1951 DKW Schnell-Laster 8 Seater Bus (RHD)
Originally founded as a metal working concern in 1904 by Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen, a Dane living in Chemnitz, Germany, the company built an experimental steam-powered car known as the Dampf Kraft Wagen (or DKW, which translated meant Steam-Power-Vehicle) in the years leading up to the First World War. Initially focused on building motorcycles, it took until 1928 for DKW to produce its first automobile, pioneering the use of front-wheel drive just three years later. Ultimately forming part of the Auto Union family (with Audi, Horch and Wanderer, making up the familiar four rings that remain the Audi brand’s logo today), DKW’s so-called Schnell-Laster (German for High Speed Van) range of forward-control vans and buses were introduced at the 1949 Hannover Export Fair. The original F-89L model was based on the running gear of the pre-war F-8 Masterklasse wagon, powered by a transversely-mounted twin-cylinder engine sitting ahead of the front axle. The diminutive two-stroke engine had a capacity of just 688cc, developing 22 horsepower at 4200 rpm, the gearbox was a three-speed unit, with a “Dynastart” system and 6 volt electrics. These early vans struggled to live up to the high speed moniker, with a top speed of around 70 km/h, but were certainly versatile - with a flat floor and flexible seating arrangement, the F-89L Bus could carry up to nine passengers and was sold alongside more utilitarian van and open tray versions of the Schnell-Laster. DKW briefly enjoyed a monopoly in this market and sales boomed until the arrival of Volkswagen’s Transporter the following year, prompting changes that included a more powerful engine, better load carrying capacity and - from 1952 - a longer wheelbase with wider track, plus a four-speed gear-change and dry clutch. The Schnell-Laster carried on in production into the 1960s, being built under licence in Spain from 1963, with German production phased out around this time. Arguably the world’s first mini-van and the grandfather of the many MPVs seen on our roads today, DKW’s Schnell-Lasters have become highly prized collector’s pieces in recent years, with a unique character and lots of period charm.