Ingolstadt, March 2010
As Ingolstadt is the home town of the head office and the production of the Audi AG many of the new owners pick up their cars directly at the factory. Beside a works visit and the the group photograph during the receipt of the new family member a visit to the history of the company has become an important component of the stay. The significance of the heritage is shown by the fact that almost every manufacturer has placed its new museum right to the customer centre.
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When visiting the round “Museum Mobile” build in 1999-2000 some visitors less knowledgeable of the companies history might be surprised to see so many different brands. When taking the tour through the top floors one can learn the evolution of the company to the Audi AG we know today.
In 1899 August Horch founded Horch&Cie in Cologne after he have worked at Carl Benz in Mannheim. The new company moved twice to settle in Zwickau and build high quality cars. Horch was a constructor rather than a business man and so he was reliant on money from the outside and lost authority in its own company. He left Horch and founded the new Audi company 1910 still in Zwickau. Audi is the Latin translation of the name Horch (“listen!” in engl.) and was used instead of the family name whose rights stayed with the old company. August Horch stayed at Audi until 1920 and in 1928 after further financial problems the company was sold to DKW, the largest manufacturer of motor bikes in the world during this period. DKW soon started with the production of small front driven two-stroke engined cars called “Front” (or F).
In 1932 the four Saxon companies DKW, Audi (already owned by DKW), Horch and Wanderer merged to the new Auto Union. This was the first time the four rings appeared in the radiator as a symbol for the four companies. The cars where still sold under their own name with the additional Auto Union badge. In this company the whole range from luxurious cars (Horch), mid class (Wanderer) and small cars (DKW) was covered. Audi was the smallest of them.
The new company became famous for their rear engined silver arrows that dominated together with Mercedes-Benz the grand prix racing until the outbreak of the war (see below).
After the WWII the surviving resources of the company where confiscated by the Sowjets as reparation and the company was liquidated in Chemnitz. Auto Union was re founded in Ingolstadt in 1949 by some employees fled from the Sowjet sector and they started again the production of two-stroke engined cars based on the pre-war DKW models. Whereas these models where right for the early market after the war the 2-stroke technology became more and more dated in the years of the German Wirtschaftswunder compared to the competition. Sales decreased and new money was needed and the company was sold to Daimler-Benz. But Daimler-Benz did not keep the company for a long time and so it ended up with the Volkswagen AG that still owns Audi today. A new model with a four-stroke engine was introduced in 1965 and the name Audi was used again to document the difference from the older DWK models. In 1969 another merger led to the Audi NSU Auto Union AG with the name Audi back in the company´s name. In 1985 the NSU Auto Union disappeared in the name and the head office came back from Neckarsulm to Ingolstadt where it still is today. With its more sportive character the Audi brand became a strong subsidiary of the Volkswagen AG.
Knowing this it is no surprise to see cars, bikes and motor bikes named Horch, Wanderer, DKW, NSU, Auto Union and for sure Audi itself in the permanent exhibition of the museum mobile as all these brands are part of the heritage of Audi as we know it today. This permanent exhibition is located on the two top floors rounding the atrium. Beeing designed as galleries they are flooded with light though the skylight in the middle of the building and the large glass front on the outside.
The ground floor is reserved for the changing exhibitions and the museum shop that connects the museum with the adjoining restaurant.
The current special exhibition called “Familiensilber” (“Family Silver”) dedicated to the Silver Arrows of the 30s was the main reason for our visit.
With the upcoming sense of nationality in the early 1930s the government forced the idea of a German grand prix car winning races, both financially and with propaganda. With the lack of an existing racing department in the new Auto Union company a new concept was bought from the outside instead of an in-house development (as Mercedes-Benz did based on their experience with the SSK in the late 20s). The new car was a revolutionary design of a mid-engined 16 cylinder grand prix car by Ferdinand Porsche who ran his own drawing office by this time. The new car was introduced in 1934 within the new 750 kg formula that limited the weight of the cars to 750 kg without lubricants and tires. These regulations last until 1937 before a limit in the engine displacement ended the 16-cylinder era. The Typ A of 1934 started with a displacement of 4.4 litre and about 300 PS and let to the final version of the 16-cylinder in the Typ C with more than 6 litre displacement and more than 500 PS. Beside the usual open wheeled cars special streamlined versions were build for the high speed tracks, especially the Avus in Berlin. Unfortunately just one of the early 16-cylinder cars survived and this Typ C is displayed at the national museum in Munich. Most of the Saxon Silver Arrows disappeared in the Sowjet Union after the war and most of them where dismantled and missing. So the Typ A and the Typ C on the display are perfect reconstructions of the non-surviving original cars. The streamlined Typ C was also reconstructed some years ago in England just from pictures.
With the end of the 750kg formula a new car was designed with a 3 litre 12-cylinder called the Typ D for the 1938 season. The new car was not designed by Ferdinand Porsche who left this project but by Dr.Eberan von Eberhorst (who worked with Aston Martin after the war). Furthermore the death of the Auto Union hero Bernd Rosemeyer during high speed attempts in January 1938 was a deep cut in the young history of the Silver Arrows. Rosemeyer became European Champion in 1936 with the Typ C and he was one of the most talented drivers and the German idol of its time. So another legendary driver of these days was signed by Auto Union: Tazio Nuvolari.
The Typ D was build in two version with a single and a double stage supercharger delivering almost the same power as the earlier cars with just half of the displacement. Two Typ Ds are on display in Ingolstadt, one unpainted showing the original body.
The last Auto Union displayed is the so called “Bergrennwagen” (Hill climbing car) that is a hybrid of the Typ C and D. Hill climbs were very popular these days with an own championship and this was the preferred terrain of the “Bergkönig” (“King of the Hill”) Hans Stuck. As the 12-cylinder is smaller than the 16-cylinder the chassis of the Typ D is shorter than the Typ C chassis. In the normal grand prix set-up the earlier engine would not fit the Typ D chassis, but for the smaller distance at a hill climb a smaller fuel tank could be used and so there is enough room for the 16-cylinder. So this car is basically a Typ C engine in a Typ D chassis. To get more traction at the hill this car has twin tires one the rear, which is possible for the small runs were changing tires is not needed. The displayed car was in Riga for many years in non-running condition when it was bought by the Audi Mobile Tradition and restored by Crosthwaite&Gardiner to former glory. In this time also a replica was build that is now in Riga instead of the original car. The displayed Typ C/D might be the most original survivor of the Auto Union Silver Arrows and therefore is the centrepiece of the exhibition.
The Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows had a far better life as most of them are still in the possession of the Mercedes Museum or on loan in selected museum all over the world. So one could compare the rear engined Auto Unions with the rivals of their days as two examples of the 1934 W25 are on display as well. The open wheeled grand prix car is in restored condition and made its post-restoration debut last year for the 75th birthday of the Silver Arrows. The high speed record car based on the same chassis is in very original condition and is displayed with its body hanging over the rolling chassis giving a great inside view of the technology of the 1930s.
The display is rounded off by a W154 that rivalled the Typ D in the 3 litre formula in 1938/39.
The special exhibition will continue over the Easter weekend. Beside last years Goodwood Festival of Speed there were few opportunities to see 9 Silver Arrows together in the past so this is a good reason for a journey to Ingolstadt, even if you do not collect a new car.
The next special exhibition starting in April will be dedicated to the history of the Audi quattro
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Text & Images - Peter Singhof ... www.ClassicCarPhotography.de