Meet This Sunny DAF 55 Coupé: The Dutch-Made Daily-Driver
Photography by Máté Boér
In the world of lesser-known or otherwise underrated cars, an illustrious place is occupied by the Dutch company DAF. Their small passenger cars stayed under the radar even though many of them were designed by Giovanni Michelotti, though the parent company was a more prominently successful manufacturer of commercial vehicles. The DAF brand is still alive today as a division of Paccar Inc., producing medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
The reasonably priced DAF passenger cars though—like many of their competitors on the Old Continent—were brought to life by the financial crisis that WWII left in its wake. As early as 1958, the cars built by DAF were equipped with an innovative continuously variable transmission (CVT), called the Variomatic. The Variomatic was the first commercially successful CVT, and it was further developed by Bosch and reintroduced by Audi in 2000 as the more well-known multitronic.
As I was saying earlier, Giovanni Michelotti was hired by DAF in 1963 to redesign the Daffodil model range. The DAF 44, which arrived in 1966, was his first complete design for the brand, still with a front-mounted flat twin, air-cooled 850cc engine. Its successor, the DAF 55, gained a water-cooled 1.1-liter four-cylinder from the Renault 8 as well as a dual circuit brake system with front discs.
A friend of mine first spotted this 1970 DAF 55 Coupé, its ochre yellow paint caught his attention of course. It’s a color so typical for the seventies, and it really stands out from the typical traffic of today. It’s a rare breed here in Hungary, for even in greater Europe it only has a bit wider group of enthusiasts than it does in the Netherlands. After hearing about it, I knew I wanted to see the Coupé in person.
The owner of this DAF told me that it is almost daily driven, and only particularly bad weather can keep it in the garage. He also told me that he does not consider himself a petrolhead, it’s much simpler than that: after owning a later DAF 66 model for a bit first, he got to know the 55 series and found it suitable for his needs. Given the car’s surprisingly poor fuel economy, it’s an enthusiastic choice for commuting. This example is almost completely original too, only the front grill is wrong—it should wear the same ochre color.
Inside the car is fairly simple, and the Variomatic transmission’s lever goes back and forth in a line, and choosing “drive” or “reverse” is like adjusting the throttle arm in a motorboat. Although there are only two pedals in the footwell, they are so close to each other that the driver must either drive barefoot or choose left-foot braking, as any other system is just about impossible. Once you’ve fired it up and chosen your direction of travel, high revs are needed to get the car moving, which makes the start a bit of a noisy endeavor. But once you’ve matched the speed of traffic the DAF becomes a nice and easy travel companion, albeit with a bit more quirks than your average compact.
It can be seen from the fine details and way-ahead-of-its-time technical solutions that the DAF 55 wasn’t designed for the poor people in the Netherlands, and it should have likely been more successful in Western Europe. The company often participated in rallies like the London—Sydney Marathon to show the capabilities of their cars with the Variomatic transmission, which also acted as a limited slip differential. Production was stopped after just five years though, when the DAF 66 arrived in 1972, already with a de Dion rear axle as a major improvement. In the same year, Volvo gained 33% stake in the company, which later lead to 75% ownership and rebadging the DAF 66 as the Volvo 66 with modified bumpers. Since then the three letters of DAF disappeared from any new cars, and the Volvo 343 became the last DAF design that appeared on the market at all.