A 1956 DKW Schnellaster, Very Old Van Time


Rare Rides has featured a DKW vehicle only once previously, in a little Brazilian-made version of the mass-market 3=6 wagon. Today’s DKW van also occasionally wore 3=6 badging, but was known as a Schnellaster or F89 L.

The Schnellaster was introduced in 1949 by DKW, a part of the Auto Union group that would later be assumed by Volkswagen and become Audi. Auto Union was brand new at the time, formed via combination of DKW, Horch, Audi, and Wanderer. Founded in West Germany, all Schnellaster vans were built at Ingolstadt where Audi is headquartered today. Considered a light commercial vehicle, the van was sold in panel, pickup, and “minibus” formats.

The Schnellaster was notable especially for its transverse front-wheel drive configuration, at a time when nearly all (or all) production vans and pickups were rear-drive. For that reason, the minibus Schnellaster was a sort of  proto-minivan decades before the class was created. The engine layout and drivetrain meant the whole interior area of the car was an uninterrupted flat space, good for cargo or passenger seats. The flat floor allowed for a low load height of 16 inches, and a side-hinged rear door swung out of the way for loading.

Power was delivered via one of three inline-two engines of the two-stroke variety, which advanced in size through the Schnellaster’s production. Displacements were of .7, .8, or .9 liters, and horsepower ranged from 20 to 32. All variants shared roughly the same 118-inch wheelbase, and overall length around 155 inches. At 65.7 inches wide, Schnellaster was 2.5 inches narrower than a modern Mazda Miata.

A commercial success, the Schnellaster remained in production through 1962. DKW developed Schnellaster’s replacement with Italian coachbuilder Fissore, and debuted the F1000 L for 1963. Those vans were built by IMOSA in Spain, and because of the complicated history of Auto Union and Mercedes was also sold as the Mercedes-Benz N1300. At the time, Volkswagen was in process of acquiring Auto Union, and Mercedes (who owned Auto Union since 1958) kept the Spanish commercial subsidiary as its own property. Only a few Spanish-built F1000s were exported back to Europe as the DKW Schnellaster. In the end, the official successor to the F1000 L was the Mercedes-Benz MB100 of 1980.

Today’s very brown Schnellaster is painted with an Audi and Auto Union livery, and is powered by the .7-liter engine. It’s for sale now in Australia for $38,600 USD.

[Images: Auto Union]

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