Audi had always been a pioneer. Doctor August Horch had founded a company under his own name in 1900 after leaving Benz where he had worked as an engineer, qualifying as one of the first makers of automobiles. He left his own company after designing a big 8 litre white elephant that did not sell, and set up another new company with the name of Audi, the Latinized form of his own name.
Dr Horch launched his first Audi from his Zwickau works in 1910 and the following year he drove one successfully in the Alpine Trail, a touring car rally over the daunting mountain passes of Austria. Audi notched two more wins in early Alpine trials, creating a firm reputation for reliability and toughness.
DKW owner J.S. Rasmussen bought the Audi company in 1928. He had been to Detroit, bought up the the Rickenbaker machinery lines-the company formed by the famous Captain Eddie Rickenbaker had folded the previous year-and used the American-designed power units in the larger Audi models.
In 1932, Audi and Horch, Wanderer and DKW formed a survival group and called it Auto Union, later to become legendary through the successes of its rear-engined racing cars.
Auto Union was nationalized after World War II. By 1956 Daimler-Benz became the majority shareholder, then Volkswagen obtained control, and by 1965 the name of Audi was seen again on the grill of a 1.7 litre front-wheel-drive sedan with sophisticated features such as disc brakes and independent front suspension. An Amalgamation with NSU resulted in the Audi 60 and the 1.8 litre Super 90, a long life car still be seen on the roads of Europe.
The last years of the sixties saw the Audi in recognizable modern form emerging as the 100 in its various forms, including the coupé, one of the most attractive variants. Its 112 hp front-mounted engine driving the front-wheels could lift it from 0 to 60 mph in a brief 9.7 second and give it a comfortable cruising speed of 100mph, ideal for the long straights of Germany’s autobahnen.
Towards the end of 1972 the Volkswagen influence could be seen grinning through in the smaller Audi 80, a scaled-down version of the 100 with overhead camshaft and four-cylinder motor driving the front wheels in Audi tradition, and greatly improved suspension. VW connections showed too in the even smaller Audi 50, almost indistinguishable from the Polo.
Then in 1976 the five-fingered Audi appeared, and is still current, carving a new pioneering niche for Dr Horch’s old company, and when in 1980 the Audi Quattro appeared, developing further the five-cylinder theme with its 2.2 liter pack, Bosch K-Jetronic ignition and full four-wheel drive, the rally branch of motor sport was severely shaken. Here was a contender that could travel comfortably up the north face of an icy alpine pass, could keep up fast cruising speeds over packed snow, handled in streaming rain as though it was a dry day: rally-winning facts which brought Audi a pile of silverware. The machine instills confidence in the driver that no two-wheel drive can give, and today’s Audi 200 Turbo Quattro constantly attracts praise from the pundits. The days when the Audi was called the ‘poor man’s Mercedes’ are long gone.
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