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Audi/NSU Company History

Published: 24th Mar 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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August Horch worked as an engineer with Benz in the 1890s, leaving in 1899 to start his own firm; the first Horch car (with a two cylinder engine) was produced in 1900. A multitude of vehicles and engine types followed, including a six-cylinder, eight-litre motor. After differences of opinion between Horch and his partners, he departed in 1909 and started another new car manufacturing concern. Prevented by his old firm from using the Horch name, he adopted for his new cars the ‘Latin’ version of the word – Audi. The B 10/28 model, with a 2.6-litre engine, was the first Audi (in 1910), with a series of other models following; considerable success was achieved in motorsport with the firm’s early models. In 1932 Audi joined forces with D.K.W., Horch and Wanderer, to become the ‘Auto Union’ (the four ‘joined’ rings in today’s Audi logo represent the four constituent firms). D.K.W. was a motorcycle manufacturer in the 1920s, prior to producing the firm’s first car (with wood-framed bodywork) in 1928. This was fitted with a two-cylinder, 584cc two-stroke engine, with this type of power unit being employed in D.K.W. models until 1966 (both two and three-cylinder motors were produced in later years). After the departure of August Horch, the firm he had founded continued to build a range of vehicles with a variety of engine capacities and types – including a 3.1-litre, straight eight-cylinder, twin overhead camshaft unit – used in the Horch 300. The first production Wanderer car was built in 1911; the company had built bicycles and motorcycles before turning to car manufacture. A variety of respected Wanderer models provided excellent performance for vehicles of their time. Production of cars was discontinued at the start of WW2.

The factories of Audi, D.K.W., Horch, Wanderer were nationalised in 1945, but the Auto Union was revived in 1949. Majority shareholdings were obtained by Mercedes- Benz in 1956, then Volkswagen in 1964, when VW took over the ‘Auto Union GmbH’; Audi name was used from 1965. The front-wheeldrive Audi 70 featured a four-stroke 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine developed by Mercedes- Benz, and had D.K.W. derived bodywork. The NSU concern had initially built bicycles and motorcycles, then cars, with the first of their own designs appearing in 1906. After producing a range of interesting models - many of which did well in motorsport – NSU ceased car production in 1929 (in the midst of the Depression). Fiats were then built under licence in NSU’s Heilbronn factory, and designated NSU-Fiats (in 1966, Fiat relinquished all rights to the Fiat-NSU name). The firm produced the first Wankel rotary engine powered car (the Wankel Spyder), in 1963, and in 1967 the ahead-of-its time Ro80 saloon was unveiled. Discontinued in 1977, the Ro80 was to be the final model bearing the NSU name; reliability issues with the Wankel engine ruining the company.

In 1969 Audi (already part of the Volkswagen concern as described) merged with NSU, to become Audi NSU Auto Union AG. Volkswagen and Audi continued to produce different models, but technical resources were pooled. Advanced technical developments followed including the adoption for high performance production models of five cylinder engines (1977 on), turbo charging and four -wheel drive - in the ubiquitous and highly competent Quattro coupe. In its heyday, this highly impressive machine dominated international rallying. In recent years Audi has concentrated on producing upmarket cars and pushing the boundies of innovation. Audi became the only carmaker ever to win Le Mans with a diesel engine, thus fully living up to the company’s popular catchphrase Vorsprung durch Technik.

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