On Friday 7 February 1958, the Amsterdam RAI was full of curious people. For a long time there was a rumor that DAF would be producing a Dutch passenger car for the first time since Spijker. Although journalists have been trying for weeks to take pictures of the extremely secret project, DAF has managed to mislead everyone into making the surprise even greater. Exciting!
DAF, a Dutch car
The DAF 600 is finally presented under the battle cry 'DAF Variomatic automatically the best'. In Amsterdam, tens of thousands of car enthusiasts crowd to see this revolutionary car with its astonishing Variomatic transmission. The presentation is an overwhelming success: after the RAI, DAF has already registered 4000 orders.
Trade magazines are enthusiastic, even the foreign press is full of praise. Cheering headlines such as: 'Sensationeller Holländischer Wagen' and 'Autowunder' set the tone. An English journalist would have liked it differently, 'But I regret to say that the car was produced in Holland'.
Huub van Doorne is the spiritual father of the first DAF passenger car. Together with his brother Wim, who is six years younger, he is the founder of a company that will grow into a household name in the Netherlands.
And that while the run-up was a pretty rough business
The Van Doornes were people whose money had been scarce for generations. The senior in this line had a small village forge in the village in the Peel, then about the third World in our own country. The young Huub could often be found in his father's workshop and acquired his basic technical knowledge.
The business continues and goes bankrupt during WWI and only after a lot of wanderings Huub receives financial support from an Eindhoven brewer. In 1928 the time had come: with a starting capital of 10.000 guilders and in a space of four by four meters, Huub founded the 'van Doorne's Machinefabriek' together with Wim in Eindhoven.
First, production consists of warehouse racks, steel windows, workbenches and conveyor belts; the company also carries out construction work. Huub's heart, however, lies with cars. But his automotive career starts with trailer production. When Huub van Doorne gave his company the name 'Van Doorne's Aanhangwagenfabriek NV DAF' in 1932, he already dreams that the 'A' could later also stand for 'Automobielfabriek'.
But first came the economic crisis of the 1930s and WWII
After that, little comes of building passenger cars. Starting up a truck factory to get post-war logistics back on track pushes the plans for this into the background.
But passenger cars have never left Huub's mind. And all kinds of plans are devised. Those half-developed plans and prototypes do form the basis for the DAF 600 as it saw the light in 1959.
That first passenger car from DAF is a special product. The 22 pk strong boxer engine gives the DAF a then quite impressive top speed of 90 kilometers per hour. The newcomer only weighs 575 kilos and runs 17 kilometers on 1 liters of gasoline. Just like the conventional automatic transmission, the DAF only has two pedals: a gas and a brake pedal.
Despite the success, there is also some criticism. Some people describe the DAF as a car for mentally disadvantaged people and women. At the time, the remark 'Woman behind the wheel, blood on the wall' could still make you laugh. The car was scornfully referred to as a 'bitch shaker with suspender drive'.
Partly to refute this criticism, the sportier DAF 1961 saw the light of day in September 750, popularly known as 'Daffodil'. In an advertisement, this car is described as 'a car ahead of its time for people who are up to date'.
However, the Variomatic appears to be both a strength and a weakness
The car is very easy to drive, but most Dutch people who have learned to shift gears find the automatic transmission childish. The DAF can no longer get rid of that image, although the Variomats perform well in rallies and racing competitions.
Wim van Doorne expresses this as follows in an interview in 1971: 'Especially in the early years the DAF was called an old-fashioned car, a ladies' car. That was of course because of that automatic gearbox. We never foresaw that. When we first introduced a passenger car on the market in 1958 that did not require shifting, all we thought was: this is great, this is the future! '
In the Netherlands it was not quite. After all, we had all learned to drive cars with a manual transmission and foreign - what you get from afar is nice - cars turned out to give more status than DAFs. But the dream was to conquer America. After all, everyone was driving there already? However, the good idea is not successful: due to the strict American safety requirements, DAF only sold a few hundred cars.
In the early seventies it really went wrong
More and more Japanese cars came on the market. They had no smart poker sticks, but otherwise an unprecedented luxury and complete equipment. The already started contacts with Volvo ended in a takeover by Volvo. And the DAF 66 and Volvo 343 got other emblems to become Volvo.
Then there came a time when hundreds of DAFs were broken down in senseless things like reverse racing. A DAF could reverse just as fast as it could drive forward.
In the meantime, Spijker - or Spyker - has already returned a few times. Perhaps the DAF brand also comes back.
But a neat DAF is a sought-after item among enthusiasts. And with such a DAF you drive a revolutionary piece of Dutch technology. And in it Car museum in Schagen there are still a whole bunch of highly endearing ones.