Audi R8 History: Building a Poster Car

Audi R8 V10 RWD Coupé

A glimpse into the history of the Audi R8 flagship supercar. This article explores its origins and influences leading up to its production.

A common ritualistic practice of every budding enthusiast in their early years is the purchase of a car poster. You know the ones. You go to the school book fair and sort through the big cardboard bins, hoping to catch a glimpse of a poster with a tantalizing photo of your dream car. And you say to yourself as you proudly display it center-stage on your bedroom wall, “One day, I’m gonna own that car.” Well, by the late ‘90s, not a lot of Audis were in those collections anymore. In fact, Audi’s production models, while unquestionably rapid, were also missing something important. 

The early 2000s included peppy, sporty models like the TT as well as luxury super saloons like the S4 Quattro. But the centerpiece was missing, the flagship poster car. A car which combined the fun-factor of the go-kart handling TT with the animalistic power of the S4. Naturally, Audi was perfectly happy to oblige.

Repeating History

Firstly, a bit of backstory. As previously discussed here, Audi has a motorsport lineage dating back over a hundred years. After the retirement of the factory-backed Quattro from rally, Audi vehicles would once again prove themselves on tarmac. This kicked off in 1989 with the debut of the Audi 90 in IMSA’s GTO category. Their Quattro-equipped vehicle dominated its rear-wheel-drive counterparts with ease. By the following year, they’d return to Germany, successfully competing in Group A with the V8. Using knowledge gained from the successes of such vehicles, Audi would in-turn adapt their motorsport knowledge to their road cars. The debut of the S2 in 1991 marked the beginning of the respected S and RS lineups.

Small Car, Huge Potential

Audi was rekindling the magic again. But it requires even more radical thinking than that to really put themselves back on the map. In the same year, they released not one, but two striking concept cars: the Quattro Spyder and the Avus. The Avus, an homage to the Auto Unions of old, was a one-off prototype with a wooden-mockup 6.0L W12 engine. Named after the famous Avus-Rennen, its lines were unquestionably evocative of the early racers. While built as a mid-engine vehicle similar to the R8 we know today, it wasn’t nearly as influential in its predecessor, the Quattro Spyder concept.

The Quattro Spyder debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and it immediately struck a chord with its distinctive body style. The most distinctive feature was its mid-engine configuration, the first mid-engined Audi since the days of the Auto Union racers. With a 2.8L V6 and the ubiquitous Quattro drive system, the car would’ve been light, nimble, and very grippy. However, such a vehicle proved too expensive for Audi to commit, and it sadly never saw the light of day. Or, more accurately, it was put back in the oven to cook a little longer until it was just right.

Building a Racing Legend

During this interval, Audi was by no means sitting idly by. They remained highly active in motorsport throughout the 1990s. This culminated in the debut of the R8 (no, the other R8) in the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. It would be their first foray into the famed event as a factory-backed team. This edition of the R8 would come in two flavors: open-top (LMP-class R8R) and closed-top (LMGTP-class R8C). They weren’t as fast as the BMW’s, but they were extremely durable and raced hard to a 3rd and 4th in the LMP-class that year. Ultimately, however, they would be the harbinger for the far more potent R8 to come.

Now simply the R8, this vehicle made its debut in 2000, and quickly made a habit of winning most of the races it entered. Since its debut at the 2000 12 Hours of Sebring until its retirement in 2006, the vehicle entered 79 races – and won 63 of them. That’s an incredible ratio, and would easily immortalize the vehicle into the history books. Its racing history is long and storied, so it won’t be elaborated upon more here.

Audi R8 LMP

…And Adapting that Legend for the Road

Audi, however, saw more potential with the R8 than just winning races. The car had almost single-handedly reinvigorated the brand’s worldwide image, with Le Mans the center-stage of the world’s finest racing vehicles. The public wanted some of what Audi was putting out. Enter a man named Frank Lamberty, who was only too happy to oblige. Frank designed a vehicle that effectively incorporated the nimble mid-engine layout of the Quattro Spyder with the savage power of the early 2000s RS models into one package. Initially referred to as the Le Mans Quattro, this new vehicle stunned the audience of the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show. Initially, the vehicle was intended as an homage to Audi’s third successive win by the R8 at Le Mans. However, its reception was undeniable. Audi had finally found its poster car.

Audi Le Mans Concept

The R8 Green Light

The decision to put the Le Mans into production occurred almost immediately afterwards. In 2005, the vehicle’s designation was officially changed to the R8 in homage to the LMP car. Lamberty’s design team worked with renewed vigor – as the R8 race car continued its rampage on the track, this car would do the same on the road. Originally the vehicle was announced for the 2007 model year, but the expected retirement of the R8 LMP in 2006 would accelerate their plans. Not that it had much effect, since all the hard work was completed already. The revised production vehicle would subsequently be revealed to the world at the Paris Motor Show in January 2006, and orders immediately flooded in. 

The major design alterations between the Le Mans and the first-production R8s were in the powertrain. While the Le Mans was equipped with a 5.0L twin-turbocharged V10, the production model scaled it back to a more modest (but undeniably savage-sounding) 4.2L V8. The initial models were equipped with a six-speed gated manual or automated manual gearbox, both produced by Graziano. They were designated in-house as Type 42’s, owing to the engine displacement. These vehicles saw performance comparable to the likes of mid-range Lamborghinis, Vipers, and Ferraris, with their vicious acceleration and tight turning radius by design.

Audi R8 Type 42

The Poster Car Returns

The car was immediately successful both domestically and abroad, making its appearance in popular media and video games alongside the likes of the aforementioned vehicles. Capitalizing on this popularity, Audi quickly followed up with a new engine in December 2008, the 5.2L V10, restoring the lost two cylinders from the Le Mans. Both models were produced side-by-side, although the V10 model would see other changes alongside the engine. For example, one notable alteration was the headlights, as this would be the first production car with all-LED headlights.

Of course, Audi wouldn’t be content with just building a poster-car for the road car fans. So in 2009, they debuted the R8 LMS for GT3 race regulations. Sporting a RWD layout to comply with restrictions, the LMS retained the V10, now pushing close to 570 horsepower without a restrictor plate, mated to a brand-new six-speed sequential gearbox. The first deliveries were made for the 2010 season, and the vehicle continues to be a highly competitive racer to this day in various classes of motorsport.

Audi R8 History: Building a Poster Car

Keeping the Ball Rolling

The R8 would continue being revised right up until the discontinuation of the original line in 2015. A spyder model was introduced in late 2009 for the 2010 model year, although the public was teased with its existence in the 2008 filming of the movie Iron Man 2. Of course, the most significant change was the 2012 facelift. This incorporated numerous changes such as a new bumper and grille, 7-speed DCT gearbox, standard adaptive damping, revised interior, and more. The gated six-speed and traditional headlights were subsequently dropped, and the new line introduced the R8 V10 Plus. Essentially a more racing-oriented R8, this model would see many minor cosmetic and functional variances to give it a meaner look and stiffer, more nimble feel.

Audi R8 Spyder

While the first car used essentially the same frame as the Lamborghini Gallardo, by 2015 that platform was coming to an end. Knowing this, Audi designed a completely new platform from the ground up for the R8 in late 2013. The new platform, called the Audi Space Frame, was an all-aluminum monocoque chassis and is internally referred to as the 4S. This second-generation model was unveiled at Geneva in 2015 and shared the underbody of the new Lamborghini Huracan. The car’s design was further accented with a more angular, aggressive general shape. Hard lines were used frequently, especially with the grille, lights, and side trim. The 5.2L V10 and 7-speed transmission were retained and power increased to just over 600 horsepower. A minor facelift in 2018 was all that was needed to keep the vehicle looking and sounding wonderful, and it remains in this configuration to this day.

2022 Audi RS lineup -- 2022 Audi R8

The Legacy of the R8

The design has proved itself time and again in popular media as well as on the road and track. Today, the R8 continues to enjoy this success with more than 40,000 units sold worldwide. The model’s even proven itself as a testbed for future Audi innovations. It’s been outfitted with a TDI V12, rear-wheel steer, two electric motors, and even the 2012 China Edition specially made for the Chinese market. But, far more crucially, the R8 put Audi back on the map as a car people aspire to own. Audi’s proven it can both talk the talk and walk the walk. And the company’s flagship finally returned to children’s walls for the first time since the S1 Quattro, and rightfully so.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and Audi MediaCenter

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Matt’s been an automotive aficionado since he was a toddler learning how to stand by leaning on his grandfather’s classic Porsche. Since then, he’s been thoroughly and utterly captivated by all things motoring. He’s also a novelist and short story author, and enjoys writing across many genres. His primary goal is to share some of his love of automotive and motorsport history through the medium of writing, as well as talk about this passion we all share in a thought-provoking way. He’s a true a sponge about vehicles, and enjoys learning about just about any aspect of motoring, especially historically significant and/or oddball stuff.

Audi History: Advancement Through Technology

Audi History

Audi history: how passion and ambition built Germany’s premier auto marque of the early 20th Century.

Vehicles bearing the Audi and Horch names were some of the finest, most premier automobiles in history during the early 20th century. By the late 1920s, the names were on sleek convertibles and luxurious limousines alike, with two things in common between all models: their smoothness and their silence. Indeed, early Audis were remarkably smooth for gasoline vehicles even by today’s standards. One could easily balance a coin on its end on a running 4-cylinder’s exhaust header, for example. Such traditions continue today, with Audi responsible for creating dozens of modern classics. But like all modern auto-manufacturing greats, Audi was born from humble beginnings, in the mind of one man with a vision.

The Emergence of a Giant

In the year 1885, German innovation was immortalized in the history books with the release of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. The patent holder, Karl Benz, would later run the largest automobile plant of its day. However, one of his engineers, a man by the name of Dr. August Horch (pronounced “Hork”), had an entrepreneurial spirit about him. In 1896, Horch made a decision that would later create a legend in its own right. He decided to go into business for himself.

August Horch

Dr. August Horch

A. Horch & Co. was founded in Cologne in 1899, with the primary directive to create the smoothest-running premiere automobiles in Germany. Horch himself was relentless in his passion for engineering excellence from the beginning. He purchased a former spinning mill in Reichenbach im Vogtland and converted it to a manufacturing plant that met his standards (a building that still stands today). 

However, Horch came to disagreements with his shareholders while developing his first vehicles and ultimately parted from the company. When he tried forming a new company under the same name, he encountered legal troubles as the original Horch & Co. still owned the trademark. Horch struggled to come up with a new name and bounced ideas off his friends and business partners. His friend’s son was studying Latin at the time and suggested the name Audi, which is the Latin translation of the German word Horch, meaning, “Listen!” Horch felt it was an inspired choice, and from then on, the name was set.

The First True Audis

The first vehicle to wear the Audi nameplate was the Type A, which was completed in July 1910. Horch’s vehicles set the standard for early automotive innovation from the very beginning. The first marked deviation from its contemporaries was Audi’s trademark quiet and smooth engine. But Horch wasn’t content to stop there. With nearly every new model, another feature was released. For example, Audis were the first practical vehicle with a driveshaft as opposed to drive chains. They had engines that could propel consumer-level vehicles to over 60 miles per hour quietly and reliably. They were the first successful V12 manufacturer in the world. In September 1921, the first production car with left-hand drive left their factory. The first 15 years of Audi were indeed marked with as much technological development as the previous 30 years of bespoke automobiles.

Audi History: Advancement Through Technology

Manufacturing standards of early Horchs and Audis were just as rigorous, with Horch’s tooling resulting in tolerances of up to one-thousandth of a millimeter. Everything down to the camshafts was still built completely in-house, at a rate of just two units per week. These handmade vehicles became the Rolls-Royces of Germany, with clients up to and including Kaiser Wilhelm I driving a Horch. Horch himself hired artists rather than car designers to pen the bodies of his new models, ensuring that his name would grace the most beautiful cars on the road. Commanding prices equal to over $300,000 today, his vehicles quickly set the standard for premier German manufacturing. Horch himself would retire in 1920. However, vehicles bearing the Horch name continued production. At their heyday, Horchs would occupy 55% of large-displacement bespoke vehicles on German roads in the 1920s.

Cutaway of Audi's first six-cylinder, the 1925 Type Msubsequent Types B, C, and D would remain competitive in their respective Grands Prix against the likes of the W25 Mercedes, Type 59 Bugatti, 8CM Maserati, and many others. Despite the breakout of World War II, the legacy these vehicles would create endured well into the 20th century and beyond, cementing them in the annals of motorsport, and indeed automotive history.

Press photos by Audi MediaCenter

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Matt’s been an automotive aficionado since he was a toddler learning how to stand by leaning on his grandfather’s classic Porsche. Since then, he’s been thoroughly and utterly captivated by all things motoring. He’s also a novelist and short story author, and enjoys writing across many genres. His primary goal is to share some of his love of automotive and motorsport history through the medium of writing, as well as talk about this passion we all share in a thought-provoking way. He’s a true a sponge about vehicles, and enjoys learning about just about any aspect of motoring, especially historically significant and/or oddball stuff.

Past Legends Look Toward Future of Audi Quattro

Audi RS e-tron GT

With rally legends Stig Blomqvist and Fabrizia Pons, Audi DTM driver Nico Muller explores quattro’s past and future.

In 1980, Audi made a life-changing move for itself by introducing the quattro system to the world. No longer would all-wheel drive be the domain of trucks and agriculture. Now, passenger cars could use all corners to provide greater control on the road. Combined with high-performance, turbocharged engines, the new quattro carved a path for all cars to consider taking going forward.

In 2021, Audi’s quattro is now part of the electrification revolution in the overall auto industry. As a tribute, Audi’s YouTube channel enlisted their DTM driver, Nico Muller, to go back to where it all began: France’s Col de Turini. Of course, he wouldn’t be alone on this journey.

Audi Quattro

“Beginning of the Eighties, first ’82, you couldn’t believe the difference with two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive,” said rally legend Stig Blomqvist. “It was really nice, and the feeling was fantastic. I think Audi has done a good job before they started rallying because they wanted to show the rest of the world what four-wheel drive can do. Everybody was thinking, ‘Okay, it’s another Jeep system.’ But they soon find out it was a lot better than that.”

Blomqvist is one of a few to wield the might of the quattro in the Group B era. Through the ur-Quattro, Audi would not only rack up wins and records, but upend rallying forever with all four of its wheels. And what happens on race day translates to the showroom.

Audi RS e-tron GT

“In a combustion engine car, you have a single motor” said Audi Formula-E champion Lucas di Grassi. “You need a very complicated and sophisticated mechanical distribution with differentials and drive shafts to get this power and torque distributed in the four wheels.”

With the RS e-tron GT, computers and electric motors handle the job. Thus, performance is maximized. Blomqvist says the electric Audi outperforms his Group B terror. That’s certainly saying something.

Audi Quattro

“We had such a huge passion,” said rally legend Fabrizia Pons. “It didn’t matter at all how many nights we were not sleeping, and we were working, working, working. It’s important, the commitment. It’s important to know the car.”

Pons says her role as half of the first all-women rally duo with Michele Moulton didn’t hit her at first. Only years later did it occur to her how momentous and historic it was. She adds she’s always working toward the future, then and now, an attitude Audi knows well, especially with quattro.

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Cameron Aubernon’s path to automotive journalism began in the early New ’10s. Back then, a friend of hers thought she was an independent fashion blogger.

Aubernon wasn’t, so she became one, covering fashion in her own way for the next few years.

From there, she’s written for: Louisville.com/Louisville Magazine, Insider Louisville, The Voice-Tribune/The Voice, TOPS Louisville, Jeffersontown Magazine, Dispatches Europe, The Truth About Cars, Automotive News, Yahoo Autos, RideApart, Hagerty, and Street Trucks.

Aubernon also served as the editor-in-chief of a short-lived online society publication in Louisville, Kentucky, interned at the city’s NPR affiliate, WFPL-FM, and was the de facto publicist-in-residence for a communal art space near the University of Louisville.

Aubernon is a member of the International Motor Press Association, and the Washington Automotive Press Association.

Top 10 Most Iconic Audi Commercials of All Time

1986 Audi Quattro Ski Jump

Audi promotes its lineup like few others can. Here are the 10 most memorable ads to leave a four-ring stamp upon the world.

Do you remember how you first heard about Audi? Was it was a review in a magazine> Maybe your family has always been about the four rings of Ingolstadt? Or, perhaps, it was a TV commercial which grabbed your heart, and never let it go.

With that in mind, here are the 10 Audi commercials of all time which proved how awesome the company and its products truly are.

10. Let It Go

The Super Bowl is more than football for most viewers. It’s also an opportunity to see what the brands and advertisers do to promote new products. Audi is no stranger to the big game, dropping ads of their own over the decades. Here, Maisie Williams sings the iconic “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, all the while driving the e-tron Sportback out of a maddening traffic scene towards serenity, and an electric future.

Cameron Aubernon’s path to automotive journalism began in the early New ’10s. Back then, a friend of hers thought she was an independent fashion blogger.

Aubernon wasn’t, so she became one, covering fashion in her own way for the next few years.

From there, she’s written for: Louisville.com/Louisville Magazine, Insider Louisville, The Voice-Tribune/The Voice, TOPS Louisville, Jeffersontown Magazine, Dispatches Europe, The Truth About Cars, Automotive News, Yahoo Autos, RideApart, Hagerty, and Street Trucks.

Aubernon also served as the editor-in-chief of a short-lived online society publication in Louisville, Kentucky, interned at the city’s NPR affiliate, WFPL-FM, and was the de facto publicist-in-residence for a communal art space near the University of Louisville.

Aubernon is a member of the International Motor Press Association, and the Washington Automotive Press Association.

Ken Block Hoons Audi V8 DTM Car & the e-tron Vision GT!

Ken Block drives DTMAudi was going to result in some epic videos. We have seen some already. And now we have another one. This time Block heads to Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany. From there he gets to choose two more ridiculous Audi racecars to hoon around in. They are both crazy fast, but they approach their speed in two very different ways. The first car is Hans Stuck’s championship-winning DTM car. The car is powered by a V8 engine that screams to 11,500 rpm. That is not a typo. 11,500 rpm from a V8. Then at Audi’s test track in Neuburg Block gets to drive the e-tron Vision GT. It may not scream like the V8, but it makes some pretty compelling noises of its own. The fun is all captured in a video recently posted on the Block’s YouTube channel.

Before we even get to the driving, we get a peek at some wonderful classic racecars in the Audi Museum. We suggest you have a towel nearby to wipe the drool off your desk. But before long it is time to drive, and Block is as excited as we are to get a turn in the DTM racecar. “I have never driven a high revving V8 Audi before.” Says Block. Somehow, we think he will get the hang of it fairly quickly. And the moment he fires up the V8 the smile on his face just says it all.

Ken Block drives e-tron Vision GT

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