Considering when and where it was made, the tiny DKW seems simply out of place.
Its graceful fenders flow like water over a stone, gliding over the wheels in artistic curves. The chrome grill reflects a time when cars were massive and masculine, yet this one is petite and under-powered.
Leather seats in any other car of the era would be cold and uninviting, yet the soft hides in the tiny cabriolet encourage the driver and passenger to sit down, push the top back and go for a drive down quiet, tree-lined country roads.
It is a car made for fun, built when Europe was anything but.
In 1935, Germany was in the early stages of Hitler’s Nazi government, and the Great Depression still affected the worldwide economy.
At the time DKW was the largest of the four German companies that would later form Auto Union, best known in the U.S. today as the progenitor of Audi.
No one knows for sure how many of the DKW Luxus Cabriolets were built in 1935, but Ray South, who owns this one, said few survive. He feels certain his is the only one in the U.S.
From what he can learn of its history, the car was purchased by a German doctor, who gave it to his nurse as a gift when she married an American serviceman in the 1950s.
The roadster came with them to America and changed hands a half dozen times, until it ended up in the corner of a Gresham-area restoration shop.
“The guys were working on a ‘36 Ford for me and told me to take a quick look at the little car in the corner,” South said.
“I fell in love with the thing, but told them that if I came home with another car, my wife would divorce me.”
And she did. But not until much later and not because of the cars, he said.
It took more than three years and 3,000 hours to restore the DKW.
It was a lot of carpentry work,” said James Wall, one of the men who worked on the car. “There isn’t much steel in it. There is one big steel tube that runs down the center of the car, but everything that comes off that is wood. The door frames and jambs, the chassis, all wood.”
The roadster is powered by a 2-cylinder, two-stroke engine, connected to a transaxle that powers the front wheels. It is a common arrangement today, but it was leading-edge technology in the 1930s.
Being a 70-year-old two-stroke engine, the oil and gas mixture used to run it leaves a smoky cloud in its wake.
“The guys at a old roadster show teased me about pushing the car onto the display floor,” South says. “They figured it didn’t run. So I fired it up. After about 30 seconds they all came running, asking me to shut it down before the smoke alarms went off and the sprinklers turned on.”