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A Century on the Road, Audi Brings Out 'Family Silver' for Birthday

March 13, 2009

HAMBURG, GERMANY - The German premium car manufacturer, Audi, is bringing out the "family silver" this year with more than 50 events and special shows to mark the 100th birthday, according to

The brand got its name to avoid a legal dispute linked to car pioneer and founder August Horch. Horch, which means "hear" in German, established a small car company in Cologne in 1899, but then moved to the eastern German town of Zwickau in 1904 where he established the Hochwerke AG stock company.

After a row with the board of management, Horch left the company in 1909 to establish a second car company; however, he encountered problems because his surname was already protected by a trademark.

Legend has it that the son of a business partner who was well versed in Latin, overheard the conversation and suggested he choose the Latin translation of "horch" - "audi" - and thus the Audi Automobile Works was born on July 16, 1909.

Audi became a household name within a few years, largely because the Audi Type C 14/35 became known as the "Alpine Conqueror" in the Austrian Alpine Run between 1911 and 1914.

Throughout its history, Audi has been at the forefront of many new engineering innovations. In 1921, the new Audi 14/50 hp Type K, became Germany's first left hand-drive car. The Type M, with a six-cylinder engine, followed in 1923 and the first eight-cylinder Audi model, the Audi Imperator, was launched in 1927.

In August 1928, Joergen Skafte Rasmussen, owner of Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW, acquired a majority share in Audiwerke AG, the following year merging the Zwickau-based company with his own business. The Audi label was continued in the premium class.

On June 29, 1932, the Audi logo of four interlinked rings was born when the Audiwerke, Horchwerke and Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW merged to form Auto Union AG with DKW, Horch, Audi, and Wanderer labels for different market segments.

The Audi brand took everyone by surprise with the development of the Audi Front Type UW. Its main feature was front-wheel drive. The DKW front-wheel drive was simply translated into a medium-sized vehicle with a Wanderer 2.0L, six-cylinder engine developed by Ferdinand Porsche, serving as the power unit.

At the end of World War II, Soviet occupying forces seized the factory and all its assets in Zwickau. But a group of senior managers managed to escape to Bavaria. After initially establishing an Auto Union spare parts depot in Ingolstadt, the Auto Union GmbH was formed in 1949. The first cars were the reliable DKW models with two-stroke engines, typical of the austere, post-war years.

In 1958, Daimler-Benz acquired the majority share in the company. In 1964, it was taken over by Volkswagen as sales of the two-stroke DKWs began to dwindle. It was time for a change and the brand's first four-stroke engine appeared in 1965 as an Audi F103 based on the DKW F102.

Depending on the power unit, the models were called Audi 60, 72, 75, 80, or Super 90.

In 1968, the foundation was laid for the Audi 100 series. The VW bosses initially stopped Ingolstadt's engineers from developing their own models. However, Ludwig Kraus, then head of development and member of the Board of Management, decided to proceed on the quiet with the development of a new Audi 100 model which was ultimately approved by the VW bosses.

It proved an instant success and ensured the future of the separate Audi brand in the company. The sporty Audi 100 Coupe S is today a sought-after classic among Audi enthusiasts.

In 1974, Ferdinand Piëch succeeded Ludwig Kraus as head of Technical Development. The "Piëch era" was synonymous with a range of technical and new drive innovations as well as the new advertising logo: "Vorsprung durch Technik" or, "Advancement with technology."

The five-cylinder engine was launched in 1976, the turbocharger in 1979, and the quattro four-wheel-drive in 1980. It went on to dominate the international rally scene.

The four-wheel-drive technology was later introduced in the luxury Audi V-8 with the second generation in 1994 becoming the first major production car built with an aluminum body. The Audi 100 of 1983 was in turn the most aerodynamic mass volume saloon of its time.

The Audi TT sports car with its unique design was launched in 1998 and in 1999 the manufacturer built the first small car with an aluminum body, the A2, which had little market success. More of a stunner was the launch of the R8 super sports car in 2006.

Audi is celebrating the actual birthday on July 16, 2009 with a special commemorative ceremony to be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ingolstadt.

Another big event is the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, where Audi will be putting in a special appearance as "featured marque" on July 3-5. Every car built by Audi that has played an important role on the world's racetracks during the past century will be on display including an authentic replica of the car in which Bernd Rosemeyer attempted to break the world speed record in 1937 - the Auto Union Type C Streamline.

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