If I said “Michelotti-designed RWD two-door four-seater, automatic transmission and De Dion rear axle,” there’s a fair chance you’d answer something like Gordon-Keeble or Iso Rivolta. And you’d be right. But here we have another vehicle that also fits that description, and it sure isn’t V8-powered.
The DAF 46 was the last new model launched by the Dutch firm in November 1974, just as they were being taken over by Volvo. The 46 superseded both the 850cc DAF 44 and the 750cc DAF 33, the latter being a direct descendant of the early ‘60s Daffodil. The French say that cooking is the art of rearranging leftovers. If that’s true, then this is Dutch cuisine at its finest, straight from the oven. The DAF 46 combined the DAF 44’s body and air-cooled 850cc twin with the bigger DAF 66’s new rear suspension, introduced in 1972.
The DAF 46 used the firm’s famous Variomatic CVT, of course. But unlike the other DAFs, this one made do with just one drive belt. This saved space and weight, but it also robbed the transmission of its redundancy: if that solitary transmission belt were to break or come loose, the DAF 46 would turn into a 750kg paperweight. On the plus side, the De Dion behaved much better than the previous models’ swing axle.
The DAF twin’s 34 hp were sufficient enough to get it going in its flat native land, but I caught this one in Savoy, not too far from Switzerland. Slap-bang in the Alps, in other words. Not exactly DAF country. And this particular car is registered in the Pyrenées-Atlantiques, near Spain – way over on the other side of France, where it’s definitely not flat either. It’s not like Michelotti went for a very slippery shape, so even when coming down from the mountains, the DAF 46 is not known for being very alert. On the transmission front, it is unclear to me whether the Variomatic provides any engine breaking whatsoever. There is no “low” setting on the floor-mounted gear lever – just forwards, backwards and neutral. The clogs brakes are drums all around, of course.
At least, it seems like a nice place to sit and enjoy the view. The boxy shape of the car gives passengers plenty of headroom and the interior appointments seem to be well laid-out and put together. I have no first-hand experience of DAF vehicles, so I’m curious as to these seats. Are we talking hard and supportive in the German sense, or fluffy French-style sofa? Our resident Batavian contributor Johannes – or anyone else who ever sat in one of these – may have an answer to that one.
The DAF 46 naturally inherited the 44’s body variants. If the saloon seemed unsuited to your (modest) hauling needs, you could fork out a few extra Guilder for the Combi. Much as I like the saloon’s three-box shape, that wagon seems like a better idea – the Variomatic / RWD set-up (and the gas tank) takes up a bit of space underneath the car, making for a somewhat shallower trunk than one might expect.
It seems DAF knew that the 46 would not be long for this world. In two years, they built over 32,000 units, which is a pretty high number. When production was halted in late 1976, there was quite a lot of leftover stock, enabling DAF to keep displaying the 46 in their showrooms until mid-1977. This was probably intentional. There was never any question of rebadging these as Volvos, unlike the 66. It was curtains for the DAF flat-twin. Now, the Born factory focused on the Volvo 343, which would become its bread-and-butter for the next decade and a half.
Was it inevitable that the DAF 46’s life was to be cut short so soon? The body was getting a bit old (it was designed in the mid-‘60s) and the twin was also somewhat stale. But then look at the Mini, the 2CV or the Beetle: economy cars can have very long lives. The issue was not the 46’s intrinsic qualities, but Volvo’s image-consciousness. The DAF name was associated with this shape and the twin’s distinctive sound. Keeping the 46 as a Volvo was never an option – it was odd enough for Volvo to slap their badge on the Renault-engined 66. Besides, leaving the 2-cyl. engine in production made little sense: it was now about as big as it could get and air-cooled engines were clearly on their way out.
Both DAF and Volvo most knew that the 46 was doomed to have a very short shelf life, even before it was launched. The car’s only reason for existing, I suppose, was to try out the single-belt Variomatic – its only novel feature. I’m not aware of any other application for this system, though, so the whole exercise was not necessarily fruitful.
On the other hand, it was the very last 2-cyl. DAF in quite a long line, stretching back to the very origins of the company’s car range in 1958. In just under two decades, the only post-war Dutch carmaker had come and gone, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of its products puttering around Europe’s less hilly areas. And even in the Alps and the Pyrenees, it seems.