Marking 60 years since the introduction of the DAF 600 Variomatic

Two Pedal Wonders Marque Guide… DAF – Marking 60 years since the introduction of the 600 Variomatic. Push forwards to go and pull back to reverse is how the ‘gears’ were selected in a CVT equipped DAF. We look at the cars built by this Dutch-based vehicle manufacturer prior to its mid-‘Seventies takeover by Volvo. Words by Iain Wakefield. Images by Drive-My Daf Owner S’ Club.

Marque Guide DAF CARS / 60 YEARS OF THE DAF 600

This year DAF celebrates two very important anniversaries. It’s 90 years since the company was formed in Eindhoven and 60 years since the covers first came off the little air-cooled DAF 600 Variomatic saloon at the Amsterdam motor show. To mark these two auspicious occasions, we start with a brief look at the formation of the company and go on to describe the main models produced up to when the car division was taken over by Volvo in 1975.

Marque Guide DAF CARS

Marque Guide DAF CARS

The origins of DAF can be traced back to 1928 when Hubertus ‘Hub’ van Doorne co-founded Commanditaire Vennootschap Hub van Doorne’s Machinefabriek with the financial assistance of A.H. Huenges, the managing director of a local brewery in Eindhoven. Huenges had been impressed with the way van Doorne had repaired his car and provided the funds and space for van Doorne to set up a small workshop at the brewery.

Hub’s brother, Wim van Doorne had also assisted in the company’s formation and in 1932 the firm was renamed Van Doorne’s Aahangwagen Fabriek (Van Doorne’s Trailer Factory). The name was quickly abbreviated to DAF and the brothers settled down to manufacture the Trado, a highly manoeuvrable trailer that utilised an innovative four-wheeled ‘walking beam-style’ rear bogie to aid off road capabilities.

Designed in conjunction with Piet van der Trappen, Van Doorne’s chief engineer, the Trado’s unique H-drive bogie was ideal for military applications, as it could be either track or wheel driven.

Prior to the Nazi invasion of The Netherlands in May 1940, the DAF factory was converting Ford 4×2 commercial chassis into all-terrain 6×4 vehicles featuring the company’s powered H-beam rear suspension as well as supplying a limited number of armoured vehicles to the Dutch army before it was overwhelmed. When peace finally returned to Europe four years later, DAF changed the ‘Trailer’ part of its name to ‘Automobile’ and expanded its manufacturing plants. By the end of 1949 the company was producing a steady stream of lorries, trailers and buses to satisfy the post-war shortage. An important part of the company’s output in the early ‘Fifties was producing H-drive combat vehicles to re-arm the military and in 1954 ‘Hub’ van Doorne started to develop what would go on to become the company’s trademark constantly variable transmission (see pages of this issue for an explanation of how CVT works).

The result was van Doorne’s compact belt and pulley Variomatic transmission system that made its debut in the 1958 introduced 600cc air-cooled DAF 600. This was the first of a string of DAF cars fitted with the innovative fully automatic Variomatic transmission and to cope with demand for these popular, easy to drive cars the company opened extra production facilities at Born. Although the ‘Sixties proved to be the Variomatic’s golden years, US-based International Harvester took a 33 per cent share in DAF in 1972, an arrangement that lasted until 1981.

Meanwhile, Volvo purchased DAF’s car manufacturing division along with the Limburg plant in 1975 and the final DAF car, the 66 was rebadged and sold as a Volvo. The sale of the car division left DAF building commercial vehicles and in 1987 the company merged with Leyland Trucks to form Leyland DAF but unfortunately this agreement proved to be a short-lived enterprise. DAF’s bus division was split off in 1990 and after parent company DAF NV filed for bankruptcy three years later Leyland DAF was split up by management buyouts into LDV Vans, Multipart Solutions Ltd., Leyland Trucks and DAF Trucks.

DAF Trucks was subsequently acquired by PACCAR in 1996 and reunited with Leyland Trucks after the US based Fortune-500 company had purchased the former Rover Group survivor in 1998. Today, Tatra have a small financial holding in DAF Trucks and some of the commercial vehicles produced by this long established Czech-based company are fitted with cabs produced at DAF’s Eindhoven factory, which still encompasses part of the former brewery where ‘Hub’ van Doorne first set up his business.

DAF 750/Daffodil/33 1961-1967

A direct descendant of the innovative 600, the Daffodil was the export version of the 750. Based on DAF’s ‘A’ body, the Daffodil was a better equipped version of the 750, which was also sold in some markets as the 30 and 31. Period press adverts described the Daffodil as ‘the car with a hundred gears’ and power now came from an enlarged 748cc air-cooled engine.

As the Daffodil’s twin-cylinder engine was located at the front and the Variomatic transmission at the rear, the little DAF enjoyed an excellent 50/50 weight distribution – a line often used by BM W in its promotional material. Over the years DAF made a number of slight improvements to the Daffodil’s trim and body fittings. For example the roofline was squared off in a Michelotti redesign in 1963– the year DAF dropped the 750 and its variants – but these and later revamps to the bodywork did little to alter the Daffodil’s very distinguishable profile.

In 1967 the Daffodil was re-launched as the DAF 33 to coincide with the introduction of the larger DAF 44. As well as a two-door saloon, the Daffodil was also produced for various markets as a pick-up and a van. From 1972 all DAF cars and light commercials were fitted with 12-volt electrics and the 33 eventually bowed out in 1975 after over 280,000 examples had been built.

DAF 46 1974-1976

Introduced to replace the 44, the short lived DAF 46 shared the outgoing model’s 844cc flat twin and was introduced after Volvo had takeover control of DAF’s car building interests. The 46’s bodyshell was the same as the 44’s but inside the cabin the seats were covering in fabric instead of PVC, while a redesigned gear selector controlled the car’s Variomatic transmission and extra dash mounted warning lights kept the driver informed of what was going on under the bonnet.

The 46’s transmission was a different set up to the 44’s and comprised of a single drive belt. This revised set up was supposed to reduce noise levels, improve belt life and DAF 66 1972-1975 provide a safer degree of handling. Instead of the usual Variomatic system, which used two sets of drive pulleys and belts to each drive a rear wheel, the 46’s continually variable transmission was matched to a conventional differential and a de Dion axle helped keep the rear suspension in check.

Sadly, this upgrade worked against the 46, as the revised power train lacked power and made the car considerably slower than many of its competitors. Production of the 46 lingered under Volvo management until 1976 after a total of 32,353 examples had been built.

DAF 600 1959-1963

Although it was a relative stranger to these shores, the Variomatic equipped DAF 600 was well received in its home market and was the Dutch-based vehicle manufactures first foray into producing passenger cars. Unveiled at the Amsterdam Motor show in late 1958, the 600 was powered by a 590cc twin-cylinder air cooled engine powering the car’s rear wheels through van Doorne’s innovative V-belt driven stepless CVT transmission.

The 600’s Plain Jane but extremely functional styling was penned by Johan van der Brugghen and this little family car could accommodate two reasonably sized adults up front and three youngsters (unrestrained of course) across the rear seats along with a modicum of luggage in the boot. Although the 600’s performance could only be described as adequate, it was very easy car to drive and the positive reaction from the press and public was outstanding. With no neutral to select in a Variomatic, pushing the selector forward once the engine had fired up got the car off the line and pulling back after the car had come to a stop selects reverse. DAF Variomatic transmission could go as fast in reverse as it could in forward gear and once wound up (hopefully in forward mode), the 600 had a top speed just shy of 70mph.

As the 600’s Continuously Variable Transmission was controlled to some degree by engine vacuum, easing off the throttle at high speed would result in the car accelerating slightly on a level road. This could be a perplexing experience for first time drivers and was down to how the increased vacuum adjusted the rubber belts and pulleys. Production of the 600 eventually came to an end in 1963 and the model was replaced with the very similar looking but far more refined DAF 750/Daffodil.

The DAF 750/Daffodil/33 was produced between 1961-1967.

DAF 44 1967-1975

Although announced in late 1966, the DAF 44 didn’t go on sale until the following year. The new model received a useful power hike and now came with a larger 34bhp 844cc air-cooled Boxer-style twin. DAF’s well-proven belt driven Variomatic transmission transferred power to the rear wheels and Michelotti had been responsible for the external styling, which was designated as DAF’s ‘B’-body.

The 44’s longer bonnet line now had enough space to store the spare wheel, a move that provided more luggage room in the boot. A threedoor estate was offered and some markets received a panel van version. All models featured interior eye level ventilation vents with adjustable outlets and just like the outgoing Daffodil/33, the new DAF’s brakes were all round unassisted drums.

DAF continued to produce the 44 right up to when the company was bought out by Volvo in 1975 and the Michelotti designed 44 bowed out when the Swedes took over at Eindhoven.

DAF 55 1967-1972

The 1967 introduced DAF 55 broke new ground for the Dutch vehicle manufacturer. Although the new model shared the same body as the 44, the familiar twin-cylinder air-cooled engine had been replaced with a more powerful 1108cc Renault ‘Cléon’, or C-Type water-cooled 50bhp inline-four.

DAF retained the same version of the Variomatic transmission that had been fitted to the 44 and the main external styling change was that the 55 now had a front radiator grille in place of the previous model’s solid steel panel.

Another major change was to the 55’s front suspension and the 44’s transverse leaf spring now gave way to longitudinally mounted torsion bars. Other improvements for the 55 included a split circuit braking system and the inclusion of front discs on all models. An attractive pillarless coupé version of the 55 arrived in 1968 and the following year the whole range received a face-lift. As with the 44, the DAF 55 was also available as a reasonably spacious three-door estate.

By the late ‘Sixties DAF had become heavily involved with motorsport to showcase how its Variomatic transmission could stand the rigours of the world rally scene. A specially prepared 55 replaced the 44 as the works rally entrant and to mark the company’s success in the 1968 Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon, an optional Marathon pack was made available for the 55. Options in this dealer fitted pack included special wheels; uprated suspension, a revised interior and an engine upgrade that managed to squeeze an extra 15bhp out of the 55’s Renault engine.

A factory prepared version of the 55 Marathon available as either a saloon or coupé was introduced in 1971 featuring a similar engine boost and a brake servo. A set of wider steel wheels, exterior stripes and extra interior fittings help identify these desirable models. Post-1971 coupé’s reverted to door pillars and window frames to counter the pillarless model’s annoying water leaks. DAF pulled the plug on the 55 in 1972 and replaced it with the squarer looking 66.

DAF 66 1972-1975

In 1972, the same year DAF stopped fitting six-volt electrics to its cars; the company took the covers off the all-new 66. Although the new DAF was based on the same ‘B’-body as its predecessor, the front wings, bonnet and grille had been squared off. Initially the 66 was powered by the same B110 inline-four as used in the 55, but was soon available with Renault’s B130 1289cc engine. The main mechanical changes were to the Variomatic transmission and suspension layout. This was now similar to the 46’s set up and utilised a de Dion axle at the rear and different sized pulleys to drive the rear wheels through a more conventional differential. DAF produced the 66 as a saloon, coupé or estate and like the 55; a sporting Marathon version was also available.

Production of the 66 continued until 1975 and following Volvo’s takeover the car became the Volvo 66. The main changes included adding larger bumpers, incorporating steel safety beams inside the doors, headrests and a ‘safety’ steering wheel. The Variomatic gear selector on Volvo’s version of the 66 now featured a more conventional quadrant marked with Neutral, Reverse and Drive – a move that was obviously a nod to the Swede’s emphasis on safety.

To help cold starting, Volvo fitting a servo to the Variomatic transmission to prevent the centrifugal clutches engaging as the engine revs rose when the choke was pulled out and drive selected. Despite the changes, traditional Volvo buyers never took to the 66 and after dropping the stylish coupé the only versions produced were the saloon and estate until the Swedish carmaker finally withdrew its revised and rebadged version of the 66 in 1980.

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