With a car-making business that spanned fewer than 20 years, how is it that DAF found the time to innovate as much as it did? The company's first model, the 600, was launched in 1958; it's last, the 66, was made until 1975. (Before Volvo bought the company and continued the model as the Volvo 66.)
Volvo is a good brand to consider when thinking of DAF, because both companies have found it difficult to change people's perceptions. Volvo is known for boxy, reliable wagons. Teachers and professors drive Volvos. For DAF, it was much the same: if you enjoyed driving…you bought something else.
DAF's Variomatic CVT transmission is still a marvel, and it was absolutely a pioneering technology for the types of transmissions you now see in cars. But it's not sexy. It's efficient…but it's not sexy. You get the idea.
I think DAF's problem was simple: it became obsessed with changing its image. Usually, image is changed one car at a time—just consider how long it took Audi to be mentioned along with its German luxury car peers. DAF went racing. DAF went rallying. DAF hired the Italian masters at Michelotti to style their cars.
None of it worked. DAF did sell many cars, of course, with about 200,000 55s finding homes—but the company's image problem is thought to have narrowed its popularity. Instead of researching what its customers wanted in a sexier DAF, the company just kept throwing DAF parts at different problems. There was even a DAF "jeep."
The DAF 55 Siluro (named after siluro, the Italian word for torpedo) may have looked like a weekend getaway-sized submarine, but underneath its Geneva Motor Show body sat the very same CVT transmission and asthmatic 1,108-cc Renault 4-cylinder engine. Fifty horsepower!
This is in 1968, when horsepower was spread much more randomly across the car market. But for a sporty coupé, 50 wouldn't be enough.
Giovanni Michelotti, so taken by his creation, decided to keep it at his house after it'd finished its show car tour. It was loved and cared for, but was at one point rolled out into the family's open garden…with predictable results.