Auto Union 1000 SP

Auto Union 1000 SP

Auto Union 1000 SP

The German 2-Stroke ‘Thunderbird’

Those North Americans who ventured to the European shores in the early 1960s may been surprised to have seen an Auto Union 1000 SP, a Ford Thunderbird doppelgänger, albeit a two-thirds size version.

From 1958 to 1965 the Auto Union 1000 SP (Special) Coupe was released to the buying public. In an attempt to gain an up-market clientele, car company DKW commissioned the coach builder Baur to create a sporty version of their Auto Union 1000 sedan.

The German Auto Union concern was a well-established car manufacturer before World War II with marques like Horch, Audi and DKW. After the war, only the DWK marque survived. DWK needed to update its pre-war models and attempt to revive its image and this is where the 1000 SP entered the picture.

Interestingly, the US auto market was looked at by many as a styling mecca during that post-war era, and the “space age” styling queues on the Auto Union 1000 SP, with its tail fins and “baby Thunderbird” look definitely qualified.

The first series of 1000 SP models was produced from 1958 to 1961 and wore pointy tail fins. The second series, from 1961 to 1965, had rounded-off tail fins.

But what was of particular interest with this front wheel drive sports car is its engine. Auto Union 1000 had DKW’s 3-cylinder in-line, 2-stroke 980 cc engine. Yes, that’s the type you add oil to the gas. Though not hugely powerful it was a surprisingly eager and smooth running motor. This same engine could also be found in all those rally winning two-stroke Saabs. It produced 55 horsepower and topped out at about 140-145 kmh.

DKWs were always well engineered cars, and the 2-stroke engine is famous for its simplicity and reliability. The thing is though, this was the beginning of the end for 2-stroke car engines (outside of the East Germany), and because the coupe was a premium priced car, those with the ability to pay mostly preferred vehicles with the more modern 4-stroke engines. Only about 5000 of these SP coupes left the factory.

With the end of production of the Auto Union 1000 SP came the resurrection of the storied Audi, destined to become Volkswagen’s premium brand.

My first experience with the Auto Union 1000 SP was with a buddy I hung out with in the early sixties. His family owned one. It’s a good thing he and his sister were quite young at the time, because the back seat was more of a suggestion than anything else. I loved the car because it seemed pretty much a sports car in my mind.

Auto Union had a strong history of auto racing in the thirties and this car would seem to be a toe-dip back to the glory days. Speed record runs were a big part of the Auto Union goals during the thirties. Auto Union would build Streamliners for record runs and competing in Formula Libre races. Their driver, Hans Stuck set a total of 7 records.

As the production of the 1000 SP came to a close, the Auto Union marque became what is now AUDI. Perhaps this car was not the end, but actually the beginning.

Auto Union 1000 SP Advertising Poster

Auto Union 1000 SP Advertising Poster

Prints of the top painting are available at


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