From wood cars to Sport Quattros, Audi’s museum is an automotive time capsule

Audi’s history is a labyrinthine web of acquisitions and mergers. The brands Horch, Audi, DKW, and Wanderer came together to form Auto Union in 1932, which explains the company’s four-ring logo. Volkswagen began investing in Auto Union in 1964, and the company merged with another German auto-maker named NSU in 1969. Audi emerged as a standalone brand within the Volkswagen Group in 1985. Still with us?

Horch, Wanderer, DKW, and NSU gradually retired to the pantheon of automotive history as executives decided to focus on Audi, rendering the Auto Union name increasingly moot. Join us as we stroll through the company’s official museum in its home town of Ingolstadt, Germany, to learn more about some of the cars that shaped the brand as we know it today.

DKW Schwebeklasse (1934)

audi museum dkw schwebeklasse
DKW Schwebeklasse (1934) Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

At first glance, the DKW Schwebeklasse catches the eye with its aerodynamic front-end design. Walk up to it and you’ll notice it has a few more tricks up its sleeve: its body is made entirely out of wood, and some parts of it are coated with synthetic leather. 6,000 examples were built from 1934 to 1937. Its successor switched to an all-steel body, which was considerably more durable, especially in an era when paved roads were still a rarity outside of big cities.

Wanderer W 25 K (1936)

audi museum wanderer w25k
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Presented to the public in 1936, the Wanderer W 25 K used a supercharger designed by none other than Ferdinand Porsche to make 85 horsepower from a 2.0-liter straight-six engine. It could reach a top speed of 90 mph. At the time, it stood out from rival models built by the likes of Mercedes-Benz with a contemporary design. Power and drop-dead gorgeous drop-top style didn’t come cheap, even in the 1930s, so only 259 examples were built over a two-year period.

Auto Union Typ C/D (1939)

audi museum union type cd
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Audi’s numerous Le Mans winners trace their roots back to a series of race cars built by Auto Union in the 1930s. Designed for hill climb races, the Typ C/D pictured here boasts one of the most impressive specifications sheets of any car from that era. Its mid-mounted, 6.0-liter V16 engine generates 520 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Dually-style quad rear wheels helped transfer the power to the ground.

Auto Union built just a single example of the Typ C/D.

DKW Meisterklasse F89 P (1950)

audi museum dkw meisterklasse f89 p
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

DKW often showed the more basic side of Auto Union. The F89 P was the first passenger car built by the brand after World War II, when demand for personal vehicles reached record highs. The line-up included a two-door sedan (pictured), a coupe, a convertible with either two or four seats, and a station wagon. The sedan used a two-stroke, two-cylinder engine which made 23 horsepower.

Nearly 60,000 examples rolled off the assembly line during a four-year production run. The F89’s design markedly influenced future DKW models, and the tiny two-stroke engine lived on.

Horch 830 BL (1953)

audi museum horch 830 bl
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

This one-of-a-kind limousine is lucky to be alive. Built in 1953 for Auto Union boss Dr. Richard Bruhn, it was purchased three years later by an American soldier stationed in Germany who had it shipped back to the United States at the end of his mission. Audi Tradition indicates the car was eventually parked due to a gearbox problem and almost crushed, but it was saved at the last minute by a Texas-based enthusiast named Al Wilson. It sat out in the desert for 40 years until Wilson’s sons called Audi to inquire about the car. Astounded by its rarity, the company bought it and arranged shipping back to its homeland. It’s the last Horch model ever made, and historians thought it was gone for good for decades.

Auto Union 1000 Sp (1961)

audi museum union 1000 sp
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

By Audi’s own admission, Auto Union designers drew inspiration from the original Ford Thunderbird when they styled the 1000 Sp. It was much smaller than Ford’s emblematic roadster, however, and there was no V8 to be found under the hood. Instead, it settled for a two-stroke, three-cylinder engine that churned out a respectable 55 horsepower. Production ended after 1,640 examples were built in Ingolstadt. It’s on the same branch of Audi’s family free as modern-day convertible models like the A5.

Audi 50 (1974)

audi museum audi 50
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The Audi 50 started life as a successor to the NSU Prinz, which was outdated and way past its expiration date in the early 1970s. It joined the Audi line-up after executives made it clear that NSU’s days were numbered. It was consequently much smaller than Audi’s other cars.

Audi exited the city car segment at the end of the 50’s production run to focus on bigger models, and it didn’t return until it introduced the A1 at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show. The 50 spawned the original Volkswagen Polo, though, and the nameplate has been in continuous production ever since.

Audi Sport Quattro (1983)

audi museum sport quattro
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

We dare you to name a car that did more to forge Audi’s image than the Sport Quattro. Hailed as the most powerful German car at the time of its debut, it sent shivers down its competitors’ spine every time it rumbled onto the starting grid. The Sport Quattro made Audi a force to be reckoned with in rally circles, and the production model it spawned was barely tamer.

Audi enlisted German coachbuilder Baur to build 214 examples of the Sport Quattro for homologation purposes. The model pictured above is the very first one. Today, the surviving examples are among the most sought-after – and expensive – cars the company has ever built. It’s safe to say current Audi Sport models like the TT RS wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the Sport Quattro.

Audi 90 quattro IMSA-GTO (1989)

audi museum 90 imsa gto
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Eager to boost both its presence and image on the ever-lucrative American market, Audi signed up for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)’s GTO class in 1989. Its entry on the starting grid looked like a 90, a distant relative of today’s A4, but a closer examination revealed it was a purpose-built track beast with composite body panels and a 720-horsepower five-cylinder engine. While Audi was successful, it fell short of winning the championship that year because it missed the endurance races held in Sebring and Daytona at the beginning of the season.

Audi RS4 (first generation, 1999)

audi museum rs4
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

No one does hot-rodded station wagons better than Audi. The RS2 started it all in 1994 with some help from Porsche, and the first-generation RS4 took the torch right before the turn of the millennium. It received a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 tuned by Cosworth to generate 375 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, impressive statistics at the time. Power flowed through a six-speed manual transmission to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system. Today’s RS4 offers 444 hp.

Cars

Audi’s traffic light information system shows the challenges facing V2X tech

Audi’s traffic light information system is among the first commercial applications of potentially game-changing V2X tech. So how does it work in the real world? We spent a few days getting stuck at red lights to find out.
Cars

Unrestrained by heritage, Polestar sets its sights on becoming a digital brand

With no heritage to worry about, Polestar is free to move full-speed ahead towards its goal of becoming a digital brand. All of the company's upcoming models will be electric, and they will inaugurate an Android-powered infotainment system.
Cars

James Bond may ditch his V12 Aston Martin for electric power, report says

James Bond may take the wheel of an electric car in the next 007 movie, reports British newspaper The Sun. The car in question would be the Aston Martin Rapide E, the British automaker's first all-electric model.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Apple’s March event, Huawei 5G concerns, and SXSW coverage

Apple's latest event and a possible Boring Company tunnel in Las Vegas highlighted this episode of Digital Trends Live. We also joined Pavi Dinamani live at SXSW. She talked with Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls CODE.
Cars

Can electric cars be S3XY? Tesla says yes with the new Model Y crossover

Tesla introduced a crossover named Model Y at its design studio in Los Angeles. It's a more spacious alternative to the Model 3 it shares 75 percent of its parts with, and is a smaller sibling to the Model X.
Cars

Adventurous and electric, Porsche’s second station wagon will arrive in 2020

The Mission E Cross Turismo concept Porsche unveiled during the 2018 Geneva Auto Show will morph into a production model tentatively named Taycan Cross Turismo. This 600-horsepower electric station wagon will arrive in showrooms by 2021.
Cars

Automakers are spending billions on self-driving technology people are afraid of

Automakers are spending billions of dollars on developing the technology that will power self-driving cars, but research shows consumers have no interest in giving up control. Will they ever recoup their investment?
Cars

Mustang-like and electrified. What did Ford just show a preview of?

Ford posted an enigmatic picture of a blue Mustang emblem on a black background right as Tesla prepared to introduce the Model Y. Is the Blue Oval teasing a hybrid Mustang, or is it previewing a Mustang-inspired, battery-powered crossover?
Cars

Amazon and Kia team up to simplify EV home-charging station installs

Kia Motors announced a new program with Amazon for electric vehicles. Customers planning to purchase a new Kia EV or PHEV can check out recommended Level 2 240-volt home charging stations and arrange installation in their homes.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

Fisker plans sub-$40,000 electric SUV with 300 miles of range for 2021

Fisker Inc. plans to launch an electric SUV with a base price of under $40,000, and a range of around 300 miles in 2021. The unnamed vehicle could compete with the Tesla Model Y, if it ever gets into production.
Cars

Tesla gives us a cryptic look at its cyberpunk, Blade Runner-inspired pickup

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself. It could make its debut in 2019.
Cars

2020 Cadillac CT5 luxury sedan gets turbocharged power, chiseled looks

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 replaces the CTS in the General Motors luxury brand's lineup. Cadillac will unveil the CT5 at the 2019 New York Auto Show in April. Until then, it's keeping most details under wraps.
Cars

Bentley’s 542-horsepower Continental GT V8 is the best kind of downsizing

The Bentley Continental GT V8 has fewer cylinders than its W12 sibling, but Bentley expects it to offer better gas mileage and more agile handling. The V8's top speed of 198 mph is also pretty darn fast.