Event Coverage: TT Cars & Coffee

By: Louli Kourkounakis, photos by George Achorn

Last year, Audi of America hosted a TT Cars & Coffee at its headquarters in Herndon, Virginia. The event was a celebration of the 25 years of TT and a sendoff for the final year of the model. While the weather was a bit to be desired, the turnout was not. There were over 35 TTs across all generations in attendance as well as many other Audi models. On display at the entrance was one of each generation.

The infamous question… What does TT stand for? It’s Twin Turbo, right?  For those that know (or who thought they knew!) it’s an acronym for Tourist Trophy. While yes, the Tourist Trophy does have a part in the TT’s history, it’s not what TT stands for. Freeman Thomas joined Audi of America at their headquarters in Virginia for the 25 year celebration. Freeman took some time to tell those in attendance what TT actually stood for, how the TT actually came to be and answered questions from the audience.

So how did the TT become a production vehicle? Well, about 29 years ago, J Mays became the head of design at Audi in Ingolstadt and wanted Freeman to join him. During Freeman’s time there, he would doodle on his sketchpad.  Yep, you heard that right.  The TT started out as a small thumbnail doodle.  J Mays happened to be walking by and caught a glimpse of a doodle of a spyder. He asked to borrow the sketch and brought it to Dr. Paefgen, head of development at the time. Paefgen was smitten with it. From there Freeman was set up to meet with an engineer and had a studio set up in his apartment to further sketch out the concept. Freeman spent about two weeks developing the concept before he was put into a loft in a neighboring village to create a scale model of his sketch. Just before the model was presented to Ferdinand Piëch, Freeman also drew a sketch of a coupe. J Mays emerged from that meeting and said “Piëch wants a coupe, this coupe”.

All of this got the full-size prototype started, which was soon displayed at the 1995 Frankfurt Motor Show. The concept of the car, in Freeman’s mind, was to define Audi. And that’s what the TT was to him. TT stood for Tradition and Technology. The logo and name was borrowed from the NSU TT. Freeman created the first TT logo himself and placed it on the concept car.

Freeman goes on to say that a good design language has many layers and tells a story.  The story of the TT started with two circles that were connected with a line. This was a symbol of quattro. The roofline was symbolic of Auto Union streamliners. It was connecting the geometric elements into an organic form. His inspiration for the TT was Audi history and the original Auto Union design engineer Erwin Komenda who designed the Porsche 550 Spyder, Porsche 356 and the Volkswagen Beetle. Thomas studied those designs and wanted to convey them in a modern way. At the time he didn’t realize what he created. He had no idea that his small sketch would become 25 years of an actual car. Parting words of wisdom from Freeman, “never give up” and “leverage the talent around you”. He understood that he couldn’t do everything and needed to leverage the skills of others on his team. And he never gave up. He has always been persistent and it helped him advance his career.