Once upon a time, in the days before ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, Audi cars didn’t sell themselves. Indeed, in the early 1960s, Auto Union – as it was known – was owned by Daimler-Benz and suffering from an outdated and outmoded model line-up.
Volkswagen saved the company by buying a majority share in 1965 and it wasn’t long before the F103 was rolling off the production line at the Ingolstadt factory. It was a decent enough car and it had an elegance that is absent in modern Audis, but it lacked fireworks. Truth be told, the first Audi wasn’t sexy.
Audi also suffered terrible growing pains. Forbidden by Volkswagen to develop new products, the first Audi 100 was developed in secret by Ludwig Kraus. Thankfully, Volkswagen had the foresight to put the car into production and the rest is history.
But again, Audi was completely devoid of glamour and sex appeal. Its cars were worthy and well-engineered, but it presented itself as a grey-suited organisation. It needed to let its hair down.
Step forward the devastatingly gorgeous Audi 100 Coupe S, introduced at the start of the 1970s. Finally, Audi had a car with genuine showroom appeal. A real head-turner. So what if it looked more Italian than German. Audi readily admits that it looked like a German Aston Martin DBS, but there are also hints of the Fiat Dino and Fiat Samantha Vignale.
Yet that wasn’t enough. The original Audi 80 of 1972 was so very pretty, especially in two-door form. The cute Audi 50 would be transformed into the Volkswagen Polo, while project EA 425, destined to become Audi’s first post-war sports car, would end up as the Porsche 924.
So, what would you do in this situation? Well, Audi decided to do something distinctly unGerman-like. It brought in the girls.
You’d probably expect such tactics from the Italians or the Brits. We remember the MGB – the car (and girl) your mother wouldn’t like. But the Germans? Blimey.
Audi went through a period in the early 1970s of using pretty models to promote its own pretty models. The original 80 and 100, along with the 50, were all supported with the help of a glamorous young lady.
But it was all done in a uniquely German way. Nothing smutty or too risqué – some could even pass as holiday shots. A postcard back to the friends in Hamburg: ‘Having a delightful time in Bavaria with Helga and the new Audi 80. Wish you were here?’ The Germans even displayed a touch of humour in some of the photos.
The love of the ladies didn’t last long. By 1976, they had all but disappeared. Audi was growing more confident, its products were becoming even more convincing and yes, the world was changing, too. Not that you would have noticed if you happened to visit a European motor show.
‘Vorsprung durch technik’ was a deep-rooted corporate philosophy first used by the German brand in 1971, but it was the genius of ad agency BBH to bring it into the public domain. The line was first used in an ad in 1983 and it has been cemented to the four rings ever since. We’ve all been blinded by the ongoing success of Audi. Or maybe that’s just retina-burn – a symptom of those ‘delightful’ LED lights.
As for the girls in the Audi photos. Well, they went on to appear in the German equivalent of Pan’s People. Probably.
Oh, and check out the photo of the Audi 60, at the foot of the gallery. An early example of photobombing? Hat tip to Tim Pitt.
All photos © Audi.