Rare Rides: The DKW Wagon From 1962 - History Time (Part I)
A little grey wagon popped up on my radar the other day, presenting the perfect opportunity to write about DKW, Audi, and Auto Union for the first time. Those familiar rings on the hood are paired with the DKW shield and an Auto Union badge, but eventually all would separate. A few short years after this wagon was produced, the Audi rings stood alone for the first time in many decades.
This is Part One of a two-part entry into the Auto Union world of DKW and Audi.
The history of the Audi brand is complex and extensive, so we’ll shorten it for the purposes of this piece. Engineer August Horch founded A. Horch & Company with a few business partners at the end of the 19th century. After some infighting and a trademark lawsuit, he lost the use of his own name when he split from his former partners — and his new venture adopted the Audi name in April 1910.
Audi remained independent until August of 1928, when the owner of DKW acquired a majority of shares in Audiwerk AG. That same year, DKW purchased the production remnants of U.S. auto manufacturer Rickenbacker. 1932 saw the merger of DKW, Horch, Audi, and Wanderer to form the Auto Union — the four rings. Both Audi and DKW offered new models under the Auto Union arrangement, while the Horch and Wanderer names were phased out. Wanderer disappeared after 1941 for civilian vehicles, and produced military ones through 1945. Horch, a producer of 8- and 12-cylinder luxury cars produced its last models in 1940 (above), the straight-eight 851 and 951.
Auto Union eventually wound down the luxurious models offered by the Audi brand, concentrating instead on the development of smaller economical models from DKW. In 1938, DKW held nearly 18 percent of the German domestic market; Audi had 0.1 percent. After a short model run in 1939, the Audi name vanished from new cars until 1965.
After World War II, Auto Union fell under full control of Daimler-Benz in 1959. Shortly after that, the company realized the luxury models Mercedes-Benz produced shared little with the dated offerings of Auto Union. Seeing the lack of profits, Daimler-Benz put Auto Union up for sale.
That same time, Auto Union had just completed Daimler-funded construction of a brand new factory and development of a modern four-stroke engine. That engine would not have been possible without Daimler-Benz engineer Ludwig Kraus, who was named technical director over all Auto Union products in the early 1960s. Kraus made a name for himself at Mercedes from a young age, helping engineer the W154 and W196 Silver Arrow race cars.
Another German manufacturer had its eye on the classified ad for Auto Union, and that manufacturer was Volkswagen. It purchased Auto Union in 1964 after finding itself flush with cash from selling every country in the world the Beetle. Key engineer Mr. Kraus came along for the ride. The DKW name was no more, as Audi took over branding on all new vehicles.
The grey wagon we have here is an example of a very brief period in history: A DKW produced after Auto Union lost its independence, but before Volkswagen ownership eradicated DKW branding altogether.
So there we have it, a little German DKW from the very end of a storied brand, right? Wrong. All will be revealed in Part II, so stay tuned.
[Images via seller, YouTube]
Ernest on Mar 08, 2018
There's a trip down memory lane. An uncle and aunt that lived in Kassel (Northern Germany) drove nothing but DKW's after the war, until they morphed into Audi's. The big draw was the FWD, since their house was on a hilltop a few miles out of town. Uncle Gerhardt drove a 3=6 wagon, and Aunt Sophie had a 1000s hardtop coupe, then a F102 2 Dr. Funny sounding little cars that left a vapor trail wherever they went... but they got the job done. Their first Audi was a '67 Super 90, which much have seemed like a rocket ship compared to the little 3-poppers. Some of you may recognize an offshoot of the DKW. They had a plant in Zwickau (East Germany), that the East Germans took over after the war. Redesigned the body and viola!... the Trabant was born.
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