- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

"As a kid in York, Pa., I had a 1957 DKW," Jim Schrom says. He recalls paying $200 for the very used German car and happily driving it during his carefree high school days, always remembering to mix oil with the gasoline.

The car's untimely end came one day when Mr. Schrom's father happened to be following him in traffic. Noticing all four wheels were wobbling, father ordered the car junked. Still, it had served its purpose.

Decades later Mr. Schrom, now working at the office of space flight at National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Southwest Washington, stopped by a colleague's office and was impressed by a framed picture of an old Buick.

"Yeah, that's my old car," the colleague said. Mr. Schrom volunteered that he, too, would like an old car perhaps a Ford or Chevrolet from the muscle-car era. However, he didn't know how to go about it.

His colleague handed him an old copy of Hemmings Motor News, a telephone book-size listing of anything to do with antique cars. Hemmings Motor News is published monthly with the unchallenged slogan: "The bible" of the collector-car hobby.

The next weekend Mr. Schrom looked at the publication with muscle cars in mind. Instead, the book fell open to a page with a single picture ad illustrating a 1958 DKW Sonderklasse for sale.

Mr. Schrom took that as an omen and decided to follow up with a telephone call. He had already decided that if the car were too far away or if it were in poor condition he would just forget about it.

Mr. Schrom didn't stand a chance.

A radiologist on Long Island, N.Y., had recently restored the car and along with the deal came a dismantled parts car just in case.

Upon learning of all the details, Mr. Schrom's wife, Jenny, urged her reluctant husband to go for it. "It was out of character for him," she says, "but I knew he would like it."

The deal was consummated on the telephone in the summer of 1990.

On Mother's Day that year Mr. and Mrs. Schrom rented a van and drove to Long Island. With the parts of the parts car packed in the van, Mrs. Schrom drove the van behind the DKW with Mr. Schrom at the two-spoke white steering wheel. They left Long Island headed for their Virginia home with the rack and pinion steering giving a positive feel.

With the little 5.60x15-inch tires on the DKW singing a happy tune, Mr. Schrom was marveling at what phenomenal gasoline mileage the DKW was delivering. Here they were in New Jersey and the gas gauge still read full.

With a cough and a sputter the DKW gave up the ghost at the same time Mr. Schrom figured out that the gas gauge did not work.

Leaving the disabled DKW by the side of the road, the Schroms drove the chase van to a nearby garage to seek help. While telling the owner of the garage their tale of woe they were surprised to see their DKW go by on the hook of a tow truck.

The garage owner knew the tow truck operator and, after a quick call, the DKW was dropped off at the garage.

Not expecting the garage owner to know much about three-cylinder, two-cycle engines, Mr. Schrom was astonished to learn that he had built race cars using that very engine.

After a night in a nearby motel, the Schroms were delighted to discover their DKW, after a thorough once-over and cleaning of the fuel lines, was once more roadworthy. They continued on home with no further trouble.

On the gas cap is the reminder in German:

I Oel.

II Benzine.

The Solex downdraft carburetor feeds fuel to the 54 and 3/4-cubic-inch engine from the 12-gallon gas tank. The 40-horsepower engine is kept lubricated with 2 and 1/2 quarts of oil. The radiator, which is mounted behind the engine, circulates nine quarts of coolant. A six-blade fan circulates air through the radiator.

Mr. Schrom has since learned his sporty DKW delivers 27 mpg. The car with a Saxomat four-speed transmission reportedly has a top speed of 80 mph even though the speedometer registers speeds up to 100 mph.

"Surprisingly," Mr. Schrom says, "parts are easily found. I have only needed something from the parts car once."

As far as he can determine, Mr. Schrom believes he is the third owner of the DKW. Whenever he takes the wheel of his DKW with the pedestal mirror sprouting from the dashboard fond memories come flooding back.

"My colleagues at NASA can't believe I bought such an odd little car," he says.

"As for me it's a dream come true."

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