1955 WD Denzel 1300 Featured

   
1955 WD Denzel 1300 - road test 2019 Olgun Kordal/Adelino Dinis and Drive-My EN/UK

Additional Info

  • Logo: Logo
  • Year: 1955
  • Body: Coupe
  • Cd/Cx: 0.34
  • Type: Petrol
  • Engine: 1.3-litre flat-4
  • Fuelling: 2 Solex carburettors
  • Aspirate: Natural
  • Power: 73bhp at 5400rpm
  • Torque: 71lb ft at 4400rpm
  • Drive: RWD
  • Trnsms: Manual 4-spd
  • Weight: 1415lb
  • Economy: 37mpg
  • Speed: 107mph
  • 0-60mph: 13.7secs
  • Price: £380,000
Greg MacLeman

Test drive editor

Scalping Speedsters. The other Austrian that took the Volkswagen Beetle and formed a pretty little roadster: the Denzel. Words Greg Macleman. Photography Olgun Kordal/Adelino Dinis.


PORSCHE’S FORGOTTEN RIVAL

Recalling the VW-based sports car that gave Stuttgart a bloody nose on the track


Few marques are so intimately tied with the history and image of Southern California as Porsche. Just the mention of the name conjures images of Aviator shades and cigarette packs tucked into T-shirt sleeves; a Kodachrome world of sun-drenched race tracks, James Dean and blue jeans.


1955 WD Denzel 1300
1955 WD Denzel 1300

But, while history remembers the Speedster as a cult icon, an exotic and overlooked Teutonic racer was giving the 356 a run for its money throughout the ’50s, from Santa Barbara and Pomona to the street circuits of Europe. As Ferry Porsche was beginning construction of his 356 in a scruffy sawmill in Gmund, an Austrian rival by the name of Wolfgang Denzel was embarking on an automotive journey of his own in Vienna. Denzel was a gifted engineer who, like Porsche, saw great potential in the Volkswagen Beetle, and the military Kübelwagen variants that flooded the post-WW2 market. Denzel began work on a prototype, using the chassis, 1100cc flat-four engine and   underpinnings of the People’s Car, but with a lightweight body of his own design constructed from laminated wood and textiles.

Denzel’s creation came face-to-face with its rival at the 1949 Austrian Alpine Rally, which ran for 800 miles along the Katschberg, across the Pötschen Pass and through the mountains surrounding the Porsche factory. The sole surviving Type 64 – forefather of the 356 – took to the mountains with its owner, the eccentric one-armed privateer Otto Mathé, while Denzel competed in his then-dubbed Volkswagen WD Equipment. The futuristic Porsche streamliner retired from the rally, but Denzel posted a clean sheet and finished top of the 1100cc class. As well as category honours, the lightweight roadster offered a glimpse of its future potential with impressive pace during the timed stages.


1955 WD Denzel 1300
1955 WD Denzel 1300

Production of road cars followed, with early examples built on Beetle chassis, bodied first in plastic and then, by 1950, in steel, and in 1952 the brand-new 1300 Sport joined the line-up. Now clothed in aluminium and sitting on a bespoke box-section chassis due to difficulty in procuring parts from Volkswagen, it was more powerful than its predecessors and tipped the scales at around 650kg.

‘Brisk acceleration, a fantastic soundtrack and lively performance are the hallmarks of the Denzel – it gives you confidence’

While the engine’s internals also relied on Volkswagen mechanicals, they were significantly uprated. Denzel developed a counterbalanced crankshaft and even experimented with aluminium conrods, with pistons and cylinders made by Mahle, plus his own cylinder heads (identifiable by their aggressive plug angle and additional fins for cooling) with bespoke rocker arms and pushrods, all the while retaining the simple VW Beetle crankcase. Scintillating performance was the result, and by the middle of the decade Denzel had managed to double the Beetle’s modest 36bhp power output.

Road & Track hailed the car as ‘a little jewel to the real enthusiast who wants to have a reasonable chance of success in 1300cc sports-car racing’, concluding that it ‘is extremely easy to drive and control, in competition or on the city streets’.

The lineage of the Denzel is clear to see, the attractive roadster screaming ‘Beetle’ from its slanted, recessed headlamps, with a curved, aerodynamic bonnet that bears more than a passing resemblance to the 356. Look closer and you’ll see a wide-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel and stubby mushroom-shaped gearlever – also borrowed from the VW parts bin – while the deep sills of the box-section chassis will seem familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in a Bug. The fuel tank, battery and spare wheel are all mounted in the front compartment, with the air-cooled boxer engine slung out back behind the rear axle to give 44:56 weight distribution.


1955 WD Denzel 1300
1955 WD Denzel 1300

With few creature comforts, there isn’t much room for luggage – but the Denzel was a machine focused on competition rather than touring. Chassis DK32 was destined for the races from the moment its first owner, Portuguese aristocrat and Olympic sailor António Guedes de Herédia, first met Wolfgang Denzel. That chance encounter led to Herédia becoming the sole Portuguese importer of Denzels, with the first 1300 Sport arriving in the country in 1953.

DK32 followed a year later, fitted with a larger 1500cc engine, and was pressed into service almost immediately. It’s easy to imagine the Portuguese’s enthusiasm for his new business, and he surely wanted to demonstrate the Denzel’s capabilities to drive interest in the car. A number of races and rallies followed, including a class win and second overall in the Rallye a São Pedro de Moel in August 1956.

Development of the model continued as the decade wore on, and Herédia’s close relationship with Denzel allowed him to return his car to Vienna for a number of upgrades in 1959. The now-rare 1500cc engine was replaced with a 1300 Super Sport unit, while the chassis was rebodied in line with an updated design introduced in 1957. Similar in style to the original body, it was narrower, with flared arches front and rear and attractive, weight-saving split bumpers. Rather than the conventional three man bench seat, the narrow body necessitated lighter individual seats comprising little more than a frame and fabric.

In its original form, tearing around Monsanto in 1955, DK32 bore a more striking resemblance to its 356 rival, its wheels lost in the cavernous arches of its bodyshell. The addition of the narrower, racier body in 1959 gave it a more purposeful stance that better suits its short wheelbase. It’s a remarkably small car and pretty from any angle, with a rounded boat-tail and minimal overhang complementing its Porsche-like front end. That big wheel doesn’t help when climbing aboard, but once you slip yourself beneath it you find seats that are simple yet comfortable, with a driving position that offers a commanding view of all four corners. The stunning João Teves Costa restoration included a retrim in grey leather of both seats and the simple dashboard, but that’s where the comfort ends – the rest of the cabin is spartan and utilitarian, with a grabhandle for the passenger and a small, low-mounted rear-view mirror. Sitting beneath the dash is a Halda Speedpilot rally timer, a nod to the car’s competition heritage.

Everything is dainty, from the delicate exterior doorhandles to the window winders. The pedals follow suit, being light and easy in operation, though the organ-type accelerator seems something halfway between MDF and cardboard. It almost makes the Denzel feel like a mail-order kit, the sort of thing you might buy as plans and construct in your garage. Elsewhere, the attention to detail is impressive: the bonnet hinges are an elaborate trestle of aluminium, each drilled for lightness, while the WD logo adorns both the speedometer and rev counter.

After a couple of pumps to prime the twin downdraught Solex carburettors, the little Denzel fires at the second crank, filling the air with the unmistakable sound of Volkswagen’s flat-four song, tinged with a baritone body that hints at its performance credentials. You have to keep on the accelerator while the engine is still cold, but once warm it settles to a more relaxed, gruff idle. Looking around the dry, sandy landscape, you could almost be outside Willow Springs in 1955. Instead, we’re about an hour south of Lisbon, long after the busyness and bustle of the city has given way to rolling hills dotted with cork trees, whose dark leaves contrast with the yellow ochre of the parched terrain. We’ve got the run of the ranch, which, though not enormous, features a network of narrow, winding roads laced over the undulating countryside. There’s no traffic, so it’s a great chance to see what the racer can do.

The gearchange is unsurprisingly Beetle-like, though much less vague. Whether by design or as a result of the recent restoration isn’t clear, but the action is tight and positive with a very short throw. Everything is light in the Denzel including the clutch and, despite the car’s racing pedigree, setting off smoothly is a breeze. As the revs rise, the air-cooled thrum becomes a roar; little more than a thin engine cover separates you from the gurgle of the twin carbs, while every bump and rut in the road is transmitted directly through the floor. Combined, there’s a sense of occasion that few cars can match.

With such little weight over the nose it’s unsurprising that the steering is feather-light, aided by narrow 5J wheels and the large steering wheel. More surprising is the level of feel the Denzel delivers, with almost Alpine A110 directness and just 2.6 turns lock-to-lock; despite being very aware of both the car’s biscuit-tin construction and the rows of olive trees lining each side of the road, it gives you the confidence to press hard into corners. Beautifully balanced, with an understandable lean towards oversteer, the 1300 seems much more than the sum of its parts. And while RM Sotheby’s headline-grabbing upper estimate of €450,000 holds us back from really testing its limits, there’s a feeling that the Denzel won’t quickly get you into trouble.

Brisk acceleration, a fantastic soundtrack and lively performance are the hallmarks of the Denzel, and the longer you spend behind the wheel the more capable it becomes. Driving into the low sun on a balmy summer’s evening, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like to campaign the roadster in period, and clear to see why the short, lithe sports car proved so effective on tight street circuits and rallies.

Given its competition success, impressive performance and adorable looks, it’s perhaps surprising that you don’t see more in historic motorsport – until you consider just how few left the Vienna workshop. Precisely how many Denzels were built is a mystery lost to time, with estimates ranging from as many as 350 to just 65. The latter is more probable given the number of survivors, which is estimated to be around 35, roughly divided between Europe and America. That makes this a true rarity compared with the a 356 Speedster, produced in its thousands.

Denzel never achieved the success and global recognition of its Austrian competitor, but it would be wrong to write off the firm as an also ran. The cars stood up to scrutiny, proving time and time again that they were capable of taking on and beating the best the competition had to offer. So convincing was the project that it readily gained backers such as Herédia, supporters who didn’t just place single orders but who had the confidence to become importers.

Ultimately, the project stalled. In part due to the limitations of the Beetle engine having long been reached, but perhaps more importantly as a result of Wolfgang Denzel’s divided attention. By 1952 he had become the official Austrian importer for BMW, and his close ties with the German firm would lead him to design and produce the BMW 700 – a model that saved one marque to the detriment of his own.


Thanks to RM Sotheby’s (rmsothebys.com). The Sáragga Collection sale will be on 20-21 September



1/2

Read 54 times Last modified on Sunday, 08 September 2019 10:36

People in this conversation

Comments (1)

  1. Richard TYU Bremner

Some info from RM-S

1955 WD Denzel 1300

€380,000 - €450,000
Offered without reserve

Chassis No. DK32
Engine No. W14405


Documents: Portuguese Certificado de Matrícula

One of approximately 65 WD Denzel 1300s constructed and of roughly 30 believed extant
Delivered new to Portuguese Denzel agent Antonio Guedes Herédia

Period competition history in Portugal

Only five Portuguese owners from new

Impeccably restored by Lisboan classic car specialist Joao Teves Costa

Founded by engineer Wolfgang Denzel, WD Denzel’s early cars used VW chassis. However, in 1952 the new 1300 Sport model was introduced, using a bespoke twin box-section chassis and lightweight aluminium body, but retaining VW running gear. It proved competitive against contemporary Porsche and VW race opposition, and remarkably one finished 12th overall in the 1954 Sebring 12 Hours—Denzel’s first recorded international race!

A chance meeting between Portuguese aristocrat Antonio Guedes Herédia and Wolfgang Denzel ultimately led to the establishment of Auto Portuguesa, the Lisbon-based Denzel importer. The first 1300 Sport was delivered to Auto Portuguesa in July 1953, and chassis DK32 arrived in 1954. Registered to Herédia himself, it was entered in a handful of races and rallies, its competition high point being 2nd overall and 1st in Class in the Rallye a San Pedro de Moel in August 1956.

In early 1959 Herédia returned the car to the Denzel factory in Vienna for modification. The original body was replaced with a later style unit (as fitted to cars from 1957 onwards), whilst the original 1,500 cc engine was replaced with a 1,300 cc Super Sport unit, thereby benefitting from a small power increase. In addition, the car was fitted with an optional hardtop and an oil cooler to aid engine cooling.

DK32 returned to Portugal in early 1960, although curiously Herédia appears to have only competed in one further race with it, at the Circuito de Vila do Conde in July 1960. Having qualified 10th in the GT race, he retired early on, this marking his (and the car’s) final competitive event.

Herédia retained the car until 1988, when it was purchased by Vasco da Silva e Sa, who in turn sold the car to Cypriano Flores in the early 1990s. Carlos Cruz purchased the car in original yet tired condition in 2012 and immediately commissioned renowned Lisboan classic car restorer Joao Teves Costa to carry out a full restoration. Upon completion, the car was shown at the prestigious 2014 Cascais Concours d’Elegance, and it is this condition in which the car is presented today. In short, this represents a rare opportunity to acquire an immaculate example of this highly unusual, charismatic, and historically significant small-capacity racing sports car.

Um de 30 sobreviventes conhecidos dos cerca de 65 WD Denzel 1300 construídos
Entregue novo a Antonio Guedes Herédia, agente português da Denzel
História de competição na época em Portugal
Apenas cinco donos portugueses desde novo
Impecavelmente restaurado em Lisboa pelo especialista Teves Costa
Fundada pelo engenheiro Wolfgang Denzel, os primeiros automóveis da WD Denzel utilizavam chassis VW. No entanto, em 1952, foi apresentado o novo 1300 Sport, que utilizava um chassis feito à medida, com duas estruturas tipo caixa e uma carroçaria muito leve, em alumínio, mantendo, todavia, a mecânica VW. Mostrou-se competitivo tanto face aos Porsche contemporâneos como aos VW preparados para correr, terminando em 12º. da geral nas 12 horas de Sebring de 1954, a primeira prova internacional da Denzel. Um resultado notável.

Um encontro casual entre o aristocrata português, Antonio Guedes Herédia e Wolfgang Denzel levou à fundação da Auto Portuguesa, em Lisboa, como representante da Denzel. O primeiro 1300 Sport foi entregue em julho de 1953 e o chassis DK32 chegou em 1954. Registado em nome do próprio Herédia, foi inscrito em algumas provas de velocidade e de ralis, tendo a sua melhor classificação sido obtida no Rali São Pedro de Model, em agosto de 1956, um excelente 2º. lugar da geral e 1º. da classe.

No início de 1959, Herédia enviou o automóvel à fábrica da Denzel, em Vienna, para fazer algumas modificações. A carroçaria original foi substituída por uma com linhas mais modernas (utilizadas nos exemplares produzidos de 1957 em diante), enquanto o motor original de 1500 cc foi substituído por um 1300 cc Super Sport, beneficiando de um pequeno aumento de potência. Adicionalmente, o automóvel recebeu também uma capota rígida opcional e um radiador de óleo, para ajudar à refrigeração do motor.

O DK32 regressou a Portugal no início de 1960. Curiosamente, Herédia terá corrido com o Denzel em apenas mais uma prova, no Circuito de Vila do Conde, em julho de 1960. Nos treinos cronometrados obteve o 10º. tempo, mas cedo abandonaria a corrida, terminando assim a sua derradeira participação desportiva no automobilismo, também a última do seu Denzel.

Herédia manteve o Denzel até 1988, quando foi comprado por Vasco da Silva e Sá que, por sua vez, o vendeu a Cypriano Flores, no início dos anos 90. Carlos Cruz comprou-o em 2012, num estado ainda muito original, mas a precisar...

Some info from RM-S

1955 WD Denzel 1300

€380,000 - €450,000
Offered without reserve

Chassis No. DK32
Engine No. W14405


Documents: Portuguese Certificado de Matrícula

One of approximately 65 WD Denzel 1300s constructed and of roughly 30 believed extant
Delivered new to Portuguese Denzel agent Antonio Guedes Herédia

Period competition history in Portugal

Only five Portuguese owners from new

Impeccably restored by Lisboan classic car specialist Joao Teves Costa

Founded by engineer Wolfgang Denzel, WD Denzel’s early cars used VW chassis. However, in 1952 the new 1300 Sport model was introduced, using a bespoke twin box-section chassis and lightweight aluminium body, but retaining VW running gear. It proved competitive against contemporary Porsche and VW race opposition, and remarkably one finished 12th overall in the 1954 Sebring 12 Hours—Denzel’s first recorded international race!

A chance meeting between Portuguese aristocrat Antonio Guedes Herédia and Wolfgang Denzel ultimately led to the establishment of Auto Portuguesa, the Lisbon-based Denzel importer. The first 1300 Sport was delivered to Auto Portuguesa in July 1953, and chassis DK32 arrived in 1954. Registered to Herédia himself, it was entered in a handful of races and rallies, its competition high point being 2nd overall and 1st in Class in the Rallye a San Pedro de Moel in August 1956.

In early 1959 Herédia returned the car to the Denzel factory in Vienna for modification. The original body was replaced with a later style unit (as fitted to cars from 1957 onwards), whilst the original 1,500 cc engine was replaced with a 1,300 cc Super Sport unit, thereby benefitting from a small power increase. In addition, the car was fitted with an optional hardtop and an oil cooler to aid engine cooling.

DK32 returned to Portugal in early 1960, although curiously Herédia appears to have only competed in one further race with it, at the Circuito de Vila do Conde in July 1960. Having qualified 10th in the GT race, he retired early on, this marking his (and the car’s) final competitive event.

Herédia retained the car until 1988, when it was purchased by Vasco da Silva e Sa, who in turn sold the car to Cypriano Flores in the early 1990s. Carlos Cruz purchased the car in original yet tired condition in 2012 and immediately commissioned renowned Lisboan classic car restorer Joao Teves Costa to carry out a full restoration. Upon completion, the car was shown at the prestigious 2014 Cascais Concours d’Elegance, and it is this condition in which the car is presented today. In short, this represents a rare opportunity to acquire an immaculate example of this highly unusual, charismatic, and historically significant small-capacity racing sports car.

Um de 30 sobreviventes conhecidos dos cerca de 65 WD Denzel 1300 construídos
Entregue novo a Antonio Guedes Herédia, agente português da Denzel
História de competição na época em Portugal
Apenas cinco donos portugueses desde novo
Impecavelmente restaurado em Lisboa pelo especialista Teves Costa
Fundada pelo engenheiro Wolfgang Denzel, os primeiros automóveis da WD Denzel utilizavam chassis VW. No entanto, em 1952, foi apresentado o novo 1300 Sport, que utilizava um chassis feito à medida, com duas estruturas tipo caixa e uma carroçaria muito leve, em alumínio, mantendo, todavia, a mecânica VW. Mostrou-se competitivo tanto face aos Porsche contemporâneos como aos VW preparados para correr, terminando em 12º. da geral nas 12 horas de Sebring de 1954, a primeira prova internacional da Denzel. Um resultado notável.

Um encontro casual entre o aristocrata português, Antonio Guedes Herédia e Wolfgang Denzel levou à fundação da Auto Portuguesa, em Lisboa, como representante da Denzel. O primeiro 1300 Sport foi entregue em julho de 1953 e o chassis DK32 chegou em 1954. Registado em nome do próprio Herédia, foi inscrito em algumas provas de velocidade e de ralis, tendo a sua melhor classificação sido obtida no Rali São Pedro de Model, em agosto de 1956, um excelente 2º. lugar da geral e 1º. da classe.

No início de 1959, Herédia enviou o automóvel à fábrica da Denzel, em Vienna, para fazer algumas modificações. A carroçaria original foi substituída por uma com linhas mais modernas (utilizadas nos exemplares produzidos de 1957 em diante), enquanto o motor original de 1500 cc foi substituído por um 1300 cc Super Sport, beneficiando de um pequeno aumento de potência. Adicionalmente, o automóvel recebeu também uma capota rígida opcional e um radiador de óleo, para ajudar à refrigeração do motor.

O DK32 regressou a Portugal no início de 1960. Curiosamente, Herédia terá corrido com o Denzel em apenas mais uma prova, no Circuito de Vila do Conde, em julho de 1960. Nos treinos cronometrados obteve o 10º. tempo, mas cedo abandonaria a corrida, terminando assim a sua derradeira participação desportiva no automobilismo, também a última do seu Denzel.

Herédia manteve o Denzel até 1988, quando foi comprado por Vasco da Silva e Sá que, por sua vez, o vendeu a Cypriano Flores, no início dos anos 90. Carlos Cruz comprou-o em 2012, num estado ainda muito original, mas a precisar de atenção. De imediato o entregou ao especialista no restauro de automóveis clássicos, João Teves Costa, em Lisboa, para efetuar um restauro completo. Após conclusão dos trabalhos, foi apresentado no prestigiado Cascais Concours d’Elegance, em 2014 e é nesse estado que se encontra atualmente. Em resumo, esta é uma rara oportunidade para adquirir um exemplar imaculado deste inusitado, carismático e historicamente relevante automóvel de competição, uma das referências na sua época dos desportivos com motor de menor cilindrada.

Read More
  Attachments
  Guest
There are no comments posted here yet