Although the Bielefeld-made Durkopp may not fall recognizably into the category of great or great or well-known marque, it merits inclusion here as one of the longest survivors-28 uninterrupted years- of the early automotive industry in a country that has had more than its share of recessions and disasters.
Durkopp, firmly established in the sewing machinery market, began making automobiles in 1899 with the twin-cyclinder vehicles built on the ‘Systeme Panhard’ i.e. front mounted motor followed by church, gearbox and final drive, which although it became the conventional drive layout, was then by no means the standard power-train sequence for a road vehicle.
The Durkopp sales policy was smarter than most. Domestic sales were only part of the business and the company opened a branch in France where they were called Canello-Durkopp, and in Great Britain-where there was pitifully small competition-under the name Watsonia.
Engine sizes had increased to three and six cylinders by 1903 and the company seemed to find its market in stolid touring cars rather than in motor sport, in which so many other marques were struggling to gain supremacy.
A single sporting win in the 1907 Kaiserpreis, however, had set the standard, and the cars were based on the 7.2 liter that took part in that Kaiser-sponsored race, a hugely popular once-only event for touring Durkopp of the day developed 100 hp but needed 13 liters of motor to produce high figure.
Post-World War I Durkopps sold successfully against the then major marques of Opel, Benz and Mercedes, and several sizes were manufactured from small 8 hp runabouts to a sports car which used an early form of supercharger to obtain some 60hp.
Durkopp survived Germany’s nightmare inflation of the 1920s but stopped making cars in 1927, continuing for just two more years with trucks. However, Durkopp of Bielefeld, a name that never hit the headlines, has survived to the present-when other more famous names have vanished –through the manufacture of scooters, bicycles, and now the full circle: industrial sewing machines and other service equipment.