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    The End of an Era: Saying Goodbye to the Audi R8

    From the November 2023 issue of Car and Driver.

    It’s not unusual for a car designer to enjoy seeing their creation in use, but the weekend of the Monterey Historics was a big one for Frank Lamberty, the man whose sketches and clay models brought the first Audi R8 to life. Like so many other automakers, Audi has a performance plan for the future that doesn’t leave room for gas-burning, naturally aspirated V-10 engines. Amid the golden hills of Monterey Car Week, Audi celebrated the final year of its supercar with a gathering of R8s, and racer Tom Kristensen set the pace for an honorary last lap around the freshly paved corners of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. While there will certainly be supercars to come wearing the Auto Union rings, the R8 as we know it has reached the end of the line, so seeing it roar down the corkscrew must have been bittersweet for Lamberty.

    Not that you’d know it. The designer was gleeful all weekend, sketching R8s on napkins, signing R8s in the show field, and talking about his extensive collection of classic Volkswagens, Audis, and sport bikes. He enthusiastically explained the R8’s creation. “We had to find our own identity,” he said about being tasked with taking the winning R8 Le Mans prototype and reworking it as a production concept in the mid-2000s. The R8’s appearance in the 2008 movie Iron Man introduced its unique escape-pod-meets-land-speeder looks to the general public. Of course, Lamberty’s effort on the design began much earlier. “It started when I began at Audi in 1998 and worked on the Le Mans concept,” he said. “But really, it goes back to when I was a child, to the Lamborghini Countach and the Porsche 904.”

    It’s always fun to hear what inspired a designer, and certainly, poster-famous supercars of the past are often on the list, which explains the inclusion of the Countach, for its floor-scraping stance and engine-framing proportions. No shocker there. Lamberty had some surprises on his mood board, though, such as the Ducati 916 superbike, with its barely-there bodywork. Lamberty says he loves how the Ducati uses “design just where it needs to be.” It takes only a quick look at the bike’s side view to see how striking a well-placed intake can be. “Oh, there’s the R8 side blade,” I said, wondering how I never saw it before.

    Two other influences are more subtle. “A tennis ball,” Lamberty said, miming the squashing of a round object into something sleek and curved. And an eagle—a particular photo of an eagle, one where the bird looks head-on at the camera with a hunger that awakens fear in this evolved mammal’s buried rodent brain. “It’s very good, yes?” said Lamberty. “I found this picture somewhere on the internet, and I said, ‘Wow, that guy, how it looks at me. This feeling. Really elegant but very aggressive.’ This is what I want to get in a car.”

    Later, I felt the weight of the car’s eagle glare, and Lamberty’s too, as I climbed into a 562-hp, rear-wheel-drive 2023 Audi R8 at Laguna Seca. “Do not crash my baby,” said Lamberty’s eyes as 10 cylinders’ worth of devils danced on my shoulders.

    “We’ll start slow,” said our lap leader, Kristensen. He’s another big player in the history of the R8—a driver who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times, seven times in Audi cars. That promise of an easy pace was the last thing I heard him say as his slow lap saw triple digits and his calm, presumably helpful track instructions were lost in a mid-engine scream. A few months later, I caught up, and we pulled back into the pits. As I climbed out, I saw Lamberty again and gave him a shaky nod. “Quite a car,” I said. He grinned like a dad at a graduation ceremony—sorry to see the R8 move on but confident that it can make its own history from here on out.

    Image Source: Audi

    Designer Frank Lamberty signs a customer’s R8 at the Legends of the Autobahn show.

    Image Source: Elana Scherr | Car and Driver

    Designer Frank Lamberty stands next to a customer’s R8 at the Legends of the Autobahn show.

    Elana Scherr | Car and Driver

    Senior Editor, Features

    Like a sleeper agent activated late in the game, Elana Scherr didn’t know her calling at a young age. Like many girls, she planned to be a vet-astronaut-artist and came closest to that last one by attending UCLA art school. She painted images of cars but did not own one. Elana reluctantly got a driver’s license at age 21 and discovered that she not only loved cars and wanted to drive them but that other people loved cars and wanted to read about them, which meant somebody had to write about them. Since receiving activation codes, Elana has written for numerous car magazines and websites, covering classics, car culture, technology, motorsports, and new-car reviews.

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