The History of Audi’s Four Rings

  • Audi has a long history of creating distinctive, stylish, high performing cars
  • The instantly recognizable symbol originally stood for the merging of four different manufacturers
  • The current, chiseled version of the symbol was designed for the company’s 100 anniversary in 2009

My good friend Tara recently purchased an Audi S Line A4 at a local dealership. The reflective qualities of the black paint melded with its distinct chrome badging creates an elegant sports sedan which proves to be among the most popular in today’s market. “S Line” is a trim level with a sporty appearance and one of its many technological characteristics permits the driver to soften or stiffen the oscillations of the suspension giving it a sportier feel while enjoying the open road.

These cars have certainly come a long way since their inception in the early 20th century. With such a long history as an automaker, let’s dive into the backstory of Audi and the meaning of its iconic four ringed emblem.

August Horch, a native of Germany, founded his automaking company “Horch” in 1899. In 1909 when Horch left his first company to establish a new one, the name “Horch” (which means “listen” in German), was already trademarked, so he needed a new name. On the advice of a business partner’s son, who was a student of Latin, Horch selected “Audi” (which too means “listen” in Latin). And so it was. In 1910 Audi’s first model, the Type-A Sport Phaeton, was born and 140 were produced.

The year 1932 saw the merger of four automotive producers, creating Auto Union AG. The interlocking ring emblem, to imply “protection and power,” that now signifies Audi, was originally trademarked by Auto Union AG at its founding. The four-ringed symbol actually represents four independent auto manufacturers; Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, with each entity being represented by a circle in this order.

Auto Union AG had a number of tumultuous years during the mid-20th century and changed ownership a number of times, picking up names as it went along. It wasn’t until 1985 that “Audi NSU Auto Union AG” was shortened to “Audi AG,” the name by which we know it today.

Interestingly, the International Olympic Committee in 1995 tried suing Audi for trademark violation based on a similarity to the Olympic interlocking ring symbol. Audi won. Later in 2009 as Audi celebrated its 100 year anniversary, the company made the interlocking rings bolder and more chiseled in appearance, as seen on today’s Audis.

My new book, Drop, Throttle, Oversteer: Collecting & Investing in Classic Cars, is available at Amazon! 10% of the net sales go to Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies, a wonderful organization we are thrilled to support. If you’ve read and loved the book, please consider leaving an honest review. Reviews are the #1 way other enthusiasts find the book.

Jason Paynter is a classic car appraiser, collector and unabashed enthusiast. He lives in Louisville, KY with his beautiful wife and three sons who are (heaven help him) almost all of driving age. If you have questions for Jason, or need appraisal services, please contact him, jason@gdherring.com.

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