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  • 60 years ago, Daimler-Benz AG acquired a majority in Auto Union.
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    The star and the four rings.

    60 years ago, Daimler-Benz AG acquired a majority in Auto Union.

The takeover of Auto Union.

What was that, the car brand with the four rings was part of Daimler-Benz AG? Between April 1958 and December 1964, that was precisely the case. The takeover of Auto Union made the headlines at the time. After all, in the 1930s the two companies had been competitors for sales figures and racing victories.

After the Second World War, making a new start under completely different circumstances was not easy for either company. Daimler-Benz continued to be based in Stuttgart. Auto Union relocated its headquarters from Chemnitz to Ingolstadt. When the conditions normalised towards the end of the 1950s, major shareholder Friedrich Flick actively proposed an idea: as the two model ranges complemented each other, Daimler-Benz should acquire a majority shareholding in Auto Union.

In the 1930s, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were two strong opponents in motorsport – here at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring on July 25, 1937.

In the 1930s, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were two strong opponents in motorsport – here at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring on July 25, 1937.

Exterior photo of the former Auto Union plant in Düsseldorf taken in 1951. Since 1962 Düsseldorf has been the most important Mercedes-Benz van location.

Exterior photo of the former Auto Union plant in Düsseldorf taken in 1951. Since 1962 Düsseldorf has been the most important Mercedes-Benz van location.

Consequences obvious well beyond 1964.

At the time the wealthy industrialist Flick was the main shareholder in both companies. His views carried a great deal of weight. In April 1958, Daimler-Benz acquired around 88 percent of Auto Union retrospectively to the start of the year. The remainder followed just over one year later.

The two companies only worked together for a relatively short time period of six years. But the consequences were obvious well beyond 1964. In brief: Auto Union received the technology and know-how for new vehicles. Daimler-Benz acquired a production plant in Düsseldorf – which is now the lead plant for Sprinter production in the global production network.

One of the most capable engineers at Daimler-Benz AG.

The technology transfer from Stuttgart to Ingolstadt not only included documentation and reports, but also personnel. One of the key figures was Ludwig Kraus, one of the most capable engineers at Daimler-Benz AG and therefore one of the technical brains behind numerous developments at Mercedes-Benz. Kraus worked in Ingolstadt from October 1963, became Technical Director and was charged with driving development forward.

For this purpose he not only arrived with a team of highly committed young technicians, but also with the new, almost completely developed M 118 four-cylinder engine which had low vibration levels and a comparatively low fuel consumption. In 1965 this Mercedes-Benz design celebrated its premiere in the first post-war Audi model as a so-called “medium pressure engine”.

In the Mercedes-Benz design idiom of the 1960s: prototype of a compact Mercedes-Benz passenger car. The first Audi 100 appearing in 1968 showed similarities.

In the Mercedes-Benz design idiom of the 1960s: prototype of a compact Mercedes-Benz passenger car. The first Audi 100 appearing in 1968 showed similarities.

The “medium pressure engine” left its mark.

At that time Daimler-Benz had already sold its shareholding again, but the “medium pressure engine” left its mark: it was used by Auto Union to end the era of its passenger cars with two-stroke engines, enabling the company to stand eye-to-eye with its competitors.

Another consequence was the Audi 100. This appeared in 1968 and finally catapulted Audi into the modern age. While this was not a Mercedes-Benz development, Kraus and other former Mercedes-Benz engineers remained in Ingolstadt when Daimler-Benz AG sold its majority shareholding to Volkswagen on 1 January, 1965. They were extremely familiar with the prototypes for the medium-class W 122 and W 118 passenger car series developed in Stuttgart from 1953. The body of the Audi 100 developed at Auto Union shared features with the W 119: modern lines, low beltline, dynamic rear end. It was powered by the “medium pressure engine”. The Audi 80 (1972) and Audi 50 (1974) were also designed under the guidance of Kraus.

Sharing the winner’s podium.

Incidentally, both companies also competed against each other in motorsport during the merger. For example, at the VIII International Rally Acropolis from 19 to 22 May 1960. Mercedes-Benz participated in the 220 SE touring car, which at that time was very successful in many endurance races. The Auto Union sent a 1000 S Coupé.

Both got on the podium: the team Walter Schock/Rolf Moll took the overall victory in the Mercedes-Benz. Wolfgang Levy with co-driver Heinz Walter took third place for Auto Union and at the same time won within his vehicle class.

Successful at the Rally Acropolis 1960: Walter Schock and Rolf Moll on Mercedes-Benz 220 SE touring car and Wolfgang Levy and Heinz Walter on Auto Union 1000 S Coupé.

Successful at the Rally Acropolis 1960: Walter Schock and Rolf Moll on Mercedes-Benz 220 SE touring car and Wolfgang Levy and Heinz Walter on Auto Union 1000 S Coupé.

Start-up of the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter at the Düsseldorf plant.

March 2018: Start-up of the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter at the Düsseldorf plant. In 1962 the location was acquired from Auto Union and joined the global production network of the then Daimler-Benz AG.

A key product in the commercial vehicle division.

Six years of company history: only the bat of an eyelid in the history of Daimler AG. But it was from this time that the former Auto Union plant in Düsseldorf became part of the company. Auto Union already constructed a new plant in Ingolstadt in 1958. Stuttgart-based Daimler-Benz was only too happy to take over the freed-up production capacity in the Rhineland.

With multiple extensions over the years, it is still in use today: the Sprinter van produced in Düsseldorf is a key product in the commercial vehicle division of Mercedes-Benz. The latest Sprinter generation has just been presented, and the new van is available in more variants than ever before. The Sprinter is set to continue the success story.