Stepping solidly aside from the idea of the Tall Car, or the Tough American Car For All Seasons, we find ourselves in Holland looking at a very small one of only average height and with next to no off-road capability.
DAF buses and trucks are all over the place across Europe, but for most folk of Below A Certain Age, the DAF name will have virtually no bearing on the world of the car. This is a shame as Van Doorne’s Automobiel Fabriek should be recognised and revered for the tenacity with which they stuck to their ideas.
Tonight we look at the DAF 66.
“Latest expression of a brilliantly simple concept.”
The DAF 66 arrived in 1972, taking the mantle from the DAF 55, which itself took over from the DAF 44 (spot the trend in nomenclature yet?), the DAF 33 and the ultra-manly Daffodil.
“A compact luxury car”
Well, certainly it was compact. And it wasn’t ultra cheap, and was pretty well nailed together so maybe it could have been called luxury. Let’s not quibble, that’s what they wanted to call it. Luxury it is.
“With distinguished good looks that subtly say “this is a quality car”.
We get it, it’s Q.u.a.l.i.t.y. And L.u.x.u.r.y.
“With performance that will frankly surprise you.”
I’d like to test that claim. No, I really would, because these little DAFs have fascinated me for a long time, which is probably how I came to possess a copy of this extremely cool ’73 brochure. and the main reason I find the DAF fascinating is that famous transmission. Not just any old box o’ cogs, this unique system was an:
“….even more advanced version of the worlds smoothest, simplest, fully automatic drive. With DAF there are no jerking gear changes. DAF drivers enjoy a smoothness quite unknown to owners of any other make, regardless of price.”
Yep, the good old Variomatic, great grandfather of all the worlds Continuously Variable Transmission systems, using a belt, cone and pulley system with ratios changing much as it does using a bicycle derailleur system, only, you know, continuously variable.
I’ve driven a lot of CVT boxes. Many of the Mercedes A and B-Class I find myself in have the Benz interpretation fitted, or Autotronic in Stuttgartese. These systems theoretically ensure that the engine output is always at peak torque. Sounds cool, but in practice it doesn’t always mean spellbinding performance. Not in the A or B-Class Mercedes, anyway, but that may be because of the paucity of power (except the 200 Turbo, which was mental). Still, it does bring about the strange phenomenon of holding the exact same engine note from 5mph to 60.
Modern systems aren’t as pure, though as Variomatic. Autotronic has five preset “gear” ratios as well to allow more responsive kickdown acceleration. However, it doesn’t working in exactly the same way in reverse as it did going forwards. Yes, with the DAF system, if you were really brave, really determined and / or really stupid, you could go as fast in reverse as going forward.
“Above all, ease of control is the outstanding DAF safety feature. With the simple automatic shift lever. Just forward to go forward. Back to go back. It’s as simple as that! You’re always free to concentrate 100% on the road”
Useful when you’re going 80mph in reverse.
“Roadholding, too, has always been good with DAF. But in the new DAF 66 there is an entirely new De Dion rear suspension system.”
This is cool, too, and something I had forgotten about until I re-read the brochure. The 66 finally abandoned the somewhat treacherous prior swing-axle configuration and adopted the same basic arrangement as one found under the rear end of an Alfa GTV6 or Ferrari 375. I mean, that didn’t mean that it handled brilliantly, but it was benign and predictable compared to the twitchiness of old.
“One of todays most quietly impressive cars…… it is a very advanced car indeed”
I’m prepared to believe that. I’d be quite interested to see where DAF would fit into the market these days. I know that their car-building activities were absorbed by Volvo in ’76, so it’s fair to make the DAF / Volvo association. But, you know, there was a cheeky underlying crazy Dutchman-ness about DAF that the Svenka Posse could never equal.
And, you know, how cool are the couple in this picture?
The 66 metamorphosed into the Volvo 66, and pretty soon the DAF name would stop appearing on cars altogether. The final vehicle that DAF would develop (under the code-name DAF 77, natch) would be the Volvo 300-series, which inherited the variomatic gearbox but was deathly, tragically, cataclysmically dull.
(Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer, who make Trucks now. And Buses. But not cars. Bring back the Dafodil!)