The Audi. One of the most desirable cars on the market today. Everyone wants one. But not many know the brand’s twisted history, which through its founder name can be traced back to the end of the 19th century.
In 1899 August Horch founded in Cologne a new company to produce cars under his name. Initially 2- and later 4-cylinder Horch cars become known thanks to many victories in motor sport. In the meantime, the factory moved to Zwickau – a very significant town in this story.
As a consequence of a disagreement with the board of directors, in 1909 August Horch left his company, losing the rights to use the name Horch.
A year later he established a new brand. He translated his name from German: Horch (meaning: listen) to Latin: Audi. So, the new company was born in Zwickau, right next door to Horch, both offering large, luxury cars.
The economic situation in Germany after the First World War was very difficult, with hyperinflation taking a heavy toll on all factories producing luxury items. By 1928 Audi was taken over by DKW, who were producing small cars powered by 2-stroke engines. The Great Depression of 1929 however worsened the situation in Germany.
In 1932 Audi and DKW joined forces with Horch and Wanderer, forming the Auto Union. The four rings logo was created.
Each brand had its own niche within the new consortium. DKW was producing the smallest and cheapest cars. Wanderer was making mid-range vehicles. Horch was the top-of-the-range brand.
Audi introduced an innovative, advanced, large, front-wheel drive car powered by 2-litre, 6-cylinder engine, originally designed for the Wanderer. The Audi Front Typ-UV was produced until 1938. Sales weren’t great. Audi was the weakest of the four and their front-wheel drive was abandoned. The new Typ-920 had a 6-cylinder, 3.2-litre engine, this time driving the rear wheels.
Production figures within the Auto Union rose significantly: for Horch from 977 in 1932 to 2,024 in 1937, for Wanderer from 1,718 to 9,840, for DKW from 3,934 to 42,143 and for Audi from 127 to 758. Each of those cars carried the four rings.
Another brand to bear the emblem was the racing Auto Union designed by Ferdinand Porsche and developed with massive financial support from the German government. In the hands of Hans Stuck, Bernd Rosemeyer and many other famous racing drivers, these cars shared European race tracks with Mercedes-Benz, almost completely eliminating the French and Italian competition.
Unfortunately the career of the Auto Union was interrupted and the four rings disappeared in the turmoil of war.
After five long years of death and destruction, most of the four companies’ assets laid in ruins. Anything that survived, was in the Eastern, Soviet controlled part of the country. The heavily bombed Wanderer factory was never rebuilt. DKW in Zschopau, Audi and Horch in Zwickau were nationalised. Under the rules of communist, planned economy Zschopau was to make motorcycles, while car manufacture was placed in Zwickau. Production of pre-war DKW, now called IFA, began in 1948, eventually leading to birth of the long lived East German brands: Wartburg and Trabant. They made 2-stroke cars until 1989.
The name Horch re-appeared briefly in 1956 when VEB Kraftfahrzeugwerk Horch Zwickau factory introduced a large, 6-cylinder limousine, later re-branded as Sachsenring P 240. But that was just the swan song of one of the greatest German car brands.
But in 1949, like the phoenix from the ashes the four rings rose again, this time to crown the logo of the re-born DKW brand. The Auto Union GmbH company was formed to produce small DKW cars. Unlike the East-German IFA, they had new bodies and 2-cylinder models were manufactured until 1954. Next came the Großer DKW 3=6 with a larger body and bigger, 3-cylinder engine. These fast, agile and reliable cars gained great popularity. The four rings found their way to Brazil, where DKW were produced under licence.
In 1958 Daimler-Benz purchased 88% of company shares. Their first move was to introduce the Auto Union brand as a car name. Top of the range, best equipped models with the biggest, 1-litre engines carried a new logo: four rings without the lettering across them. All the smaller models were still called DKW. In 1961 the production lines were moved to Ingolstadt.
By that time DKW / Auto Union cars were aging badly and 2-stroke engines were becoming obsolete. September 1963 saw the introduction of the new Auto Union / DKW F 102. The new model had an all-new, modern body and featured front disc brakes. The engine was still a 3-cylinder, 2-stroke, now enlarged to 1.2-litre. The new power unit wasn’t ready yet.
Two years later, in January 1965 Auto Union was sold to Volkswagen AG. They decided to resurrect the Audi brand. In the summer the first new Audi left the factory in Ingolstadt. It had an updated DKW F 102 body and front wheel drive. The new 4-stroke engine was designed by Daimler-Benz. The first sales brochure referred to the tradition of the pre-war, front-wheel-drive Audi Front. On the front grille the new car carried the four rings logo as we know it today.
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