V.I.S.I.T. – 1957 DKW 3=6

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If you thought last week’s Audi 90 Quattro was going to be the oldest Auto Union car you were going to see on Hooniverse for at least a month, you were mistaken. This 1957 Auto Union DKW 3=6  looked stunning in person, and was pretty much in concours condition when I saw it. The 3=6 was a front wheel drive car developed by Auto Union in the late 1940s. First shown at Frankfurt in 1953, the 3=6 was warmly received, even though its styling was clearly an evolution of pre-war aerodynamic design language.

The car’s curious name, as I’m sure a lot of you know, arose from DKW’s advertising campaign that sought to promote the new two-stroke 3-cylinder engine as being just as good as the four-stroke 6-cylinder engine. Though by the end of the car’s production cycle in 1959, it was sold simply as the DKW 900. But this is essentially one of Auto Union’s most popular cars of the 1950s, even though there are very few of these in North America.

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Weighing in at just under 900 kilograms, the 3=6 was a popular little 2-door sedan that also came in cabrio form by Karmann. Having heard this car moving around, you’ll be interested to know that it doesn’t do as good an impression of a 1980s Japanese motorcycle as some other notable two-stroke cars like the Junior deLuxe, the ZAZ 968, or the Saab 99.

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Just how much are these now? A blue 1957 3=6 in good condition recenty sold for $8,800 at Russo and Steele in 2013. While that sounds pretty affordable, a 1957 wagon version of the 3=6 with a charming wooden roof rack brought a surprising $60,500 at RM’s Amelia Island sale in March of last year. Of course that doesn’t meat that every 3=6 wagon is now worth $60K, but still, those are some pretty impressive numbers.

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jay Ramey]

29 Comments

  1. EDIT: SAAB 93 and 95 had the two stroke, and the Sonett. The 99s had the 'B' Motor, when they didn't have a Triumph Slant 4.
    Had to wiki a pediabit on that one.

    1. The SAAB 92 is also a two-stroke, although with two cylinders instead of three. The 93 and 94 were made only with the three-cylinder two-stroke. The 95, 96, and 97 each started with the three-cylinder two-stroke before switching to the Ford Taunus V4.
      The 99 B engine (later redesigned as the H engine) is, itself, the Saab version of the Triumph engine.

      1. I actually had a very early 900 GLE with a B motor in it, too! Not sure if that was a US market thing, but they went to the H motor pretty soon after.

        1. Someone around town here has an extremely early 99 with freewheeling and, presumably, the pre-Saab-ized Triumph engine. I've seen it parked alongside the curb a few times but have yet to meet the owner.

    1. Brrr… ::shudders::
      Should have warned that there's gonna be something that can't be unseen.

      1. I should have…….sorry. Some cars should never be rat rodded. This is one of those cars.

          1. I'm glad to hear that and so will DKW fans out there. Knowing that, it is quite hilarious!

          2. Very impressive! You can tell Mark that his Rat Rod kinda upset some folks here.

          3. Carlisle Import Nationals always has a good DKW turnout, usually with 2 to 4 cars and a big tent for the club.

          4. Hi Jay, I think it was you a while back that wrote you would have more to post about a Rover SD1. Do you know when? Thanks, Mike

          5. Early stages of that right now, I was just working on that early this week., hopefully will have a ready article in the next two months : ) Weather's so unpredictable this year, owners are skittish to schedule interviews. Supposed to get snow like tomorrow, in what is essentially spring break time.

          6. It's so hard to wait, thanks for all the nice posts and photos.

    1. The car was required to meet both German and US government standards and was built by a company that received absolutely vital government support (both German and, via the Marshall Plan, US) in the post-War period, so no, to claim that it was built without government interference is not only wrong but completely backwards. It would never have been built without "government interference."
      You're right that it is, however, a great little car. A little wonder, one might say.

      1. My thinking was related to the odious interference that governments place on current vehicles in the safety and fuel laws.

  2. I saw a beat-up one of these on a trailer with a wrecked Trans Am and a 70's El Camino in Central Texas a couple of summers ago. It had Texas plates, so someone must have driven it down here at one time. I'd like to think it was on the way to the restoration shop.

  3. Still love your photography. Going to say that as much as I can.
    Hopefully without becoming creepy.

  4. DKW was one of the cheapest cars available. Common names were:
    Der Kaufer Weint (The Buyer Cries/Whines)
    Das Kostet Wenig (It doesn't cost much)
    Deutscher Kinder Wagen (German Childrens Car)

  5. Also, really, it was designed in the late 1930s, but the aftermath of WW2 caused Auto Union to lose everything except its designs. (See, the executives fled what became East Germany after the war, and founded a new Auto Union in Ingolstadt. More on that later.)
    So, the first thing they did was put the old, proven 2-cylinder transverse front-mid FWD drivetrain from the DKW F8 into the DKW F9 bodyshell that was already designed, in front-front layout, and call it the F89. Also, to raise funds, they licensed the 2-cylinder drivetrain to SAAB, because, eh, why not.
    Meanwhile, over in East Germany, the Communist government found the tooling for the DKW F8 [b]and[/b] the F9 prototypes, so they brought the F8 into full production under the IFA brand, and then did the same to the F9 – before Auto Union got the 3=6 out. And, while they were at it, they converted the F8 engine to aircooled, for the Trabant.
    Now, once Auto Union got the 3=6 out, they also licensed the 3-cylinder longitudinal driveline to SAAB. That's right, SAAB didn't make their own drivetrain until the 99.
    Over in Soviet Germany, car builds you. I mean, they just kept slapping newer bodyshells on the old IFA F9, and boring out the engine (oh, and improving the rear suspension, apparently). All the Wartburgs? Just newer bodyshells on the F9. So, you can get a ~1938 design with a 1966 bodyshell, made in 1988. (Or, if you don't mind it with a 1.3 liter transverse VW Golf drivetrain, 1991.)
    Oh, and DKW evolution here gets more fun – one of the 3=6 (or maybe 900, or 1000 – either way, it's the F9 platform) derivatives was the DKW Munga. If the Iltis is the ur-urQuattro, then the Munga is the ur-ur-urQuattro.

    1. "…they also licensed the 3-cylinder longitudinal driveline to SAAB. That's right, SAAB didn't make their own drivetrain until the 99."
      That is the persistent myth, but the truth is SAAB put a DKW engine in their first prototype car, one that they had pulled out of a junked DKW, then they immediately went on to design and manufacture their own two-stroke engines for their production cars. Yes, they look generally similar, but no, they do not share parts and are not the result of licensing.
      SAAB engines and DKW engines are not the same, which in some sense is a pity, as it might make it easier to find parts these days….

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