At the 1931 International Automobile Exhibition in Berlin, DKW revealed the world’s first production car with front-wheel drive: the F1. By the late ‘20s, DKW was a well-established motorcycle manufacturer and, in 1928, its Danish founder, Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen, acquired a majority share in Audi Automobilwerke. He planned to stimulate sales by installing eight-cylinder engines in the large Audi models, but US brands dominated that market and, when the world was plunged in an economic crisis in 1929, Audi faced severe hardship. A new product with greater mass appeal was required. Words by Damian Adams.
The innovators First production car with front-wheel drive 1931 DKW F1
THE CARS WE DRIVE TODAY WERE INFLUENCED BY THESE PIONEERS
In October 1930, Rasmussen ordered that an entirely new small car had to be developed in the shortest-possible timeframe. The model would be powered by a DKW two-cylinder water-cooled motorcycle engine (there were 494 and 584 cm3 versions, of which the latter produced 11 kW and was mated with a three-speed manual transmission).
In addition, the car that would become known as the F1 in its production guise had a lightweight- steel chassis frame and, unusually for the time, a front-wheel-drive configuration.
Rasmussen allowed the designers six weeks to complete the F1’s development. By the end of this period, a two-plus-one-seater roadster, which weighed 450 kg insight (even with its 25-litre fuel tank filled to capacity) was completed. Thanks to its meagre mass and low centre of gravity, it exhibited superb driving characteristics. The F1 had its first test run in November 1930 and became a rapid sales success following its launch in 1931. Other versions were offered in addition to the roadster: open- and hard-top sedans and a single-seater. DKW was amalgamated into Auto Union (along with fellow German brands Audi, Horch and Wanderer) soon after and the F1 became the company’s bestselling model. By the time production ceased during World War Two, 270 000 units had been assembled.
Front-wheel-drive DKWs were also at the heart of Auto Union’s redevelopment in West Germany after the war. Between 1949 and ‘1966, the Ingolstadt and Düsseldorf factories built no fewer than 887 000 DKW passenger cars before production switched to the new Audi model range, which first appeared in 1965. DKWs continued to be built under licence in Argentina and Brazil. The last units rolled off the production line in 1968.
THEY ALSO PAVED THE WAY
1925 Miller 122
A purpose-built front-engined (and FWD) supercharged racecar which entered the 1925 Indianapolis 500 endurance race. American-made FWD production cars never became popular, however.
1929 New Era
Motoring Ruxton At a time when no American carmakers were building FWD vehicles, Ruxton swam upstream. It featured distinctive Woodlight headlamps that provided terrible illumination.
1898 Société Parisienne Victoria Combination
Bicycle manufacturer Société Parisienne patented this FWD concept. The name Victoria Combination describes the lightweight two-seater trailer, which became known as a Victoria.
1948 Citroën 2CV
Described by Autocar as the most original automotive design since the Ford Model T, in excess of nine million units of the 2CV were sold between 1948 and 1990.