The four-cylinder DAFs – the 55 and the 66 – may be quirky, but they offer a very intelligent solution to city transportation...
Misunderstood for decades as a ticking technical time bomb, the DAF family is, in reality, far from being so. Known as the easiest car in the world to drive when new, these Dutch-built city cars are equally simple to live with and maintain.
Launched in 1967, the DAF 55 was a four-cylinder version of the two-cylinder 44 – itself a Michelotti-styled redesign of the older 750 model. Coupled to the Renault-sourced powerplant was DAF’s version of the automatic gearbox – the Variomatic.
With De Dion rear suspension and a facelift in 1972, the 66 was born. This lived out its final days as the Volvo 66, following a takeover by the Swedish firm.
Power (bhp@rpm) 47bhp@5200rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 73lb ft@3000rpm
Top speed 89mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
As you’d expect from a steel-bodied classic from the ’60s and ’70s, DAFs can rot readily. Corrosion targets the lower sections of the bodywork in particular, so pay close attention to the floorpans and chassis members. Sill strength is crucial, so try to assess how well any repairs were carried out – like many lower-value classics, cheap repairs were a fact of life. Door bottoms and rear quarters are likely to have suffered on rough examples, as will wings and wheelarches. Replacement panels are hard to come by, although keeping an ear to the ground within the club, or shopping in the Netherlands, can yield results.
The water-cooled Renault engine was used in various cars and is renowned for taking hard use in its stride. Fitted to the DAF 55 in 1108cc form, the 66 offered the option of a larger 1289cc unit. Watch for oil being burned in high-mileage units, which points to valve guide wear or excessive bore wear. Ensure the cooling system isn’t clogged up, and that service intervals have been adhered to.
As a car suited to town driving, low-mileage DAFs will have been used with plenty of choke and insufficient time to get up to temperature. As a result, sluggish performance may be due to the valves being coated in carbon and not seating properly – a simple de-coke should restore power.
The Variomatic transmission is a remarkable design, but there’s no reason why it should be feared and a competent home mechanic should be able to keep the simple system in check. A test-drive will ensure the transmission functions as well as it should in forward and reverse. A vacuum system is at the heart of the Variomatic, controlling ratio changes. If the transmission fails to work correctly, then there is a good chance that one of the system’s pipes or diaphragms is at fault.
The 55 used twin drive-belts in conjunction with swinging arm rear suspension, while the 66 utilised only one belt with a De Dion set-up. Clunking while on the move is most likely due to the car having been sitting for a long while, resulting in the highly tensioned drive-belts taking an oval shape rather than remaining flexible. The club can supply new drive-belts for both models.
Interior trim and exterior fittings can cause a headache if anything is missing or damaged, due to the scarcity of replacements. Secondhand items occasionally turn up, but be prepared for a lot of searching. Re-trimming could be the only solution to an interior in poor condition.
The Volvo version of the 66 featured heavily modified fittings, from its quad-lamp grille and heftier bumpers to modified seating. With only a handful of Volvo 66s still surviving in the UK, any parts which are unique to the model will be even more difficult to replace. Ensure that everything is present and correct on the car you’re inspecting.
Combining Euro urban chic with surprising usability, the four-cylinder DAFs have a lot to offer. The mix of unburstable Renault power with that ingenious transmission means that either 55 or 66 makes a sensible, yet individual choice of usable classic. With values still low, now is the time to buy – before collectors start to realise their true worth.