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January 5, 2024

In Netherlands, They Race DAF Car in Reverse

“Forwards to go forwards; back to go back.” This was the simplistic but appropriate advertising slogan once used by the Dutch passenger car maker DAF, long before it sold out to Volvo and just built trucks.

From 1959 until the mid-1970s, all of DAF’s car production was notable for its use of an innovative belt-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), known at Variomatic. Though DAF’s cars were all small, slow, and underpowered, the models were capable of traveling at the same top speed in both forward and reverse ‘gears’, making DAF cars as fast going backward as they could travel going forwards!

In other words, a DAF Variomatic’s performance was exactly the same in reverse as it was when moving forward, enabling the cars to travel at maximum speeds of up to 80 mph! Inevitably, it was only a matter of time before the Dutch decided to take battered and unloved old DAFs (which were cheap and in abundant supply at the time) racing, but in reverse!

At low speeds, driving the used DAFs in reverse proved to be quite straightforward. This all changed though when the throttle was buried, DAFs traveling as fast as possible backward around a racetrack, wheel-to-wheel with a bunch of equally fast DAFs. It all got rather crazy, with the racers relying on their mirrors and over-the-shoulder through the rear window to see where they were going, the steering done exclusively with the back of the car.

Racing initially at the Dutch Zandvoort circuit, the results were unmitigated chaos, thanks to the car’s inherent instability and limited vision, crashes happening left and right, even at low speeds. The high attrition rate of DAF cars being destroyed by reverse racing, with remaining models becoming increasingly scarce and declining from sale to would-be reverse racers saw this odd Dutch motorsport phenomenon cease in the late 1980s.


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