The Audi museum is based in Ingolstadt, Germany
Wanderer, which launched this 'safety bicycle' in 1888, was one of the building blocks of Audi as we know it today
The company launched its first motorcycle in 1902; this is a 1914 example. Wanderer also produced small cars
Audi's 3.7-litre four-cylinder engine, launched in 1911, produced 40bhp and made its way into 1116 cars and 326 trucks
The four-cylinder engine was produced from 1911 to 1925
This is one of Audi's luxury saloons, a 'Typ M' 1925 18/70 PS
The 18/70 was powered by a six-cylinder 4.7-litre engine producing 69bhp
The car, which is a cutaway model for display purposes, would have originally been capable of 75mph
The 1927 Horch 8, on the right, was an eight-cylinder touring model capable of 62mph
Horch produced 1471 examples of its eight-cylinder convertible
The Horch 8 bore the distinction of being one of Germany's first eight-cylinder models
The 1928 DKW ZSW 500 featured a new water-cooled two-stroke engine that was also used in the 1928 DKW P 15 small car
The DKW F1 was an important model for the brand. Launched in 1931, it featured a two-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive
The F1 was reputedly the first volume-produced car with front-wheel drive. Its 494cc engine put out 15bhp
This 8/40 was one of Wanderer's cars. It was launched in 1925 and was packed with advanced features, including four-wheel brakes
DKW's 1934 'Schwebeklasse' had a two-stroke, four-cylinder engine that drove the rear wheels
The Wander W 40 of 1936 featured a six-cylinder engine developed by Ferdinand Porsche in the early 1930s
The engine was one of the valuable assets that Wanderer contributed to the new Auto Union
This particular example, from 1936, has not been restored
The 1933 Audi 'Front' saloon adopted front-wheel-drive technology from DKW and the six-cylinder engine from Wanderer
The luxury Horch 853 was powered by a 4.9-litre straight-eight producing 99bhp; the car was a resounding success in its class
Horch's 855 roadster was one of the most exclusive cars in the company's history. Only seven were made
The Horsch's straight-eight 4.9-litre engine produced 118bhp, allowing the 855 roadster to hit 87mph
Horch built 58 '670 Sport Cabriolets' between 1931 and 1934; it packed a 118bhp 6.0-litre V12 and could hit 87mph
The Horch's V12 featured a seven-bearing crank, a hydraulic valve clearance adjuster system and a vibration damper
The Wanderer W 25 K roadster took styling cues from American designs and made use of a supercharged six-cylinder engine
The Audi four-ring emblem symbolises the 1932 merger of Horch, Audi, Wanderer and DKW
The Audi 920, built from 1938 to 1940, adopted the chassis from the Wanderer W 23 and a Horch-derived straight-eight engine
This 1939 Auto Union 'Typ C/D' race car is claimed capable of 155mph
Power for the Type C/D came from a supercharged 6.0-litre V16, producing 513bhp
Only one Type C/D was ever made
The car, as the name suggests, was a combination of the old Type C's engine and the chassis from a Type D
The 1939 Auto Union Type D Grand Prix racer was capable of over 205mph. It was powered by a 478bhp supercharged 3.0-litre V12
This 'Silver Arrow' survived World War II and was restored in England between 1992 and 1994
The Type D shared much with its predecessor, including its use of supercharging, torsion bar suspension and mid-engined layout
This is the last remaining example of the three DKW US 250s built in 1939
Many of the brands produced military vehicles and equipment; much of the companys' infrastructure was destroyed during WWII
This 1953 Horch 830 BL was parked in the Texan desert for 40 years; it is the only example of its kind
During the 1950s DKW launched a passenger car programme that offered several different body styles
The DKW 3=6 'Sonderklasse' was offered as a two-door variant, with a three-cylinder two-stroke engine
It was also offered in two-seat convertible form with the same three-cylinder engine
The engine was said to have the power and refinement of a six-cylinder four-stroke engine, hence the 3=6 moniker
The DKW 3=6, seen here in estate form, was a popular car and even won the European Rally Championship in 1954
The DKW F 89 L 'rapid delivery van' was the first Auto Union model produced after the war
Its 20bhp two-cylinder two-stroke engine drove the front wheels; 28,263 were made
A new factory was built in Ingolstadt to produce the 1959 DKW Junior, laying the foundations for today's Audi plant
The Auto Union 1000 Sp Roadster went on sale in 1961. It was styled on Ford's Thunderbird but only made in small numbers
The car's bodyshell was made by Baur in Stuttgart; final assembly took place in Ingolstadt
Power came from a 980cc three-cylinder two-stroke engine
Auto Union claimed a top speed of 87mph
The DKW F 102 was the last Auto Union model produced prior to the Volkswagen takeover
The Audi 72, launched in 1965, was the successor to the DKW F 102 and marked the start of a new era for Auto Union
The NSU Autonova GT, launched in 1965, was designed to offer younger buyers a more sporting, fun car than the DKW alternatives
The NSU RO80 was a rotary-engined saloon introduced in 1967; NSU was acquired by VW and merged with Auto Union in 1969
The Audi 100 helped secure the future of the brand in the late 1960s. It was developed in secret and went on sale in 1969
The Audi 100's design focused on lightweight construction, allowing for decent performance with a comparitively small engine
The Audi 50 LS went on sale in 1974. VW launched the nigh-on indentical Polo in 1975
This 1979 Audi 80 was sectioned for display at the Frankfurt motor show
The Audi quattro was the first passenger car with standard four-wheel drive; it went on sale in 1980 and was produced until 1991
The indomitable 302bhp Sport Quattro was Germany's most powerful series production car at its launch in 1983
Audi has recently been celebrating 30 years of the Audi Sport Quattro
Only 214 Sport Quattros were built, compared to some 11,452 Quattros
The 80 GTE was the first official Audi entry into circuit motorsport since Auto Union's racing department was closed in 1964
The Audi Quattro stormed onto the rallying scene in 1981
Audi's rally driver, Michèle Mouton, became the first ever female to win a World Rally Championship race
The brutal-looking Audi 90 Quattro ISMA-GTO debuted in 1989 and proved immensely successful
The Audi was powered by a 2.2-litre five-cylinder engine that produced a staggering 711bhp
Distinctive cooling fins helped control brake temperatures. Audi built six race cars, including four 'emergency' vehicles
The Audi V8 Quattro DTM defeated competitors from both Mercedes and BMW in its first season in 1990
Some of Audi's Le Mans entries are also on display at the museum
A paternoster presents a continually moving display of exhibits to visitors
The Audi 200 Quattro Transam was a 1000kg, 493bhp race car that debuted in 1986
Audi's competition heritage spans many decades and classes
In the back, on its way up the paternoster, is the Audi Quattro Group S prototype
This is a DKW F 11/64 touring car. Its 896cc engine makes 77bhp, allowing the 705kg car to almost hit 103mph
The museum's paternoster can be viewed from several floors; digital display boards allow for quick model identification
The Audi 100 had a low drag coefficient of 0.30, setting a new record for production saloon cars
The lower level of the museum, pictured here during a previous exhibition, is used to host special displays
The Audi museum is home to a display of some 50 cars and 30 other exhibits, including bicycles and motorcycles
"Audi would not exist today if it was not for DKW,” says company historian Thomas Erdmann as we tour around Audi's Ingolstadt museum.
“Its vans, cars and bikes helped restart Audi after the war,” he adds. The company’s roots date back long before World War II however, or the inception of the fabled four rings, and start with the birth of August Horch in October 1868.
Widely regarded as being one of the driving forces in Germany’s automotive industry, Horch studied engineering and worked for Karl Benz before establishing his own company in 1899.
The Horch & Cie Motorwagen Werke AG, initially based in Cologne, first produced two-cylinder open-bodied cars. Many of the manufacturing processes and designs utilised were considered technologically advanced and far ahead of the company's rivals, including the then-separate Mercedes and Benz.
Horch’s finances were frequently tested by its use of innovative technologies, though. New partners were brought in to help keep the company afloat but in 1909 Horch fell out with the company’s board and left.
Almost immediately he set about starting a new automotive company based in Zwickau, in the state of Saxony. Originally he attempted to use the name ‘August Horch’ but his former partners promptly started legal proceedings against him for trademark infringement.
Following a suggestion from the son of one of his friends, he settled on using ‘Audi’ as the name for his company. ‘Horch’ effectively meant ‘hear’ in German and ‘Audi’ was the Latin equivalent.
In 1910 the Audi Automobilwerke GmbH was established and the company’s first model, the Audi Type A 10/22hp Sport-Phaeton, went on sale in the same year. Many of the brand’s models proved successful in competition, helping establish the name, and it was soon producing several large-displacement four and six-cylinder cars.
Zschopauer Motorenwerke, which was owned by Danish industrialist Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen and produced industrial equipment and two-stroke ‘DKW’-branded motorcycles, then acquired a majority share in Audi and merged with the company. DKW then branched into basic small cars in 1928, using two-stroke engines that were proven in the motorcycles.
The Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression of 1929 meant that the demand for Audi's luxury cars collapsed, so Rasmussen commissioned a new, affordable small front-wheel-drive model from DKW. The DKW F1 launched in 1931 and proved a high-volume success.
With the economy still struggling, the State Bank of Saxony – the region where the companys' plants were located – requested that the brands merge to preserve their future and the bank’s investments.
Zschopauer Motorenwerke, the parent company, acquired the share capital of Audi and Horch and became known as the Auto Union AG on June 29, 1932. The automotive arm of the ‘Wanderer’ vehicle and equipment manufacturing company was acquired at the same time.
To symbolise the merger, the new group chose a logo that consisted of four interlinking rings. Each ring represented one brand – DKW, Horch, Wanderer and Audi. Auto Union assigned each of the brands a specific role, in order to avoid any overlap. DKW made motorcycles and small cars, Wanderer produced midsize models, Audi high-end midsize models and Horch luxury cars.
The company also became involved in Grand Prix racing in 1934, with the fabled Auto Union ‘Silver Arrows’ earning numerous wins and records.
DKW continued to be a storming success, with it earning the title of the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer by 1937. It also produced vast numbers of stationary engines, securing considerable income.
The company's products were well regarded due to their simple and practical nature, but DKW was also known for its innovative use of front-wheel drive systems, two-stroke engines and advanced body manufacturing capabilities. This spurred on innovation in the other Auto Union brands, helping drive the company forwards as a whole.
Audi took advantage of what were termed ‘synergy’ benefits, utilising DKW’s front-drive experience, Wanderer’s Porsche-developed six-cylinder engine and – for saloon versions – Horch’s body shop in order to produce a new car. The result was the Audi ‘Front Type UW’, which went into production in 1933.
A revised and upgraded version, badged the Front 225, was revealed at Berlin’s motor show in 1935. Notable changes for the 225 included the reversion to rear-wheel drive, and body styling that was taken from Wanderer’s W 23. Its modern styling and well-designed mechanicals made it immensely popular but, as it was launched in December 1938, its success was halted by the outbreak of World War II.
The last Audi of the pre-war era rolled off the production line in 1940, when operations focused on the production of armaments and military vehicles. It would be another 25 years before another Audi-badged car appeared. The company’s plant ended up being located in Soviet-occupied areas; the Soviets promptly disassembled the factory and exported it, leaving little for Auto Union, and had the company struck off the commercial register.
In late 1945, however, a parts depot for Auto Union was established in Ingolstadt. "The spares depot was to supply cars in the Western zone”, says Erdmann.
“Eventually they decided that they wanted to build cars again, to build a bigger company. Ingolstatd was a garrison town though, lots of military buildings but no tools, drawings, nothing.
"A worker said they even went to the extent of taking their door down and using it as a drawing board - there really was that little left after the war".
These efforts led to the establishment of a new company called Auto Union GmbH in September 1949, a company that would strive to continue the automotive tradition of the four-ringed brand.
The first new models from the Auto Union were reliable, basic and affordable DKW vans and bikes, ideal for the post-war 1949 economy. A new compact front-wheel drive saloon followed in 1953, called the DKW ‘Mesiterklasse’ F89.
Then, in April 1958, German industrialist Friedrich Flick gradually increased his stakehold in Audi. His intention was to find a strong partner that could help support the company while it established itself; in 1958 Daimler-Benz took control of 88 per cent of Auto Union’s shares. Not long after, the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz.
DKW’s persistence with two-stroke engines led to slumping sales, so Daimler supplied its own four-cylinder four-stroke engine for the new DKW F 102. Launched under the Auto Union brand in 1965, the company decided to revive the ‘Audi’ brand for its first post-war four-stroke car. The new ‘Audi Type’ was a resounding success and remained in production until 1972.
In 1964, however, Volkswagen had acquired 50 per cent of the company. Daimler-Benz then decided to dispose of Auto Union because of major investment in new Mercedes models and the disappointingly small profits.
Consequently Volkswagen took total control of Auto Union in 1965, the aim being to use the Ingolstadt plant’s spare production capacity to assemble Volkswagen Beetles. The irony was that at the time Daimler chose to sell it, the company had established a large new factory and had launched a modern four-stroke car with an Audi badge. Improved profits, for Auto Union, were just around the corner.
Volkswagen was not keen on the idea of Auto Union being a standalone entity though, and forbade the company from further product development. Ludwig Kraus, head of development and board of management member of Auto Union, did not want to see the brand’s heritage disappear. In secret he worked with Auto Union engineers to develop an entirely new Audi model.
The Audi 100, which was eventually sanctioned by VW, was subsequently presented in 1968. It shared nothing with former DKW models and further distinguished Auto Union and the Audi name. Erdmann adds: “The Audi 100 was one of the company’s most important models”.
Volkswagen then merged Auto Union with NSU Motorenwerke, creating Audi NSU Auto Union. The company produced a wide range of models that made use of many technologies, including NSU’s rotary engine. This was what caused the company to adopt the slogan ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, meaning ‘advancement through technology’, in 1971.
The first-gen Audi 80, which made use of a range of new technical features including an OHC engine, promptly followed in 1971. Five-cylinder engines then appeared in 1976, turbochargers in 1979 and the world-renowned quattro four-wheel drive system in 1980. Erdmann also cites the Quattro as one of the most important cars in Audi’s history, because of the technology involved and the effect it had on the brand.
In 1985 the company underwent yet another name change, finally becoming Audi AG in order to simplify the brand and its models. The company’s technological advancements continued, including the development of direct-injection diesels, the use of aluminium bodies and the introduction of hybrid vehicles.
The construction of luxury cars, using eight and 12 cylinders, further helped re-establish Audi’s position as a manufacturer of premium cars, like those with an Audi name produced all the way back in 1910.
The company has gone from strength to strength, and with it now offering over 50 models and frequently topping the best-selling manufacturer charts, its success looks set to continue.
None of this would have been possible had it not been for DKW’s efforts and products, however. “The genes of DKW were the basis for the German automobile industry,” concludes Erdmann.