Auto Union History

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Auto Union History


Auto Union

 1926 -
FOLLOWING World War 1, the German economy was, naturally enough, in a poor state and the once prosperous motor industry was very close to a total collapse. The more astute manufacturers soon realised this and it became almost common for former competitors to band together.

For instance, after some co-operation from 1924 onwards, Mercedes and Benz amalgamated in 1926 and, subsequently, in 1932, a rival consortium was formed by Horch, Audi, Wanderer and DKW, which became known as Auto Union.

August Horch had made cars under his own name from 1902, but he was far better at engineering than finance and he soon lost control of his factory. Undaunted, in 1909 he started an opposition firm at Zwickau, but the shareholders of his former business took legal action to stop him using the name Horch.

His schoolboy son, who was learning Latin at that time, pointed out that Horch, which means 'Hark' in English, can be translated as 'Audi' in the classical tongue, and so the name Audi was born. Of the two other participants in Auto Union, Wanderer made medium sized cars in Chemnitz from 1911 onwards and the DKW firm - Deutsche Kraftfahrzeng-Werke - was a motor-cycle manufacturer of post-war origin, making very small cars from the end of the 1920's at Berlin-Spandau and later at Ingolstadt.

After much rationalisation under the four circle badge of Auto Union, Audi and Wanderer agreed to make cars with many parts in common, including a 2255 cc, six-cylinder engine and a worm-drive transmission. The DKW segment of the Union went in for two-cylinder, two-stroke engines and front wheel drive cars which featured panelled bodies in a soft and flexible fabric in an effort to reduce passenger compartment noise.

The 584 cc version cost only £149 when imported into England in the nineteen-thirties, the more powerful 684 cc engine version costing £10 extra. The Horch unit produced a big, luxury car, which might have seemed unwise when money was short. However, it earned some much-needed foreign currency and was thought to be subsidised by the German government to this end.

Hitler, Goering and Goebbels had the Grosser Mercedes, Korpsfiihrers and Gauleiters had Horchs

When the Nazis took over in Germany, the new masters liked big, impressive cars and, while Hitler, Goering and Goebbels gave the Nazi salute from their Grosser Mercedes, the Korpsfiihrers and Gauleiters travelled in Horchs of almost comparable opulence. The biggest Horch was a twelve-cylinder, overhead-camshaft car of six litres capacity. It was not a high-performance car, being very heavy and fitted usually with enormous limousine coachwork.

The straight-eight was the most famous model of the period and this, also, was usually burdened with high and ponderous bodywork. However, a short-chassis version was made and, though this was still on the heavy side, it sometimes carried two-seater coupe or cabriolet bodies and was used by the Auto Union racing drivers. The overhead-camshaft engine was twice increased in size, eventually having dimensions of 87 mm x 104 mm (4944 cc) and developing a leisurely 100 bhp at 3200 rpm, though the sporting coupes certainly gave more than that.

Raising The Profile Of Auto Union By Racing In The GP

In addition to the straight-eight engines there was a V8 of 78mm x 92mm (3515 cc). From an engineering standpoint Horch cars were of comparatively modern design, featuring independent suspension of all wheels, but weight was still the enemy. In order to publicise the products of Auto Union it was decided to compete in Grand Prix races. For the origin of the Auto Union racing car it is necessary to go back briefly into history. Fundamentally, the concept of a car with a mid engine and independently sprung wheels comes from the German motor show of 1921.

Dr Edmund Rumpler

There, Dr Edmund Rumpler presented his brain child and, in a stultified world where car design had become utterly conventional, it became a fantastic step forward. Dr Rumpler had already designed a swing-axle independent suspension for Adler in 1905 and, by 1915, he had patented what is really the modem system. During World War 1 he had also designed the Taube military aircraft and his 1921 car was basically an aircraft-shaped fuselage mounted on four swing-axles. The object of the exercise was to produce the ideal streamlined shape of a teardrop with the driver positioned in the nose, but with passenger seats in the' wider middle section.

The engine was a six-cylinder unit, of unusual W configuration, placed at the rear of the passenger compartment and it drove through a combined gearbox and final drive to the independently suspended rear wheels. Although Rumpler's ideas have now been totally accepted, at the time his car was far too advanced for the public and he was obliged to sell out to Benz in 1922. Benz had a fine racing history in the earlier, heroic days of motor sport, but, by 1922, they had become rather conservative. They saw the Rumpler design as just what they needed, not as a road car but as a Grand Prix racer.

Tazio Nuvolari at the 1934 Czech GP in his Auto Union
Pictured above is Tazio Nuvolari, who was to become a works Auto Union driver in 1939. We believe this image is from the 1934 Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, where he tried Hans Stuck's car. Stuck would win the race with this car, which was a 4368cc V16 A-Type developing 295 bhp at 4500 rpm.

16 cylinder Auto-Union C Type of 1936
The 16 cylinder Auto-Union C Type of 1936 developed 520 bhp from its 6006cc engine. It was usually geared to allow a top speed of 175 mph, although with the right gears and tyres it was good for a whopping 215 mph. With 5.25 inch front tyres and 7 inch rear tyres, wheelspin could be provoked at 150 mph on dry roads.

1938 Auto Union D-Type
1938 Auto Union D-Type.

Auto Union GP Racer
An Auto Union being prepared prior to the GP.

Auto Union GP Racer
An Auto Union being prepared prior to the GP.

Bernd Rosemeyer Auto Union Record Speed Maker
Bernd Rosemeyer used this car to set a record speed of 253.7mph on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn in late 1937.

Hans Stuck Auto Union
2 years before Rosemeyer, Hans Stuck drove the above Auto Union to a speed of 200mph, again using a public highway.

The Rumpler system, by Hans Nibel, Fritz Nallinger, Franz Homer and Willy Walb

The Benz Tropfen Rennwagen (drop-shaped racing car) was designed jointly, on the Rumpler system, by Hans Nibel, Fritz Nallinger (later Director-General of Mercedes-Benz) and racing drivers Franz Homer and Willy Walb. It had independent suspension all round, exactly as on the Rumpler car, with cantilever leaf springs and swing-axles.

A major improvement was the fitting of inboard rear brakes and Rumpler's very deep chassis gave way to a light and liberally pieced channel-section frame. The engine, which was situated in the middle of the car, with the driver up front, was built to the two-litre formula, prevalent at the time, and was a fairly orthodox twin-cam, in-line, six-cylinder unit of 65 mm x 100 mm (1992 cc). With twin Zenith carburettors, it produced 80 bhp at 4500 rpm.

In the 1923 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the Benz single-seaters went well, but being short of engine power, finished fourth and fifth. As there was no more money to develop the cars - supercharging would have been necessary to make them competitive - Benz converted them to sports two-seaters and sold ten cars to private owners. Since they could achieve 100 mph in touring trim, which was then an unbelievable speed for a two-litre car, they were extremely successful in the lower grades of motor sport in the hands of their amateur drivers.

Adolf Rosenberger and Dr Ferdinand Porsche

One of these Benz owners was Adolf Rosenberger, who was a partner with Dr Ferdinand Porsche in a small firm of engineering consultants. When it was announced, in October 1932, that there would be a new Grand Prix formula in 1934, both men saw the possibilities. This was to be the famous 750 kg formula, in which the cars, without water, oil, petrol or tyres, were to weigh less than 1650lb, but the engine size was unlimited.

Rosenberger convinced Porsche that a modern version of the Benz was the answer and they got Willy Walb, who had been deeply involved in the design and development of the original car, to join them. In a very short time the team designed what became known as the P-Wagen. It was probably the simplest racing car that has ever been conceived, mainly in order to keep costs low.

Admittedly, the engine had sixteen cylinders, but even so it was cheap and easy to make, with only a single camshaft at the centre of the V. As the cylinders were at a simple 45-degree angle, the single camshaft could operate the inlet valves through short rockers, with pushrods in tubes across the heads, while also actuating the exhaust valves through more rockers, the respective valves being at 90 degrees to each other. Dr Porsche reasoned that he could save so much weight with his mid-engined car that he could afford to have a bigger engine than anybody else and this proved to be the case throughout the life of the 750 kg formula.

It also meant that the power unit need not be so highly stressed and that moderate revolutions could be used. Such an engine could, and did, have a light crankshaft without fear of failure and further weight was saved by casting the cylinder block and cylinder heads in light alloy, with ferrous wet liners and bronze valve seats. The camshaft was driven from the crankshaft by a vertical shaft with bevel gears at each end. Halfway up this shaft, a spur gear engaged an idler gear transmitting power to a large vertical Roots-type supercharger which breathed through a large twin-choke Solex carburettor.

The P-Wagen

Like all other racing engines of this period it ran on alcohol fuel. The transmission of the P-Wagen featured a five- speed, all-indirect gearbox with a bevel-gear final drive, the gearbox being placed behind the ZF differential as in modern racing cars. A twin-plate clutch was employed. The chassis frame was extremely simple, two fore- and-aft steel tubes being united by one box-section and three tubular cross members.

The suspension, which was novel at the time, was later used by Dr Porsche for the Volkswagen; that is to say it utilised very short, paired trailing arms in front and swing- axles behind. The trailing arms were on torsion bars hidden in the front cross member and there was a transverse leaf spring for the swing axles, with friction type dampers all round.

The large drum brakes were hydraulically operated. Dr Porsche's splendid design was immediately taken up by Auto Union. They wanted to compete in the 750 kg formula in order to advertise their products to the world and, in passing, to pre-empt Mercedes-Benz in the motor-sporting world. The racing workshops at Zwickau were put to work and the simplicity of the design and the construction soon paid dividends, for within a year, in November 1933, prototype cars were on test at Niirburgring. The team moved to other circuits for comparative tests and Hans Stuck was timed on an Italian Autostrada at 155 mph.

Hans Stuck Demonstrates The Cars Potential

In March 1934, just before the first 750 kg race, Hans Stuck gave a convincing demonstration of the car's potential by breaking many records at Avus. The circuit he used had two parallel straights of about six miles, with U-turns joining them at each end. Despite having to brake and change down for these bends, Stuck broke the world's hour record, a most coveted honour, at 134.9 mph and he took the 100 miles and 200 km records simultaneously. By this time, the Nazis had taken complete control of Germany and were willing to give any assistance possible to Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz in the interests of national prestige.

This backing was most valuable in securing the supply of scarce materials and it ensured the future of the Auto Union team. Sadly, it also involved the loss of Adolf Rosenberger, without whom the project would never have got off the ground. As the anti-semitic policies of Hitler started to manifest themselves, Rosenberger wisely emigrated to the USA.

The year 1934 was the first season for Auto Union and it also marked the revival of the Mercedes-Benz racing team. The 'Mercs' were of much more costly construction than the Auto Unions and they retained orthodox front engines. Like the cars from Zwickau, however, they had sophisticated suspension systems, so different from the classical cars against which they were racing, with their rigid axles and almost solid springs.

State Aid Makes The German Marques Unbeatable

Though both the German cars at first lacked reliability, it was at once obvious to the interested observer that these State-aided teams were going to be unbeatable. For 1934, Auto Union fielded the A-type cars, with engines of 68 mm x 75 mm (4360 cc) developing 295 bhp at 4500 rpm. Like all subsequent Auto Union engines, immense low speed torque was developed, peaking at 2700 rpm, and in some races only two of the five gears were used after the start. The first race was at A vus, where Stuck led until clutch-slip eliminated him: At this time, the team had no other drivers capable of beating the top Italians and so their best placing was third, behind two Alfa Romeos.

At the Eifelrennen, Hans Stuck led but finished second after tyre trouble. In the French Grand Prix, all the Auto Unions and Mercedes-Benz retired, but thereafter they were to share the honours at almost every race. The German Grand Prix was a victory, and a very easy one, for Stuck. At Pescara he retired and the best Auto Union was fifth, but he led the Swiss Grand Prix from start to finish, with Momberger's Auto Union second.

The team from Zwickau was second in the Italian Grand Prix and fourthin the Spanish, while Stuck won the final race of the season, the Masaryk Grand Prix in Czechoslovakia. For 1935, Auto Union enlarged their engine slightly to 72.5 mm x 75 mm (4950 cc) so that it developed 375 bhp at 4700 rpm, using 11lb per sq in blower pressure.

Instead of the plain-bearing crankshaft, with split big-ends, single-piece connecting rods with roller-bearing big-ends were adopted, entailing the use of a Hirth built-up crankshaft, a much more costly solution which the team could now afford. This was the B-type Auto Union. Instead of using the frame tubes for cooling water, Dr Porsche employed them to hold fore-and-aft torsion bars, eliminating the transverse rear spring. The exhaust manifolds were replaced by sixteen separate short pipes, blowing upwards from slots in the tail. To help the over-worked Hans Stuck, Achille Varzi was engaged as a driver, in spite of a prejudice against using non-Teutonic pilots.

The cars were better but so were the Mercedes-Benz and, though many places were gained, outright victories were less numerous. Varzi won at Tunis and Pescara, and Stuck was victorious at the Italian Grand Prix, but at the Eifelrennen on the Nurburgring, a young motor cyclist from the DKW team, Bernd Rosemeyer, stepped into an Auto Union and had a tremendous duel with Caracciola's Mercedes-Benz, finishing second. Rosemeyer was soon considered by many to be the greatest driver of his era, perhaps of all time. He looked extremely reckless, but he could use all the power of the big, mid-engined cars in safety.

Some engine troubles followed the substitution of a new 5.6-litre power unit in mid season, but, once reliability was re-established, Rosemeyer won his first Grand Prix at Masaryk. For 1936, Dr Porsche managed to get an even larger engine into 'his wonderful old chassis without exceeding the weight limit. This, the C-type Auto Union, had an engine, with dimensions of 75 mm x 85 mm (6006 cc) and gave 520 bhp at 5000 rpm. An over-bored version, tuned for record-breaking, developed 545 bhp. With 5.25-inch-wide front tyres and 7-inch rear tyres, the handling problems can be imagined and wheelspin could be provoked at 150 mph on dry roads.

The C-type was geared for 175 mph on most circuits, but it could attain about 215 mph when suitably tyred and geared, or over 270 mph when fitted with an all- enveloping body for record attempts. In short-chassis form it was a superb hill-climb car and Hans Stuck was the undisputed 'Bergmeister' (hill master). The 1936 season was Auto Union's best year and after the first few races the cars were clearly superior to Mercedes-Benz. They enjoyed six major victories, of which the brilliant young Rosemeyer won five. The 750 kg formula was due to finish at the end ofthe season, but, as so often happens, it was extended for one more year.

Auto Union carried on with their old cars and were not quite so successful against Mercedes-Benz, who had a new model. Nevertheless, they won six races in a lengthened season and the British race-going public had the ultimate thrill of seeing Bernd Rose- meyer win at Donington. That was the end of the sixteen-cylinder car and Dr Porsche had ceased to be a consultant to the group. Accordingly, a new engineering team was assembled under Director Werner, with designers Dr Eberan Von Eberhorst and Ing Fuereisen, to produce a new car for the forthcoming formula. They chose the supercharged 3-litre category rather than the 4.5-litre unblown alternative.

Then, in January 1938, Bernd Rosemeyer was killed in a record attempt and Auto Union wanted to give up racing, but they were ordered to continue. The D-type 3-litre was still mid-engined but a de Dion axle replaced the swing-axle rear end, while side tanks were substituted for the central fuel tank. This allowed the driver to sit further back, with a longer front bonnet. The twelve-cylinder engine was entirely new, of course, and, though a central camshaft still opened the inlet valves, two separate exhaust camshafts were used, in order to cope with higher engine speeds. The new cars were not ready at the start of the 1938 season and were unreliable thereafter until September, when the great Tazio Nuvolari won the Italian Grand Prix in an Auto Union.

Nuvolari and the D-type were again victorious at Donington in October - a race that had been delayed by the threat of war. For 1939, the 65 mm x 75 mm engine (2990 cc) was endowed with two-stage supercharging and developed 485 bhp at 7000 rpm in racing trim, though 500 bhp was exceeded during tests. War was approaching and races were being cancelled, but Hermann Muller won the French Grand Prix and was second in the German and third in the Yugoslavian, which was won by Nuvolari. (Zwickau is in Saxony, which was behind the Iron Curtainafter the war).

The DKW was re-introduced after the war as a three-cylinder, two-stroke, front-drive car and, after two-strokes became unpopular, the sole surviving Auto Union product was re-designed as a four-stroke under the old Audi name. Audi has now become a part of the Volkswagen organisation and that is presumably the end of the Auto Union story, though the famous four-ring badge survives. It is curious that, although all racing cars now resemble the Auto Union with its mid-engine location, no designer copied the cars from Zwickau at the time. Only Rosemeyer could drive flat out in the C-type and people thought that it was because of the forward location of the driving position.

In fact, it was Dr Porsche's insistence on front trailing arms and rear swing axles with friction-type dampers that made the cars so difficult to handle, though the narrow tyres of the period scarcely helped. It is therefore all the more incredible that Auto Union actually designed a road-going coupe for sale to the public, derived from the racer, mid-engined and with sixteen cylinders. Unfortunately, however, it never actually reached the showrooms.

After The War

A new Auto Union was launched in Ingolstadt, Bavaria with loans from the Bavarian state government and Marshall Plan aid. The reformed company was launched 3 September 1949. Only the DKW brand survived in postwar West Germany, continuing DKW's tradition of producing front-wheel drive vehicles with two-stroke engines. 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. The van and sedan were based on the DKW F8 and the DKW F9 pre-war constructions.

Auto Union 1000 Sp 1958 - 1965

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.

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 without massive investment, would be for its two stroke products into impoverished East Germany. They began selling shares, which with the agreed help of the West German Government were acquired by Volkswagen Group. A programme that Daimler had initiated at Auto Union created a range of cars (the Audi F103 series, the Audi 80, and the Volkswagen Passat), that would subsequently provide the basis for Volkswagen's line of front-wheel drive models.

In 1964, Volkswagen acquired the factory in Ingolstadt and the trademark rights of the Auto Union. Two-stroke engines became less popular towards the middle of the 1960s as customers were more attracted to the comfortable four-stroke engines. In September 1965, the last DKW model, the DKW F102, received a four-stroke engine implanted and some front and rear styling changes. Volkswagen abandoned the DKW brand because of the two-stroke's attendant smell and pollution characteristics, effectively leaving Volkswagen with the Audi brand. The new model was classified internally as the Audi F103, and sold as simply the "Audi." The name was a model designation rather than the manufacturer, which was still officially Auto Union, but later it became known as the 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 Aktiengesellschaft's supervisory board signed the agreement to create an intregrated Auto group with Porsche led by Volkswagen. Volkswagen will initially take a 42.0 percent 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. rumours began to appear in the press the name Auto Union would be revived for the new group holding company.

In spite of the 16 cylinder engine, the C Type Auto Union was a remarkably simple yet effective device. The forerunner of the modern F1 car, its mid engined layout was not copied by GP designers until the late 1950's, proving just how advanced Dr Porsche's original design was...
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