Driving Auto Union’s Heritage
At the wheel of the 1934 Erdmann & Rossi Audi Front
Some car importers have a heart for remarkeable cars. D’Ieteren, the Belgian importer of Audi is one of them. Manager Roland D’Ieteren and his Corporate Communication and Press Manager Philippe Casse collect, restore and cherish amongst other cars in their collection, also the epoch-making automobiles of the Auto Union era. They keep them in their D’Ieteren Museum collection, and take them also regularly on the road, to be driven in anger in classic sporting events, and also to be presented to lucky souls for a drive on special events.
I had the opportunity to take this beautiful car for a drive on two occasions : one together with Philippe Casse when the car was used in the 2005 Le Mans driver’s parade, and a second time in the autumn of last year, on the rainy country roads near Belgian Erps Kwerps to mark the 75th anniversary of the introduction of front wheel drive in production cars.
I personally think this is one of the most beautiful Audi roadsters ever built. I like the dramatic narrowness of the front windscreen, the sleek, endlessly long louvred bonnet, the big wheels, the curved line around the doors, and the well belanced slope of the rear. This car breathes drama, but the shape never gets too heavy or baroque. It hints at speed and performance even when standing still, but never exudes any bruteness. One expects the car to be rather refined, if anything, with adequate performance.
Looking at the instruments, steering wheel and the interior generally, this Audi breathes also the Lancia – like discretion and efficiency. No fragile wood inlays, no big dashboard ornamentations, but instead simple, beautiful clocks, set in narrow chromium rims, a chromed gearlever handle sprouting from a dark green painted dashboard and a black, timeless three spoked steering wheel.
The Audi was driven at the Drivers' parade of the 2005 edition of the Le Mans race. My first stint at the wheel of this car, with the Le Mans gothic cathedral in the background...
But very docile
Driving the car is quite an experience. The controls are well within reach, and deliciously simple. The 6 cilinder 2,2 litre engine starts at the proverbial quarter of a turn, and sounds refined as a small displacement straight six befits. It was designed by Porsche, and sports an engine block and crankcase in aluminum, whereas the cilinder head is in cast iron! The engine which develops 40 horsepower at 3500 rpm is quite docile, and combined with the nicely progressive clutch, driving off and maintaining boulevard speeds is very easy indeed. German cars reached even in those days already a high degree of mechanical maturity, which never fails to impress me. In the parade prior to the 24 hour race and driving on the crowded roads to and near the Le Mans circuit, the car proved to be completely untemperamental without a trace of overheating or engine stalling. The Audi proved to be completely up to the job.
Takes getting used to...
This cannot quite be said about Your servant, as I moved the gearlever handle initially far to cautuously and slowly between the gears, resulting in the gears not being selectable at all, and in having to stop the car and restart all over . There was nothing wrong with the Audi, as Philippe Casse, who accompanied me on my first drive, flicked the gearlever swiftly through the gears, showing me how effortlessly the car can be put through its paces.
After a while, I got the hang of it and it was indeed a joy to push the big lever back and forth between second and third (top) gear, pleasantly low geared to give the engine enough revs and the car plenty of urge on narrow country roads and village streets. Indeed, despite its relatively small engine displacement, the Audi accelerated impressively from these low speeds, accompanied by the deep sound of the straight six echoing against the houses. This is what touring in those days was all about, and this has actually hardly changed.
On the "Landstrasse"
Cruising at moderate speeds with the top down is what this Audi Front has been made for, along a winding Landstrasse with well laid out curves. No need to change gears at all, and at these speeds the steering effort is not worth talking about. Just enjoy the view over the long, louvred bonnet, the roadholding of this long wheelbased car with fully independent suspension was nothing short of astonishing for its age. This is how I could drive the car again in Erps Kwerps, and the Audi proved to be in its element. When coming close to standstill, the steering gets decidedly heavy, and the turning circle of this front wheel drive car is very wide to say the least. Taking narrow city corners takes therefore some anticipation and planning. But the beautifully docile engine lets one concentrate on taking this unique car through dense traffic, and touring in this car remains a delicate pleasure.
One also remembers the finish and the quality of workmanship of this Audi, being magnificently restored in the '80s and kept in the D’Ieteren Museum, and we will soon tell You about other driving experiences of cars from the D’Ieteren « stable », like the Wanderer Stromlinie Spezial, which has been rebuilt by the German restorer Werner Zinke. And a visit to Werner’s restauration workshop is a story in itself, so keep looking at these pages the coming weeks !
Hans Knol ten Bensel
The small badge tells it all: the bodywork is a masterpiece of coachbuilders Erdmann & Rossi in Berlin. And on the picture below one can admire the timeless beauty of this roadster...
Elegant simplicity is what You find in the interior of this impressive looking Audi, essentially designed for refined touring.