Curbside Classic: 1958 DKW Schnelllaster – Food Cart In Its Past; Food Cart In Its Future?

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(first posted 12/20/2015)   I’ve had a thing about the DKW Schnellaster since 1959, when I got to buy myself a würstel from one. I couldn’t see over the sill of the window, but I reached up my 10 or 15 groschen, and a steaming frankfurter with a fresh roll and mustard (yuk) was reached down to me. I knew this was no typical VW Transporter, from the looks of it as well as the DKW badge on its hood. And I already knew what that badge meant: the little plume of  oily smoke it emitted  when running was from its two-stroke engine, not the kitchen in back.

I wrote the story of the Schnellaster some years back. Since I assumed I’d never actually find one in Eugene, I used shots from the web. But I finally did find one recently, sitting in the back lot of the Sports Car Shop. Owner Bob Marcherione had just bought it up north and towed it to Eugene. It had obviously been used as a concession stand for little league baseball games; selling hot dogs, quite likely. And Bob assumes it will get sold to someone who will put it to use as…a food cart. Grass-fed organic würstel, perhaps?

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So rather than repeat the Schnellaster’s history, we’ll just reprise a few snippets of it and mainly focus on this wonderful find and the secrets it is hiding in its multi-layered petroglyphs. The Schnellaster was made from 1949 to 1962, and variants built in Spain, Finland, and Argentina, there until 1979. And I see that my original Schnellaster article is now the first reference in Wikipedia.

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As a seven-year old, I was pretty well schooled in what this badge meant. Auto Union was formed in the 1930s, as a combination of DKW, Wanderer, Audi and Horch. It was an attempt to achieve some economies of scale, a la GM. That mostly didn’t happen, as the four brands were all so different and had their own factories in different parts of Germany. That was of course the challenge that Alfred Sloan took on in GM too, when it was just a conglomeration of different car companies bought by Durant. And it took him a while. The war intervened before Auto Union could really make a genuine union, and afterwards, only DKW (barely) survived, due to all of the four having been located mostly in what was now the Russian zone (later DDR).

By the late 50s, top-trim DKWs were branded ‘Auto Union 1000’, which was a bit odd, since they could have readily used on of the previous up-scale brands. And in the mid sixties, the final two-stroke DKW morphed into the first four-stroke neo-Audi, so there’s some DKW FWD genes in every Audi still today. All of this is covered in more detail in my DKW F-94 CC.

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I also knew what the 3=6 badge meant, as my father had explained the two-stroke cycle (just) well enough to me to somewhat comprehend that a DKW needed only three cylinders to have as many power strokes as a six cylinder four stroke engine. The details were a bit fuzzy, but I thought I understood it.

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Well, the badge on this one would more accurately say 0≠6, as the engine and transmission have long since departed. Not coincidentally, the engine in the F94 I found also was missing its engine, although there was a block in the trunk.  Let’s just say that these DKW two-strokes did not have a rep of being long-lived, but because they were so simple, rebuilding them was a fairly economical undertaking back then. And given how small the little three-pot was, stowing a spare in the trunk or back of the van might not have been a bad idea.

The transverse leaf spring that also functions as the main control arms of the front suspension is clearly visible here. The 32 hp 900cc engine sat just in front of that. Why I failed to get an underhood shot is a good question, but it would have been empty anyway.

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I’d like to think there was a cushion for the driver once upon a time. The column shift for the transmission is still there; it once rowed the three or four (after 1953) forward gears.


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Here’s the view from further back. Whatever there was back here in this rolling concession stand is long gone.

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Undoubtedly, both Pepsi and 7up were once on the menu. This truck has at least  two layers of signs on it, as we shall see further.

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I’ll let you archaeological historians decipher the layers.

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A close-up.

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Here’s the other side.

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And from the other angle.

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I asked Bob what was its likely future. he didn’t think anyone would likely buy it to restore it, but much more likely that someone would turn it into a food cart, as exotic ones are a hot thing in hipster towns (like nearby Portland). If it needs to move under its own power, it probably wouldn’t be all that hard to adapt a more modern drive train.

So this DKW has more food service in its future. Schnell food from a Schnelllaster; what else is it going to do in the USA?

Full DKW Schnelllaster history here.