Detroit Could Have Built Safe Cars With Only Seven Moving Parts in the Engine

Suppose Detroit could make a car that would seat four comfortably, buzz down the highway at 80 mph easily, and the engine had just seven moving parts?

They would have built the DKW.


My brother had a DKW.  It wasn’t the puke green shown above, it was red.


Amazing how much better it looks in red.

The DKW was a fun car given to my brother as a high school graduation present in 1961. (The last “upside down” year until 6009!)  He didn’t get a brand-new one, but it was close. My parents asked me for my input.  The choices were: an older car + cash to fix it up, or a “foreign car” as my dad put it. I didn’t see the car before I said to go for the foreign car. I was thinking along the lines of an MG.


Not quite.

DKW stands for Das Kleine Wunder. The Little Marvel. It was an odd car. Fun. But Odd. The nickname for the car was the Deek.

  • Suicide doors (hinges at rear of door)
  • 5 speed manual transmission
  • column shift
  • front wheel drive
  • unibody (no frame)
  • two stroke (mix oil with gas)
  • a coil for each sparkplug

And yes, the engine had seven moving parts.

  • three cylinders =
  • three pistons
  • three connecting rods
  • one crankshaft

Seven moving parts.

How do I know it will cruise at 80 mph? Because that’s how my brother drove. 80. All the time. Remember the song “Nash Rambler?” Or the sound from the Road Runner cartoon? That was the kind of horn it had. I heard it a lot. My brother would tailgate the heck out of somebody (runs in the family) and just beep-beep-beep and yell at the car ahead until he could pass them – sometimes on the right on a two lane highway.

He went off to the army and my dad drove the car back and forth to work. I also drove the crap out of that car. The Michigan winters had taken it’s toll and a lot of the floorboard was rusted away. Dad threw down some steel plate to keep the weather out as best he could. My cousin and I usually ended up hill-climbing at the gravel pit.  Sometimes driving forward up the hill, but usually backwards because of the front wheel drive. It like to hill-climb in reverse better.

My brother drove 80 until he died. In a car crash. He had a Corvair Monza.


He got his red sports car and it killed him. He lost control on a long sweeping curve across from the cemetery where he is now buried.  He was probably going 80 and the rear end swung out and he smashed into a tree – actually backing into it almost perfectly. Except he was going 80.

It was the car Ralph Nader said was Unsafe Any Speed.

Detroit won’t change. They resisted making safer cars then. They resisted making economical cars then.

Somethings never change.

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Detroit Could Have Built Safe Cars With Only Seven Moving Parts in the Engine — 11 Comments

  1. Hey Marc,
    What a blast! I lived in Germany at that time and several people I knew had these. They were actually pretty good cars for their time, certainly better than the original bug. Back when I was riding my Goldwing I used to get a kick out of the fact that my motorcycle had a bigger engine than our old family car.

    Other funky cars from that time were: the Isetta that looked almost exactly like today’s smartCar;and the ‘deux chevaux’ from Citroen. That one looked very similar to the original bug. We used to call them ‘douche bowls’ of course. Finally, there was some kind of a t-shaped thing around that was really weird. It had the wide part of the T to the front, occupants sat one behind the other and the car had a plastic cockpit cover. Oh yeah, Messerschmidt. They basically took the cockpit off one of their fighters and dropped it onto a wheeled carriage with a little engine and called it a car.

    Another aircraft manufacturer that got into vehicles after the war was Heinkel. My very first vehicle was a four-stroke scooter made by them. All my friends had 2-stroke mopeds, so I was stylin’.

  2. @Glenn Palmer: Whoa, the Isetta looks NOTHING like the Smart! At least the ones I remember: one door that swang, swinged, swumg open to the front and the steering wheel remained attached! 😛
    (We’re awaiting delivery of our Smart!, so be careful)
    I didn’t know about the “deux chevaux”. not to bad! I only recall the bigger Citroen that was reeeeely ugly.
    The only scooter I had was the Sears version of the Vespa! I thought I would be cool and run premium gas… burned a hole the size of a dime right in the top of the piston. 3 miles from home~~
    Thanks for the recollections!

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