When German car manufacturer Audi purchased Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati last April, many motorcyclists scratched their head in confusion. Ducatisti wept, concerned that the automotive giant would impose Teutonic rigidity on their beloved, flamboyantly Italian marque.
The hand-wringing wasn’t necessary. Audi doesn’t micromanage Lamborghini, its other high-profile Italian holding. And when Audi CEO Rupert Stadler addressed Ducati’s workforce in July, he made a significant promise: “Ladies and gentlemen…you have my guarantee: Ducati remains Ducati.”
Recently I traveled to Bilbao, Spain, for the world press launch of the 2013 Ducati Multistrada 1200. Our flight from Los Angeles to Bilbao included a 24-hour layover in Munich, Germany, which gave us an opportunity to drink liters of dunkel and scarf sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels at the Hofbrauhaus during Oktoberfest. But the primary reason for our time in Bavaria was a visit to the Audi Museum at the company’s headquarters in Ingolstadt, about an hour from Munich.
Not being a car guy, I didn’t know much about Audi, and I was completely ignorant of the company’s long history. To my surprise, interspersed among the dozens of automobiles spanning more than 100 years of production history, were numerous motorcycles. And they weren’t there just to appease a small handful of North American moto-journalists. The motorcycles are part of the museum’s permanent collection.
August Horch established his own automobile company, A. Horch & Cie, in 1899. Ten years later, Horch was ousted by the supervisory board, and he founded a separate company called Audi. (Horch means “hear” in German, and Audi means “to listen” in Latin.) In the early 1930s, Audi merged with Horch, DKW and Wanderer, forming Auto Union. DKW and Wanderer were two German manufacturers of both automobiles and motorcycles. Thus began the use of the badge showing four interlocking rings—one for each company in the union—that continues to be used today in Audi’s logo.
Due to the upheaval of World War II and the changing landscape of the automobile market in Germany, some Auto Union brands faded away and the company rode a rollercoaster of mergers and acquisitions. Daimler-Benz acquired Auto Union in 1958, and then sold it soon thereafter because it wasn’t profitable. Volkswagen acquired Auto Union in the mid-1960s, and in 1969 the company merged with NSU, another German automobile and motorcycle manufacturer.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Audi became established as a worldwide brand, while Auto Union and NSU were relegated to the dustbin. Even though motorcycles have never been manufactured under the Audi brand, nor are they likely to be in the future, motorized two-wheelers have been an important part of the company’s varied history. There aren’t yet any Ducatis at the Audi Museum, but they will fit right in!
(Sincere apologies for the several out-of-focus photos. All images were shot with my iPhone, and the low-light conditions and my shaky hand didn’t help matters.)