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Wanderer W 25 k SportS roadSter

GanG Four
Words Ben dillon Photos nathan duff


The only one of its kind in Australia and with a history thats like something out of a spy novel, this Wanderer W 25 K is an extremely special machine. We meet the man who brought it back to life after 40 years of life as a rat house


Australian Classic Car

Like any good story, fact can often be more interesting than fiction. Born in the uncertainty of the 1930s, the four rings which make up Audis unmistakable badge trace back to a partnership created between four companies during the economic chaos of the Great Depression. In 1932, the formerly separate automotive companies of Audi, DKW and Horch, along with the car side of the Wanderer business (the motorcycle side had already been sold off in 1929), came together to create the Auto Union name. The arrangement was for all four manufacturers to continue producing their own models under their own brand names, but to share resources within the group, much like Volkswagen today (VW; Audi; Skoda; Bentley; Lamborghini, etc). Designated niches in the market were decided for the four marques with DKW becoming the purveyor of affordable-ish small cars, with Audi and Wanderer carving up the mid-size class and Horch turning out top-of-the-line luxury sports-derived models. Prior to 1932, the Wanderer name was known for quality and reliability with the bicycles, motorcycles and cars it produced finding their way into the hands of loyal buyers who preferred the conservative styling offered by the company. But with the Wanderer brand becoming one of the four rings of Auto Union, this rather mundane design philosophy gave way to more interesting metal, which is where this W 25 K Sports Roadster comes into the picture. Ferdinand Porsche founder of Porsche had received a commission to build engines for Wanderer who wanted to build a race car (the influence of noted race-car-for-the-road devotee August Horch) to raise the

profile of the brand. And the car you see here features one of those Porsche-designed six-cylinder engines which is force-fed by a shaft-driven supercharger, or Kompressor in German, hence the K in W 25 K. This combination was a winner for Auto Union which used the Porsche-designed engine in many of its cars before WWII effectively ended this gang of four. Indeed, although ACC has located two other Wanderers Down Under (one dug out of a backyard in Victoria), this W 25 K is most likely the only one of its kind in Australia, and one of only 250 ever built (the W 25 K was built between 1936 and 1939). In an act of great trust its owner has let us take this interesting chapter of the Audi brand out onto the open road. Gulp. Here goes. Stepping into the car is easy enough, but once inside the floor slopes up towards the firewall. Combined with the comfortable leather seats basically being bolted onto the floor, the driving position is, well, slightly strange for those used to more modern ergonomics. Starting the car, the engine has an unusual, almost off-beat note that, at first, has a smattering of Porsche about it, but which is probably just imagined. The first points of contact are the large steering wheel and wand-like gear-stick, which because of its length gives the false impression of not being precise. Coming to the pedals, the throttle is very sensitive, but is easy to adjust once out on the road. The unassisted brakes have a super firm feel at the pedal which means even when you stand on them with both feet its still difficult to slow the car down quickly. With no syncromesh and square-cut gears a lot of concentration is required when stirring this porridge

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Wanderer W 25 k SportS roadSter

pot. Double de-clutching and praying to the Gods of synchronicity goes some way towards delaying the onset of the inevitable crunch when changing, but letting the box warm up and shifting firmly and confidently is the best way to avoid more grinding than in a body repair shop. The gearbox really does take a while to get used to and, mindful that the owner is observing my every mis-change, I try wincing on the shift from second to third to see if that stops the graunching. It doesnt. The owner suggests being a little more forceful. I would be insulted and surprised if you changed as smoothly as me, the owner (who wishes to be unnamed) generously offers. Such altruism is surprising given youre more likely to catch a glimpse of Osama bin Laden at the footy than to see a Wanderer on the road. Rare doesnt begin to cover the car or this owners attitude. With unassisted steering and brakes along with that gearbox, driving the W 25 K is a properly physical experience, but a very enjoyable one with all senses heightened by the mechanical limitations of the car along with the concentration required to pilot it smoothly. Despite the Wanderer name, the car tracks straight and true along the black-top with bumps and dips picked up through the tall tyres and transmitted to the steering wheel, which moves busily in your hands as the car leans into each corner. This is what driving is all about. Our time on the road with the Wanderer is over much too soon with a return to everyday transport revealing just how special the W 25 K is compared with the blandness of modern machinery. As well as having skills on the road, this Wanderer has a particularly interesting history containing intrigue usually found in a John le Carr spy novel. The story starts in the aftermath of WWII when America bowled into Germany and took over. Well, half of it, anyway. This W 25 K found its way into the hands of a US Airforce Colonel for his use while in Germany. The story goes that the Colonel drove the Wanderer, almost daily, for about a year while in Germany and then had it shipped back to California where he continued to potter about in it until the 1950s. Around this time, freeways were becoming the predominate driving routes and the W 25 K struggled to keep up with the performance of other traffic. Determined to have the car dominating the outside lane once again, the Wanderer was retired to one of the Colonels hangers to await a V8 transplant, as was common in those days.
Australian Classic Car

This particular W 25 K had sat in an aircraft hangar in California since the 1950s when it was rescued in the 1990s

The SpeCS
1937 W 25 k
ENGINE: 1963cc Supercharged (Roots) OHV inline 6-cylinder POWER: 85bhp @ 4000rpm (63kW) LENGTH: 4220mm WIDTH: 1680mm HEIGHT: 1400mm WEIGHT: 1050kg (2300lbs) approx. TOP SPEED: 145km/h (90mph) PRIcE (THEN): 6800 Reichsmarks PRIcE (NOW): Skys almost the limit

Fortunately for the world, there was always another project in front of the Wanderer and the Colonel never got around to dropping in a V8, with the car as mechanically original now as it was when it rolled out of the factory. The current owner took possession of the car in the 1990s, and although much of the interior was rat eaten, the restoration process was aided by the very good condition of most mechanical and body parts. Taken out of the hanger in which it rested for more than 40 years, the Wanderer was shipped to Australia for a full, no-holds-barred restoration. Features that made the W 25 K quite futuristic include a four-speed gearbox with a wet-clutch, steering lock and also indicators that extend out of the body just before the doors, wagging like the Flying Nuns winged head-dress, when signalling. Until this car was released, Wanderer had the tag of being a fairly dull maker. Some things, though, are a little different on

the car from when it left the factory; the running boards were removed and stored during the restoration process as the current owner favoured a sportier look. This was a common option at the time. The tail lights are the only non-original item on the car, coming from an early Ford. Anyone lucky enough to have attended Melbournes recent Motorclassica will have seen the W 25 K in all its glory. The importance of cars like this Wanderer is paramount to the history of the Audi Group, but it goes deeper than that; back to a time of engineering innovation that explored themes that echo through to the models we see on the road today. That, plus the fact the W 25 K looks so damn good is reason enough to try and catch a glimpse at a marque that now only exists along with DKW and Horch in the copyright vaults of Audis Ingolstadt offices, and in the hearts of enthusiasts the world over.
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