The F.102 was a small luxury car and when Volkswagen N.G. obtained the majority of Auto-Union shares in 1964 they set about developing the Ingolstadt factories which had been erected between 1959 and 1962, employing today some 12,000 people. Obviously VW wanted not only more factory space but a new car to supplement their famous best-selling 1200-1600 rear-engined range.
What they have done is to take the front-wheel-drive AutoUnion F.102 and install therein the very advanced new Mercedes designed high-compression, swirl-head Mitteldruck engine. I am told that at the same time VW looked closely at the Auto-Union part of the car, and from its improved ride and general air of enhanced refinement there is practical evidence of this.
So here, marketed as the Audi 1700, is the first of what will, I anticipate, be a very interesting range of front-engined, front-drive Volkswagen/Mercedes-Benz cars from the Auto-Union factory. Developed by the three factories—VW, well-versed in high quality and mass-production, Auto-Union, experts in f.w.d., and Mercedes-Benz, who perfected their remarkably efficient new engine with its double-crown pistons under the code name “Project Mexico” over a number of years—the new Audi was announced last September. It was originally to be sold in Great Britain as the Auto-Union 1700 but Audi, which appears on the boot, has been decided upon. In appearance the new model resembles the Auto-Union F.102, but the bonnet, which houses the new Mercedes-Benz engine canted over 49 deg. to the n/s instead of the former 1,175-c.c. 3-cylinder two-stroke, is 4 in. longer and the frontal styling is new, blending as it does squared Hella headlamps in a grille reminiscent of that of the Mercedes-Benz 230SL. Stainless steel wheel knave-plates and bumpers (coincidentally formed on a machine built by Redman Tools Ltd. of Worcester and shipped out from this country) are used, and the 4-ring Auto-Union emblem is retained. The engine is a water-cooled aluminium-head 4-cylinder of 80 x 84.4 mm. (1,696 c.c.), developing 81 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. or 72 (DIN) b.h.p., at 5,000 r.p.m. and 94 ft-lb. torque at between 2,400 and 3,200 r.p.m. It has a 5-bearing crankshaft and is claimed to be approximately 16% more efficient than comparable engines of around 7.0-to-1 c.r.
Taking first of all the similarities to the Auto-Union-D.K.W. F.I02, there is considerable fierce snatching of the transmission whenever the throttle is opened from low speeds, which on the two-stroke car I had attributed to the torque characteristics but which is presumably inherent in the badly-contrived Auto-Union throttle-linkage. The other similarity is the l.h. steering-column gear-lever, which changes the all-syncromesh gears effectively and smoothly but has the long movements of the F. 102’s gearlever, although not so accentuated as on the D.K.W. Junior. When in 3rd gear position its extremity is 3 14 in. above the screen sill! This lever has rather a narrow gate, so that the change from 3rd to 2nd gear is apt to be missed when hurried, the driver ending up in top gear. Bottom was sometimes difficult to engage. The gear positions are marked on the knob, which pushes down for easy selection of reverse, and there is spring-loading to the upper ratios. The lever transmits much movement, as on the F.102, but there is no need to hold on to it. The clutch is moderately light, but indefinite to engage.
In general, the interior planning is also reminiscent of the F.102. The steering wheel is very large, 16 in. in dia., oval, somewhat thick-rimmed, and rather high-set. The horn-push is part of the wheel spoke, on which the 4-ring Auto-Union badge figures. The separate front seats have the hard, ventilated p.v.c. upholstery, typical of German practice, and are not particularly comfortable, especially as the cushions slope away rather too much at the forward edge. The squabs adjust over a small range by means of substantial levers and the seats run on ball bearings for easy adjustment. The back seat is wide, but devoid of a centre arm-rest. The roof is very low; in fact, occupants of average height could only wear soft-hats while in an Audi and a tall driver could hardly sit upright.
The interior decor is of notably high-quality, with well-fitted red door upholstery and black-matt padded facia surround, the metal facia itself being of 2-tier type, the upper half in shining black, the lower area is cream finish. There are 10 mm.-thick floor carpets, with rubber insert for the driver’s feet, and altogether the Audi 1700 has that excellent air of high-quality associated with so many modern German cars, whether a VW in the lower price groups, a B.M.W. in the middle class, or a Mercedes-Benz in the more expensive category. The new lighting system, however, gives an inadequate amount of light, even on full beam.
Vdo instrumentation is recessed in a metal panel, its surrounds polished, before the driver, with x 120-m.p.h. speedometer, calibrated every 20 m.p.h., and combined matching dial. The speedometer incorporates a total odometer without decimals and two turn-indicator lights, of which only the l.h. one is used on r.h.d. cars, for both indicators. Three other warning lights are placed between the dials, the l.h. combined dial incorporates a Kenzle clock and smaller “TANK” gauge (reasonably accurate, until less than a gallon remains; it is calibrated merely F, 1/2, 0) and a water thermometer, normally reading just above 80 deg. C.
To the right of this instrument panel is the rubber-knob which is turned, anti-clockwise (which felt odd) to bring in the 2-speed Bosch wipers, or pressed for the Bosch screen spray. The wiper blades work in opposite directions, overlapping at the screen centre, where they leave a bad blind area, and their rubbers were inclined to squeal loudly when only partially wet.
A Motorola radio with good tone was fitted centrally on the facia and on the left is a wide if shallow cubby-hole closed by a rather tinny, unlockable lid. The lower run of the facia is occupied on the right by three neat metal knobs for lights, panel illumination with rheostat-dimmer, and choke. These knobs have rather vague identity symbols; they are close enough together to be easily located by touch. The choke is also a hand-throttle and has a protruding warning lamp beside it—so dazzling, it is impossible to see at night with the choke in use ! Centrally there are three horizontal, neat heater controls, one of them bringing in the heater-fan, and, moving left, a small ash-tray and cigarette-lighter. The heater controls are unilluminated; the demisting is of a low standard, especially to anyone who has experienced Ford’s excellent “Aerollow” system. I became resigned to a misted over rear window and used the exterior mirror.
The turn-indicators, which show to the sides as well as front and rear, are controlled by a slender r.h. stalk, which also flashes the headlamps with a very precise action, or dips them when they are permanently on. The hand-brake lever is between the front seats, a little far forward, with a good hand grip. The doors have sill-locks, good door arm-rests, and the internal door handles are below these. The Audi lacks door-pockets and under-facia shelf, merely having open containers each side on the senate and a shallow shelf behind the back seat. Twin non-swivelling vizors are fitted, the n/s one possessing a vanity mirror, to charm Mrs. Robert Glenton!
The safety glass is Delodur, in the windows, Securit for the screen. and the front window winders go 4 turns, the rear ones just over 2 1/2-turns. They function nicely, like all the minor controls. The front glasses have anti-draught cut-aways, to supplement the stiff-to-open quarter-lights. The treadle accelerator pedal is a trifle over to the left to clear the o/s front wheel arch, and the brake pedal is considerably higher.
It was pleasing to find a GoIde sun-roof on the test car, its winding handle somewhat vulnerable but fitting rather halfheartedly into a roof recess. A VW-type roof lamp is fitted on both sides, with switch on the n/s, and these have courtesy action from the front doors. The Neiman ignition-key-cum-steeringlock inserts at right-angle’s to the steering column, reasonably conveniently. There are roof-grab handles, incorporating coat-hooks, for the back-seat occupants. The floor of the Audi really is unobstructed, as it should be on a front-drive car. There is a fixed external mirror on the o/s front door and a grab handle on the facia for the front-seat passengers. The test car did not have safety-belts. It was finished in cream, with black top, and whitewall Continental tyres.
The lockable boot-lid is self-supporting on coil springs. The boot is very big (21 cu. ft.), with rubber floor mat, the spare wheel being mounted on the front wall. A good item is the provision of two wells, one each side, for holding tools, spare-fuel tin or what have you. There are very effective dual reversing lamps. The heavy bonnet requires propping up. It opens to reveal the very, modern, inclined-block engine, the c.r. of which is rather higher than that used very tentatively at Brooklands 35 or so years ago by adventurous people like Frank Ashby, whose Riley 9 “flatiron,” which admittedly had hemispherical combustion chambers, was up to about 11 to 1, on special fuels ! Yet the Audi engine, by reason of its unique design, runs very smoothly, on premium petrol, and ceases to be lumpy from 25 m.p.h. onwards in the high top gear of 3.58 to 1. It constitutes a most imposing underbonnet sight, with its big polished light-alloy valve cover (the sump pan is also of aluminium and in the air stream), dual 2-branch inlet manifolding fed by a Solex 3SPDSI carburetter, and ducted cooling fan on the n/s, ahead of a radiator mounted at 45 deg. across the engine compartment. Excellent points to note here are the accessible battery, Bosch ignition, 12-volt Bosch electrics, the nine labelled fuses in extremely accessible transparent holders, and the transparent washer-bottle and brake-fluid container. Wipers and radio are wired independently of the ignition circuit (but not the horn), which I favour.
On the road there may not be quite as much urge as b.h.p. figures suggest but the performance is above average for a spacious 5-seater saloon, and at a cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. it is very content. The engine is quite untemperamental, if needing careful choke for cold starts, although it soon pulls away. I had none of the plug trouble one early car was plagued with, and knocking only intruded on premium fuel if the engine was allowed to slog inadvertently in too high a gear. It was fairly smooth and very quiet, helped by the high gear ratios, and certainly the best part of the car. Actually it is a fairly noisy power unit, emitting some roar when running light and accelerating, so the sound-damping is apparently well contrived. Its great feature is fuel economy and, although one driver, using the Audi hard, got only 25.1 m.p.g., I achieved an excellent 33.3 m.p.g., including driving in London, cold-starts and a fast (up-to-70 m.p.h.!) run to mid-Wales, only slightly less on pottering excursions, the overall figure coming to 36.4 m.p.g., very good for a car of this weight and performance. This economy gives the car a most useful fuel range—on a tankful I covered 366 miles. The unsecured filler cap is on the o/s. At the end of 930 miles a quart of oil was required. The dip-stick has to be inserted between hoses and cables, but this is not too difficult. The oil filler on the valve cover has a screw thread.
As to the rest of the car, it can be summed-up as an improved version of the F.102. The ride is outstandingly pitch-free and roll very well controlled for normal cornering. The torsion-bar suspension is well-damped by telescopic dampers, and the greatest sound emanates from the rather small tyres pattering over road undulations. The rough-road ride is good. Handling is marred by a feeling of insipient understeer and loss of front-wheel adhesion, but this is mainly emphasised by the big steering wheel and low-geared steering, which calls for considerable armwork, although there is a definite impression of low front-end grip. In fact, lifting off on corners brings the nose in, and the characteristic is then pretty neutral, but the fast-cornering tendency is strong understeer. The rack-and-pinion steering is free from lost motion, and light, only becoming heavy towards full-lock, but calls for four turns, lock-to-lock, of the big wheel, being geared 20 to 1 , while sudden return-action makes the wheel’s oval shape uncomfortable. Very little judder is transmitted through the wheel and the exceptionally good lock and small turning-circle–35 ft. 9 in.—make for easy parking.
The ATE braking system, with the usual Auto-Union inboard, discs at the front, is effective. The heater is consistent and .visibility good, over the typical Teutonic wide-bonnet, due to large areas of glass and slim pillars. On long runs the Audi covers the ground well, but the very high top gear intended for the autobahnand giving an 87 1/2 m.p.h. cruising speed at 4,900 r.p.m. makes frequent use of 2nd and 3rd gears necessary in order to maintain speed, and always there is that feeling of unpredictable handling on sharp fast corners, while the steering is most unpleasantly vague, though very light, even in the straight-ahead position. In fact, the level cornering is only destroyed under extreme conditions, when unclersteer develops, and the body leans.
Most unfortunately it was not possible, due to bad weather, our usual test track being under repair, and the 70-m.p.h. speed-limit, to obtain performance figures for the Audi 1700; the makers claim 0-50 m.p.h. in 9.2 sec., 0-62 m.p.h. in 14.8 sec., and a top cruising speed of 92 m.p.h. The speedometer would go easily to 35 m.p.h. in 1st, 60 m.p.h. in 2nd, and 75 m.p.h. in 3rd gear, after which sudden and violent valve surge intrudes.
I was quite favourably impressed by this first model under the Volkswagen/Auto-Union regime, and look forward to further models using this interesting high-compression power unit. The Audi 1700 offers high-quality, spaciousness, good family-car performance with petrol economy and quiet, comfortable running, and is not likely to be met round every corner–in other words, it is quite a good proposition for the enthusiastic family-car customer. Its all-on price here is £1,198 or £1,147 in 2-door form. In 1,284 miles the test car gave no anxiety, although in heavy rain a little water collected at the base of the windscreen but did not reach the occupants.—W.B.