1938 Horch 853 Special Roadster

Though the 853 bears an uncanny resemblance to the legendary Mercedes-Benz 540K, and has a similar output, values lag behind the better-known car

Horch is one of the four companies that merged to form Auto Union, from which the present-day Audi descends. After training as a blacksmith and qualifying as an engineer, August Horch set up in the motor trade in 1899 in Cologne, where his fledgling company started off repairing vehicles.

His first car was completed in 1901 and featured a number of innovative ideas that had spurred him to leave Benz earlier. These advances included a carburetor with spray jets and a constant-mesh sliding gear transmission. By 1904, the company was doing well and on May 10 went public, renamed Horch & Cie Motorenwagen-Werke AG.

At his new plant in Zwickau, Horch designed three models, the 14/17, 18/22, and 22/25 horsepower cars. But his desire to take his cars racing was seen as profligate by the rest of the management, and Horch’s contract with the company that he had started was terminated on June 19, 1909.

He immediately set up a new company more or less across the road from his old one. His first car was also called a Horch and legal proceedings ensued. Horch therefore renamed his new car with the same verb in Latin-Audi-which also means “to hear.” Horch retired from active management of Audi in 1920 but remained a member of the supervisory board.

The Horch company continued to prosper after August Horch was ousted. However, it was not to last, as the Wall Street crash of October 1929 resulted in postwar loans to Germany being called in, and the country was effectively bankrupted. Negotiations to amalgamate the four leading car companies-Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer-took nine months and Auto Union AG was formed at the conclusion of the Saxony Auto Trust agreement. Four rings, representing the four different marques, became the new emblem of Auto Union.

In 1933, Horch launched the Type 830, followed by the 850 in 1934. These top models pinnacled between 1937 and 1940 with the types 853 and 951. Their 4,944-cc straight-8 engines gave 120 hp and drove through 4-speed transmissions with a lever-actuated overdrive usable on all forward ratios. The rest of the running gear was sophisticated for the time, using DeDion rear suspension and a proper independent set-up up front, using upper wishbones and paired lower transverse leaf springs, a typical German layout. Vacuum-assisted hydraulic brakes were standard, and there’s a centrally controlled four-wheel hydraulic jacking system.

In early 1936, Horch decided to take on the sporting cars offered by rival Mercedes-Benz, and devised the long, low, and swoopy Special roadster. Two first-series cars were built and both survive in long-term ownership, one in Texas and one in Germany.

Five second series cars were built, having more modern coachwork, with elegant flowing lines and pontoon-shaped wings. Three are known to survive, including this car, commission number 3163, and each is different. 3163’s chassis number remains clearly legible, and matches the original commission tag confirming that it is one of the four original Special Roadsters-the first of the five was broken up and its parts used in the other cars. It comes with a history file and Latvian title.

Paul Hardiman

Paul Hardiman - SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Paul is descended from engineers and horse thieves, so he naturally gravitated toward the old-car marketplace and still finds fascination in the simpler things in life: looking for spot-weld dimples under an E-type tail, or counting the head-studs on a supposed Mini-Cooper engine. His motoring heroes are Roger Clark, Burt Levy, Henry Royce and Smokey Yunick — and all he wants for next Christmas is an Alvis Stalwart complete with picnic table in the back and a lake big enough to play in.

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