(first posted 4/29/2013) “Car Show”, said the sign pointing into the church parking lot a couple blocks from my cave in the far north suburbs of Houston. “Probably just the usual bunch of ‘Vettes, Camaros and Mustangs”, I thought to myself as I walked up the drive. Well, yes there were some of those, but there were several less-expected, more interesting vehicles as well, not least this small, blue sedan with a definite late ‘50s European-yet-somehow-American aspect to it. Once I got closer, it took me a few minutes to realize what I was looking at (a sign in the windshield and the four rings on the grille helped a bit): a gen-u-wine 1962 DKW Junior Deluxe.
The story of DKW is ably covered in this 2011 CC post , so I’ll stick to discussing the Junior and its variants. Put into production at Auto Union’s Ingolstadt works in 1959, the Junior was aimed at roughly the VW Type 1 (Beetle) market, and carried on with DKW’s long-time preference for two-stroke power and front-wheel drive, but with thoroughly modernized styling.
The base model, sold through ’62, had conventional body-on-frame construction, rode on 12-inch wheels and was powered by a three-cylinder, 741 cc engine mounted ahead of the front axle. The Deluxe, represented by the pictured car, sold alongside the base version in ’61 before itself becoming the default standard in ’62. It carried a slightly larger (796 cc) unit on 13-inch wheels. Both power plants were rated at 34 HP, but the larger motor presumably provided a bit of extra torque and a slightly higher top speed. A four-speed manual transmission delivered the power, with a steering column-mounted shifter.
Here’s a view of the mighty three-banger and its interesting layout, with the shaft-driven fan and radiator located behind the engine, and individual coils for each spark plug. In 1963, engine size was increased again to 889 cc, boosting horsepower to 40. This, along with minor updating of the bodywork, was celebrated by a name change to the somewhat anodyne F12. Later the same year, a version with the 796 cc engine was re-introduced as the F11.
In ’64, a rather pretty roadster variant was released, with the 889 cc engine now achieving 45 HP. The F12 roadster, and the F11-F12 sedan, lasted until parent VW pulled the plug in favor of reviving the Audi name (with four-stroke engines) in 1965.
I was sort of dimly aware that DKWs were imported to the US (they were sold by Mercedez-Benz US Sales, itself controlled by Studebaker, hence the South Bend address-Ed.), but can’t recall ever seeing any, and in any event, this didn’t seem like a Houston sort of car at all. Well, it wasn’t.
The owners (a guy in his mid-thirties and his 70-ish father) explained that it was a barn find from the estate of a deceased Michigan relative. According to them, these vehicles enjoyed a bit of cultish popularity the region due to relatively good winter performance, via their narrow, snow-cutting tires and front-wheel drive. The trade off, of course was that most of the DKWs used in this manner had long since rusted away to nothing. This one, in unrestored condition and with what appears to be its original paint, runs, seems quite solid and obviously was put away in storage before the tin worm could take hold.
The owners mentioned that a considerable cache of parts came with it, including three engines, so they should be able to keep their Junior Deluxe on the road for quite a while. They have to be selective about where and when the exercise it, however. Despite the factory claims of a top-speed around 70 MPH, they said they can only coax their machine up to 40 or so. Nevertheless, they appear to be having a blast with it, and it makes a nice change from yet another customized ’64 Impala hardtop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.