There are roughly speaking two parts to the history of Audi: the early history and the modern era. Audi was formed by August Horch after he left the company that bore his name. Horch means Hark! which in Latin reads ‘Audi’.
In 1932 DKW, Wanderer, Horch and Audi joined forces to become Auto-Union. All four companies continued to produce cars under their own names until 1939. After the war, the former Audi factory in Zwickau (now in East Germany) restarted assembly of the pre-war models in 1949. They were renamed IFA. The factory in Zwickau manufactured the Trabant until closure in 1991.
Auto Union started up again in 1949, now based in Ingolstadt, building DKWs. In 1958 Daimler-Benz took over. In 1964 Volkswagen took a controlling interest in the company. Auto Union merged with NSU in 1969 to become Audi NSU Auto Union AG. The modern AUDI AG was formed in 1985.
Wanderer, like so many others, started off as a bicycle manufacturer. Production of cars started in 1911. Wanderer joined the Auto Union 1932. The cars enjoyed a good reputation for quality and performance. Production ceased in 1939.
Benz 1885-1926; Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (Mercedes) 1901-1926; Daimler-Benz 1926 to date.
Emil Jellinek, a wealthy owner of and dealer for Daimler cars, persuaded Wilhelm Maybach, Daimler’s Chief Designer, to build a high-performance car. Jellinik entered the car in the Nice Week races under his daughter’s name, Mercedes. Jelinek sold Daimler cars in France under the name of Mercedes because of legal problems with Panhard-Levassor, who owned the Daimler licences for France. Sales figures and more racing results led Daimler to adopt the Mercedes name in 1902. In 1926 Mercedes merged with Benz and from then on cars were sold under the name of Mercedes-Benz, although the company was named Daimler-Benz.
Hoffmann manufactured bicycles before venturing out into the world of motorcycles and microcars. The Auto-Kabine 250 was based on the Isetta, but the design was adapted somewhat (side doors) as they were unable to acquire an official licence from ISO. BMW (who did have a licence to make Isettas) successfully sued Hoffmann, who had to cease production after just over 100 vehicles had been sold.
Heinkel manufactured aircraft before turning to scooters after World War 2. This rear-engined bubble car (microcar) was introduced in 1955. The first model had two front wheels and a single wheel at the rear, later models were available with twin rear wheels. In 1958 the design was acquired by Dundalk engineering of Ireland. The car was later built by Trojan in England. With its diminutive dimensions and puny single-cylinder engine (10 hp) the car was very fuel-efficient, with a claimed 94 mpg or 3.2 litres/100km. Indeed the UK brochure states: “Economy? Why, Heinkel-motoring is almost as cheap as breathing!”
The name DKW is derived from Dampf – Kraft – Wagen (Steam powered vehicle) as the first vehicle Danish engineer Jürgen Skafte Rasmussen built (in 1916) was a light steam car. Like so many other manufacturers, DKW were also famous for their motorcycles and by the 1930’s DKW was in fact the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.
In 1928 a new two-stroke engine was manufactured to power the first DKW car. The same engine design was later used by SAAB in their 92, 93 and 96 models.
In 1931 DKW adopted front wheel drive. During the mid 1930’s the DKW became the best selling people’s car in Germany.
In 1932 DKW joined Auto Union, together with Wanderer, Audi and Horch.
After World War II DKW wanted to re-launch the make, but had no suitable models, and so, as an interim measure, they had Bauer fit their new bodies on a modified pre-war chassis. The DKW Bauer F-10 Limousine first went on sale during 1950. The far more modern Meisterklasse F89 arrived towards the end of 1950. The car was modernised a number of times in the course of the years.
In the Spring of 1958, Daimler-Benz AG. Acquired a majority holding of AUTO UNION G.m.b.H. The last of the two-stroke models was the F102, built in 1963-1964. Then Volkswagen took over, fitted a 4-stroke engine and produced the car as the first of what would prove to be a highly successful line of AUDIs.