ALTHOUGH GERMANY WAS THE BIRTHPLACE of the automobile, the two men who had fathered the horseless carriage - Benz and Daimler - believed their original designs were near perfect, needing only polishing and refining; a fallacious outlook which would be repeated by such pioneers as the Wright Brothers with their aeroplane, Thomas Alva Edison with his phonograph and Henry Ford with the Model T.
The First German Vehicle With A Shaft-Driven Rear Axle
To an engineer with any originality in his soul, working in the Benz factory on vehicles whose basic layout had been determined in the mid 1880s must have been boredom incarnate, and it is a wonder that Dr August Horch stuck it out as long as he did, from 1896 to 1900, when he resigned to build a car that has a very good claim to being the first German vehicle with a shaft-driven rear axle.
With a twin-cylinder engine mounted at the front of the chassis, driving a constant-mesh gearbox by belts, this car was made in a factory at Cologne. Limited production took place there and, after a couple of years, at Reichenbach. However, the company did not really get under way until 1904, when they moved into a new works at Zwickau, in Saxony.
The Horch 18/22 and the Herkomer Trial
There, the 2.7-liter 18/22 model, with four cylinders and overhead inlet valves, was built, followed a year later by the similar 35/40; both cars made wide use of ball-bearings in engine, gearbox, rear axle and hubs, and had the mechanicals well cased so that dust and dirt could not creep in.
It was an 18/22, driven by Dr Rudolf Stoess, which won the 1906 Herkomer Trial against such opposition as a thinly disguised Mercedes 60 racer, but when Dr Stoess attempted to repeat the feat the following year, his car was eliminated by a broken front spring.
Late in 1906 came the 31/60 six, virtually a 35/40 with two extra cylinders giving a swept volume of 8.7 liters. Clutch troubles eliminated an attempt to run a team of three 8-liter sixes in the 1907 Kaiserpreis race before the cars had even reached the eliminating trials. 'I must have been drunk to send them', Horch admitted frankly.
Horch's next attempt at building competition cars ended in failure, too; yet it was a failure which would ensure his place in motoring history by its sheer audacity. Unable to build special cars for the 1908 Prince Henry Trial, Horch wrung the equivalent of six extra horsepower out of his team of 18/22s by fitting low-profile tourer bodies from the coach builder Kathe of Halle. By cutting head resistance to a minimum, these bodies gave the Horchs a top speed of 55 mph and, although quite permissible by the Trial regulations, aroused suspicion and hostility among those used to conventional coachwork.
1900 Horch twin-cylinder Tourer, which used a shaft-drive. It was manufactured until 1904.
1907 Horch 35/40PS four seat Tourer.
1932 Horch V12 Type 670.
1939 Horch Type 930 V8, which was favored as a Staff car by the Wehrmacht during World War 2.
The following year, after a quarrel with his fellow directors, Dr Horch resigned and immediately founded a new Horch company; his old company took legal action to stop him using his own name, so he called his new vehicles 'Audi', the Latin version of his name, which means 'listen'. The new chief engineer of the Horch company was one Paulmann, who designed a range of four-cylinder cars from 1588 cc to 6395 cc, and drove examples of them in such events as the Austrian Alpine Trials (no penalty marks) and the Swedish Winter Trials (gold plaque), both in 1913.
A new six-cylinder model was exhibited in 1910 at the Paris Motor Show, while the 1911 Horch cars featured enclosure of the valve gear. A 1914 design, the 8.4-liter 33/80PS, headed the postwar line-up. In 1921 Arnold Zoller planned two new Horch models, a four and a six, with light-alloy engines and overhead camshafts, but resigned before they were properly developed.
This task was left to Paul Daimler, who had just joined Horch from his family company. He turned the 2.6-liter four into the sporting 65 mph 10/50, with four-wheel servo braking and an all-up weight of over two tons; he also developed the six.
However, Daimler really wanted to produce a luxury car in the Mercedes idiom; and this appeared a couple of years later in the guise of the 3120 cc 300 straight-eight, with twin overhead camshafts, supplanted at the end of 1927 by the 305/306 range, with the swept volume increased to 3375 cc, joined in 1928 by the 3974 cc 375.
Fritz Fiedler Designs the Horch 450
With such advanced features as four-wheel air brakes, the Daimler-designed Horchs were moderately priced luxury vehicles, but reputedly suffered from chronic overheating. Daimler left the company in 1930, but his designs were further developed into the 400 and 405 ranges.
A new model, the 450, appeared in 1930, available with 4, 4·5 and 5-liter engines, still straight-eights, but now with only a single overhead cam. The designer was Fritz Fiedler, and the cars featured a chassis of rigid construction with an X-shaped cross-member of the approved latest style. This chassis was also used on the most luxurious Horch, introduced in 1931, which had a 5990 cc V-12 power unit and 90 mph performance.
It was, however, too much car for those depressed days, and its wings were well and truly clipped in 1933 when it reappeared as a 3517 cc V8. By this time, Horch had become part of the Auto Union combine, and the Porsche-designed Auto Union racing cars of 1934 on were, in fact, built in the Horch works at Zwickau, into which Audi had also moved by that time.
Favoured by low ranking NAZI's
At the end of 1933 the two smaller versions of the straight-eight Horch were dropped, and the 5-liter became the company's prestige model, often clad in typically Teutonic sporting coachwork, and favored by those whose position in the Nazi hierarchy did not quite qualify them for a Mercedes. Chassis layout changed with bewildering frequency: the solid rear axle was replaced by a unit along de Dion lines plus, on the 951 model of the mid 1930s, independent front suspension by transverse leaves and radius arms.
Eventually, on the 951B, the solid rear axle reappeared to replace the de Dion unit. By the outbreak of World War 2, the range was made up of two versions of the V8, now uprated to 3523 cc, and three straight-eights; and that, at the peak of its fame, was the true end of the Horch story. In 1945, Zwickau found itself in the People's Republic of East Germany, where there was no need for such non-socialist transportation.
There was an attempt to revive the Horch name in 1956, quickly crushed by Auto Union, whose headquarters were now in Dusseldorf; the new model, a BMW-like 2407 cc straight-six, was eventually marketed under the name Sachsenring, but survived only until 1959, when it was replaced by the depressingly utilitarian Trabant, whose 500 cc two-stroke power unit was a sad epitaph to the Horch story.