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50 Years Of The Audi

Fifty years ago, the Auto Union introduced a FWD saloon that truly established Audi as an alternative to Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Citroën, Lancia and Rover. The C1-Series 100 was a car for people who emphatically did not want to stand out in a crowd and preferred to quietly appreciate the quality of construction and the reliability. If you had a vital business meeting to attend, the Audi would be guaranteed to convey you there in style.

The famous ringed badge stands for the four constituent brands of the Auto Union – Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. After the Second World War, the company supplied parts for existing vehicles and when car production resumed in 1950 they concentrated on inexpensive three-cylinder two-stroke cars sold under the DKW name.

Auto Union was acquired by Daimler-Benz in 1958 but by the early 1960s this format was increasingly regarded as dated by the German car market. The parent company appointed Ludwig Kraus as technical director and one of his first challenges was to develop a new four-stroke engine. The resulting Super 90 made its debut in 1965 and to further mark a change in direction the DKW badge was dropped in favour of a revived Audi brand.

By that time, Daimler-Benz had sold the Union to Volkswagen, but Ludwig Kraus remained with the company. Heinrich Nordhoff, the CEO of VW, decreed that there would be no new Auto Union models and the Ingolstadt factory was employed making Volkswagens as Wolfsburg lacked the production capacity.

There was a real possibility that the brand would not survive beyond the end of the decade, but Kraus was determined to preserve the independence of the Audi name.

And so, without the knowledge of Wolfsburg’s management, Kraus commenced work on a new large saloon – and when Nordoff was eventually shown a prototype he was highly impressed. The 100 was displayed to the motoring press in March 1968.

It made its official debut in that year’s Frankfurt Motor Show and although the competition – including the equally new Mercedes-Benz W114/115 and the Peugeot 504 – was fierce the Audi was lauded for its appearance and spaciousness. Power was from a 1.7 litre engine four-cylinder engine (there were no funds to develop a six-cylinder plant) but the lightweight construction meant that the 100 was a true Autobahn cruiser.

German drivers also appreciated that there was a shorter waiting list for the C1 than a Mercedes-Benz 200 while the 100 became the first Audi to be sold in the USA. It also appealed to British motorists who might otherwise have considered a Rover 2000 TC or a Triumph 2.5 PI.

The only trim level available in the UK was the upmarket LS and there was a floor gear lever; home market 100s had a steering column change as standard. £1,475 was a considerable amount of money but the 100 was still £200 cheaper than a BMW 1800 and boasted a discrete style of its own.

1969 saw the 100-line-up augmented by a two-door saloon and in the following year the 1.9 litre Coupe S almost instantly became the object of desire for all chartered surveyors who could not quite afford an Aston Martin DBS.

For 1972 the quad-headlamp GL saloon combined the Coupe’s engine with the more sensible saloon coachwork and when What Car evaluated the top of the range 100 saloon they concluded ‘We are certain this family car will appeal to, and suit admirably, bank managers, accountants and estate agents (if these people will forgive our stereotype)’.  They also observed, in a style that really belonged in a 1974-vintage sit-com, ‘Except at parking speeds, the steering is light enough for the most genteel wives, although some husbands may find it a little vague’.

When C1 production ended in 1976, 800,000 examples had left the factory. The first 100 had truly established the Audi name across the globe for its combination of elegance, efficiency and understated flair. This commercial says it all…

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