Back in 1916 a Danish engineer and industrialist called Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen built a factory to make fittings for steam engines. The motorcar had only recently made an appearance and different methods of propulsion were being experimented with. Resmussen tried designing and building his own car, using a steam engine; in German a steam powered car is a 'Dampf-Kraft-Wagen', hence the name DKW. It didn't work.
He seemed to have an obsession about the letters DKW though! He first built a toy two-stroke engine which he called 'Des Knaben Wunsch' or in English 'The Boy's Wish'; and then he modified and enlarged this and put it into a motorbike which he called 'The Little Wonder' or 'Das Kleine Wunder'.
They may have been his lucky letters; but for whatever reason DKW had grown to become the biggest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world, all of which were powered by two-stroke engines.
From 1928 onwards he also built cars; these were small vehicles with two-stroke engines and perhaps because of Germany's perilous financial situation these were very popular. By 1931 the F series was in production; a range that was destined to have a major influence in making DKW the second-biggest car manufacturer in Germany, beaten only by Opel.
The prompting for this car came from a stock-market crash in 1929 and the subsequent financial depression of 1930. If the business was to survive they would need a car which could be sold cheaply but which could also be manufactured at low cost. The design of the first model, the F1 roadster, was completed in just six weeks! It may have been cheap but it was well made and of innovative design; this was the first mass produced car to feature front wheel drive, a transversely mounted engine, independent suspension all round and a three speed gearbox.
The roadster only weighed a little less than 1000 lbs (450kg). Even so the tiny 584 cc two cylinder two-stroke engine give a maximum speed of 47 mph. A smaller and even cheaper 494 cc engine option was also specified; strangely enough though none of these seem to have been sold, and it was rumoured that this model was only put in the brochure so that the company could claim a lower starting price for their products. Naturally no car manufacturer would stoop to such devious tricks in order to sell their cars.
A number of improvements were made including slightly larger engines and a range of body styles were available including sports car models.
Approximately 4000 F1s were sold during 1931 and 1932 before the model was succeeded by the F2 and all other models up to F8, which was first on the market in 1939. Between 1931 and 1938 nearly 190,000 F model cars were sold, accounting for more than 16% of all cars sold in Germany at the time.
By 1932 the economic situation in Germany made it advisable for several of the car manufacturers there to join forces in order to cut costs and pool resources. DKW merged with Wanderer, Horch and Audi to form Auto Union, now under the Audi brand.