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The Audi Museum & a Road Trip Worthy of James Bond

By Mark Williamson
Photography: Mark Williamson

Cruising over the mountain passes of the Swiss Alps is taking the long way around, but what a fun way to mentally prepare for a junket to the home of a motoring legend.

There are some things you just can’t forget, the growl of the original Audi Quattro rally car is one of them. South of Auckland on the first day of the 1982 Motogard Rally and Hannu Mikkola was at the wheel of the rally car that had already become a legend. Most New Zealand rally fans knew how far to stand back to avoid the stones thrown up by the scads of rally Escorts, the Quattro didn’t throw stones, it threw Rocks!! This beautiful day provides an opportunity to remember that connection and visit the home of the Interlocking Four Circles.

Spending the European summer in Geneva, Switzerland instead of enduring the recent chilly New Zealand winter, was a masterstroke. Geneva has become a third home over the years, and situated in the epicenter of Europe, it has been a great base for exploring the wine regions of France and for visiting car museums in Italy, France and Germany.


The Swiss road way network is a wonderful feat of engineering. Four lanes disappear into a mountain to reappear on towering bridges, before disappearing into another huge tunnel. The country is criss-crossed by this 120kph network, though there still remain some of the most iconic mountain passes in the world.

Heading out of Geneva around Lac Leman to Lausanne and Montreux is a gentle motorway drive. From Lausanne, the road begins to ascend up into the Lakeside Mountains and into the first spectacular motorway tunnels entering the canton of Valais and the Swiss Alps. Massive mountains tower on both sides of the giant valley as the motorway turns into a two-lane road and commences on to Brig and the high passes.

The Furkapass is well named. This 2,436 metre zig-zag climbs over the Alps between the French speaking Valais and German speaking Uri. The glacier near the mountaintop is the source of the River Rhone. The road itself was the location of Sean Connery’s famous Aston Martin DB5 versus Mustang car chase in Goldfinger.

On a clear day, the view would be nirvana. On an overcast and wet day, the western view was stunning, but the white-out on the eastern side and the skinny winding road made for an equally memorable experience. After a few kilometers of zigging, I popped out of the cloud just in time to encounter a giant tour bus. Being the smaller, I backed up to let him get around, mindful of the 500m cliff to my right and thankful that we hadn’t met further up the mountain. For the faint hearted, there is the option of putting your car on a Swiss train and going under the mountain passes. But what would be the thrill in that?

North of the St Gotthard tunnel, the road reconnects the Swiss motorway system and its all downhill to Lucerne, through more tunnels and spectacular scenery. As this was the start of the summer school holidays, the southbound lanes were bumper to bumper as Swiss and northern Europeans headed for the beaches of Italy. After the Alps and Swiss roads, the German Autobahns seemed pretty tame. Yes you can go fast, but it’s all pretty boring really, and there is always someone with a faster car. A big consideration for continental cruising is the cost of petrol, which is considerably more expensive than in New Zealand. Hiring a diesel is definitely a better bet for those planning touring holidays in Europe.

The four rings of the current Audi logo symbolize the brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. These four independent car manufacturers combined under the umbrella of Auto Union in 1932, sort of analogous to General Motors becoming one large car company from separate automotive brands. The new Audi Museum Mobile is located at the main Audi factory in Ingolstadt Bavaria, about an hour north of Munich.

The building is a four-story circular structure with a central elevator that takes visitors to the top of the building to begin their tour. Upon exiting the elevator, the first car seen is a magnificent W25K Wanderer roadster. This 1936 sports car has an engine that was designed by Ferdinand Porsche, then doing his first engineering consulting job for the Auto Union after graduating from engineering school. The Museum’s fourth floor collection includes rare pre-World War II Horch limousines and roadsters, DKW and Audi sedans together with the sole surviving 1938 Auto Union Silver Arrow Grand Prix racecar. All the vehicles have been restored to immaculate condition by the factory.

The third floor is the home of post war Audi and shows the development of vehicle design and engineering of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including the development of the four-wheel drive system and of course the pride of place goes to the 1981 rally Quattro.

A unique feature of the Museum is the three-story revolving elevator that carries 14 vehicles through the three stories of the museum. On this display, examples of Audi’s motorsports heritage include the glorious rally and touring cars and Le Mans winning R8 sports car. The lower level of the museum features design and technology displays and includes the original Audi TT show car.

The Audi Museum combines the heritage of the Auto Union marques with that of post-war Audi. The museum has won numerous awards for its design, informative displays and collection. It’s well worth a visit for anyone traveling in Europe with an interest in car design and automotive history.

Mark Williamson is a freelance motoring journalist and photographer.

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