On the Road With DAF, a Quintessential Dutch Car
DAF Museum, Eindhoven
Back in the 1960s, the Germans had their solid VWs, the Italians chugged around in romantic Fiat 500s and the French struggled to get up to speed in rattling Citroën 2CVs. Meanwhile, the Dutch were taking to the roads in a sensible car called the DAF.
They look ridiculous when you see them now, but these little cars – Dafjes they were called – were smart little vehicles with a number of unique features. The main innovation was the automatic transmission known as “Variomatic” which meant, according to the company, that anyone could drive a DAF. “Forwards to go forwards, back to go back,” the adverts claimed. Simple. The company even gained a foothold in the United States with its slogan “Shift to DAF – you’ll never shift again.”
The company has its roots in a car repair workshop founded in 1928 by Hubert van Doorne. He called it Hub van Doorne’s Machinefabriek and later changed the name to Van Doorne’s Automobiel Fabriek (Van Doorne’s Automobile Factory). Finally, the name was shortened to DAF.
Van Doorne launched the first family car with automatic transmission at the 1958 Dutch car show. The DAF 600 was a big success. The Dutch were impressed by the sensible design and low fuel consumption.
The first passenger car, the DAF 600, was presented to the public in February 1958. © DAF Museum
In 1967, DAF opened a factory in the Limburg town of Born. More than 800,000 Dafjes rolled off the production line over the years. The automatic transmission particularly appealed to people who needed something simple to drive. That meant housewives, nurses, older people and the disabled, the company claimed. Inevitably, the DAF began to develop an image as a boring car for old ladies.
Van Doorne eventually decided to rebrand DAF as a racing car. He based his campaign on an odd feature of Variomatic transmission that meant Dafjes could reverse at the same speed as driving forwards. He launched a new sport known as achteruitrijden – reverse driving. The reverse races organised at the Zandvoort track were a huge success in the 1970s.
The company was less successful when it came to naming its cars. The model named Daffodil was never likely to win over car fans. By the 1980s, DAF cars had reached the end of the road. The auto division was finally sold to Volvo of Sweden, leaving DAF to concentrate on its trucks.
You might occasionally see a DAF driving along in the slow lane of a Dutch motorway, or possibly in the Belgian Ardennes. A sensible car for sensible drivers.
DAF 31 or 'Daffodil 31' in 1965 © Wikipedia