There were more strings to DAF’s bow than one might have imagined.
Although small in stature, The Netherlands has given the world several notable innovations. The microscope, the orange coloured carrot, the stock market, the pendulum clock, total football, the anthem, the first modern world atlas, Bluetooth and WiFi, the artificial kidney and heart, not to mention cocoa powder.
But while the Gatso speed camera has been greeted with less cheer, the positives outweigh that negative by some margin. In the carmaking field however, the country’s track record has been less stellar. Even though luxury car maker Spijker was the first to introduce a car with six cylinders (and four wheel drive as well!) in 1903 with the 60HP, the company went bankrupt during the roaring twenties; and even if current CEO Victor Muller of the revived-since-1999 Spijker would have us believe otherwise the make is for all intents and purposes expired.
Also fallen by the wayside is van Doorne’s Automobiel Fabriek- better known as DAF. The firm’s seminal invention of the first continuously variable transmission being both its claim to fame as well as an important factor in the company’s eventual downfall. Because the DAF was so easy to drive with its stepless Variomatic transmission and most other automatic cars were much larger and expensive it quickly became popular among the elderly, the infirm and those that couldn’t come to terms with operating a manual gearbox.
DAF found favour with more conventional customers as well of course but increasingly an image of a vehicle for people who for whatever reason couldn’t drive a regular car indelibly attached itself to the brand. DAF did its best to shake off this image by entering their cars in motorsport, where they performed rather well. Nevertheless, these efforts were unable to prevent an inexorable slide towards commercial unviability – DAF being taken over by Volvo and its main factory in Born is currently property of VDL Nedcar.
During its relatively short existence between 1958 and 1975 however, several less widely known attempts by DAF – sometimes in cooperation with outside sources – at breaking the mould materialised, providing evidence of an innovative spirit mostly obscured by DAF’s production models. Most did not make it past the prototype stage but a few did, as we will see.
P40 GT, 1965
Giovanni Michelotti’s design firm at the Corso Francia in Orbassano near Turin enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Dutch car manufacturer, creating several production and prototype designs. One of the latter category was this pretty coupé in the Simca 1000 and Glas 1300GT mode; DAF approached Michelotti with the request of styling a coupé to potentially crown the new 44 and upcoming 55 model range. Paolo Martin, who had been with Michelotti since 1960, carried out the actual design but as often happens the end result was credited to Michelotti.
The brothers van Doorne were pleased with the work and after evaluating two slightly different scale models made in clay commissioned a full size prototype. The planned powerplant remains shrouded in mystery, since the prototype was never fitted with an engine. It stands to reason that a more powerful engine than the two-cylinder boxer (DAF’s only engine at the time) would have been chosen, likely the Renault-sourced 1108cc four that would see use in the 55 and 66 later.
The familiar story of unfavourable cost-benefit calculations would mean that the P40 GT remained a one-off; it was added to the private collection of the van Doorne family only to be put on display in Eindhoven’s DAF museum after many years hidden from public view.
Rijdende Regenjas – 1941-43
Technically not a DAF but the first automotive creation of founder Hub van Doorne. Occupied since may of 1940 by the Germans, life in the Netherlands became tougher and more restricted as time went on with more and more rationing and requisitioning. Cars were off limits to all but the very well connected, and even those lucky enough to own a bicycle had to construct tyres from wood, since rubber had become virtually unobtainable.
At home, van Doorne designed and constructed the Rijdende Regenjas (mobile raincoat) which was just narrow enough to be driven through a house door opening to be parked safely inside. Powered by a single cylinder ILO motorcycle engine its claimed top speed was 35 Mph and just like the later DAF the Regenjas could (theoretically at least) achieve the same speed in reverse, as the engine and driven front wheel could rotate 180 degrees.
After the war the vehicle was donated to a circus owned by a good friend of van Doorne where it was used as the clown’s car – its profile does bring to mind a clown’s shoe – years later it was restored to its original specification and added to the DAF museum’s collection.
DAF Kalmar KVD Tjorven, 1969
A joint effort by DAF and the Swedish firm Kalmar Verkstad AB, the Tjorven was a result of a tender by the Swedish postal services to come up with a vehicle suitable for their particular line of work, able to withstand the often rough road conditions of more rural areas.
The initial prototype used a Daffodil chassis and 746cc engine coupled to the Variomatic transmission – it met with approval and Kalmar received an order for one thousand cars. The production version of the polyester-bodied Tjorven employed a chassis made by Kalmar themselves as this was cheaper than using the DAF item; it was powered by the slightly larger 844cc engine of the DAF 44.
The Tjorven was right hand drive, enabling its driver to access the mailboxes more easily through the sliding door. The vehicle was also used by the Norwegian post and (in very limited quantities) by their Swiss, Dutch and Belgian colleagues.
Kalmar developed a version for private use as well; it looked the same but had a split tailgate which the postal version did not have. Demand was minimal, resulting in a total of 2170 Tjorvens made over a period of three years. The name Tjorven was a nickname given to the vehicle because of its unusual appearance that reminded people of a contemporary comic character on Swedish television.
Pictured on the bottom right is a prototype high-roofed version of the DAF 66 for possible use by the Dutch postal services which did not proceed beyond this stage.
DAF 555, 1971
Aficionados of the Paris-Dakar Rally may remember the mighty DAF Turbo Twin trucks of the mid-1980s driven by Jan de Rooy that amazingly could keep up with and even overtake specialised rally cars such as the turbocharged Peugeots. De Rooy had a long history competing with DAF and became International Rallycross Champion in 1971 and 1972 with the amazing four-wheel drive DAF 555.
This was powered by a Ford BDA engine with over 200 Hp and the four wheel drive went through a transversally mounted Variomatic; the division of the torque sent to the front and rear wheels happened smoothly since the Variomatic adjusted the
gear ratio automatically as soon as one of the wheels would start to spin.
In the early version of the 555 the BDA engine was mounted centrally inside the passenger compartment along with the Variomatic – the driver sat on top of the transmission necessitating a bulge in the roof to create room for his head; later versions were front engined (but with the Variomatic still transversally in the middle) and had better straight-line stability with less understeer. The dominance of the DAF 555 was such that the FIA banned four wheel driven cars from Rally Cross from 1973 on.
DAF Kini, 1966
The Triumph Spitfire-like rear end of this one-off beach runabout is a clear indication that this was another Michelotti design. Powered by the small 746cc twin cylinder engine and named Kini, it was used for many years by the Dutch Royal family as local transport in Porte Ercole, their favourite Italian holiday destination.
Apparently the Kini caught the attention of famous jetsetters Aristoteles Onassis and Jackie Keneddy as they would own a similar looking vehicle, the DAF 33 based Michelotti Shellette, from 1968 on.
DAF P 500, 1968
This stillborn prototype for a larger, four door car was also clothed by Michelotti; some Triumph and BMW “Neue Klasse” influences being evident. As a prototype for which DAF did not yet have a suitable engine and drivetrain it was powered by a Simca 1500 engine, had a Ford gearbox and BMW rear drivetrain. The sparse available data points to the P 500 becoming the first DAF without a Variomatic transmission.
Although P 500 prototypes were spotted testing on public roads by early scoop photographers (and incorrectly labeled DAF 77 in the press) production never ensued. DAF chose instead to concentrate on the further development of another prototype, the P 400, which would in fact have been the DAF 77 had DAF survived long enough but would enter production as the Volvo 343.
DAF Siluro, 1968
The centerpiece of the DAF stand at the 1968 Geneva Motor Show, the Siluro (the Italian word for torpedo) was once more styled at Michelotti’s studio. The wedgy look is quite smooth and distinctive, and from the rear 3/4 angle it is obvious where AMC got its inspiration when it designed the rear flanks of its 1974 Matador Coupé.
It was based on the recently launched 55 and thus was powered by the same 1108cc four-cylinder engine, with drive naturally provided by the Variomatic. After it had completed its tour on the motor show circuit, Giovanni Michelotti used the Siluro as his personal transport until his passing in 1980. Unfortunately the car was neglected from then on and left deteriorating under a tarpaulin in the garden of Michelotti’s son. Thankfully the DAF museum managed to purchase the car and has since restored it.
DAF/Volvo PX, 1975
When Volvo completed the takeover of DAF in 1975, the PX prototype was a work in progress in DAF’s design studio under the leadership of Rob Koch. It was a planned DAF 55 successor with a for the time very modern and unusual one-box body – a small MPV, avant la lettre.
The technical drawing by Peter Provoost with a slightly different looking body proposal shows the Variomatic mounted under the floor; the higher stance caused by this arrangement was less of a visual negative (the Volvo 343 being an example) with this type of body.
Coggiola built the full-size mockup; it wears no badges as it was at the time perhaps not yet clear if it would be a DAF or a Volvo. In this instance again the DAF 77 / Volvo 343 project was given preference, relegating the PX to the what could have been division. A pity, as the PX would have been a unique and innovative addition to the automotive landscape that could have benefited either brand.
DAF Handywagon, 1964
A meeting in New York between members of the board of directors of the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company (ARKLA) of Little Rock and Jan Soeten, a representative of DAF for the USA, resulted in this interesting light truck. Ray Thornton, the company lawyer of ARKLA, had driven DAF vehicles and was intrigued by their lightness and the Variomatic transmission in particular.
He thought that it would be possible to construct a simple, lightweight truck or service vehicle with correspondingly good fuel economy by using the DAF chassis and mechanicals as a base. Soeten agreed to supply these; an ARKLA engineer named Ed Handy (hence the name of the vehicle) designed a simple cab body
made of fiberglass.
The Handywagons were assembled from may 1964 at a rate of approximately one per day at the Razorback Boat Company; its price was $ 1450. Thornton wrote in the foreword of the owners manual: “The Handywagon is of very simple construction. it was designed and built in a home workshop by a pipeline construction foreman and a lawyer, so any automobile mechanic should be able to figure it out“.
Chairman of ARKLA Wilt Stephens was quite impressed with the Handywagon and proposed Thornton that ARKLA would purchase a thousand Handywagons provided they could get the price down to $1000, and would also provide the funds for a permanent factory which would be a first for Arkansas. Unfortunately Thornton and Handy were unable to calculate a price below $1240 which meant the end for the Handywagon after around one hundred had been built.
The Handywagons were in service with ARKLA and some other companies for more than ten years; having been worked hard over the course of their lives there are just three known surviving Handywagons today.
DAF OSI City, 1966
Officine Stampaggi Industriali (OSI) utilised the DAF Daffodil as a technical base for this concept for a small, space-efficient urban car. Because the Daffodil’s wheelbase had been shortened by three inches the DAF OSI City was just 118.7 inches long, slightly longer than Fiat’s 500 and a couple of inches shorter than the Mini. It featured one of the first uses of body-coloured one-piece wraparound bumpers both and rear.
Almost as tall as it was wide, the City offered generous headroom and easy entry and exit via a sliding door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger side of which the rear one opened in suicide fashion. A rear hatch gave access to the luggage space which could be enlarged by folding down the rear seat.
At its debut on the 1966 Turin Motor Show the small concept car attracted its share of attention, and the press generally was of the opinion that this was one of the most realistic concepts for a city vehicle they had seen in recent times.
Nevertheless the City never cleared the concept-to-production bar and remained a one-off, but some readers may remember owning a small diecast model of it in their youth as Corgi Toys produced a model of the City that sold in numbers that OSI could only have dreamed of.
DAF’s all, Folks!