DKW Front F1

DKW Front F1 – First Front-Wheel Drive Automobile

The first Audi advertising with the ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ or ‘Progress through Technology’ slogan appeared 40 years ago, in 1971. Even then this technical leadership claim was well and truly justified. If we look back another 40 years we find DKW, one of the companies that later became Audi, introducing its F1 model at the 1931 International Automobile Exhibition in Berlin – the world’s first high-volume production car with front-wheel drive.

Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen acquired a majority shareholding in Audi Werke AG of Zwickau, Germany in August 1928. He planned to stimulate sales by installing his eight-cylinder engines in the large Audi models, but competition from America was strong, and during the world economic crisis from the end of 1929 onwards Audi found itself facing increasingly severe financial problems. A new product with greater market appeal was urgently needed to ensure the company’s survival.

In October 1930 Rasmussen decided that an entirely new small car should be developed in the shortest possible time. Its design was to be based on the water-cooled DKW twin-cylinder motorcycle engine, with front-wheel drive and a lightweight steel chassis frame. Rasmussen allowed the designers only six weeks to finish their work. The ‘F1’ project was successful, and the new DKW front-wheel-drive model had its first test run at the end of November 1930. DKW exhibited it at the Berlin IAA Motor Show in February 1931, and it rapidly became a sales success. Various versions went on sale, and the F1 was soon the Auto Union’s top-selling model. By the time production ceased in 1942 about 270,000 had left the Audi assembly lines.

DKW cars with front-wheel drive also formed the basis for reconstruction of the Auto Union in West Germany after the Second World War. Between 1949 and 1966 the Ingolstadt and Düsseldorf factories (Düsseldorf until 1962) built no fewer than 887,000 DKW passenger cars before production switched over to the new Audi model range first shown to the public in the summer of 1965.

The very last DKW passenger cars, however, saw the light of day far from their country of origin. Auto Union models continued to be built under license in Argentina and Brazil until 1968.

[Source: Audi AG]

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  1. wikipedia:


    The first successful consumer application came in 1929. The BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company) produced the unique front wheel drive BSA three wheeler. Production continued until 1936 during which time sports and touring models were available. In 1931 the DKW F1 from Germany made its debut. Other German car producers followed: Stoewer offered a car with front wheel drive in 1931, Adler in 1932 and Audi in 1933. In 1934, the very successful Traction Avant cars were introduced by Citroën of France.

    More German auto pr based on misleading criteria

  2. I understood the headline to mean this was AUDI’S first FWD car, not the world’s first.

    In 1968 I was looking at a TR3 on a lot on Steven’s Creek in San Jose – I think they were asking about $300 for it, and I’d decided it wasn’t worth it. The guy mentioned he had another sports roadster, a much older one, and showed me an Audi Front two-seater! I’ve kicked myself any number of times for not having taken him up on his offer of a test drive. One thing about it that I do remember, and that intrigued me at the time, was that much of the body structure was plywood.

    1. I recall riding in a 3 cylinder 2stroke powered FWD 2 door DKW sedan with 3 other crazy 16 year olds in 1966. The engine sounded like it was turning 10000 RPM and the kid behind the wheel was fighting torque steer every time he let out the clutch while running through the gears producing the effect that we were really moving down the entrance ramp onto the freeway..We took the first exit that went up a hill after being passed by so many cars it seemed he had shifted into reverse. We made the top of the hill after down shifting into 1st.. The other 2 passengers and I got out of the little car and laughed like fools as we walked the rest of the way home from school. That was one insane little car

  3. Interesting how DKW mass-produced so many! Where are all of them now?

    The light car movement in Europe and the cyclecar “experiment” that was popular there in the 20s is now revisiting us in the age of high-priced oil, and we are better for it. As much as I love big old cars, we have to seriously think how much metal and plastic we need to drag around with us.

    Will there be more articles of this sort showing automotive innovations?

  4. While stationed in Germany I purchased a 1939 DKW. Body was canvas over wood. Fenders were steel Front wheel drive on 18 or 19 inch tires. Gear shift. Hande was on dash with long connecting rod to front. of engine . Two cycle wish I had it now.This was in Erlangen . My first Audi