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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Auto Union


Classic Velocity


The DKW RT 250 was a single cylinder model introduced at the Frankfurt motorcycle exhibition in 1951. It was the larger displacement version of the RT 200, having increased the bore to 70mm while keeping the stroke unchanged, but it featured several improvements. First of all, the frame now had a plunger rear suspension. The engine performance improved to 14 hp with the RT250/2, as did the gearbox moving from 3 to 4 gears. Engine and gearbox combinations allowed DKW to present 3 different models of the 250 for sale; the RT250, the RT250/1, and the top of the line RT250/2. A sportier S model was introduced for 1956 with a new front fork, a larger tank, and finned cylinders to better dissipate the heat it generated. Other changes from the 175 and 200 included a larger toolbox, switching the exhaust to help with sidecar use, and a locking steering column on the left side. The models all featured the enclosed primary chain design that was a DKW signature element. 


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.