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Auto Union
Fate acquired by Volkswagen,
evolved into present day Audi
Predecessor Audiwerke AG
Horch & Cie. Motorwagenwerke AG
Successor Audi NSU Auto Union AG (1969-1985)
Audi AG (1985-present)
Founded June 29, 1932 (original Auto Union)
September 3, 1949 (new Auto Union)
Defunct January 1, 1965
Headquarters Chemnitz, Germany (1932-1949)
Ingolstadt, Germany (1949-present)
Industry Automotive industry, Motor racing
Products Automobiles

The four rings...


DKW ...

Horch ...

... and Wanderer

Auto Union was an amalgamation of four German automobile manufacturers, founded in 1932 and established in 1936 in Chemnitz, Saxony, during the Great Depression. The company has evolved into present day Audi, as a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group.

Auto Union is widely known for its racing team (Auto Union Rennabteilung, based at Horch works in Zwickau/Saxony). The Silver Arrows of these two German teams (Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union) dominated not only GP car racing from 1934 onwards, but set records that would take decades to beat.[citation needed]


Auto Union was formed in Germany in 1932,[1] merging:

  • Audi - having fallen out with family member, August Horch founded Audi in Zwickau 1909, which built inline-four-, six- and eight-cylinder-engined cars.
  • DKW - steam equipment company founded by Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen in 1916, it branched out into motorcycles, and then front-drive two-stroke cars built at Audi works in Zwickau since 1931.
  • Horch - founded by August Horch in Zwickau 1904, it built cars starting from straight-two engines to luxury models with V8- and V12 engines.[2]
  • Wanderer - founded in 1911, with small four-cylinder cars and later a more luxurious V6 built in Siegmar (now Chemnitz)

In August 1928, Rasmussen, the owner of DKW, acquired a majority ownership of Audiwerke AG.[3] In the same year, Rasmussen bought the remains of the US automobile manufacturer Rickenbacker, including the manufacturing equipment for eight-cylinder engines. These engines were used in Audi Zwickau, Audi Imperator and Audi Dresden models that were launched in 1929. At the same time, six-cylinder and four-cylinder (licensed from Peugeot) models were manufactured.

In 1932, with all companies still losing money, Audi/DKW, Horch and Wanderer were brought together under the umbrella of communal shareholder company Auto Union. Although all four brands continued to build cars under their own names and brands, the technological development became more centralized, with some Audi models employing engines by Horch or Wanderer.

The Auto Union racing cars

Main article: Auto Union racing car


Auto Union Chairman, Klaus, Baron von Oertzen, wanted a showpiece project to announce the new brand. At the 1933 Berlin Motor Show, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler announced two new programs:[4]

  • The people's car: a project that became the KdF car
  • A state-sponsored motor racing programme: to develop a "high speed German automotive industry," the foundation of which would be an annual sum of 500,000 Reichsmarks to Mercedes-Benz

At fellow director's Adolf Rosenberger insistence, von Oertzen met with Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, who had done work for him before, and developed his own P-Wagen project racing car based on the new 750 kg (1,700 lb) formula.[4]

German racing driver Hans Stuck Sr. had met Hitler before he became Chancellor, and not being able to gain a seat at Mercedes, accepted the invitation of Rosenberger to join him, von Oertzen, and Porsche in approaching the Chancellor. In a meeting in the Reich Chancellory, Hitler agreed with Porsche that for the glory of Germany, it would be better for two companies to develop the project, resulting in Hitler agreeing to pay 40,000 for the country's best racing car of 1934, as well as an annual stipend of 250,000 Reichsmarks[4] (₤20,000)[5] each for Mercedes and Auto Union. (In time, this would climb to ₤250,000.)[6] This highly annoyed Mercedes, who had already developed their Mercedes-Benz W25, which nevertheless was gratified, its racing program having financial difficulties since 1931.[6] It resulted in a heated exchange both on and off the racing track between the two companies until World War II.

Having garnered state funds, Auto Union bought Hochleistungs Motor GmbH and hence the P-Wagen Project for 75,000 Reichsmarks, relocating the company to Chemnitz.[4]


The Auto Union racing cars types A to D were built as Grand Prix racing cars from 1934 to 1939. They resembled the earlier Benz Tropfenwagen, also built in part by Rumpler engineers,[7] The only Grand Prix racers to wear Auto Union's four-ringed logo, they were particularly dominant in 1936. From 1935 to 1937, Auto Union cars car won 25 races, driven by Ernst von Delius, Bernd Rosemeyer, Hans Stuck Sr., and Achille Varzi. Much has been written about the difficult handling characteristics of this car, but its tremendous power and acceleration were undeniable — a driver could induce wheelspin at over 100 mph (160 km/h).

The cars used supercharged piston engines; eventually producing almost 550 hp (410 kW/560 PS), designed to provide optimum torque at low engine speeds. Rosemeyer would later drive one around the Nürburgring in a single gear, to prove the engine was flexible enough to do it. The fuel tank was located in the centre of the car, directly behind the driver (who would be placed well towards the front), so the car's front-rear weight distribution would remain unchanged as fuel was used — exactly the same location used in modern open-wheel racing cars, and for the same reason. The chassis tubes were initially used as water carriers from the radiator to the engine, but this was eventually abandoned after they often sprung small leaks.

Racing results

The list of drivers for the initial 1934 season was headed by Stuck; he won the German, Swiss, and Czechoslovakian events, along with wins in a number of hill climbs, becoming European Mountain Champion.

In 1935, the engine had been enlarged to 5 L (305 cu in) displacement, producing 370 bhp (276 kW/375 PS). Achille Varzi joined the team and won the Tunis Grand Prix and the Coppa Acerbo. Stuck won the Italian Grand Prix, plus his usual collection of hill-climb wins, again taking the European Mountain Championship. The new sensation, Rosemeyer, won the Czech Grand Prix.

Hans Stuck Sr. in an aerodynamic Type C in Italy

Stuck also managed to break speed records, reaching 199 mph (320 km/h) on an Italian autostrada in a closed-cockpit streamliner.[8] Lessons learned from this streamlining were later applied to the T80 land speed record car.

1939 Type C/D V16 hillclimb car

For 1936, the engine had grown to a full 6 L (366 cu in), and was now producing 520 bhp (388 kW/527 PS); in the hands of Rosemeyer and his team-mates, the Auto Union Type C dominated the racing world. Rosemeyer won the Eifelrennen, German, Swiss, and Italian Grands Prix, as well as the Coppa Acerbo. He was crowned European Champion (Auto Union's only win of the driver's championship), and also took the European Mountain Championship. Varzi won the Tripoli Grand Prix, while Stuck placed second in the Tripoli and German Grands Prix, and Ernst von Delius took second in the Coppa Acerbo.

In 1937, the car was basically unchanged and did surprisingly well against the new Mercedes-Benz W125, winning five races to the seven of Mercedes-Benz. Rosemeyer took the Eifel and Donington Grands Prix, the Coppa Acerbo, and the Vanderbilt Cup. Rudolf Hasse won the Belgian Grand Prix.

In addition to the new 3 L (183 cu in) formula, 1938 brought other challenges, principally the death of Rosemeyer early in the year, in an attempt on the land speed record on a German autobahn. Tazio Nuvolari joined the team, and won the Italian and Donington Grands Prix, in what was otherwise a thin year for the team, other than yet another European Mountain Championship for Stuck.

In 1939, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Nuvolari won the Yugoslavia Grand Prix in Belgrade, while Hermann P. Müller won the 1939 French Grand Prix.

Second World War

Sd-Kfz 222

The build up and onset of World War II encouraged the development and production of special vehicles for military purposes in the 1930s. Auto Union became an important supplier of vehicles to Germany's armed forces.[3] Following the outbreak of war, civilian production was interrupted in May 1940. After this, the company produced exclusively for military purposes.[3]

During World War II, Auto Union produced the Sd-Kfz 222 armored car. Powered by an 81 hp (60 kW/82 PS) Horch/Auto Union V8 engine, it reached a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h) on the road. The Kraftfahrzeug 11 (KFZ 11), or Horch Type 80, was used as a light transport vehicle to shuttle German military officials.

The Auto Union plants were heavily bombed, and severely damaged by fighting in the last two years of the war. The U.S. Army occupied Zwickau on April 17, 1945 near the end of WWII. After withdrawal of the U.S. Army on 30 June, Zwickau and the Saxon plants of Auto Union (Horch plants with Auto Union racing facility and Audi plants) were occupied by the Red Army.

East Germany

Postwar, the Saxon plants of Auto Union were located in the Soviet-occupied zone of communist East Germany.

In 1945, on the orders of the occupying Soviet military administration, the factories were dismantled as war reparations,[9] while the racing cars found stored in a colliery were returned to Moscow for reverse engineering. Following this, Auto Union AG assets were liquidated without compensation.[9] On 17 August 1948, Auto Union AG of Chemnitz was deleted from the commercial register.[9] The remains of Horch and Audi plants of Zwickau became the VEB (for "People Owned Enterprise") Automobilwerk Zwickau, or AWZ; Automobile Factory Zwickau).[10]

The former Audi factory in Zwickau, now under East German control, restarted assembly of the pre-war models in 1949. Those models were renamed IFA F8 and IFA F9 and were similar to the new West German DKW versions. In time, a lawsuit compelled the East Germans to cease using the DKW brand.

New Auto Union


A new Auto Union was launched in Ingolstadt, Bavaria with loans from the Bavarian state government and Marshall Plan aid.[11]

The reformed company was launched on September 3, 1949. Only the DKW brand survived in postwar West Germany, continuing DKW's tradition of producing front-wheel drive vehicles with two-stroke engines.[11] This included production of a small but sturdy 125 cc motorcycle and a DKW delivery van, the DKW F89, also known as DKW-Schnelllaster. Many employees of the destroyed factories in Zwickau came to Ingolstadt and restarted the production.

In 1950, after a former Rheinmetall gun factory in Düsseldorf was established as a second assembly facility, the company's first post-war car went into production: the DKW Meisterklasse F 89 P, available as a saloon and a four-seater Karmann convertible.[9][12] The van and sedan were based on the DKW F8 and the DKW F9 pre-war constructions.

Auto Union 1000

1958 was a turning point for the company. Firstly, it saw the return of the Auto Union brand, represented by the Auto Union 1000, a small saloon. At the same time the Auto Union 1000 Sp, a stylish coupé model, was produced for Auto Union by the Stuttgart coach builders, Baur. Secondly, Daimler-Benz acquired 87% of Auto Union, taking complete control in 1959. The production of DKW motorcycles and two-stroke engines ended almost immediately under Daimler-Benz ownership, who invested heavily in the Ingolstadt plant for Auto Union production, one of the first products of the merged company being the DKW F102 series, which used a Mercedes engine. Auto Union production at Düsseldorf was ended, and the plant became the centre of production for Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles - a role which it continues to the present day.

Auto Union 1000 Sp 1958 - 1965

However, as prosperity began to return to West Germany, and as West German products gained valuable currency through export to the rest of Europe and North America, Daimler became increasingly worried that Auto Union's only market for its two-stroke products, without massive investment, would be impoverished East Germany. Two-stroke engines became less popular towards the middle of the 1960s as customers were more attracted to the more refined four-stroke engines. They began selling shares, which with the agreed help of the West German Government, were acquired by Volkswagen.

In 1964, Volkswagen acquired the factory in Ingolstadt and the trademark rights of Auto Union. A programme that Daimler had initiated at Auto Union created a range of cars that would subsequently provide the basis for Volkswagen's line of front-wheel-drive models, such as the Audi 80 and Volkswagen Passat. At the time a new model, internally designated F103, was under development. This was based on the last DKW model, the DKW F102, with a four-stroke engine implanted and some front and rear styling changes. Volkswagen abandoned the DKW brand because of association with two-stroke engines, effectively leaving Volkswagen with the Audi brand. The new model was launched in September 1965 as simply the "Audi." The name was a model designation rather than the manufacturer, which was still officially Auto Union. As more models were later added to the Audi range, this model was renamed Audi 72.

DKW F102

In 1969, Auto Union merged with NSU Motorenwerke AG, based in Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart. In the 1950s, NSU had been the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles, but had moved on to produce small cars like the NSU Prinz, the TT and TTS versions of which are still popular as vintage race cars. NSU then focused on new rotary engines based on the ideas of Felix Wankel. In 1967, the new NSU Ro 80 was a space-age car, well ahead of its time in technical details such as aerodynamics, light weight, and safety but teething problems with the rotary engines put an end to the independence of NSU. The mid-sized car NSU had been working on, the K70, was intended to slot between the rear-engined Prinz models and the futuristic NSU Ro 80. However, Volkswagen took the K70 for its own range, spelling the end of NSU as a separate brand.

After being merged with Neckarsulm car maker NSU Motorenwerke AG the official name was "Audi NSU Auto-Union AG", which was simply shortened to "Audi AG" in 1985, ending Auto Union.

In May 2009, as Porsche gained majority control of Volkswagen Group and proposed a merger of the two companies. In August 2009, Volkswagen AG's supervisory board signed the agreement to create an integrated Auto group with Porsche led by Volkswagen. Volkswagen will initially take a 42% stake in Porsche AG by the end of 2009, and it will see the family shareholders selling the automotive trading business of Porsche Holding Salsburg to Volkswagen. Rumors began to appear in the press that the name Auto Union would be revived for the new group holding company.[13]

The trademark symbol of Auto Union, the four overlapping rings, symbolized the four member companies represented the four marques of Auto Union: Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer.[14][15]

Although Auto Union used the four ring logo, it was only used on Auto Union racing cars in that period, while the member companies used their own names and emblems.

There is also a version of logo that uses both overlapping and interlocking rings.[16]


Auto Union was tributed at the 1999 Monterey Historic Automobile Races.[17]

See also


  • Leif Snellman, "The Early Auto Unions, From P-Wagen to A-type"
  • Jeroen Bruintjes, "Auto Union Type E--The Stillborn 1.5-litre car: Why it (Almost) did Exist"


  1. "Porsche Designs: From Racetrack to Battlefield". Ran When Parked.
  2. Peter Kirchberg, Juergen Poenisch: HORCH - Types * Technics * Models, Edition Audi Tradition, published by Delius Klasing Germany, ISBN 978-3-7688-1775-2.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Audi website
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Auto Union Type C". Retrieved on 2009-06-20.
  5. Setright, L. J. K. "Mercedes-Benz: The German Fountain-head", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Vol. 11, p.1311.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Setright, p.1312.
  7. Wise, David Burgess. "Rumpler: One Aeroplane which Never Flew", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Vol. 17, p.1964.
  8. G.E.T. Eyston; Barré Lyndon (1935). Motor Racing and Record Breaking. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Audi website
  10. "VEB Automobilwerk Zwickau (german)". Retrieved on 2008-09-21.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Audi Worldwide> Home". (2009-04-15). Retrieved on 2009-04-27.
  12. "Spiegel Wissen: Auto Union (german)". Retrieved on 2008-09-21.
  13. Chris Hallett (2009-05-15). "The return of Auto Union". AutoCar. Archived from the original on 18 May 2009. Retrieved on 2009-06-21.
  14. Car Logo. "Audi Logo". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-10.
  15. "History of the Four Rings-Part 1-Audi Auto Union". Retrieved on 2009-04-27.
  16. Audi's Typographic Stylings Eirik’s comment is:

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