• Big fan of a small car
    By Josh O'Gorman
     | May 11,2008
     
    Vyto Starinskas

    John deBruin of Mount Tabor shows off his 1962 DAF Model 750 pickup and a restored 1976 Model 46 car behind it.

    John deBruin's commuter car gets 45 miles per gallon and has an innovative transmission unlike anything else of its time.

    It's not a hybrid or the latest experimental vehicle from Toyota.

    The Mount Tabor resident's ride is a little car from the Netherlands that predates hybrid technology by nearly three decades.

    He drives a 1976 van Doorne's Automobiel Fabriek, more commonly known as a DAF. And deBruin is not just a proud owner. He is a true enthusiast.

    The $10,000 or so he has spent on auto restoration isn't so much an expense as a necessity to him.

    "The money is not a second thought," says deBruin, 52. A car needing restoration "has to be saved and it has to be done right."

    DeBruin is the director of the DAF Club of America, and the membership of 68 - with about 100 cars among them - reflects the rarity of these vehicles today, 32 years after the company was absorbed by Volvo.

    In addition to the '76 Model 46 - his daily commuter car to his job at Allied Auto Parts in Manchester now that the snow and road salt have receded - a tour of deBruin's garage reveals DAFs both restored and works in progress, as well as enough parts to operate his own DAF repair shop if only there were the demand.

    In the center of the left bay is an 11-foot-long blue pickup truck, smaller than any truck produced domestically. It is a 1962 Model 750. Between 1961 and 1963, 801 of these trucks were manufactured worldwide. Of those, 16 were imported to the United States.

    Only six of these trucks remain here, and deBruin says he has the only one that is registered. "This is the last running one of these in the country," and he doesn't even hazard a guess as to its value.

    DeBruin says the truck belonged to his friend and fellow DAF enthusiast Paul Tryon of Keene Valley, N.Y. Tryon had health problems, and deBruin spent 12 months restoring the truck before giving it back to him.

    When Tryon died he left the truck to deBruin. Today, in addition to the perfectly restored interior, there is a plaque on the dashboard in memory of Tyron.

    As he shows off the truck, deBruin flips up a hatch in its bed to reveal the transmission. All DAFs used a continuously variable transmission, which allows the vehicle to travel as fast in reverse as it does forward.

    "I tested it out once, and it scared the hell out of me," deBruin says as he recalls driving 40 miles an hour in reverse.



  • Both deBruin and the automobiles he loves came from the Netherlands. In the 1930s, brothers Hub and Wim van Doorne manufactured truck trailers, and after World War II they began to make the trucks to pull them.

    In 1954, Hub van Doorne commissioned the design of a small car with an automatic transmission, something unheard of at the time. The first DAF 600 rolled off the assembly line in 1958.

    The next year, DAF began to export cars to the United States with a network of 69 dealers throughout the country. Yet fewer than 1,600 DAFs had been sold here by 1967, when imports ended because the cars no longer met highway safety standards.

    DeBruin moved from the Netherlands to Connecticut as a child and at one time operated a DAF repair shop with his father. In 1970, when it appeared that DAFs would once again be allowed into the country, he and his father flew to the Netherlands to try to set up a dealership in the United States.

    It seems clear that this obscure automobile has become a cornerstone of deBruin's existence.

    With a steady, level gaze, he cites dates and models the way some baseball fans can quote stats. A blog he moderates draws DAF owners from around the world, and he claims to own every DAF technical manual between 1958 and 1990 (covering trucks as well, whose production continued).

    In addition to the restored truck, the primer-gray body of a car - minus its wheels, grille and windshield - sits on blocks in his garage. It is a 1962 DAF, mechanically identical to the truck but with a different body, and deBruin says he will most likely have it finished by next spring.

    The walls of the garage are bricked with boxes of DAF parts. If he doesn't have the part he needs and can't find it here or in the Netherlands, he will make it himself.

    DeBruin reaches out to the cluttered wall and takes down a black piece of tubing that he explains is part of the original heating system. The problem is that the part was made of cardboard. In all of his years of searching junkyards and parts cars, he has found only two of those original heating parts.

    Instead, deBruin makes his own from plastic and will even sell his parts to other DAF collectors.



  • A trip in deBruin's 1976 DAF, which he bought in England for $650, recalls the days before fuel injection. On the steering column is a choke lever to allow the driver to regulate the fuel-to-oxygen ratio. On the floor between the seats is a single lever that slides back and forth for forward and reverse.

    It's a simple design for the driver, and it's easy to see why both deBruin and his sister chose to take their Connecticut driving tests in a DAF rather than the state vehicle. (DeBruin, who is divorced, has two teenagers of his own.)

    When asked about safety - there no airbags, and the occupants are roughly at eye level with an SUV's bumper - deBruin tells the story of an accident in which a DAF carrying his mother and sister was hit in the side and rolled three times, yet they walked away unhurt. He credits the car's unibody construction and reinforced upper cage.

    For deBruin, the DAF was a car that was ahead of its time - making it especially appropriate for today.

    "This car gets 45 to 50 miles to the gallon," he says. "Think about it - back in the 1960s cars got eight to 10 miles to the gallon."



    Contact Josh O'Gorman at josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com.


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