A new Auto Union

Germany’s Manager Magazin asserts that VW might buy Fiat-Chrysler. Ferdinand Piëch wants to re-create Auto Union and combine the VW brands Audi, SEAT and Skoda with classics like Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Porsche. Along with Fiat and Chrysler it could make over 14 million cars a year, consigning Toyota and General Motors with about 10 million into second place.

In the 1930s four rings signified the creation of the first Auto Union, the amalgamation of the motor industry in Saxony. DKW, Horch, Wanderer and Audi joined up to weather financial storms following the Great Depression and face intervention from the emerging Third Reich. The State Bank of Saxony, the Allgemeine Deutsche Credit Anstalt (ADCA) and the Commerzbank of Berlin were midwives at the birth of the Auto Union.
Wanderer was the oldest, established in 1885 at Chemnitz. In 1899 August Horch set up at Cologne-Ehrenfeld, moved in 1902 to Plauen in the Vogtland, then in 1904 as a public company eastwards to Zwickau in Saxony. Third ring DKW also had roots in Chemnitz from 1904 when Danish entrepreneur, Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen established Rasmussen & Ernst GmbH in an empty textile works at Zschopau in the Erzgebirge. In 1914, as the Zschopauer Maschinenfabrik J S Rasmussen, it did military work, experimenting with a large, and as it turned out unwieldy, steam vehicle the Dampf Kraft Wagen (DKW - Steam-Power-Vehicle).

DKW persevered with motorcycles, making a primitive car in 1928, then at the 1931 Berlin motor show made a breakthrough with the first front wheel drive production car three years ahead of Citroën. FWD was novel, it was cheap, and DKW was good at it. Innovation did not bring prosperity however, and DKW was obliged to take a shareholding in Audi, making Rasmussen chairman. But by 1932 car sales in Germany had halved and DKW suffered from Rasmussen's expansionism. To make things worse, the Hitler regime planned a state-sponsored car to go on sale to the German Volk at a seemingly impossible price to savers of political tokens.
Amalgamation was complicated and it took nine months to agree terms and acquire funds. Headquarters were at Chemnitz, the Zschopauer Motorenwerke raised its share capital from 4.5 million Reichsmarks to 14.5 million and the new Auto Union AG bought the fourth ring, Wanderer, leasing its factories.

DKW's contribution of share capital was Rm10 million, Horch brought Rm500,000, Audi Rm2,500,000, and Wanderer Rm15,730,000. The new combine had a staff of 4,500 and factories at Zschopau making motorcycles and 2-stroke engines, Zwickau (cars), Berlin-Spandau (wooden body frames) and Siegmar (cars and steel bodies). Auto Union was a major player in the German motor industry alongside Adler, BMW, Opel, Daimler-Benz, and Ford. Meanwhile the cause of all the angst, the Volkswagen, was slow making its appearance.
Ferdinand Porsche’s consultancy made a submission to the Ministry of Traffic in Berlin for a car selling for Rm1500, with a fuel consumption of 8l/100 kms (35 mpg), a top speed of 100 kph (62 mph) and a weight of 650 kg (1433 lbs). Hitler and Porsche met in April 1934, at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin, together with Jakob Werlin, Mercedes-Benz dealer in Munich and an early member of the Nazi Party. Werlin carried weight, joined the Mercedes-Benz supervisory board, and went on to be inspector-general of the industry.

Hitler sanctioned the VW provided it could cruise the new autobahns at 100kph, obtain a fuel consumption of 7l/100 kms (40 mpg) and sell for Rm990. A contract was drawn up under which Rm200,000 was set aside for a prototype and a production run of 50,000. The effect on the established Saxony car makers was profound but in 1935 Volkswagen was inaugurated. State intervention had been inevitable and the Auto Union’s marques Horch, Audi, Wanderer and DKW were broadly complementary. Horch made premium big saloons and tourers, Audi was distinctly middle-class. Wanderer had a solid array of good family cars and DKW lively cheap two-stroke economy models.
An urgent task was to forge the group’s identity and it took up a German state subsidy to build a 16-cylinder car designed by Professor Porsche, inaugurating a momentous period of grand prix motor racing. Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union overwhelmed all opposition in a demonstration of German technical pre-eminence, a triumph for the Reich’s propaganda machine under Dr Joseph Goebbels.

Now Automotive News Europe reports: "The simple deal logic is straightforward," London-based analyst Arndt Ellinghorst of ISI Group wrote in a note to investors. "Chrysler - better Jeep and Dodge - could fix VW's US problems; Alfa could replace the ailing Seat brand; Fiat Europe is basically the 500 product family plus LCVs. Latin America could be sold, potentially to a Chinese buyer."
Both Piëch and Martin Winterkorn, VW chief executive, are on record as showing interest in Alfa Romeo. VW had $24 billion in cash to play with at the end of March, so a takeover would be manageable. Everybody denies any such thing but Piëch, the obsessive and brilliantly successful 77 year old grandson of Ferdinand Porsche gets his way more often than he doesn’t. If VW bought the 150-strong Agnelli-Elkann dynasty's 30 percent controlling stake in Fiat-Chrysler it could be $5 billion or $6 billion richer and even keep Ferrari to bring a regular $475 million pocket money every year.

Top: Mid-engined masterpieces, Auto Union racing cars by Dr Porsche.

Audi adopted Auto Union’s four rings.

Number 1 surmounts the bonnet of an Audi Front.

Horch made some spectacular cars

DKW Sonderklasse. Front wheel drive, 2-stroke and one of my first ever test cars, borrowed from the factory in Düsseldorf in 1956. My first drive at the Nürburgring.

Workaday Wanderer W24 with Auto Union rings

Publicity pictures

Scanning images for a new edition of Dove Publishing’s Audi book, which goes back to the early years of the 20th century, shows the heritage of NSU, Horch, DKW Wanderer and Audi. What pictures. Take “The greatest motorcycle factory in the world” (above) in 1930. The enterprising Dane Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen came to Saxony as a student and aged only 25 in 1903 set up Rasmussen & Ernst GmbH, boilermakers. The firm bought an empty textile works at Zschopau, and profits between 1914-1918 led to making motorcycles in this vast factory with chimneys and grandiose offices.
The 1922 Audi Type K was a 4-cylinder 3.5 litre 14/50 with an aluminium block, pressed-in liners, a ball-action gearshift and four wheel brakes. A dignified car Sebastian Vettel would approve its radiator motif, a figure 1 indicating Audi’s place in the world.
Horch went for the premium market in 1922 with its 10/35 4-cylinder engine designed by Arnold Zoller (1882-1934). Probably better remembered for his supercharger, Zoller also designed an astonishing 1464cc 12-cylinder 2-stroke racing car. The block was cast in one, the cylinders in two rows, each pair with a common combustion chamber. All the inlet ports were on the left of the engine, exhausts on the right, superchargers on top. Unfortunately it all proved too much for their inventor who died before the cars were properly developed.
Paul Daimler (1869-1945) designed this twin overhead camshaft for Horch, shown in Berlin in 1927. Gear-driven camshafts, 8-cylinders, the 3.3litre was the first in a series to secure Horch’s prestige.

Wanderer (below) was more middle-class with the 1926 W10 6/30, a modest 1551cc 4-cylinder. Its appeal was helped by a new electro-plating facility for bumpers and radiator. Side-mounted spare wheel wrapped in tidy cover.

Publicity caption for the 1971 Audi 80L (below) says “…rear part of Audi models redesigned so that it appears broader and appeals more to public. It can radiate charm and grace.” Car manufacturers’ publicity pictures. Phds have been compiled on less.


e-mails, e-books (like Dove Publishing produces), and now e-ethanol and e-diesel. You can see now why Audi is racing e-tron quattro R18s (above at Bahrain). It is serious about alternatives to fossil fuels and for the first time I can remember it looks like a practical proposition. Audi e-ethanol and Audi e-diesel are made by combining salt or waste water with waste CO2, sunlight and microorganisms. They are making the stuff in a factory in the New Mexico desert with Audi's American fuels specialist Joule. It is an astonishingly simple process. Genetically modified microorganisms in pipes of brackish water react with CO2 and sunlight, producing ethanol and diesel-range paraffinic alkanes. It needs no biomass. I never really believed in the idea of growing vast crops of that anyway. Now Audi e-ethanol works in petrol cars with only minor changes and e-diesel will work in TDI clean diesels with no modification. Audi says production is “imminent”.

The virtue of these new fuels is in the simple and relatively cheap way they’re made and the materials to produce them are renewable. There is no need for crop-based biomass synthetic fuels have before, so a refinery doesn’t need to be near habitable or arable land. It is being made in the New Mexico desert (see below)and has the same chemical properties as bioethanol produced from biomass. You can blend up to 85 per cent ‘Audi e-ethanol’ with only 15% fossil-fuel petrol for cars running on E85 fuel.

Audi and Joule are starting to make sustainable and pure e-diesel fuel. Petroleum-based diesel is a mixture of a variety of organic compounds, e-diesel DERV is free of sulphur and aromatics and easy to ignite due to its high cetane value. Audi and Joule have had a partnership since 2011, Joule protecting its technology with patents, for which Audi has exclusive rights in automotive. Audi knows how to make the fuels work in engines, and is developing them so that they can be brought to market.

Makes sense. Audi has sometimes looked eccentric in racing. It has competed at Le Mans 14 times since 1999, made the podium every time, and won 11. In 2012 it made history by winning with the pioneering hybrid diesel Audi R18 e-tron quattro.

Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Tom Kristensen (DK), Allan McNish (GB)at Bahrain

Audi Range Review

Audi overtaking Mercedes-Benz is no surprise. Before the end of the year Audi will be second in world sales of premium cars behind BMW. It’s no reflection on Mercedes-Benz, the most aspirational brand after Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Its medium and high-priced cars are beyond reproach but it has failed to match the smaller Audis or mid-range and Mini BMWs. Audis are so well made, the range so wide and so professionally presented to seem unstoppable.
Executive spaceship: Audi A8 L
My classic-in-the-garage is a BMW – I like rear wheel drive and there is nothing like a straight-six for perfect smoothness – but an Audi range review this week was a revelation. I have driven Audi press cars for years, invariably complaining about road noise. This time the cars had winter tyres and were decibels quieter. You could appreciate all their finer points without getting irritated about low-profile tyres that are only fitted to look better in pictures.

Mercedes-Benz sold 1,136,525 of its splendid first-rate cars in the first 11 months. This was up 7 per cent and in November better than Audi. Sales of Audis rose 18 per cent to 1,190,110, and it looks as though it will end the year on 1.3 million against Mercedes’ 1.27 million. However BMW, including Mini and a handful of Rolls-Royces, has sold more than either. In the 11 months it has done 1,510,862, more than in the whole of 2010.

Audi is best in breadth. It has no weak models. Mercedes’ smaller cars don’t do well and although the BMW 1-series is doing better now it was disappointing on launch. Audi’s A1 is more than a match for anything; so much so that we have thought about replacing Ruth’s Puma with one if she thinks it worth the premium over a VW.

Accordingly I tried two A1s, a 1.4 TFSI, 185PS S line S tronic, not quite the base 99g/km one we could use without paying the London Congestion Charge, but we have been tempted by some good dealer deals. This A1 had a technology package at £1375, DAB radio at £305, a Comfort Package with acoustic parking and cruise control at £605, BOSE surround sound £690 and fancy alloys at £410. With delivery at £590 it looks a lot at £25,160.

A 1.6 TDI S Line of 99g/km costs a basic £17,220, but once again it was so laden with extras that it came out at £22,545. There is no Road Fund licence and it did have the feel of a much larger car but it isn’t quite bargain basement. Ruth’s jury is still out.

Audi makes changes subtly. The newest ones don’t look a lot different from the old ones. Cosmetic changes have been kept to a minimum, a corner tweak on the grille, different LED patterns on the headlights, grey instrument dials with white pointers and you can get some sat-nav refinements such as Google Earth that works in 3D or aerial photographs. Powertrains are usually carried over, which means seamless gearshifts and quiet engines. I usually ignore paddle-shifts. They’re pure affectation. S-tronic gears almost always does the job better than I can, and since I brake automatics with the left foot I drive more precisely than I would pretending to be snatching pole ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Audi interiors are well proportioned and superior. There is no faux woodiness. I used to love walnut veneers and suchlike but now I guess it looks pretentious unless done with real craft skills at Crewe or Goodwood. Nobody can match it and everything else risks looking ostentatious. Revel instead in comfort and security. Tried an A8; a touch gloomy inside but what space. I could happily live with an A7 or S5 Sportback now that they have refinement and quietude to match their good balance and swiftness.

Audi and Chevrolet

Electric cars have not moved on a lot since this motoring column in The Sunday Times of 14 January 1990. Hybrids may be a production reality and they are smaller, but not much lighter, than the prototype Audi, which had 181kg (400lb, 3.6cwt) of battery. Pure electric cars are still bedeviled by the difficulties Camille Jenatzy faced in 1899. As I put it 91 years later, electric vehicles can go a long way slowly or a short way quickly, but not both. A hundred and ten years further on there is a lot of talk about municipal charging stations, but California's demand for 1.7million electric cars by the year 2000, and seven out of ten on the Sunshine State roads by now remains unattainable. Government targets...

As in 1990 so also now, GM talks airily about the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, which sounds neither one thing nor the other. CEO Fritz Henderson echoes Roger Smith 20 years ago when he claims the project is, "all-important for us." A spokesman promised the Volt was, "absolutely on target and that will not change. It is as high a priority as we have in this company." Motor industry public relations statements are high in vacuity. Output of pre-production Volts is planned at ten a week, with 80 on the road as press cars and test vehicles. It is a modest aim. One suspects GM's heart is not in it beyond an ambition to appease politicians. The Volt only does 40 miles on one three-hour charge of its lithium-ion batteries, which at 170kg (375lb, 3.34cwt) are not much of an improvement over the 1990 Audi. Volts might only cover 30 miles if there are hills or if you are in a hurry to get to the office. And at an on-the-road price of $40,000 you have to take a low-carbon footproint very seriously.

Audi R8 - Honda NSX


If you see this from the driving seat you could be in for an exciting time. It is the instrument panel of an Audi R8, one of the best and most accessible supercars I have driven for years. You would be required to fasten your seat belt and raise the engine revs to more than idling speed to find the most notable feature of the R8 is how easy it is to drive fast. Generations of sports car drivers, especially in America, believed that you weren’t getting your money’s worth from a sports car unless it was a) difficult to drive b) frightened you to death and c) was noisy uncomfortable and draughty. Cars that changed all that were the BMW 328 in 1936, the E-type Jaguar in 1961 and the Honda NSX. Here is what I said about it in The Sunday Times on 17 March 1991.

Honda now has a car to confront Ferrari and Porsche. The NSX challenges their ideology and refutes the assertion that fast cars should be exacting to drive. Thirty years ago the E-Type Jaguar did much the same and showed that racing-car handling was not incompatible with smoothness and refinement. Drivers who pined for stiff springing and a noisy engine in 1961, were as out of tune with current practice, as their successors who disparage the NSX for lacking character or failing some quaint test of machismo.
The NSX rides smoothly, handles as lightly as a small hatchback, yet it has the speed and power of a sports car. Like that other high-speed paragon, the Mercedes-Benz SL, it is quiet and refined and exquisitely balanced, and anyone who suggests it has no character is probably not driving it fast enough.
Above 150mph all cars have character.
The NSX has been a sell-out. At £52,000 (£55,000 with automatic transmission) it is in such short supply that at least one of the twenty or so cars that have come on the UK market has been advertised in the classified columns at a handsome premium.
Honda's Tochigi plant makes only twenty-five of the 3ft 10in tall mid-engined NSX coupes every day. Of these only 150 will come to the UK this year making it as exclusive as a Ferrari and rarer than a Porsche. It has all the elegance of both without the highly-strung nature of either.
The Honda's critics may regard it as a usurper, but anybody who enjoys driving fast on the road without feeling constantly on the threshold of disaster, will welcome it. Unlike many Ferraris, it does not demand deftness at the wheel, although with 270 horse power available from the 3 litre V-6 it does demand concentration.
This is the Audi R8 V8

Honda has drawn on its racing experience for some of the engine's radical features such as the lightweight (and expensive) titanium connecting rods. VTEC or variable valve timing is an ingenious feature, which engages a different cam profile to retune the engine for extra power at high speeds. The result is a substantial improvement in efficiency and commendable fuel consumption of more than 20mpg. The greatest asset of the NSX is its predictable behaviour. Other so-called supercars can snap quickly and violently out of control, but the NSX has cornering power to spare for emergencies, sudden swerves, uneven surfaces, or bends that tighten up unexpectedly. It is safe because it will not betray the semi-skilled driver yet its fine poise and good balance will amply reward the proficient.
It inspires confidence. The mid-engined layout places the bulk of the weight in the middle, where it will not make the front or back swing wide. The balance is perfect, provoking no tail slides, no front wheel skids, and while it may have less grip of a racetrack than a Porsche Carrera 4, it can be cornered faster on the road because the driver always knows where he is with it.
The NSX accelerates to 60mph in less than 6 seconds, reaches 100mph in under 14 seconds, and its powerful brakes can produce stopping power of over 1g, with the fat specially developed Yokohama tyres gripping the road with great might. It is as tolerant in the wet as it is in the dry; the driver gets plenty of warning through the steering of the limits of prudence.
The interior is hardly grandiloquent. It has an instrument display that would not look out of place in a Honda Accord and agreeable stitched leather seats. There is nothing fancy here, nor is there much to be said for a luggage boot that does not take a full-sized suitcase. It is a basin-shaped bin right at the tail behind the high-revving masterpiece of an engine.
The NSX can crawl along in traffic making no more noise than a small Rover, then accelerate to 160mph, reaching over 8,000rpm in the gears and sounding every bit the thoroughbred. Honda felt no obligation to compete with Ferrari and Porsche for the apprehensions of the
sports car buyer. Tradition runs deeper here than even in the luxury market.
This is the V10 engine of an R8's well finished (and illuminated) engine compartment. No modesty here.
Instead Honda made it their business to win grand prix races; it was the only way to convince the fastidious buyer that is more than a match for Ferrari or Cosworth or anybody else. Honda won the world championship more convincingly than anybody has since the days of Mercedes-Benz.
The NSX may never attract the traditional Ferrari or Porsche customer who will not regard it in the same designer-label style. No matter, the NSX is perfectly capable of creating its own new market among people who would never buy a fractious Ferrari or a too-precious Porsche in any case.

Audi also makes practical cars.



Number Two daughter scorned the Audi Sportback press launch, a day trip to Le Touquet, as Daddy’s booze cruise. It was nothing of the sort of course despite quite drinkable supermarché Merlot at €3 a bottle. Nice car, nice people, but scarcely the alcoholic adventure press launches once were. They gave you a breath test before driving in the morning. Were they worried somebody was going to sue Audi for plying them with drink? Probably the Milton Keynes risk assessment department told them they had to. Bit of a charade really; nobody seemed to fail, one wonders how veterans like the late Patrick Mennem would have reacted. Taken it in his stride I expect.

It’s odd how car manufacturers with ambitions of grandeur avoid “hatchback”. We’ve had Liftback, Fastback, Notchback, Sportcoupe Sportwagon; now Audi has turned to Sportback with a 5-door coupe look-alike. Hatchbacks were invented 70 years ago, the first predictably a front wheel drive car with a low floor. The Citroën Commerciale 11 Large (or Big 15) of March 1939 was a voiture de tourisme with a third row of seats. Citroën found the spare wheel was so heavy the bottom half of the hatch had to be hinged underneath. The 1939 tourisme season was somewhat attenuated, however, and by 1945 for one reason and another not many Commerciales were left.

Citroën revived it in 1952. The Big 15 returned with an extended boot, but up-market hatchback imitators were on the way. The following year Aston Martin opened the rear window in he sloping rear of the DB2/4 so you could load your monogrammed suitcases on to a shallow platform behind the seats. In 1958 the Farina Austin A40 Countryman was a 2-box saloon, something akin to an estate car, with a horizontally split tailgate. One version had a conventional boot lid just in case the customers were not convinced. The Renault 16 established the adaptable top-hinged hatchback with moveable seats in 1965, and Austin replied with the Maxi in 1969. It was a horrible car, with doors inherited from the unlovely 1800, but its heart was in the right place. Typically for BMC it was a bright idea stricken by ineptitude and woeful quality

Audi’s new saloon desperately wants to look like a coupe, a racy recipe that used to be implausible. There had been oddballs like the Maserati Quattroporte but you could scarcely take that seriously. Designers found it too difficult to get a low roofline and practical rear doors. Moray Callum’s Mazda RX8 was a clever ploy until Mercedes-Benz showed the CLS at Frankfurt in 2003. Nobody noticed at first. Mercedes-Benz was bringing out new shapes every week. The CLS was exquisitely proportioned and set a trend. Now they’re all at it. Jaguar XF, Porsche Panamera and did you see the Peugeot RC Hymotion at Geneva? VW Passat CC, Lexus, Honda FCX, Toyota Avensis the list goes on.

The Audi Sportback is customary Audi quality. The cost of the extras is a bit daunting. I tried a 2.0 TDI SE, list price £26,400 but the extras took the price to £31,970. Sport seats cost £465 presumably the ordinary SE had decent seats too; £145 for what they called aluminium hologram inlays in the doors; £690 for 10-spoke V-design alloy wheels; heated seats £243; Audi media interface £245 and mobile telephone preparation whatever that is, £365. It all adds up. Jon Zammett says that they had to specify the press cars with whatever happened to be first on what he called the extras tree. You could add the best part of 10K with fancy seats, different alloy wheels, MMI navigation with a 10GB hard drive. Luggage capacity with the back seat upright is only 10 litres less than an Avant – about the size of a small suitcase. It’s 6cm longer in the wheelbase than the 2-door A5 and you can ring the changes on engines and transmissions from 2.0 to 3.2 and three diesels, 7-speed S-tronic, multitronic and quattro four wheel drive.

The 2 litre diesel turned out to be about the best compromise. It’s quiet, lively, and with the 6-speed manual SE at £27,140 swift enough for most purposes. What a pity press fleets can’t resist low-profile tyres. They think they make cars look better while all it does is generate disagreeable road noise. It’s not too bad on the 2 litre diesel but quite spoils the 3 litre.


Audi has been celebrating its centenary but its four-ringed symbol only dates from 1932, when Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer in the German state of Saxony joined together following the Depression and threats of state intervention. The badge was based shamelessly on the Olympic emblem, and Auto Union became as potent a symbol of prestige as the three pointed star of Mercedes-Benz, when they competed in grand prix motor racing. Unfortunately in 1945 Auto Union found most of its factories in East Germany. There were fitful attempts at revival by the East German state with smoky Trabants and asthmatic Wartburgs.

Mercedes-Benz meanwhile grew rich in West Germany. Volkswagen revived itself in Wolfsburg within artillery range of the Iron Curtain. BMW abandoned its factories on the wrong side of the border and re-established in its native Munich. Rights to the old Auto Union were claimed by both East and West German contenders, but in 1948 with the arrival of Marshall Aid, currency reform by the federal finance minister Ludwig Erhardt and the introduction of the Deutsche Mark, Germany turned the corner and the Economic Miracle got under way.

Desperate to get back on their wheels, Germans ran their old cars into the ground, looking for spare parts for aged DKWs. Some 60,000 of the quarter-million two-stroke cars made before the war had survived. Former Auto-Union president, Dr Richard Bruhn and salesman Carl Hahn were in the west when the new frontiers were drawn up, and set up a DKW spare parts centre in Ingolstadt. DKW was one of the rings in the 1932 amalgamation so they boldly claimed the old title.

In the 1950s Auto Union still carried overtones of the Third Reich. DKW was associated with motorcycles and down-market two-strokes, Horch had been a favoured parade car of the Nazi hierarchy, Wanderers were recreated in East Germany as Wartburgs. Only Audi had the clean-cut premium-price image to compete with Mercedes-Benz and the emerging BMW.

The new Auto Union GmbH was established in September 1949 with loans from the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, reconstruction credits, and a local authority grant which paid for rebuilding the bomb-damaged Rheinmetall-Borsig plant in Düsseldorf. This began making DKWs on pre-war designs, with a 688cc transverse two-stroke twin-cylinder engine, and a body intended for a 1940 model. In an effort to reduce the heavy fuel consumption it had a smooth aerodynamic body, with flush headlights, full-width bodywork, and a long tail enclosing the luggage boot.

Introduced at the 1950 Frankfurt motor show, the DKW was right for a cash-strapped world where cheap engines mattered more than clever ones. Boldly Auto Union made the DKW dearer than a Volkswagen, and in 1950 the rebuilt factory made 1,380 cars, 6,873 vans and 24,606 motorcycles. By 1954 it was making nearly 60,000, its high price stuck, and it was prospering.

In 1958 Daimler-Benz nearly took it over, acquired the Düsseldorf plant and began to expand Ingolstadt. Two years later Volkswagen bought new share capital, and the cars became Auto Union DKWs, and Daimler-Benz was eased out. In 1965 when a 72bhp four-stroke was developed VW-Auto Union coined the name Audi, signifying the end of the two-stroke and setting the premium-priced brand on the road.


The relentless ascent of Audi continued with galvanised body shells, the aluminium A8, ground-breaking aerodynamics, Q7 its first Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) with seven seats, adaptive air suspension, four wheel drive, and enough electrickery to keep a celebrity clientele happy for a lifetime. Q7 is a big car, as much Deutschland Üuber Alles as Vorsprung Durch Technik, and with a choice of 4.2V8 petrol and 3.0V6 diesel, awash with luxury appurtenances.

It has acoustic parking which means beeps and facia display rather than waiting until you hear the bump, and its rear-facing camera has a 130degree field of view showing the rear bumper and tow hitch on the facia TV screen. You can manoeuvre Q7 into position for hooking up to the horsebox, or boat. Perhaps not a caravan. It has Electronic Stabilisation Program (ESP), traction control (ASR), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), 6-speed tiptronic with Dynamic Shift Program (DSP), Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) and two 24 gigahertz radar sensors in the back bumper that warn the driver when the car behind is too close.

Seven seats? Well maybe 5+2; the rearmost pair are not very big, and might well spend most of their time folded down in the big boot floor. Yet the Q7 confirms Audi’s place in the up-market pecking order alongside Range Rover Sport, BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Lexus RX and the rest of the classy country-style cars parked round the polo field. It manages it subtly, as befits a classic marque, by looking less of a Chelsea tractor and more of a big estate car. You can’t be inconspicuous in a vehicle getting on for 17ft long and 6ft 6in tall, but it doesn’t look so pushy, and from the other end of the village can look quite modest.