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

Wanderer (1885)


In 1885 the Winklhofer & Jaenicke company, a precursor of Wanderer-Werke, is established in Chemnitz. One year later, it builds its first bicycle under the brand name of Wanderer. It built motorcycles from 1902 and automobiles from 1903. The Wanderer brand was chosen in 1911 for overseas exports and was soon adopted for domestic sales of motorcycles and automobiles.

The Wanderer “Puppchen” (1912)

The famous Wanderer “Puppchen” actually had the model numbers W3 and W8, but nothing used these names. The models W3 and W8 were known as the “Puppchen” (which can be translated loosely as “sweet little thing”), after a song from an operetta by John Gilbert, which premièred in Berlin in 1912. A Wanderer W3 was rolled onto the stage just as the singer began singing the words “Sweet little thing, you are the apple of my eye…”. Both Gilbert’s song and the Wanderer model became top hits in the modern sense. Wanderer built the “Puppchen”, its most popular vehicle, for 14 years.

Wanderer W40 Cabriolet (1933)

Wanderer entered Auto Union with a valuable dowry, namely the six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1.7 and 2.2 litres, which Ferdinand Porsche had developed in the early 1930s. This modern power unit with a light-alloy cylinder block provided the foundation stone for a new generation of Wanderer models that began in 1932 with the W15 and was gradually improved for the years that followed. The W40 with a new chassis and independent front suspension was one of the last Wanderer models with a Porsche engine.

Wanderer W25K (1936)

As well as being extremely eye-catching, the W25K sports car also stands out by virtue of its exceptional performance data. Thanks to the supercharger, the six-cylinder unit design by Ferdinand Porsche developed a power output of 85 hp, more than twice that of the W50 also presented in 1936, which had the same engine but no supercharger. The W25K was able to reach a top speed of around 150 km/h. Well-proven suspension with the tried-and-tested Auto Union rear “floating axle” ensured the appropriate road-holding. The modern, American-influenced design was derived from the Wanderer W51, also presented W51, also presented in 1936, whose up-to-date styling was to become a model for the entire Auto Union Range.

DKW (1907)

Audi (1909)

The company Rausmussen & Ernst, which was established in 1904 in Chemnitz, opens a factory for boiler fittings. This was the origin of the Zschopauer Motorenwerke in 1907 which became DKW after the First World War.

The two-stroke engine has played a major role in the history of Audi. It all began in 1918 when the engineer Hugo Ruppe developed a simple, yet lightweight auxiliary engine for bicycles. This was the start of the success story of DKW motorcycles. In 1928 DKW installed the first two-stroke engine in a car, and in 1949 Auto Union started producing inexpensive yet sturdy two-stroke engines in Ingolstadt. The advantages of the two-stroke engine are its more straightforward design with fewer moving parts and a higher specific output, which is due to the fact that the two-stroke engine ignites once for each stroke of the piston. Two-stroke engines only recently have lost their edge to four-stroke engines today, but still excel when an engine has to be light – on lightweight motorcycles and in motorcycle racing for example. Disadvantages include their relatively high fuel consumption and the fact that, by virtue of their design, they burn lubricating oil, a factor which stands in the way of compliance with today’s strict emission standards.

DKW Front F1, Roadtser (1931)

The DKW F1 was an important model, in the history of both the company in particular and the car in general. This small car, the basic version of which had two seats, was presented in 1931 and was the first volume-produced model with front-wheel drive worldwide. It was also the cheapest car on the German market at the time. Initiated by DKW boss Rausmussen and developed at Audi in Zwickau, the F1 with its uncomplicated two-stroke motorcycle engine was received enthusiastically by the international public at a time when the effects if the world economic crisis was being felt.

DKW Schwebeklasse (1934)

The DKW model known as the “Schwebeklasse” appeared in 1934. The name was derived from the floating axle, a rigid front and rear axle with a high-mounted transverse spring, installed for the very first time in this model. The floating axle established the position of the body when cornering. DKW had it patented immediately. The car’s smooth running was further enhanced by a four-speed gearbox with disengageable freewheel. The freewheel saved fuel and reduced the typical sputtering and faltering of the two-stoke engine when coasting. With its streamlined body, the “Schwebeklasse” anticipated the future of aerodynamic car design.

Continued on next page

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