Saturday, 23 May 2020

History of the Foundation of the British DKW Club

Chapter 1 - 1951 to 1958 by Denys Middleton

I suppose there were two main reasons why I started the DKW Owners Club. Firstly, my own happy experiences as a member of the Fiat 500 Club, where I had met and become friendly with so many kindred spirits and learned so much about (to coin a phrase) ''what made mice speak"; and second, the complete and absolute lack of new spare parts for DKW cars, together with the difficulty in finding out how a DKW was put together and what to do when it "came unstuck" in any way.

To put the second reason into perspective, it has to be remembered that there had been no production of cars or parts by Auto-Union since about 1940. The former factory, together with drawings and tools, was in the Russian zone of Germany and at the time we are considering (1951) a handful of dedicated former staff, some of whom had escaped from the Russian zone, (smuggling out a few of the precious drawings), had walked all the way to Dusseldorf and were just beginning an attempt to resuscitate Auto-Union with one factory in Dusseldorf and another in Ingolstadt in Bavaria. These two towns are more than 500 miles apart and this factor alone posed enormous problems in a country whose communication system was still in tatters as a result of the war.

In England there was a small firm in London called B. & M. Motors who were DK W enthusiasts and whose owner, Mr. Monty, had taken much trouble to establish trade contacts for reconditioning parts such as crankshafts, and for the supply of a few new parts which could be manufactured in England, such as gears and certain bearings. There were a handful of other firms who did what they could to help DKW owners keep their cars running but the names of these firms and their locations were in general only known to their local customers. In these conditions, if you knew where to go you could buy, for example, a fully reconditioned pre-war DKW for 1500, or a reconditioned crankshaft for 35 GBP. A dynastart was about 90 GBP. In the light of prices of the day, these were considered exorbitant by many people, including myself. In my case, I had recently had a wrecked Fiat 500 engine rebuilt, literally round the old drain plug, for 65 GBP, but B. & M. had charged me nearly 200 for doing much the same job on my recently purchased DKW, the engine of which was at least in one piece and all there, which could certainly not be said of my poor little Fiat which had put a piston through the crankcase. However, the last thing I wish to do is to vilify the late Mr. Monty who was a good friend to many DKW owners, including me. Without him, many cars would have had to go to the scrap heap and their owners would not have had the money to buy another. Mr. Monty was also very helpful in the formation of the Club, as I shall describe later.

It was in these circumstances that I decided to form our Club. My first action was to arrange publication in "Autocar" and “Motor” of a letter advertising this intention and inviting anyone interested to contact me. This must have been in July or August 1951 and I received about twenty replies. One of the most encouraging was from Steve Hastings, whose car Arthur Barritt has currently been writing about. Steve and his wife Joan were keen enough to drive sixty miles to London especially to see me and discuss formation of the Club. Joan volunteered to be our Secretary in the event of a Club actually being started.

The enthusiasm of these two encouraged me to carry on with the idea and I organised the very first meeting at a pub adjoining Whipsnade Zoo on Sunday, 17th October 1951. Almost all those who had written to me turned up and there was a joyous afternoon of natter and "bonnets up”, at the end of which we had a formal gathering at which it was the unanimous view that we already had a Club! I was asked to organise its development and my wife Marion was elected Treasurer. Joan Hastings' offer to be Secretary was gratefully accepted. It was agreed that a Newsletter be produced periodically, more members sought, further meetings arranged, and Club rules drafted for submission to a future meeting for approval.

My first job, therefore, was to develop our Club and get it organised. It was at this stage that Mr. Monty proved so helpful. At my request, he gave me the names and addresses of over 100 owners of DKW's. I wrote to every one and about 80% of these people joined the Club. Then came my next problem - how could the Club be of practical benefit to people who lived all over England and Scotland, most of whom could never hope to meet fellow-members of a London based Club. The answer was to plan "regionalisation'' but this meant locating suitable people as Area Secretaries and persuading them to take the job on. It has been gratifying that two of the people I picked have proved of inestimable value to the club - Arthur Barritt for the Northwest (originally) and Douglas Capes for the Northeast.

Running on regional lines, the Club made rapid progress. Marion and I visited the new Areas as often as we could and attended many enthusiastic meetings. We also enjoyed much hospitality, particularly from the Barritt’s and the Capes. We shall certainly never forget the night we drove back to London from one of Arthur's meetings in Cheshire when it was so cold that our breath froze all over the inside of the car and we had to chip ice off the doors before we could get out when we eventually got home about 3 o'clock in the morning. Soon after than a member fashioned me an elementary heater for the car - typical of the spirit prevailing in the Club.

We had got the Newsletter launched soon after the inaugural meeting, writing the first ones ourselves before we found our first Editor, Douglas Lister from Douglas Capes' area, who developed it on sound lines and set the pattern we see in to-day's 'Two-Stroke".

During this period we arranged many meetings in and around London and (blessed event for many members) we recruited Stan Williams as our first Technical Secretary. Stan knew more about what made a DKW tick than anybody I have ever met and, even more important, was not only willing to share his knowledge but would physically assist members with ailing cars whilst his wife entertained and fed their wives or girlfriends. For years Stan was, I think, the only person in England able and willing to repair German "reglerschalters", those voltage regulators so vital to the charging of our batteries.

A year after the Club's formation another event occurred of great significance. We met Rudi Schlager of Auto-Union (Germany) who soon opened up a direct link between the Club and the newly developed factory. This was now in production again for the supply of new spares at most reasonable prices. For instance, we were now able to buy brand new crankshafts for 7.10s. instead of reconditioned ones for 35 GBP. Rudi came over to the Earls Court Motor Show In 1952 and stayed with Marion and me at our London flat. Although he was born In England he had left here when he was ten and had never been back since. He will never forget being stood on a table in a London pub. only four hours after his arrival and made to talk in English and answer a barrage of questions from a hastily organized meeting of members! These included Bunny Tubbs (“King-pin or the “Motor”) a great fancier of the DKW who wrote a number of gems for our magazine describing in priceless humour some of his experiences in his own DKW, which he called Adolf. During the war Hermann heard about Adolf and kept throwing bombs at him. Although blasted into ditches in country lanes in the blackout, and buried under debris in London, Adolf always won. I drove him in the mid 50's and he was still going strong and acting as a stable-mate for Bunny's veteran Gobron-Brillee ("Gobbling Billy"). Bunny knew his veteran and vintage cars and was a great character who was much appreciated in the DKW Club.

In this way the Club carried on busily for a number of years. However, by 1958 although our membership figures were near the peak at about 200, attendances at meetings were becoming disappointing and there were other signs that early enthusiasms were cooling a little. I felt that this might have been due to the tremendously improved spare parts position, this being really quite good by them. Alternatively, a change of management might be needed and in any case my job was leaving me less and less time for club affairs. It seemed therefore to be the right moment to hand over the reins to someone who would inject new ideas and new enthusiasms, our club being by then firmly and permanently established and indeed recognised by the German factory as a worthwhile and responsible organisation. I accordingly persuaded Arthur Barritt to take over from me. I shall always recall with pride that one of his first acts was to ask me to become the Club's President. This was an honour I much appreciated.

It is generally invidious to mention names because somebody always gets left out and feels hurt but it would be unjust and ungallant to conclude this first chapter without reference to the work and support of my wife, Marion. Throughout the period, she not only looked after our finances admirably but also acted with great success in the field of public relations within the Club, making many friends in the process and giving me sterling support and much wise counsel It is undoubtedly true to say that without her help I could not have continued my work for the Club for so many years.

Chapter 2 - 1958-1962 by Arthur Barritt

Readers will, by now, be aware that an emergency meeting of the DKWOC was called at Snitterfield, near Stratford-on-Avon, in October 1958. The report in the subsequent issue of the magazine indicated that I fell into the Chairman's Job because no one else was willing to take it on. In fact, morale appeared to be at a low ebb. In spite of this atmosphere, after the meeting was over, people seemed to be in higher spirits and we in the Midlands embarked upon a series of Sunday morning meetings at an Inn called the 'Plume of Feathers' outside Birmingham. These proved very successful and we were further backed by the consistent attendance of Kay Blundell in her Sonderklasse. We did not have many of these models in the club at that date, and as Kay's car was a genuine 1957 model and therefore an F93 using that unheard-of petrol/oil ratio of 1:40, everyone was extremely interested. I was still running old BJF and although I made one or two half-hearted attempts to change her, nothing that was offered seemed to be an improvement on her, either in performance or body work. What we were all hankering after in those uncertain days was post-war machinery, and we just did not have the gold to acquire it. As Denys has recounted, spares were available from the factory and Mr. Schenk, of Manchester, had opened a full blown DKW agency, selling new cars, new spares and offering service for all models, pre and post war. I would like to say here and now that Mr. Schenk just about kept the club in being at this difficult time, by the fact that it became possible to make our ageing F7's fully roadworthy and so able to pass the newly legislated M.O.T. The. prospect of such a test was enough to, and actually did, send many F7 models to the scrapyard. Few members could buy post-war models, so it looked as if the club was a dead letter but was saved by the supply and fitting of new parts, like brake drums and steering gear, by Schenk Engineering. I have stressed this part of the Club's history because as Chairman, and being in touch with Secretary Frank Taylor, I was only too aware of the despair expressed by the rank and file members. I received no end of letters from owners who wanted to know how to pass the dreaded M.0.T. I by-passed it myself by selling BJF in the Autumn of 1959 and purchasing what must have been the only R.H.D. F89 Meisterklasse in the U.K. As she was under 10 years old, she was exempt, but could have passed the test easily.

After the uncertain winter of 1958 and spring of 1959, club activities began to improve. We did ·not come into contact with the Southern Area during this time, except to attend the A.G.M. at the Silver Cup in Harpenden. We were able to see that Southern affairs were in good hands and three-cylinder cars were quite numerous, in contrast to our old faithfuls and "other makes." It had been decided at Snitterfield that the 40% rule should be amended. This rule stipulated that members selling their cars should still be eligible but the number of non-Deek owners must not exceed 40%. It was well past this figure in 1958 with VW leading the field. We had to decide between a pure Deek club and no members, or a diluted Deek club and sufficient members to keep us going. That our decision was right has been shown by subsequent events, After the brief revival of the pre-war machinery in 1959, sufficient post-war models were on the second-hand market to enable members to change their pride and job. In addition by 1960 new members were joining who already owned post-war cars and, among these, was a keen young man called John Norton, who had electrified the Motoring Press with a letter stating in set terms why he had rejected a popular car of 1200cc and invested in a second hand (near new) DKW of a mere 900cc. John lived at Coventry and we soon were very familiar with his blue and white Sonderklasse.

Owing to the increasing number of three-cylinder cars in the club, and this was very evident at area meetings, I felt I was less than adequate as a Chairman with very pronounced leanings to the old two-cylinder conception.

It was no secret in club circles, that, although I fully admired the Sonderklasse, I had no wish to own one (could not afford to anyway) and could not helpfully join in any discussion concerning the model. On the other hand, I felt that the two-cylinder membership was still large enough to justify my placing all the experience and know-how I had accumulated at their disposal. The upshot of this situation was to elect two Chairmen at the 1961 A.GM. I was designated Chairman 2-Cylinder and John was designated Chairman 3-Cylinder. This Gilbertian situation persisted until 1962, when I gracefully slid out from under, unnoticed by all except Frank Taylor who was manfully doing business at the old stand as Secretary, Like Denys, I cannot close this brief episode without casting a few bouquets. They must go to my wife, Mary, who did no end of work during this time getting out notices and seeking out typing bureaux to execute the said notices. She also kept up the correspondence with Doreen Robinson that culminated in the thoroughly successful and epoch-making joint revival meeting organised by Doreen and Mary at the Abbey Arms Hotel, Delamere, in Cheshire, where we had held our first area meeting one snowy Sunday, as described by Denys in Chapter 1. Then there was the hard work put in by George and Doreen Martin, not to mention Connie Taylor, who helped Frank with his club work, and his crummy cars, as both he and she will testify.

So, 1962 saw the club securely re-established under the chairmanship of John Norton, who knew what a Sonderklasse was for and demonstrated it ably.

I stuck to my trusty 2-cylinder F. 89, now souped up by fitting a "heavy crank" and new pistons. It was a magnificent car for its size and horsepower. Just think of it - 684cc., yet the body was as big as any 10 h.p. saloon of 1960/62. It ran smoothly and held the road like a leech on cross-ply tyres. True, it had the dreaded Dynastart, but gave no trouble and the electrics were ample. Perhaps John in his inimitable way will relate in Chapter 3 how I finally succumbed to the spell of high speed, more acceleration and better hill climbing as offered by the Sonderklasse. After all, my 2-cylinder Chairmanship was very brief, merely a caretaking office to keep things going until the real work came along.

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