DAF is a trucking manufacturer in the Netherlands, well known for a variety of lorries seen on the road in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.
The company has a long history – it is 90 years old this year – and is known not only for its durable lorries, but for innovations in trucking vehicles of all types.
DAF was also a car manufacturer for almost twenty years, from 1958 to 1975, and had a reputation for solid but unexciting cars with quirky Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs) that employed large rubber bands to drive the rear wheels.
The Van Doorne brothers, founders of DAF, had talked for decades about building cars and even built a tiny prototype during the World War II, but it was not until 1954 that they announced to the workers in the factory that this would be a future product venture for the company.
In 1958 the Variomatic transmission that employed the infamous rubber bands was completed after some three years of development. At the 1958 Amsterdam Motor show, the first DAF prototype was introduced. It was a smash hit, receiving 4000 orders in advance of production.
The little car, named the DAF 600, had a tiny 22-horsepower, 600cc air-cooled flat-twin engine with the Variomatic transmission, was easy to drive and could seat four.
It established the reputation that would characterise DAF cars from throughout the production years: It was s-l-o-w, with glacial acceleration and a top speed of 91km/h (56.5mph).
Nevertheless, DAF cars were cute (in a ‘piglet’ sort of way), well built and economical – as long as you kept the transmission belts changed at regular intervals.
The Dutch were proud to have a domestically-made car and the succession of models over the years would be a nice automotive complement to the DAF commercial vehicles prowling the motorways of Europe.
In 1967 DAF introduced a new model, the 55, which introduced a four-cylinder 1.1 litre water-cooled engine (Renault designed and supplied) – a first for the manufacturer.
The increased power – 50bhp! – and low weight (773kg) meant reasonable performance on the road could be expected. Its top speed was still anaemic, however, at only 140km/h (87mph).
The car would appear in three variants: a saloon, estate and a 2+2 coupé. To explore the opportunities and possibilities of the 55, DAF brought in their favourite designer, Giovanni Michelotti, to design a concept car that would advertise the brand and the car itself.
Giovanni Michelotti needs no introduction to readers of Car Design News. His genius informed the design of some 1200 cars, for the likes of Standard Triumph, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, Alpine, Alfa Romeo and others. He worked on contract for Bertone, Ghia, Vignale and other design houses too.
He relished his freedom and refused any job offer from a manufacturer or carrozzeria. He was perhaps the ultimate freelance car designer.
Michelotti needed no introduction to DAF, either. He was a consultant designer on several DAF production cars including the 55 and the charming DAF Kini concept, a Jolly-like beach car that was made modestly famous by the Dutch royal family, who were photographed cruising in it at their summer retreat.
Now Michelotti was hoping to repeat that success by designing a halo car based on the 55. The underpinnings were to be unchanged – no supercar performance here; there was no budget. Also, on the off chance that the car might be produced in the future, it had to be made of DAF parts.
Michelotti’s design was named ‘Siluro’ – Italian for ‘torpedo’. It described his design intention. Rather than the staid, solid and respectable 55 or 44, the Siluro was to be strongly directional.
It employed a long wedge-shaped front end and a swooping side character line that made a dramatic sweep over the rear wheels, forming a strong shoulder. A fastback roof swept down to unite the composition at the rear fascia.
At the interior, production DAF interior elements were enlivened by custom instruments and a sportier steering wheel (still carrying the ‘55’ model number). Bucket seats replaced the standard production ones, while the rear seat, which surprisingly was retained, was refinished to match the new front seats.
Door and interior finishes along the new sheet metal were upgraded to reflect the sportier body. A bolder centre console replaced the minimalist production one.
The Siluro was introduced at the 1968 Geneva Motor Show to great acclaim. The Michelotti touch had brought the sort of design sophistication normally seen in storied Italian marques to the lowly Dutch DAF 55. Everyone was duly impressed, but sadly the Siluro was destined to remain a concept.
The production DAF 55 would be manufactured until 1972, with some 164,231 sold. By that time, Volvo had begun to invest in the automobile side of DAF. The Swedish automaker would continue to increase its stake until it owned the automotive side of DAF in its entirety in 1975.
The DAF 77 later became the Volvo 340 and was produced until 1980.
The Siluro would remain with Michelotti and become one of his favourite cars. Never a performance car, it was just a fun wedge design, a distant cousin of the equally fun Kini concept.
After Michelotti’s untimely death in 1980, his son kept the car in his garden, where it slowly deteriorated in the elements. Animals got in and nested in the car. A hive of bees colonised the trunk. It seemed a sad ending to its designer’s love and passion...
Fortunately, a German collector heard about the car, convinced the son to part with it, and the Siluro began a slow rebuild over several years. The Siluro returned to Geneva in 2005, again to great acclaim, a grand design returning to grace the halls of PalExpo.
The Siluro can now be seen at the DAF museum in Eindhoven, or at the occasional concours (see video below from the 2011 Villa d'Este Concours).