Monday, November 10, 2008


I was inspired by a photograph offered by Tim Green (the best motorcycle book and ephemera dealer on ebay) to investigate some DKW history, as the photo shows such an intriguing machine; a full 'egg' streamliner with small sidestand, being examined by a host of interested observers.

The photo was taken during 'World Record Week', October 26, 1938, outside Frankfurt-am-Main, which has a fairly straight and flat autobahn (I was there a month ago - which Route did they use, my German readers?). I presume the 'Record Week' meant that the various car and motorcycle factories had access to the autobahn for a period of time during each day, and the timekeeping facilities/staff were kept on hand full-time.

This enclosed DKW was a 500cc model (a supercharged two-stroke twin of course, since that's what the factory was racing at the time - see drawing of the body), and the body was designed by streamlining expert Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, the inventor in 1936 of the chopped tail on cars (later called the 'Kamm' tail after Wunibald Kamm developed the idea). The Baron used windtunnel testing at F.K.F.S. (read about it in the link) in Stuttgart - home of DKW - to find a shape with minimal drag.

The tail on this bike (not a 'Kamm' tail - that was designed for cars as a production compromise to 'ideal' streamlining) features a novel 'air brake'; the end of the tail fin has two flaps which can spread out to create drag in the slipstream (see pic of the Baron demonstrating below). And I'd like to know if those flaps are hydraulic, or if the rider had a 'brake pedal' to push, or perhaps even linked braking, like a Rudge.

There were problems with the full enclosure, though, and a combination of handling issues (the record runs in '38 had to be abandoned due to prevailing winds), and poor rider visibility/fumes/discomfort while sealed into the 'egg' put paid to this shape.

Thus, in later runs, the top of the streamliner was cut off, to the level shown on the pic above. This version still had handling issues, and the enclosure was cut down further to the shape seen below; interesting as this progression presages the trend from 'dustbin' fairings to 'dolphin' fairings in GP racing, post-war. Dustbins and other front-wheel enclosing streamliners are extremely sensitive to side winds, and can be dangerous at high speeds. Leaving the front wheel 'in the breeze' makes a huge difference to the ability of the machine to take an angular blast of wind, and remain stable enough to make course corrections.

Several factories in Europe experimented with enclosures on their fastest machines during the 1930s, most famously BMW and Gilera, and put up some very fast speeds before the War - almost 200mph from 500cc ohc engines.


Anonymous said...


your blog is

e n o r m o u s

thank you


Yves J. Hayat
brand designer

Anonymous said...

After reading your superb blog for about 2 hours it inspired me to send the other DKW photos I have here, you ever need anything from me for your blog let me know I would be happy to help, all the best Tim Green

Koos de Vries said...

According Koenig-Fachsenfeld's book: "Aerodynamik des Fahrzeugs", the following:
- the "route" was the still existing Frankfurt- Darmstadt Autobahn.
- the year was 1937
- the "side stand" was a kind of retractable "landing gear"(on both sides)
- The engine capacity was 250 cc

Ewald Kluge broke some records in that class. There was also a "side car" (weights, no passenger) with a simmular streamlinig driven by Hans Kahrmann. Results unknowm.
Good and rare photograph of Koenig-Fachsenfeld. Thanks!

Koos de Vries

Anonymous said...


In your article about the DKW Streamliner, you speak about Frankfurt autobahn racing in 1938. At that time, the German Autobahn was new, so to promote it & Germany's great car/motorcycle manufacturers, the Nationhal Socialists sponsered highly publicized races & spped record attempts.

The actual course used was the Frankfurt-Darmstadt Autobahn, that is now know as the A5, the main north/south Autobahn through Germany. To this day, on the A5 southern track, just past the Langen/Moerfelden exit is a rest stop with the Bernd Rosenmeyer memorial. B.R. was attempting a world speed record on 28 January 1938 when he lost control of the car, a 12 cylinder Auto-Union, crashed & died.

I worked at the Frankfurt Airport for sometime, and one of my workers, as a boy, saw Rosenmeyer's attempt that day.

I hope this helps. I live in Germany, own 5 vintage bikes & throughly enjoy your website, so I'm glad to assist.


Steve Whelan

Gerry Frederics said...

Great site. I wish I had ran across it when I was researching German Motorcycles. Gerry Frederics