By on May 25, 2021

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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15 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1956 DKW Schnellaster, Very Old Van Time...”

  • avatar

    Appears this is owned by a Audi dealer in Australia.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Interesting find. This was years ahead of the original Chrysler minivan.

  • avatar

    Never saw one of these. But, I do remember seeing the Munga. Around 1970 traveling with my family in the jungle of either Columbia or Ecuador we found an abandoned one. As a properly car (or truck or motorcycle) obsessed teen I wanted it bad.

  • avatar

    Not really clear in a pretty good article, Auto Union was founded in 1932 in pre-WWII Germany and, as noted, consisted of the brands listed by Corey. Auto Union racing cars were very successful in Grand Prix racing in the late 1930’s and wore the four interlocking circles that are utilized by Audi as a branding mark today.

  • avatar

    Well this is a surprise, I thought that Sir Alec Issigonis invented this style of front wheel drive. Now I wonder if he borrowed the idea.

  • avatar

    I saw a pickup version of these in Zimbabwe, then, unfortunately, met the owner.
    Based on the political discussion he insisted in having with me, I’m pretty sure he had been a Nazi, or maybe still was.

  • avatar

    Trying to imagine riding in a loaded van with 20-32 hp. My lawn mower struggles with 25.

  • avatar

    This is really great. Thank you for posting this. Just when I thought I’d heard about everything in the automotive history, I’m reminded how little I do know. Keep ’em coming Mr. Lewis.

  • avatar

    Those seats look more like dinette chairs than something that belongs in an automobile…

    The van isn’t really wearing Audi livery; the “Audi logo” was originally the Auto Union logo and was used prominently on the last DKW cars before they were renamed Audi. There were no Audi-badged vehicles from 1940 through 1964.

  • avatar

    Our Austrian (I am NOT German!) neighbor had a DKW van and a Borgward Isabella. Figuring the local Barney Fifes(O.K., that is not really fair since most Edmonds P.D. officers were well overweight and looked nothing like Don Knotts) could not tell the difference between the two, he would switch a single license plate between the two vehicles.

  • avatar

    Well, the Typ II VW Microbus/Kombi had this thing beat 50 ways to Sunday by the mid 1950s. With all of 32 hp and proper 4-stroke engine. Probably outsold this DKW a 100 to 1 at the time, and had good sales around the world as well, including the US.

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