Rearview: An early Piëch at an Audi

Ferdi wasn’t always a household name. Here’s where he came in…

Ferdi 006
With reports earlier this week suggesting Ferdinand Piëch has threatened to resign over his failed attempt to oust VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, it’s as good a time as any to look at possibly his earliest appearance in the UK press.

The print ad dates from 1979; a pre-Vorsprung Durch Technic Audi still a niche player in the UK. Here, the creative attempts to draw comparisons between the 100 saloon and Porsche’s mighty Le Mans winning 917 endurance racer. Note the nonchalant manner in which Rennsport-Ferdi leans against the Porche’s rear buttress – possibly the only point on the racer’s outer skin that wouldn’t have bucked under the slightest pressure – the 917’s panels being notoriously flimsy. The stance is casual, no-nonsense, assertive. Contrast this with the more demure pose Dr. Piëch adopts next to the Audi. Arms clasped behind, suit jacket buttoned; a serious man for a serious car.

The 100 was well thought of by the motoring press, although it was criticised by Car for being noisy, despite Audi’s protestations to the contrary. It proved instrumental in gaining Audi a toehold in the executive class – something they capitalised on once its aerodynamic looking successor took a bow two years later – along with that now immortal tag line.

In addition to making the (slightly tenuous) point that the engineer responsible for the fire-breathing flat-12 engined Porsche sprinkled a little race-winning fairy dust onto the terribly sensible 5-cylinder 100 saloon you could purchase from a mere £5790 plus registration tax, this ad illustrates how badly Audi needed a stronger sales proposition than the one offered here. Having found one, Audi no longer needed to wheel out Dr. Piëch to advertise their wares. It’s now starting to look increasingly like they won’t require his services at all.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

7 thoughts on “Rearview: An early Piëch at an Audi”

  1. Interesting are the comparisons drawn in the copy to virtually every other car in the market. It admits that the car needs more (!) servicing than the Ford Granada. That’s an advertising strategy unimaginable today.

  2. I’ve always felt that the 917 was an early clue to the Piech character. As Eoin points out, the 917 was notoriously flimsy. Even the drivers of the time, who weren’t unused to the fact that they were in a very dangerous sport, found the idea of barreling down the Mulsanne Staight, legs sticking forward of the front axle line, protected only by a bit of thin tube and fibreglass, unnerving. This wasn’t unwarranted. Yes, Pedro Rodriguez could throw a (developed) 917 around as though it was a Ford Escort, but there were ugly fatalities put down to early development flaws and drivers out of their depth.

    Of course things were different back then, and various other designers might have gone beyond what might seem moral in their quest for speed. Chapman’s endless quest for added lightness resulted in failures, crashes and deaths. But he had been a racer himself, lived in that world for years and maybe never fully admitted the implications.

    Detachment helps in business and Piech’s well known, low-spoken killer charisma has served him well.

    1. Ferdl, quite simply, is more into machines than people. After all, a five cylinder engine doesn’t waste any seconds pondering the canteen’s menu of the day at the loo, as some of Ferdl’s underlings had done. Mind you, with the help of a stopwatch and that killer gaze, Ferdl ensured that his flesh-and-blood companions would eventually learn. But it’s just that much more strenuous than merely grating off a bit of alloy here or changing the firing order there. Machines are just so much more logic-prone than people. Sigh.

  3. This was the first I heard of it too. I am surprised it ended like this. Like him or not he was far more right than wrong. And he insisted on 3mm panel gaps when they said it couldn’t be done. And VW steel pressings are astonishing. Grudging respect, at least, is due.

    1. Credit where credit’s due – Tim Pollard’s resume of the Piech affair at TWBCM’s website is really rather good.

    2. I don’t even think the respect needs to be grudging. Obviously he’s not a people sort off guy, and if I got stranded on a desert island with him, I’d hope that fava beans didn’t grow there naturally, but I can’t see VAG being what they are today without him. I will always find the Veyron’s existence incomprehensible, but it is probably very Piech – there is nothing romantic about it at all, but it is also not the product of a dully logical mind.

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