On Many More Outstanding Jubilees to Come!
“30 years quattro GmbH – Pure adrenaline” can be seen as exhibition in the Audi Forum in Neckarsulm, Baden-Württemberg, till 4th January 2014 (free admission, Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6pm, Saturdays from 8 am to 5pm). On account of this jubilee Audi is showing some unique Audi quattro cars, accessories through the ages, Customer Racing and, not least of all, some of the people who have shaped 30 years of incessant success, growth and passion.
In 1983 the name “quattro” was entered in the trade register in order to protect the name from being copied by other carmakers. The positioning of the new brand was quite a challenge, remember those who were involved with the project in its early days. From 1983 to 1994 quattro GmbH sold nothing but accessories – from keyrings, perfume, glasses, caps, little cars for children and other toys, to watches and leather merchandise like briefcases and wallets. Maria Leichtfuß, assistant to the first director of quattro GmbH, Dr. Jens Neumann recalls the early days of the high-end section of Audi engineering: “We felt like pioneers embarking on an adventure of passion. It was a great pleasure for us to inspire the accessories with the spirit of quattro. These simple seven letters infused Audi with something unique, something very special, the delight of power, empathy, and success. This spirit has persevered for more than 30 years – and it will last – since it is implanted in the hearts of true Audi customers. quattro, this is more than just a word – it is a passion!”
7 = 7, passion = quattro
The year 1995 marked a decisive turning point in the history of the quattro brand: It is the year in which the first individualised Audi, an Audi A8 was presented during IAA in Frankfurt. 1995 was also the IAA where the Audi TT Coupé was presented as concept car, which as opposed to its predecessors quattro Spyder (1991) and Avus quattro came very close to series production. Designer Freeman Thomas had enjoyed great freedom, which resulted in a concept car from which the series production differed only in details. In 1998 the first Audi TT were delivered. Soon after, quattro had become a fully-fledged carmaker with a particularly sporty edge in the highend segment.
In spite of having to jet all over the world, to a large extent living from a suitcase, Romolo Liebchen, Head of Customer Racing, considers his job as very rewarding. Liebchen who has been with Audi since 1989, took over the project management for the R8 LMS customer sport, the racing version of the Audi R8, back in 2008: “This has been the best decision in my life”, he says beaming all over his face.
quattro’s road to success as a very distinct brand full of passion has reached yet another climax in the 30 year jubilee: For the first time in its history more 200,000 quattro cars will have been built this year. This corresponds to an increase of sales by 30 per cent, comparedt to 160,000 cars sold last year. As site manager Fred Schulze proudly points out: “It is here in Neckarsulm that we develop all quattro models for our clients all over the world.”
13,000 hp can be marvelled at on three floors. Due to the tremendously gripping topic, for the first time this special exhibition takes place on all three levels of the Audi Forum. One fabulous exhibit chases another, including precious pieces from private collectors. The exhibition conveys what the quattro GmbH has been known for since its foundation: high performance, exclusivity and hightech.
Gimme 5 Cylinders, Please!
Let’s therefore talk a bit more about cars now, as the history of this brand is just amazing. There is for instance the yellow “TT”, which only at first sight qualifies as a TT. Looked at more closely it becomes obvious that for a TT the car is too long. As a matter of fact the car is a hybrid in that it is the percursor of the Audi TT RS. The engineers were were racking their brains how to get more performance into the car. This meant working on how to fit six cylinders into this car rather than the hitherto four. Eventually, they took the A4 platform, a longitudinal platform which provided the adequate aggregates for the performance aimed for, and put the lid on the chassis, i.e. the typical TT top hat. The car in this configuration was only built once. Along with a number of other rare exhibits it can be seen in Neckarsulm till 4th January 2014. Soon after the engineers had the clever idea of reviving the 5-cylinder which fitted nicely into the TT platform. A perfect win:win situation, because not only did it allow them to adhere to the original TT platform, but most notably more performance was reached.
Besides this unique piece there are many more delicious examples of engineering and craftsmanship to be seen. Take for instance the red “ur-quattro”, ancestor to what instigated a “quattro-mania”. For the purpose of the exhibition Audi borrowed this car from an absolute quattro and racing aficionado, whose entire collection of quattro cars wears Walter Röhrl’s signature on their bonnets. Or fancy owning a totally individualised Audi 100
long version with specific leather all around, even the rooflining is clad in matching leather in ribs look. Both cars are in perfect nick and look as if they had just left the painting plant.
On the ground floor what immediately attracts one’s attention in the back are the two representatives of Customer Racing. The racing trim of the first polished to bring out its best shine, the other left in its original state after having completed a demanding race. It is in the eye of each individual beholder which car (s)he prefers.
It was … yes, of course, Ferdinand Piëch who introduced the 5-cylinder petrol engine to Audi, to the Audi 100 back in 1976. The engine proved so successful that the car manufacturer has kept it in its portfolio. Franciscus van Meel, too, is enthusiastic about the five-cylinder in-line turbo with its indistinguishable, particularly sonorous and earthy sound. In fact, van Meel could not resist announcing the new five-cylinder turbo in the Audi RS 3.
“With eight RS-models and the Audi R8 we currently offer the largest range of models in the history of the quattro GmbH,” says Franciscus van Meel, Managing Director of quattro GmbH. And he is extremely proud to announce that to date more than 90,000 cars have left the manufacturing plant. In the meantime, 850 highly motivated quattro employees make sure that these top of the line cars can be built.
No end to growth is in sight. And like everybody else in the car manufacturing business, quattro GmbH is set to sell increasingly more cars in China. This is part of the plan for increasing internationalisation. As Fred Schulze points out: “We are by far the most successful premium car provider in China and will retain this position. In the course of the year we have surpassed the two-million mark. The first million sold cars took us 22 years, for the second million we will have taken three years. We were the first OEM in China. And our A6 is the most successful premium sedan in this country.” From these words one may deduce that Audi is not afraid of being overtaken by Mercedes-Benz that have announced a model-offensive in Asia.
One car that really is thrilling, as it looks unsuspiciously unobtrusive, is the RS 6 Avant. A wolf in sheep’s clothing… A perfect one-in-all that answers almost any need – except that of a cabriolet driver. Here is a little film encapsulating the spirit of quattro:
In an altogether different vein Ingolstadt, too, is commemorating 30 years, focussing exclusively on quattro motorsports. This exhibition according to Thomas Frank, Head of Audi Tradition, is a unique display of 30 years of motorsports and should not be expected to be seen in the same constellation for a long time. “Home of quattro” – meaning motorsports, not the place of production, as this is Neckarsulm/Heilbronn – can be seen in the Audi museum mobile in Ingolstadt from 15th October to 30th November, daily from 9 am to 6pm. Admission is free.
Some of us will still remember the breathtaking venture when the brand with the four rings set out to do the impossible and climb a ski jump. As early as 1986, they had rally driver Harald Demuth do the stunt. Watching the later version of this adventure, it looks almost an easy test of courage, which is no doubt why Audi subtitled: Copying not recommended!
But how better demonstrate how gripping in a double sense quattro can be …
As Years Go By …
Customers ask for increasingly more individualisation in their cars. quattro GmbH wants to meet these demands. They therefore have imposed themselves an ambitious target: By 2020 they want to be the best premium car supplier. And who knows – after visiting one or both exhibitions in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria and seeing that Christmas is approaching fast, some of us may well feel inspired to have a word with Father Christmas and urge him to make a childhood wish come true:
PS: And as can be seen from these photos, the “Ur-quattro” does not simply sit around lazily in a garage, but enjoys lots of rides right across Europe, as for instance in Zillertal (Austria) or Hamburg. Mind you, the owner is naturally so besotted with his car that he does not dream of driving from Bavaria right to Hamburg, but has the car take a ride on the train.