The Audi Museum in Ingolstadt is a must-see for any automotive history buffs visiting southern Germany

The Audi Museum located on the grounds of company headquarters in Ingolstadt is a must see for any automotive history buffs visiting southern Germany. (Photo credit: D. Mueller)

Audi fanatics, do you know what year the marque was founded?  Where the name “Audi” comes from and how it was picked?  What major German automaker owned it before selling it to Volkswagen?   What the first Audi logo used was?  What iconic 1950s American car model Audi used as inspiration to style one of their own models after?

(See slideshow at end of article for pictures inside the museum.  We recently had the opportunity to visit the Museum, and answer all these questions with images further below.)

A tour of the Audi Museum at company headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany will give you  a well-rounded education about the brand’s history, philosophy, mergers, failures, successes, technology and future plans.

Opened in December 2000, the 265,000 square-foot MUSEUM MOBILE features four levels which contain close to 60 cars and over 30 motorcycles spanning the timelines of the Audi brand itself, and sister brands DKW, Wanderer, Horch, and NSU that were once merged together.

Because of the museum’s all-glass exterior, rotating shields (visible in the picture at top left) literally follow the path of the sun, moving around the exterior of the building to block direct sunlight rays which can damage exhibits.

Once entering, one takes the elevator (or “time machine”) up to the top level which begins the tour in 1899. The two levels of the permanent exhibition, 1899 to 1945 and 1946 to 2000, are each further divided into seven sections.

A Brief History of the Audi marque:

In 1899, August Horch began as a motor vehicle producer by establishing Horch Auto-Werke in Zwickau, Germany. Because of disputes with his own board of directors, Horch was forced out in 1909. Eager to start another automobile business immediately, lawyers informed him the Horch name was now trademarked to his old company, and was not to be used by him in any new ventures. Since the surname Horch happens to mean “Hark” or “hear” in German, his young son studying Latin convinced his father to use the Latin translation of the word hear/listen, which is “Audi”.

A year later in 1910, the first cars bearing the Audi name were produced, simply called Type A, and Type B. This model naming tradition continued further up through the alphabet.

1932 saw the merging of Audi with Horch Auto-Werke (Mr. Horch’s original company), DKW, and Wanderer – all of which were German automobile manufacturers with similar roots dating back to the late 19th century. The new merged company was named “Auto Union” and the four-ringed logo was created to signify the four brands. The new logo adorned the front of all models produced by these four makes, and was not yet specific to Audi during this time (similar to the General Motors “GM” logo).

Reflecting poorer economic conditions of the 1930s, Auto Union concentrated on more affordable cars during this decade. By 1938, its DKW brand most associated with small, cheap wheels accounted for 18% of the German market, while Audi and Horch brands that had established themselves as luxury car producers suffered greatly. At the end of the 1930s, Audi held barely a fraction of a percent of the market share.

Similar to the United States, German heavy manufacturing plants including automakers were fully retooled for World War II military production around 1941, grinding new car production to a halt. German factories suffered heavy bombing during the war, and ones that survived were overrun by the Soviet army and dismantled in 1945 as part of war reparations. Stripped of all production capacity, Auto Union AG ceased to exist until its rebirth in 1949.

Remains of the least decimated Zwickau plant were rebuilt, and “Automobilwerke Zwickau” (AWZ) was initially formed in 1949 as production of pre-war DKW models began again – temporarily badged the IFA F8 and F9. Later on in 1949, AWZ was fully reincorporated as the new Auto Union, now headquartered in Ingolstadt where it remains today.

Continuing where the company had left off before World War II, the first post-war cars produced were badged DKWs and sold with the lowest possible price point. The Wanderer brand was not resurrected, and although Audi and Horch brands were alive again, they were barely breathing (Horch AutoWerke did not survive to see the end of the 1950s).

In 1958, Daimler-Benz (Mercedes) bought 87% of the struggling Auto Union, increasing ownership to 100% a year later. It is fair to say that Audi would not be the company it is today had it not been for Mercedes-Benz heavily investing in new Auto Union assembly plants during the early 1960s – the largest one being located in Ingolstadt at AutoUnion corporate headquarters.

By 1964, Auto Union was still losing money badly and parent company Mercedes came to believe their investment in new plants and upcoming new models would never see a return. Eager to cut losses, Auto Union was fully sold to Volkswagen over a two-year period from 1964 to 1966. At this time Volkswagen did not have advanced engine or front-wheel-drive technology that Auto Union was gaining, and was extremely interested in obtaining it for its own models.

Volkswagen quickly dumped the DKW brand because of it’s predominantly crude 2-stroke engine image (lawnmower engines are 2-stroke for example), and focused on fully resurrecting Auto Union’s remaining Audi brand with technology developed under Mercedes ownership. What was to be the DKW “F103” was simply sold as the “Audi” for 1966…with the familiar four-ring Auto Union logo on the front.

Volkswagen also purchased German brand NSU and merged it into Auto Union in 1969 for their engineering expertise gained producing rotary-powered engines in the 1960s. Because they weren’t predominently interested in maintaing the NSU brand itself, it was discontinued in 1977. Audi-NSU-Auto Union was now shortened to Audi-Auto Union (The last NSU model, a rotary-powered Ro-80, resides in the museum).

The Audi brand is introduced in the United States for 1970

The small Audi introduced for 1966 and the larger “100” models introduced for 1968 sold so well in Germany, Volkswagen brought them to the United States as the “Super 90” and the “100LS” for the 1970 model year. Both were available in 2-door or 4-door configuration and featured a 1.8-liter 4 cylinder engine with front-wheel-drive.

The Super 90 was replaced by the 1973-79 Fox, and the 100LS was later replaced by the 1978-83 “5000”. A new four-cylinder engine with a modern overhead camshaft design and fuel injection was introduced in both models for 1975.

Quattro full time 4-wheel-drive

During the late 1970s, Audi engineers began testing cars equipped with full time 4-wheel-drive systems. They believed its performance and handling benefits driving in rain, racing, and offroad rallye applications were so superior that they sold the idea to top management after test drives, and the Quattro badge was born. First equipped on the new-for-1981 “Coupe” sport hatch model, rallye versions saw immediate racing victories.

While Quattro was introduced on 1981 coupe models in Germany, it was delayed on U.S. Coupes until the ’83 model year. And for 1984, the redesigned 5000 model and the existing 4000 model (1980-87) received the optional Quattro system as well. It has become a hallmark of every Audi model introduced since, and currently over 90% of models in the Northern half of the United States are ordered with the option. The Audi-Auto Union offical name was now shortened to just Audi in 1985.

Into its second century today, the Audi luxury brand typically sells over 1 million vehicles per year worldwide and shows no signs of slowing its achievements. With a variety of 8, 10, and 12-cylinder engined models, the brand commands more of a premium than it ever has. Eindrucksvolle Arbeit! (Impressive work).



About Sean

Welcome to Classic Cars Today Online! We seek to explore the subject of classic vehicles from the 1950s through today. It is our belief that a car needn't be old to be respected and admired for graceful design, historical significance, and future value. As founder and Editor-In-Chief, I welcome contributions from you about your own car-related interests and ownership experiences. As far as myself, I've worked in the automotive service field and have been a contributor to Autoweek Magazine, The Star, Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine, and more. Currently, I'm a copywriter and own several foreign and domestic classic cars. In my spare time, you'll find me serving as Technical Editor and officer of several car clubs, being a concours car show judge, and meeting some great folks around the tri-state NY / NJ / Pennsylvania area at car shows. - Sean Connor
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