The first car I drove was my parent’s DKW in 1959, the predecessor to today’s Audi. The DKW (Dampf-Kraft-Wagen means steam driven car) was founded in 1916, and became Auto Union in ’32 with the mergers of Audi, Horsche and Wanderer. After the war, they moved to West Germany and eventually were bought by Mercedes Benz and later Volkswagen. Our car was a 2 stroke, 3 cylinder, front wheel drive, 4 door saloon, that arguably put out 40 HP. Unlike the ubiquitous VW bug, the DKW was water cooled.
We were living in Tangier, Morocco, and I was 12. I used to borrow mom’s car keys when she was taking a nap, and go into the garage and pretend I was driving. I would keep my foot on the clutch and shift from gear to gear. The first time I started the DKW in the garage, I put it into first gear, and it stalled.
She looked at me surprised and asked, “Do you know how to drive?”
“Of course, Daddy lets me.” (Small lie, he once let me start the car)
So we found an uninhabited country road and mom stopped the car to let me get behind the wheel. My heart was throbbing till I thought it would burst right out of my chest. Barely able to contain a grin, I put the car in first gear. Since I had been practicing in our garage, I had no problem pretending I knew what I was doing. First, second and third, and I was cruising down a deserted country lane grinning like a fool. (Now this is a good time to mention that the DKW had a unique peculiarity that I was not aware of…yet. It had a flywheel transmission, which meant that when you took your foot off the accelerator, the car would coast, and coast, and coast. In order to stop the car you needed to step on the brake.)
Soon we drove up to a small rise in the road and upon cresting the hill I saw a fork in the road about 50 yards in front of us. I quickly took my foot off the gas pedal. However gravity took over and we started to gain speed. Both roads seemed the same and I couldn’t decide which way to go. The fork was rapidly approaching.
Mom said “Turn RIGHT! “, and my kid brother in the back seat said “Turn LEFT!”.
I hesitated, …and ran right into the bush before I was able to stop. Fortunately the only damage was to my ego.
That was the last time I drove the DKW.