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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Audi

Audi 100

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The combination of companies that were brought together to form Audi have been well covered here before (see A Most Important Failure, Audi F103, NSU R080, Design Number 22, etc). When the Audi 100 was introduced to the press in late 1968, Audi as a brand was still fairly new. The 100 already had an interesting history, as it was not officially commissioned by leadership, and when discovered, was first designated to be a Volkswagen. Political maneuvering in both instances eventually got it sanctioned as an Audi. The first Audi 100 was a large 4 door sedan, designed by Rupert Neuner, and clearly aimed at upper echelon buyers currently shopping for Mercedes W108 and BMW E3 alternatives. Like those competitors, it had a generous greenhouse, and a good drag coefficient of 0.37. Unlike them, it was a front-wheel-drive car, continuing the innovation started by DKW. It also launched the C1 chassis, designed to handle a number of different configurations. The power plant was a 1760cc OHC inline 4, capable of producing 100 HP (which gave the Audi its name). Not a big or powerful engine, but the car only weighed 2400 lbs, and did 0-62mph in a respectable 11.9 seconds.


The interior was well appointed with light wood and bright metallic trim around guages. Thin pillars made it appear even more bright and roomy. The car got off to a great start with brisk sales. US sales started a bit slowly at 10,000 the first year, but quickly tripled. In 1969, a 2 door coupe was introduced, along with a 100 LS Cabriolet by Karmann. Sadly the cabriolet never saw production. In 1970 a lovely fastback coupe dubbed the Coupe S was introduced, but unfortunately never made it to the US. In 1973, a facelift modified the grille and headlights. The rear torsion bars were dropped in favor of coil springs and shocks. For 1974, fuel injection helped get power back up to 95hp, but came with safety bumpers. In all, more than 827,000 units of the Audi 100 in various forms were sold between 1968 and its finale in 1976 when it was replaced by the Audi 5000. It was by far the most successful vehicle in company history up to that point.


First Wankel

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NSU Wankel.png

In 1963 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, NSU introduced the world's first production car with a Wankel engine. The Wankel Spider was designed by Bertone, but up front it had a passing resemblance to the Pinninfarina-designed Alfa Giulietta Spider. The car was basically an NSU Sport Prinz Coupe with the roof cut off, and a rotary engine mounted over the rear axle. This allowed for two trunks while maintaining the sporty shape and appearance, but the front trunk was small in order to make room for the radiator and gas tank. The rear sheet metal was modified from the coupe to allow for storage of the folding top, and the rear engine compartment. The two-seater interior was elegantly trimmed in two color leather. 


The 500cc engine made just under 50hp, which was adequate at the time, given the 1500lb weight, but the high revving engine sounded like nothing else on the road. It was good for a top speed of 98mph. However, the materials used in building these first generation engines caused more rapid wear than anticipated, and problems began to surface once the cars were in the field. Engine rebuilds were common at 30,000 miles, although it took a while for most cars to get there. Handling, however, was superior. according to Autocar at the time, "The Spider is really most enjoyable on minor roads with lots of twists and turns, where its exceptional stability and cornering powers, together with the quick reactions of its rack-and-pinion steering, allow very fast averages to be maintained."


Only 2375 were built, and only a paltry 215 made it to the US. Ironically, one of those 215 became the first Wankel race car, competing in SCCA H Modified. It is believed that the relatively high price, and low production numbers were evidence that NSU introduced the car more as a test bed for the rotary engine. An improved version was introduced in the NSU R080 sedan in 1968 (see NSU R080). 


Audi Fox

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1972 introduced a new platform for the Audi 80 dubbed the B1. It was the replacement for the F103 series covered previously in this blog (see Audi F103). The US and Canada  had to wait another year for the introduction in 1973, and the marketing wizards decided that it should be renamed the Audi Fox in those markets. This was the first time that an Audi had been named, and it was reportedly quite the battle at Ingolstadt, The Fox was powered by 2 engines; a 54hp inline 4 cylinder 1.3 liter, and a 74hp 1.5 liter. Both featured a cast iron block with a single overhead cam aluminum head. Enhanced versions of both produced a good variety of power options for the platform. In late 1973,  The Fox/80 was also the introduction of the water-cooled front-wheel-drive format that served Audi and Volkswagen well for decades. Audi added a sporty GT model featuring a 1.6 liter engine and putting out 99hp.


The Fox had a handsome design with a generous greenhouse due to relatively thin pillars. It had well=proportioned front and rear overhangs, and looked good in both coupe and sedan form. The combination of front-wheel drive and tall roof created a roomy car on the inside despite relatively small proportions. There was also an "Avant" or estate version with copious amounts of space. Suspension wise, it had torsion bars in the rear with McPherson struts up front. The Fox was good enough to earn European Car of the Year in 1973.

 The Fox/80 was a very significant car for Audi and VW. Volkswagen was facing declining revenues as the air-cooled beetle was waning, and the type 411 was not the replacement that they had hoped. The previous Audi platform was showing its age and had roots in even older DKW technology. In addition, the exchange rate was making German exports very expensive. The Fox/80 was in many ways the vehicle that bolstered the company, and allowed it to survive the rough patch. Based on its success, VW even badged its own version called the Dasher. The restyling in 1975 was also well received with square headlights and more muscular styling. A GTE variant was introduced as the top of the line. The cars were now fuel-injected as well. The platform continued to sell well, and persisted well into the late 1970s. 


A Most Important Failure

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What are some of the hallmarks of modern Audis? Front wheel drive on larger sedans, odd numbers of cylinders, etc. Well many of those attributes were introduced with the DKW F102 in late 1963. The F102 went into production in 1964, but it was a car between two eras. Mercedes ownership held onto old formats and technology, while new thinking and performance standards were already evident among the competitors. As such, the car was unibody construction, and front wheel drive, but with a two-stroke three cylinder engine. It was 168.5 inches long and weighed 2945 lbs. The engine was 1175cc and produced 69hp, along with 76 ft-lbs of torque. This propelled the car to a top speed of 84mph, and a 0-60 time of 16.8 seconds. Not horrible for the time, but far from being among the leaders. It was offered in a 2 door coupe initially, with the 4 door following six months later. Given what was being produced or designed by Mercedes at the time (Gullwing, Pagoda, etc), many believe that they were also concerned about competing with themselves.

It is no surprise that the car sold poorly with just over 53,000 units in its' short life. The public had already been moving away from 2 strokes, and there were great alternatives in the emerging class of modern sedans. Mercedes happily sold a controlling interest in Auto Union to Volkswagen in 1966, and the new owners quickly killed off the DKW brand and facelifted the F102 to make it the F103 branded as an Audi. They also inserted a four stroke four cylinder engine.  The F102 is one of those commericial failures that forced a sudden course correction and gave birth to a successful platform with many of its' attributes carried forward. 

Design Number 22

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In October 1932, the AISCR (later to become the FIA) announced specifications for a new racing class. It was incredibly simple. A weight limit of 750 Kilos (1653 lbs) without oil, water, and tires. That was about it. Any engine size, super-charged or not, any configuration, any shape. This wide latitude sent the minds of designers and engineers into hyperactive mode. A newly independent Ferdinand Porsche, along with partners Karl Rabe and Adolfo Rosenberger, decided to build a car to these specifications despite not having a customer. A bold move given the depression era environment.


Hans Stuck with the enclosed record-breaking versionPorsche and the team decided on a 45 degree V-16 mounted in a mid-engined configuration with independent suspension at all four corners. With the weight restriction, the engine displacement ended up being 4.3 liters. Getting 16 cylinders into a 4.3 Litre space and then getting high output was the work of Karl Rabe. The machine had a redline of 4500 rpm and produced 295 hp. The team also worked on a 3 seater sports car based on a detuned version of the same engine. However, it was never produced. The body of the racing car utilized the teardrop shape and later included innovative aerodynamic wheel fenders, and a removable coupe top.


Fortunately for Porsche, along came Auto Union which had been newly formed from components including DKW, Audi, and Wanderer. They thought that racing would be a good way to advertise and showcase the strength of the new company. They approached Dr Porsche, and yes, he happened to have a racing design they might be interested in. The design was transferred to Auto Union, and the car was initially called the Auto-Union-P to honor the designer. Porsche had simply called it Design #22. Auto Union approached the German government and convinced them to split incentive money and a stipend previously offered only to Mercedes. This set up the famous battles between the two auto makers, and the term Silver Arrows which applied to the cars from both. In March 1933, Hans Stuck set a new hour record with the Auto Union car at 134.9 mph. Despite the car being notoriously difficult to drive, Stuck went on to win the 1934 Grand Prix of Germany, the Grand Prix of Switzerland, and set several more world records. The slightly modified version of the car with enclosed rear fenders and top ran over 200mph in record attempts. The following year, he won at Monza and Tunisia, among other victories.


The car was a resounding success. Increases in output and evolutions of the chassis lead to more success in subsequent years, and of course there were the classic battles with the Mercedes, and the Alfa Romeos. Eventually, at the end of the 1930s, the war brought everything to a halt, but the legendary status of Design #22 was already established.

Audi F103

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The German automotive landscape of the 1960s was an interesting place to be. It seems as if everyone was almost part of, or owner of everyone else. There were many last minute deals which resulted in major changes to the course of global automotive history. Case in point was Daimler-Benz who purchased Auto Union in 1958 via an 87% stake. The following year in 1959 they increased that stake to 100%, and began their famous attempt to take over BMW as well (see the Halo and the Hail Mary). Imagine how things might be different today if Mercedes had owned both Audi and BMW! Of course that did not happen and in fact, Mercedes went on to sell Auto Union to Volkswagen in 1965, who have had it ever since.


A few years after assuming ownership, Volkswagen quickly decided that it would revive the Audi brand from amount the many brands within Auto Union. That sounds like a stroke of brilliance today, but at the time it was pretty controversial as other brands such as DKW (see DKW 1000) and recently acquired NSU (see NSU TT) were deemed to be stronger. None the less, they launched the resurrected brand with a new platform dubbed them the Audi F103 series. It went on to include the Audi 60, 72, 75, 80, and super 90 in a run from 1966 to 1972.


Ironically, the new Audis were based on the chassis from the DKW F102, with a new four stroke engine developed with Mercedes during their ownership tenure ! What was certainly new was the styling. The Audi brand had last been seen in the pre-war era, and the new car had its own form of distinctive styling. The F103 series was designed to be a compact executive sedan which by then was chasing the established BMW and Mercedes options in that segment. It was relatively low, relatively sleek, relatively luxurious, and relatively powerful when compared to other offerings from Auto Union. A premium brand had emerged.


The first model was simply called the Audi, but was later renamed the Audi 72. The variants in the F103 series had a variety of engines and body styles. They included a sedan, a coupe, a fastback, and an estate (station wagon). The models were named however for their horsepower ratings. A later generation of the Audi 80 was called the Fox in the USA and Australia. Engines were all inline 4 cylinders with displacements from 1.5 liters on the Audi 60, to 1.8 liters on the 90. the cars had front wheel drive, and weighed 2100 to 2350 lbs, making them fairly good performers and handlers.


The F103 was a strong seller with over 416,000 sold during the 7 years of production. It certainly launched the modern era of the Audi brand, and effectively transitioned Auto Union from two stroke to four. It is also credited in part with propping up an ailing Volkswagen as the Beetle began to taper off, and the Exchange rate made German products less favorable abroad. The highly successful Audi 100 followed, and VW began a long tradition of sharing platforms between the two Marques.