Motoring Trailblazers - DAF 600

Sat 14th Dec 2019

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

DAF 600
Though UK motorists may be more accustomed to the DAF brand through the Leyland DAF truck partnership, the Dutch company’s impact on motoring is perhaps best headlined by their work on the world’s first production standard Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

The history of DAF begins in 1928, when local brewery owner A.H. Huenges was so impressed by Hub van Doorne’s work on his car he offered to finance him in his business. Van Doorne’s Aanhangwagen Fabriek, translated as Van Doorne’s Trailer Factory and abbreviated to DAF began existence in a small workshop on the grounds of the brewery.

Though World War II and the subsequent invasion by Germany halted DAF’s progress, the post-war years offered opportunity and after tweaking the company name to Van Doorne’s Automobile Factory the company began developing both trucks and cars.

While belt drive systems were popular in the large trucks which DAF were producing, it wasn’t until 1954 when van Doorne decided to innovate with the system in road vehicles and over the next four years developed the idea before launching a small four seater car at the 1958 car show, the DAF 600.

The public reaction to the DAF 600 was outstanding, the CVT came with its own name, the Variomatic, a name which seems borrowed from a Wallace and Gromit episode, but had the critics describing it as the ‘car of a hundred gears’ and the ‘easiest car in the world to drive’. Conventional automatic transmissions had been considered inefficient up to that point.

But the 600 was a revolution, no gearbox, it could drive as fast in reverse as it could going forwards and was surprisingly cheap considering the technical innovation taking place under the bonnet.

Though the 1960s are regarded as the golden years for Variomatic, the technology along with the air-cooled twin cylinder engine continued to be seen in vehicles through the 70s, 80s and even the 1990s, where having being acquired by Volvo, the company’s Volvo 340 was still using the Variomatic up until 1992.