19 September 2016

Keeping the DAF belts spinning

Following its debut in 1958, the DAF passenger car had a brief but influential run here in America. The diminutive Dutch cars came with rack-and-pinion steering, seven inches of ground clearance and an unmatched-in-class belt-and-pulley-driven Variomatic constant velocity automatic transmission. But what began with a U.S. dealer network in 1960 ended in 1967, when DAF stopped importing its Variomatic-equipped automobiles in part due to federal regulations. Just over 1,600 units were sold stateside.

John De Bruin developed an affinity for DAF cars from an early age. His grandfather acquired one from the factory while John and his family still lived in Holland. That car left an impression on John's father, who purchased a 1965 DAF from a U.S. dealership after the family relocated to the America. John's first DAF in turn was a 1962 model that he and his dad worked on together for high school transportation. So began John's long and ongoing relationship with DAF cars and trucks.

Today, John De Bruin is not only the director of the DAF Club of America but also the proprietor of the DAF Museum and Research Center in Mount Tabor, Vermont. John provides DAF sales, service and restoration out of the facility, which is effectively the DAF Club of America headquarters and home to the largest collection of DAF vehicles outside of the DAF Museum in Holland. As an enthusiast and specialist, John is the owner-operator and caretaker of more than a dozen DAFs.

Even though DAF stopped selling cars here in the late 1960s, enthusiasts imported them, including the later Volvo-badged and Renault-powered DAF cars. These enthusiasts banded together to form the DAF Club of America in 1985. John became club director in 2005, while the DAF Museum and Research Center opened its doors in 2011.

In the museum’s on-site shop, John handles everything from complete restorations to routine DAF service thanks to a collection of tools, parts, manuals and knowledge gleaned from years of DAF motoring. Specialized one-of-a-kind tools such as a jig for repairing the steel, aluminum and epoxy composite intake manifolds enable John to handle restoration of parts previously thought unusable.

While sold in low volume here in the states, the DAF sold relatively well in Europe. As such, the aftermarket has stepped up to remanufacture most of the rubber, and engine parts are still available — not just for the air-cooled two-cylinder DAF unit but also the later Renault-sourced four-cylinders. As DAF used existing parts groups like Girling brakes and Bosch electronics, new components are still on the market thanks to a crossover with other marques. And specialists such as DAFHobby in Holland sell new, remanufactured and salvage DAF parts to keep the fleet rolling.

One recipient of some of these parts is John's 1972 DAF 33 Kombi. The versatile trucklet was not sold stateside but was privately imported by a former DAF Club director to California in 1991. Retirement saw the Kombi move on to the second director, who himself retired in 2005 and sold the Kombi to John. “This is the club director's limousine,” John says with a smile. “What better representation of the club than that?”

The DAF Museum and Research Center sees visitors from all over the United States, France, Germany, Belgium and, of course, the Netherlands. The museum is usually open by appointment only but occasionally John will put the DAF placard out on US Route 7 in Mt. Tabor to attract visitors. Keep your eyes open if traveling through the Green Mountain State — especially if you happen to be driving in a DAF. Learn more at dafclubofamerica.org.

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