Auto Union (1899-1948): History of The Four Rings, Part 1

This week it’s about the history of Audi. In Part 1 we set the stage with some of the iconic Marques which came to make up the Audi we all know today. The first  key merger in the corporate family tree is the original Auto Union – a series of significant developments across four companies and a more than fifty-year period helped shape its future.

Horch (1899)


August Horch and his first business partner Salli Herz established the company on November 14, 1899 in the district of Ehrenfeld, Cologne in Cologne. Three years later, in 1902, he moved the company to Reichenbach im Vogtland. On May 10, 1904 he founded the Horch & Cie. Motorwagenwerke AG, a joint-stock company in Zwickau. After troubles with the Horch chief financial officer, August Horch founded a second company on 16 July 1909, the August Horch Automobilwerke GmbH in Zwickau. He had to rename the company because Horch was already a registered brand and he did not hold the rights to the name.

August Horch (1868-1951)

August Horch is the central figure in Audi’s past and is one of the great personalities in German automotive history. August Horch had previously worked as a production manager for Karl Benz. He had not only a remarkable technical understanding, but also the no less important talent of putting his ideas into practice in the right place at the right time. August Horch is less well-known as an author. His autobiography “I built cars” appeared in 1938, and was published as a denazified edition in 1949 under the title of “From my life”. A second book was called “My friend, the car priest”.

Horch 10-12 PS Tonneau (1902)

In 1902 August Horch moved his company from Cologne to Reichenbach in the Vogtland region of Germany and began without delay to design new automobiles. The engine of this model has two vertical cylinders and was quoted at between ten and twelve horsepower. The rear axle is not driven by chain, as was very common in these days, but a shaft. This was a “tonneau” body with two rows of seats and, unusually, access to the back seats from the rear.

Horch 670 V12 Sport Cabriolet (1931)

The Sport Cabriolet designed by Hermann Ahrens was presented at the Paris Motor Show in the autumn of 1931, right in the midst of the world economic crisis. The V12 designed by senior engineer Fritz Fielder exhibited engine technology at its very best: A crankshaft with seven bearings, twelve balance-weights and an additional vibration damper ensured maximum running smoothness. The hydraulic valve-clearance adjuster was way ahead of its time. However, this impressive engine was to remain an exclusive rarity. In all, only 58 Sport Cabriolets were produced, together with 20 twelve-cylinder Type 600 Pullman saloons.

Horch 855 Special Roadster (1937)

Even more elegant, more luxurious, more valuable – at 22,000 Reichsmarks the Horch 855 Special Roadster was the most expensive and most exclusive Horch in the company’s history. One seven of these cars were built. The Horch 850’s 120 horsepower engine marks the peak performance version of the straight-eight unit that was by far Germany’s most successful luxury engine. With a market share of 55 percent, Horch was the most successful brand in Germany in the displacement class over four litres.

Audi (1909)


After troubles with Horch chief financial officer, August Horch left Motorwagenwerke and founded in Zwickau on 16 July 1909, his second company, the August Horch Automobilwerke GmbH. His former partners sued him for trademark infringement. The German Reichsgericht (Supreme Court) in Leipzig, eventually determined that the Horch brand belonged to his former company.

On 25 April 1910 the name Audi Automobilwerke (from 1915 on Audiwerke AG Zwickau) was entered in the August Horch Automobilwerke GmbH company’s register at the Zwickau registration court. Audi is the Latin translation of horch, from the German verb “horchen”, which means “listen!” (compare English “hark”). The Audi name was proposed by a son of one of Horch’s business partners from Zwickau and the idea was enthusiastically accepted by everyone attending the meeting. The first Audi car, the 10/22 PS,  Type A, appears in the same year followed by the successor, 10/28 PS Type B, the following year.

Audi 14/35 PS Type C Phaeton (1912)

August Horch’s third model bearing the Audi name, the Type C, is amongst his best and most mature designs. Horch himself was of the opinion, “that with the design of this automobile we were at least ten years ahead of out time”. The Type C demonstrated its qualities by winning the Austrian Alpine Rally three times in succession, from 1912 to 1914. The “Alpine Winner” remained in production until 1925 and was one of the most successful Audi models of its day.

Continued on next page

Pages: 1 2 3

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