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All the companies symbolized by the "Four Rings", together with their elective partner NSU, have a tradition of motor sport of varying depth and dynamism which stretches back to before the First World War.
The one figure who stands head and shoulders above the rest is August Horch. This engineer and founder of the Horch and Audi companies identified the close links between the fortunes of his brands and the early reliability runs, which at that time were enormously influential in helping would-be car buyers to make their choice.
August Horch himself competed in the early days
As company owner, Horch had no reservations about entering the fray of competition himself, though he handed over the car with the better prospects of success to one of his best customers; the company’s victory in the 1906 Herkomer Run was thus a reward for far-sighted civility. When one considers that the "also-rans" included brands of the calibre of Benz and Mercedes, the rapid gain in prestige for the fledgling Horch company becomes clear.
Further racing successes for Audi
When the company failed to emulate its initial successes in subsequent years, motor sport became a topic of some controversy among the company's management, and contributed to the eventual withdrawal of August Horch from the company he himself had founded.
August Horch was even more successful with his next company, Audi, which he established in 1909. At around the same time that Ferdinand Porsche rose to fame as both designer and racing driver, August Horch and his team won the Austrian Alpine Run in several successive years (1912-1914) and his Audi cars, although not long on the market, became well-known more or less overnight.
DKW: a thousand race victories in two years
Of the four companies based in Saxony, DKW with its two-stroke motorcycles demonstrated the greatest involvement in motor sport in the 1920s ("One thousand race wins in two years!" boasted DKW in its motorcycle advertisements), and this may possibly have helped DKW to fill the central role when the four finally merged under the “Four Rings” emblem.
Wanderer and NSU
In 1914 Wanderer too made its mark in the Austrian Alpine Run with the legendary “Puppchen” model, and from 1928 onwards Wanderer cars were regular winners of such events. These motor sport successes led to contacts with Ferdinand Porsche, which later resulted in a contract to develop a racing car for Auto Union. NSU was meanwhile establishing a reputation of its own in South Germany: competition successes began to accrue from the very start of motorcycle production in 1901, and continued over many decades. Sporting triumphs by NSU cars were fewer by comparison, but the performance of the white car with six-cylinder supercharged engine at the first German Grand Prix on Berlin’s Avus circuit in 1926 was an outstanding achievement.