Museum Classics: 1953 DKW F91 and 1955 IFA F9 – Separated At Birth

War does many things and leaves many effects. Some are consistent with the original territorial or governance aims. Others, such as liberation from Nazis, are undeniably for the better. And then there are the unexpected outcomes. These two cars are representative of all of these.

But these cars tell a story about an earlier period in this division. Yes, they look so alike, with a few variations in grilles and lights, perhaps to the extent of being easily mistaken for different model years of the same car, but the differences go deeper, and yet are also quite shallow.

I saw these cars at a motorcycle and car museum, which tells the history of motoring in Germany from the first Benz car and early motorcycles through to the present, in Einbeck in Lower Saxony in Germany, close to the old East German/West German border. The museum is known as PS-Speicher; Speicher translates as granary. The building was a granary, originally, and is now a granary of PS as in pferdestärke, or horsepower. We were shown round by a very informed and informative volunteer guide, whose parents had secured a discount on their first VW Beetle, having saved for a car in the Nazi scam, once all the court cases had been heard.

In 1945, Germany was divided by the Allies, into four sectors. The French, American and British controlled sectors in the west, south and north respectively were soon joined under a common government and formed the basis for the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany as we knew it for 40 years, whilst the Russian sector in the east became the German Democratic Republic, the DDR, or East Germany. The two nations co-existed, tensely if peacefully, until 1990, when the DDR was essentially subsumed into the Federal Republic, the capital moved to Berlin and one of the greatest reconstruction tasks in Europe started in earnest.

One car is badged Auto Union and one IFA, both names we no longer see. Auto Union is now best remembered as the parent of the modern Audi, but originally was a grouping of four brands – Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer – created in 1932.

All the group’s manufacturing facilities were in eastern Germany, mainly in the state of Saxony and centred around the cities of Chemnitz and Zwickau.

IFA is less familiar to western European and North American readers – it stood for Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau, which translates as Industrial Association for Vehicle Construction, a government owned and managed grouping of vehicle builders established after the war in the German Democratic Republic, the DDR.

Pre-war, Auto Union was a major player in the German market, selling around 20% of the market, mostly under the DKW brand, a mainstream, non-premium player.

Auto Union used the Nazi funded Grand Prix programme to help expand their reputation and profile, and full respect to those who drove those fearsome machines. Alongside Mercedes-Benz, it was the largest of the German owned producers, competing with Ford and Opel. This was pre-VW of course.

DKW was Auto-Union’s main volume brand – around 220,000 cars were produced in the 1930s, mostly with compact two stroke twin cylinder engines, usually mounted transversely and driving the front wheels through a gearbox mounted in front of the engine, which sat well behind the front axle line. The last pre-war production DKW was the F8, F for front. This had a typical DKW twin cylinder, two stroke engine of 600cc, with around 18 bhp, or for the more expensive Meisterklasse (which translates as Master Class) version, 700cc and 20bhp. This engine was transversely mounted at the front driving the front wheels, with a separate chassis, typically with leather or imitation leather over a wooden body frame. Those compact engines needed all the help they could get, so a lightweight body was essential.

In 1939, DKW showed the more advanced F9 in direct response to the recently announced Volkswagen, which represented an existential threat to DKW. Aerodynamics took a central role in the body style. The all-new engine, now with three cylinders and 900cc, was now mounted low, ahead of the front wheels, with the transmission just behind it, and the radiator towards the rear. The traditional chassis was retained but the production body was intended to be built out of a proto-synthetic “Duraplast”, made from wood pulp and resin. But the body of this prototype was built from steel.

By 1948, Germany was divided, by what the Germans now refer to as die innerdeutsche Grenze (internal German border) separating the Bundesrepublik, or West Germany and German Democratic Republic, East Germany.  Russia now controlled, formally, all of Saxony.  Auto Union’s facilities, including all the designs and tooling, were in the DDR, under government control. Chemnitz became Karl Marx Stadt, Zwickau became home to Automobilwerke Zwickau or AWZ, the Zwickau Car Factory.

In 1948, the pre-war Auto Union company was formally dissolved by which time much of the equipment, tooling and design material were in the east, and some had been taken to Russia as war reparations. But from 1945, a group of managers had gone westwards and with financial backing started a new company, Zentraldepot für Auto Union Ersatzteile GmbH (Auto Union Central Spare Parts Depot) initially as a spare parts provider, based in an old barracks in Ingolstadt in northern Bavaria, in the American sector.

Over in Zwickau, the Russians had been busy too. In 1949, after being shown at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1948,  the IFA F9 went into production, at the former Auto Union plant.

IFA stole a lead over the West Germans by having the first use of the water cooled 3 cylinder 900cc two stroke engine that had been developed by Auto Union before the war and was part of the 1938 DKW F9 prototype.

Driving the front wheels, power was around 30bhp. Conceptually, the car fitted a logical, clear position in the DKW tradition, and was, essentially, a production version of the 1939 DKW F9 prototype.

Ingolstadt was doing its best to keep up, with some major differences and handicaps. With more financial backing, including Marshal Plan money, a new company named Auto Union GmbH was founded on September 3, 1949. Production of motorbikes and the famous DKW F89L Schnellaster van started, in a rented facility in Dusseldorf in 1949, followed in 1950 by a DKW car, sold as the F89.

This was a combination of the 684cc twin cylinder two stroke engine from the F8 and the F9 body and chassis, as one had been retrieved from the DKW facility in (west) Berlin, and hence the F89 name.It may have looked like the F9, but in reality it used much of the pre-war F8-F9’s chassis and of course its engine and drive train. This was the reverse of the usual situation, in where a Western car was decidedly behind its Eastern counterpart.

So, by 1950, we had a two cylinder version of the F9, the western DKW F89, and a 3 cylinder version, the IFA F9, in production, and starting to compete on some markets.

In late 1953, the DKW F89 was replaced by the substantially revised F91, now with a 906cc three cylinder engine and many other improvements. This red 1953 F91 cabriolet was now much more comparable, if not superior to its doppelganger in East Germany.

The similarities are remarkable.

This film is from this period, and the two stroke noise can be heard over the (German) commentary.

The F91 was also known as the Sonderklasse (which translates loosely as Special Category).

DKW had some motorsport success with the F91, usually marketed under the 3=6 branding. The idea was that the twin stroke three cylinders had as many power strokes as a six cylinder, for a given speed.

Although not identical, the two nations’ variations were now very similar indeed – both based on the F9, with 900cc three cylinder, twin stroke engines. Styling varied between the F9 and DKW cars, but only in details as the general form was set by the F9, and the IFA car had some plastic panels, Trabant style, to get around material shortages. IFA did a Combi version too, although the more glamourous Cabriolet quietly faded away.

Total sales were 40,000 for the IFA F9, from 1950 to 1956, and around 60,000 for the F89 from 1950 to 1954. The older F8 continued in production in Zwickau, until 1955, when IFA car production stopped and the organisation moved to become a dedicated truck producer.

But a number of key elements of the IFA F9, notably the engine, resurfaced in the 1956-65 Wartburg 311.

Later still, the Wartburg 353 (or Knight) was sold with a two stroke engine until 1988. This vehicle became a well known, if not common, sight in Western Europe during the 1970s, sold entirely on value for money and equipment at a price point below the Lada in the days when the DDR needed hard currency. We could even buy specially printed selections of DDR postage stamps for our collections.

DKW continued in Ingolstadt with the evolution of the F91, to the F93, which grew in track and had the large framed grille.

The 1957 F94 was a four door version, on an extended wheelbase, which was also then used on the DKW Universal estate car. There were two door saloons and hardtop versions available of the F93. The F94 is a car that came to the US in the import boom of the late 1950s and which CC has nominated previously as the Proto-Audi. Why?

Well, some deluxe higher-power versions were sold in Europe as the Auto Union Audi 1000, which from 1959 gained a wraparound screen as well. The shape, whilst still attractive, was now clearly ageing.

The 1958-63 Auto Union 1000, with a 981 ccc three cylinder engine, moved a little upscale from the DKW F94 or DKW 900, even if visually they were very close. The 1000 was soon succeeded by the 1963 DKW F102, seen above in a Finnish advertisement and the last two stroke car from West Germany. Although the engine was still a two-stroke, the rest of the car (with a four stroke engine) would seen be reincarnated as the Audi Audi 72, and later 60, 70 and 80 range. And that style of that car set the style for the first Audi 100; arguably for every Audi for 30 years.

In 1958, Daimler-Benz had taken majority control of Auto Union, and funded the development of the F102 and F103. In 1964 the company was sold to VW, who later merged it with NSU to create Audi NSU Auto Union AG, better known as the modern Audi, with not two stroke in sight.


Related:  CC 1958 DKW Sonderklasse 3=6 (F94): The Proto-Audi  PN