On the quest for the ultimate automotive overdose, I had a quick peek at the factory museum of the Audi brand, as I was curious how the brand carrying the logo of the historical Auto Union company will present its past. By that time, I already visited the museums and visitor centres of Porsche, Mercedes and BMW, and these brands set the bar quite high. I could also admire the efforts of many brands keeping their history in the limelight on events like the Retromobile and Techno Classica, and I really wondered, what avenues Audi will take, given the brand’s fable for modernism.
The Audi Forum solves this dilemma, by taking on the role of keeping memories for all the brands of the former Auto Union, that no longer exist.
In principle, the Audi brand has already passed the 100th anniversary a few years ago, but it could account for many rugged periods, in comparison to two other German premium brands. Initially, the Audi Marque was founded by Mr August Horch in 1910, after he lost control of the Horch company carrying his very own name. The Audi name itself is the Latin translation of the meaning of the name Horch. In the end, both brands became part of the Auto Union group with the four-rings symbolising the four companies the brand integrated.
Auto Union brought together the automotive industry from the eastern part of Germay incorporating them into a multi-branded conglomerate similar to what is Volkswagen today. Of course, most of it was lost in 1945, but the remaining company was re-established in 1949 with a legal seat in West-Germany. Following many years of struggle, Ferdinand Piëch arrived and successfully reshaped the Audi brand into what we know today. Thus it seems, there is a lot to tell, but the greatest achievements of the Audi brand itself would often not qualify as old-timer in most countries. So what is the point of a Museum? Judging from Audi’s presence at Techno Classica I guess, they also felt this contradiction.
At the Techno Classica, Audi usually brings something modern and astonishingly cool, like the Avus Quattro Concept in 2016 or the IMSA racing car in 2018, or even politely stepped down to hand over its stand to NSU that had a birthday in 2017. The museum takes on a similar approach.
As the keeper of the Museum is Audi, the modern and elegant building complex reflects the current design language of Audi dealerships.
The entry fee is negligible, even if I missed an entire section behind the Museum, accessible for free. To my excuse, this is not formally part of the exhibition but offers auxiliary activities, e.g. educational activities and entertainment for children.
Like at many other car museums, the exhibition starts at the top of the building and follows a different thematic on every floor.
Among the pre- World War II models, there are quite a few interesting and exceptional ones from the Auto Union brands, from bicycles to luxury limousines, including race cars that chased victories and world records. The most prominent cars of the floor include the Auto Union types C Grand Prix racing cars that were developed by a specialist racing department in Zwickau, Germany before the War broke out. These cars are comparable to today’s Le Mans endurance cars, sporting incredible specs like 16 Cylinder engines balancing on tyres you can only see today on scooters. My personal favourite is the Streamliner that celebrated its debut at the 1937 Avus Race and in the same year Bernd Rosemeyer drove this car on the Frankfurt to Darmstadt autobahn, accelerating it to a speed of over 400 km/h for the first time on a normal road, and set several world speed records.
The record chaser was also interesting, as I had managed to see the day before the Mercedes Rekordwagen that successfully broke the Streamliners world record and kept it for nearly 100 years!
On the top floor, visitors can observe the largest installation of the museum, the slowly moving giant paternoster, which in itself is a main attraction, that provides a thematic repository for a featured topic, such as Audi sports coupés or Race cars.
However, to my misfortune, on the day of my visit, the heavy machinery was loaded with Audi’s famous station wagons (Avant’s), which was about as soul-stirring as to watch the white painting dry on the cars. The timing is crucial here, during the second semester of 2018, the Paternoster will be rolling Le Mans legends of the recent years (a single Le Mans winning race car is also part of the permanent exhibition in the second floor).
The following floor is much more about the Audi brand, then the previous one, and fans of the 80s and 90s will feel much more at ease. For example, there is a beautiful set of the angular first generations of Audi 80 and Quattro models.
Of course they include race cars, such as the legendary Audi Sport Quattro (Hannu Mikkola’s winning car), along with a few successful breeds of Audi’s sports department (starting with Audi 90 Quattro competing in the American IMSA GTO series). For me this is the best part of the museum: on the one hand, the 80’s / 90’s were my favorite car era, on the other hand, I Audi was going through one its most dynamic period.
The innovations of the brand are well illustrated by detailed technical models such as cutaway skeletons of cars, or the drivetrains opened up, some of them can also be observed in (slow) motion.
On the other side, several older Audi models are showcased, naturally, all restored to a factory (“showroom shine”) condition, apart from one to illustrate the challenges of restoration.
At the mezzanine, a highly interesting exhibition was assembled to commemorate the Wankel technology. For those who are not familiar with this innovation, the Herr Wankel’s curse single-handedly erased the NSU brand’s existence, a brand that was comparable to BMW at that time. NSU, unfortunately, bet with high stakes on this innovation, as illustrated by many Wankel-powered NSUs in the hall.
Interestingly, Audi nevertheless pays tribute now to this technology by an impressive exhibition encompassing from chainsaw to the Lambo-like supersport concept car (the 2010 Italdesign Namir).
Even cars from Citroen and an exotic Cosmo from Mazda (not the one from the Mazda Museum, as I saw their car the day before).
For avid fans, there is a compulsory souvenir shop, where models are rotating on a paternoster, similar to the gigantic real one.
The Audi Museum may not be as overwhelming, like the ones in Stuttgart. To some extent, the photo from the Mercedes Museum smuggled into this post does steal the show. It is also true that a lot of cars have been left out of the exhibition from the glorious past of the brand(s) with four rings, some of which are probably lurking in the warehouse of the museum, providing dozens of reasons to come back when they will be on stage. Nevertheless, the Museum experience is impeccable, and it has preserved the memories of brands like Horch, Wanderer, NSU, and Auto Union itself.