or Goliath GP600.
Auto-Union managing director Dr Richard Bruhn (left) is joined by motoring journalist W Ostwald, August Horch and Dr Carl Hahn (right) inspecting the new F89P.
DKW owners would have to wait until 1953 before the 3=6 engine finally made its appearance in the DKW F91. It's highly likely that Auto-Union acquired a 3=6 engine from IFA and reverse engineered it for their car.
The F9’s descendants, both in east and west, proved to be very long lived. The DKW F91 was superseded by an improved version, the F93, in 1957 and then the Auto-Union 1000S in 1960. The 1000S remained in production until 1965 when Volkswagen retired DKW's two-stroke lineage.
The IFA F9 disappeared underneath the restyled Wartburg 311 in 1956, but despite significant restyling again in the 1980s the Wartburg retained the fundamental mechanicals of the DKW F9 originally developed in 1939.