We Have the Audi 50 to Thank For a Few Great Cars
The Audi 50 has had a far-reaching impact on European small car design since its inception years ago.
It's a classic supermini
In the 1970s, the race was on in Europe to see which automaker could make the best and brightest small economy class. The Audi 50 was actually Germany's first entry into the burgeoning supermini class of vehicles-- small, affordable vehicles for comfortable use in cramped city spaces. While the model had a relatively brief run lasting between 1974-78, it' still relevant by weight of the influence it's had on modern European auto designs. Many of the best-known modern designs from Audi and Volkswagen have their roots here; there's a reason for that which we'll get to in a bit.
Intended as an affordable economy car
It's surprising to think that at one point, Audi was actually trying to make a car with affordability first in mind. Keeping in mind that Audi's desire to become a luxury-oriented maker was part of a transformation that came later on, it's nonetheless fascinating to see Audi's distinctive craftsmanship veering towards a common market they've since steered from.
Mainly manufactured at the Neckarsulm plant
Over their run between 1974-78, 180,828 of these vehicles were made. Although some of these were also produced with the help of VW at their major plant in Wolfsburg, much of the line was created at the Neckarsulm plant. Originally used as a factory for NSU motor works, Audi regeared the Neckarsulm asset to dish out as many of these sharp models as they could. It's worthy to note the help VW had in producing the 50, as the precedent would ultimately lead to Volkswagen using the same design for themselves.
Designed by Claus Luthe
The Audi 50 design was envisioned by Claus Luthe, a now-famous German engineer who also had his hand in creating the Volkswagen K70, classic BMW designs, and other models from Audi itself. He passed away in 2008, but his legacy has lived on in his designs, not least of all the Audi 50.
Strong Performance specs
While a 50-60 HP doesn't seem like much by today's standards, all things considered, the Audi 50 brought a surprisingly impressive set of specifications for an economy car of the time. Both Audi and third-party critics have admired the past 50's sharp engineering and smart fuel efficiency.
VW borrowed the design
Volkswagen was already helping Audi create runs of the Audi 50 at their Wolfsburg plant. Within a couple of years, executives at Volkswagen decided to rebadge the Audi 50 as a VW-specific model. This would become the Volkswagen Polo, a car that was very similar to the Audi 50 and ultimately outsold it by a considerable margin. This was well within Volkswagen's rights to do, as the VW Group had purchased Audi in the decade prior.
Offered in two versions
The Audi 50 came in GL and LS engine formats. The GL is seen as the superior model; it had an additional 10 horsepower, boosting it from 50 to 60, and a more refined interior compared to the more common LS variant.
Outsold by the lesser VW
Although the Audi 50 was the original model, and the VW Polo was technically a knock-off within the same VW conglomerate, the Polo outsold its template. This was mainly due to the fact that Volkswagen was able to sell its Polo for cheaper than Audi could manage.
Casualty of corporate rebranding
Audi executives made a crucial decision at the meeting board in the late 1970s to rebrand the Audi name. Deciding to gear their marketing goals towards the higher-end luxury market, they created the elegant Audi brand we know them for today. In doing so, however, it left no room for an economy supermini like the Audi 50. It's up to debate whether the Audi 50's relative defeat at the hands of the Polo had anything to do with this brand transformation. Needless to say, the move worked out in Audi's favor.
The lasting influence
The most important thing about the Audi 50 lies in how it laid the groundwork for a design class of European vehicle. Volkswagen models and smaller Audi cars were based on the foundations of the Audi 50. The Audi A2, seen as the Audi 50's direct successor, was discontinued in 2005 but was however succeeded in turn by the A1 model in 2010. It is ironic that the first car the Audi 50 inspired, the VW Polo, would ultimately have a hand in closing the doors on its own longevity. With a four year reign, its legacy is rather in the way it has influenced cars to come.
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