Continuing our series tracing the roots of legendary supercar brands, this month we’re training our focus on Audi, who owe their success in part to a nosy 10-year-old boy…
German giant Audi can trace its roots all the way back to the late 1800s. The company that would eventually become Audi was founded in Cologne by August Horch, a blacksmith turned engineer, in 1899.
Horch’s original company was rather unimaginatively called A. Horch & Cie (the image above is one of their early designs), but following a dispute with a business partner, August was forced to come up with a new name after moving to Zwickau to form a splinter company.
Farcically prevented from using his own name again in the new company by trademark laws, Horch held a meeting with his business associates to choose a new name. One of the businessmen’s 10-year-old sons sat quietly studying Latin in the corner of the room; after watching the men struggle to come up with a name, the son suggested one himself.
The German word “Horch” means “Hark!” or “Hear!”, a snappy command which meant it also worked well as a company name. The son therefore suggested using the Latin word “Audi”, a similar command meaning “Listen!” The new name was unanimously accepted.
Audi was formed in 1910 and their first car, the Audi Type A (they should have used the 10-year-old for name suggestions again…) was produced the same year. Audi’s subsequent models followed the alphabet, and by the Type K followed in 1921, Audi had revolutionised driving in Germany by creating vehicles with left-hand drive, which provided a better view of oncoming traffic, allowing for drivers to safely overtake.
Audi continued to grow through the 1920s and 1930s, but after the Second World War, reparations meant that many factories across Germany, including Audi’s, were dismantled. The company subsequently relocated to Ingolstadt in West Germany, where war repercussions on German businesses were less strict.
The company found success across Europe and in the United States in the 1960s-1980s with popular mass-market cars such as the Audi Quattro, Audi Coupe and Audi 80.
However, Audi found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy in America the mid-1980s when the Audi 5000 was linked to a large number of accidents caused by sudden unintended acceleration.
An investigation by the TV show 60 Minutes appeared to confirm the allegations – but when the programme’s investigation was later found to have been staged, Audi’s argument that the accidents were caused by driver error was accepted.
In the 1990s, Audi began to move its focus to more upmarket models, aiming to compete against their compatriots Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Recent years have seen Audi cruise into the supercar market with gorgeous models such as the Audi R8 V10 Spyder and the R8 V8 Coupe, both of which are available for hire at PB Supercars.