Auctions and Brokerage
The Schnellaster Kastenwagen
The “Schnellaster Kastenwagen,” or “Rapid Transit Panel Van,” was conceived as a more capable rival to Volkswagen’s rear-engined Transporter/Kombi. The van’s large capacity, flat floor, low-threshold loading deck, and easily accessible engine were major selling points. Indeed, Road and Track magazine compared its own DKW passenger van with a contemporary Type 2 VW in 1956, and was very impressed by the DKW’s performance and handling.
During the 1950s DKW’s US marketing depar tment tried tying its products to Hollywood: Swedish actress Anita Ekberg drove a DKW Sports Coupe in the 1957 feature film Valerie, and the marketing office suggested that Ms. Ekberg’s screen image could be more effective in promoting the brand than newspaper ads. In the end however, boosted by one of the most effective advertising campaigns in automotive history, Volkswagen simply overwhelmed DKW, which ceased production in 1966.
Shipped new from Ingolstadt, Germany, on April 5, 1956, to Peter Satori Motors in Pasadena, California, this van was used as a delivery vehicle for an auto parts supplier in Orange County until mechanical issues forced its retirement. It then sat in the store’s parking lot for over 20 years, serving as a stationary billboard, with hand-painted signage on the side panels. In 2011, it surfaced at a prominent VW gathering.
The consignor, a well-known collector and restorer of rare cars and trucks, states that he had been searching for a suitable DKW for almost 30 years, and upon learning of this example, contacted the owner and quickly negotiated a purchase. He describes the van as having been a “rolling basket case,” but otherwise in remarkably good condition. He then spent two full years locating missing parts and completing an incredibly challenging concours restoration. This van’s factory “build sheet” was obtained from Audi Heritage Archives, and confirmed that the engine, though disassembled, was the original and correct unit. This engine was then completely rebuilt with NOS parts, including a new roller-bearing crankshaft.
The rest of the van was completely disassembled, and the body shell stripped to bare metal before repainting. The chassis was also taken down to its boxed ladder frame. All bearings, seals, and other rare parts were sourced from around the world and replaced with NOS items. Working from a factory manual and parts book, each component was properly researched prior to reassembly. Every step of the restoration was photographically documented. One of the most difficult tasks, says the consignor, was re-creating the expansion-pipe exhaust system. This job was done by a NASA machinist/fabricator with emphasis not only on proper back pressure but also on replicating the crude finish of the original part. A NOS rear muffler was sourced and the engine is described as extremely quiet in light of its two-stroke design.
When it was time for paint, the consignor again referred to the factory build sheet, which indicated a very basic “Elfenbein” (Ivory). However, DKW also offered a combination of “Jadegrün” (Jade Green) and “Eierschalenweiß” (Shell White), the color scheme that he chose for the restored van. The driver’s seat and optional foldaway front passenger seat were reupholstered in correct pebbled brown vinyl, and rubber floor mats of correct specification were replicated. This van is equipped with US-specification pivoting front vent windows, turn signal lights (European versions had semaphores), and a center-mounted license/ stop light above the never-restored California commercial license plate.
The consignor states that this is the only fully restored and operational example of four known “Kastenwagens” in the US. Having recorded just six miles since its restoration (at the time of cataloguing), and supplied with extensive documentation, this rare and incredibly detailed DKW is a testament to the dedication of its restorer and is sure to be the center of attention at any automotive gathering.