Automotive / Nostalgia. DAF 33, the city car that changed gears by itself


Diagram of the operation of the Variomatic transmission. This system will be abandoned on the 55, which was equipped with the Cléon engine from Renault 8. Photo DR

The story of the small DAFs begins with the desire of the brothers Wim and Hubertus Van Doorne to create a car, whose company manufactured trailers, parts for heavy trucks and then heavy trucks in Eindhoven (Netherlands).

Thus Van Doornes Automobiel Fabriekt, DAF was born. They start in 1957 with a small car with two doors and four seats. The DAF 600 is presented in Amsterdam, and its odd shape makes it an exotic model.

Powered by a 600cc flat-twin engine3 It develops 22 hp and has the special feature of its unprecedented continuously variable automatic transmission. The beginning of a legend about cities.

Variomatic, the CVT of the sixties

Variomatic is a creation of Hubertus Van Doorne. Owner of an American with an automatic transmission, he tried to add one to his small car. Impossible due to lack of power.

So he has the genius: the continuous variation. The system consists of two pulleys at the front and two at the rear, connected by rubber belts and controlled by a centrifugal clutch. It is by playing with the distance between the pulleys that the reduction gradually changes. It is the ancestor of the stepless gearboxes prized by Japanese industry.

For the record, reverse is controlled by an inverter, making the DAF the only car capable of going as fast in reverse as forward.

The interior of the 33 was large enough to accommodate four adults;  however, there have only ever been two doors... Like the Trabant.  Photo RM Auctions

The interior of the 33 was large enough to accommodate four adults; however, there have only ever been two doors… Like the Trabant. Photo RM Auctions

From the daffodil to the 33rd

If the DAF (Daffodil or Daffodil) is small (3.60 m long), it can accommodate four adults and its trunk is large enough to accommodate their luggage. It will develop slowly over the years and always retain its toy side. After the 600, 30, 31 and 32, the DAF 33 appeared in 1967.

Designed by the Italian Michelotti, it loses its exotic side for more consensual lines, while still using the same platform. Its twin cylinder goes to 750 cm3 and develops 32 hp, which allows it to reach 110 km/h at its peak.

The car for beginners and grandmothers

In the sixties, the DAF was not considered a real car, especially in our Latin countries, where teasing the handle was a symbol of virility. In addition, the DAF stands out with its unflattering appearance.

In fact, it is intended for a minority clientele: drivers who are not comfortable in the car, women who do not understand anything about changing gears or even crazy people for whom not playing the gear stick n is not a form of forfeiture; in other words, beginners.

However, the DAF is not uncommon in the city, despite its disadvantages: belts that stretch and pull the car to the left or right, accelerate or brake.

3.62 m long and 670 kg.  The DAF 33 was small on the outside but inviting.  Thanks to this new design, it had become the archetype of the city car.  Photo RM Auctions

3.62 m long and 670 kg. The DAF 33 was small on the outside but inviting. Thanks to this new design, it had become the archetype of the city car. Photo RM Auctions

A city queen

From 1967 to 1974, 131,618 examples of the DAF 33 were marketed. The 33 sold much better than the previous models. DAF 30 sells for 39,812; 56,200 for DAF 31 and 54,714 for DAF 32.

DAF 33 numbers include small vans for Dutch post and telecommunications. Very comfortable in the city, the DAF 33 could also go in the countryside.

The driver would then have to use the “kick down” effect, as on a conventional automatic transmission, to restart the car for overtaking or going uphill. The system artificially places the belt on a reduced diameter of the receiver cone, giving a shorter ratio to transmit more power.

At the time, it was the only low-displacement small car equipped with an automatic transmission.

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