Big things with little cars
Big things with little cars

So - what connects the humble Trabant and the not so humble modern Maybach?

Well, this car, for example.

Illustration for article titled Teutonic Tuesday: Auto Union 1000SP
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The history of the Auto Union is pretty long and complex - but for those who don't know, here's a brief rundown: It was founded in 1932 as a conglomerate of four German manufacturers, who were struggling in the aftermath of the Great Depression: DKW, Audi, Maybach and Horch.

DKW was not only the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the 1930s, they had also found some success selling inexpensive front-wheel drive cars with two-stroke engines since 1928. The two stroke engines were popular as they were cheaper to produce, maintain and repair than four-stroke units, and also produced rather more power from smaller capacity engines.

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After WWII, the DKW (and all other Auto Union production facilities) were in the Soviet occupied zone, while most of the former staff and management and made it to the Allied zones, where private enterprise was far more encouraged.

So the old DKWs were produced under the "IFA" brand in East Germany, new post-war models came from a new factory in the West German City of Duesseldorf. Later, production was moved to Ingolstadt.

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Illustration for article titled Teutonic Tuesday: Auto Union 1000SP

But the noisy and smelly two-stroke engines which were synonymous with DKW became unpopular with the growing affluence in West Germany, and the competition of the VW Beetle didn't help. The decision was made to re-name the cars as Auto Unions and move them upscale a bit. And here the 1000SP came in. It looked a bit glamorous, a bit like a Thunderbird. But start the engine and inhale, and, no doubt, it really was just a DKW after all. Check out the video at this link. The problem becomes immediately clear:

While Auto Union managed to sell about 170,000 of their 1000 model saloons, the sporty looking and expensive 1000SP Coupe and Roadster found fewer than 7000 buyers between 1959 and 1965. And by 1965, it looked seriously dated too.

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At this stage, Auto Union was actually owned by Mercedes Benz who had already developed a four-stroke engine to put into a newly developed FWD sedan. It debuted first as the DKW F102 with the old two-stroke engine.

Then it was re-launched with a face lift and as a new, old brand: The first post war Audi in 1966. But by then, Mercedes had lost interest in the outfit and sold the lot to VW, who wanted a more upmarket brand in their stable. Actually, they didn't quite sell the lot - they retained the rights to the "Maybach" brand, which they of course used many years later.

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The old DKW factory in East Germany started to crank out Trabants, A new factory in Eisenach, East Germany was built to produce the Wartburg, still based on the old DKW 3-cylinder two-stroke design.

Audi went on the become a luxury car brand for VW, and the Maybach brand once again faces an uncertain future,

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And oh yeah, the model is another 1/64 by Grell.

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