Whilst the New Year is a period of excitement and uncertainty for many, one thing is for certain in 2024: people will still argue about literally ANYTHING on social media. Case in point: don’t forget that 2023 was the year in which online commentators debated whether Taylor Swift was eating “ketchup or possibly ranch” at a football match.
Yet during the period where I was 70% cheese and 30% alcohol between Christmas and going back to work on January 02, an Audi-themed Instagram account called FourRings.AI caught my eye amidst the dumpster fire that is social media in its current state.
“It all started back in April last year when AI was really starting to become a thing [...] I was mad at myself for not seeing how groundbreaking YouTube was and getting in on that!”
If you’ve been reading my work for a few years now, you’ll know that I’m somewhat of an Audi fan. Of course, then, I’ll encourage you to check out FourRings.AI with just more than a hint of bias. Yet before you hit that ‘Follow’ button, what should you expect from the account?
Well, amidst this dream-like Audiverse for enthusiasts of the Ingolstadt carmaker, there are several 1980s-inspired re-imaginings of modern day Audi icons such as the R8 and Allroad. If you’re of a certain vintage (see, anywhere from your mid-30s to mid-50s), these blocky, no-nonsense designs will leave you pondering what might have been, had Ingolstadt offered its current line-up of cars to buyers some four decades back.
My apologies for making you feel old.
And that’s not all. Audi Sport’s groundbreaking contributions to the world of motorsport are very much a big part in this unrestrained virtual world of what might have been, and what could be - don’t forget it was Audi who shook up rallying with its four-wheel drive Quattro. It was Audi who pioneered the use of diesel in endurance racing and went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans 13 times in 16 years. At the time of writing, it’s Audi who is currently seeking to take victory in the gruelling Dakar Rally with its all-electric e-tron.
Of course, then, 4Rings is home to plenty of Quattro visuals when it comes to motorsport content. It’s a nigh-on impossible task to not discuss Audi as a pioneer in this field without mentioning this landmark car. However, the page eschews the urge to be entirely nostalgic, and the most recent post rings in the New Year courtesy of a synthwave-esque image of the e-tron Dakar challenger on Times Square.
“The Quattro-era of Audi is iconic and people seem to like that sort of thing [...] there seem to be a hell of a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s kids on Instagram!”
Amongst the most thought provoking posts are those referring to the scrapped Audi LMDh (or ‘GTP’ if you’re from the United States!) prototype; a car canned at the 11th hour in 2022 in favour of the brand’s Formula 1 ambitions from 2026 onwards.
The final content pillar at 4Rings is composed of several completely new Audi models imagined from the fertile and fascinating mind behind the page, George Achorn. A self-confessed “student of the brand” since the 1980s and the Editor-in-Chief ofquattro, Audi Club North America’s member magazine, George is eager to tell Dyler.com what drives the project.
“It all started back in April last year when AI was really starting to become a thing. I was interested in understanding what this new tech would mean for quattro and Audi Club in general,” he says. “I was mad at myself for not seeing how groundbreaking YouTube was and getting in on that, because by the time 4Rings because a thing, the YouTube ship had already sailed by a couple of years. With AI I really wanted to pay attention, so this whole thing began as an exercise in learning how visual assets can be augmented by AI.
“Instagram is a place where you can goof off and experiment with visuals in a relatively risk-free way, so it just made sense to try and see what happens.”
With over 20,000 followers, FourRings.AI has gained a cult following in the last eight months or so. Its imaginative visualisations have been shared by the likes of Audi’s two-time DTM champion and Dakar man, Mattias Ekström, and Chris Harris. Yes, that’s right. The very same BMW-loving Chris Harris of Top Gear and CollectingCars.com fame.
“Whilst I love designs such as the first-gen TT and R8, my heart is definitely with this ‘80s era of Audi. In fact, one of my favourite designs for a very long time has been the pre-facelift B2 Quattro.”
“Honestly, I’m not really sure how these followers came about, but I’m pretty sure it’s down to how the AI software works,” George explains. “We use MidJourney, which for some reason seems to be more adept at the functional 1980s Audi designs than newer ones.
“The software always takes liberties with designs and I get plenty of requests for the likes of later cars like the first-gen A4 - the B5 - but they’re just not quite right in the end. That’s one of the reasons why I’m heavy on the ‘80s stuff. The other is simply because the Quattro-era of Audi is iconic and people seem to like that sort of thing.
“I’m no sociologist and I’m not sure whether the account is more aligned to push ‘80s cars or something, but there seem to be a hell of a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s kids on Instagram - posts featuring cars with the angular, utilitarian design language of old Audis receive thousands of likes!
“Interestingly, if I post something newer like the e-tron or even an R8, just hundreds of people will give it a click.”
Expanding on the idea of luck, George reveals that it was during the 1980s that his love affair with Ingolstadt began. Of course, the Quattro played a part in things here as it does in every Audi enthusiast’s journey. However, it wasn’t just Audis heroics on the rough and tumble stages of the World Rally Championship that prompted George to spend a large part of his career dedicated to covering the German carmaker.
“I’m pretty lucky with how the popularity of the posts work,” he says. “I’m 52, and whilst I love designs such as the first-gen TT and R8, my heart is definitely with this ‘80s era of Audi. In fact, one of my favourite designs for a very long time has been the pre-facelift B2 quattro, which we called the Audi 4000 over here in North America and you guys called the Audi 80 in Europe.”
Sold from 1978 to 1986, the B2 was the precursor to today’s mid-size A4 and available as either front-wheel or four-wheel drive. Throughout its eight-year production run, over 1.6 million of these ItalDesign cars were produced. In terms of underpinnings and design, the B2 has been described as a “Ur-quattro without the turbocharger and with saloon bodywork.”
“Something I’ve tried to do with this project is to take an idea and bring it to life. This can be anything from playing with the Audi lexicon which is rather Germanic and clean with its letter and number format, or creating an entirely new Audi-related scenario and building a world around that.”
“The B2 is an interesting one, because there are a few stories about whether it was actually designed by Giugiaro himself at ItalDesign, or whether it was penned by another internal designer,” George continues. “Anyway, to me, these pre-facelift cars are the purest execution of the B2.
“They’re very purposeful and with great proportions, and with the transversely-mounted 2.1-litre, five-cylinder engine, it’s a bit of an ‘80s icon. It’s a little obscure, but I like that the B2 isn’t something obvious like the BMW 3 Series E30. It’s a very clean, pure Audi design, but there’s something mysterious about it.”
The sense of mystery and the unknown is an integral part of the 4Rings DNA. Exploring the esoteric parts of Audi’s heritage is another reason why the 20K or so followers continually return to the account for a journey through a place where imagination replaces corporate constraints oft-experienced by car manufacturers.
“I really enjoy storytelling, whether it be written or visual,” he explains. “Something I’ve tried to do with this project is to take an idea and bring it to life. This can be anything from playing with the Audi lexicon which is rather Germanic and clean with its letter and number format, or creating an entirely new Audi-related scenario and building a world around that.
“I came up with this back story that had Mouton won the championship that year, then Audi would have commissioned three special edition road-going rally cars to celebrate the occasion.”
“It’s hard to choose just one car I’ve created for the page as my favourite, because that would be like choosing your favourite child! I do have a soft spot for the Brasile concept, which is the header photo for this story. The Wanderer I’m very fond of, too.
“The Brasile is a piece of pure fiction” George continues. “It came about when I was writing a feature for quattro about Michèle Mouton almost winning the 1982 WRC driver’s title, and one of the three rallies she won that season was in Brazil. Interestingly, she won more rallies than Walter Röhrl who would eventually take the championship with Opel that season.
“I came up with this back story that had Mouton won the championship that year, then Audi would have commissioned three special edition road-going rally cars to celebrate the occasion. They would take the Italian name for each of her wins, so there was the Portogallo (Portugal), the Acropoli (Acropolis), and the Brasile like I mentioned.
“In this parallel universe, I like to think that Audi would have fitted the Brasile with the 20-valve, five-cylinder aluminum block engine they used in the Group B Sport Quattro. It’s not historically accurate, as they were using the 10V engine in 1982 and the 20V wasn’t introduced until the following season, but in this instance it doesn’t matter, does it? This was just an exercise in imagination and having fun!”
“The Wanderer is something totally different to the Brasile,” he explains. It’s been doing the rounds as a sketch of a silver SUV for a while in the online Audisphere, and Wanderer was one of the four brands that ended up merging into Audi in 1969.
“I find the idea of an SUV being called the Wanderer quite sexy because it’s a name that has this explorative connotation, and it’s a name that’s part of Audi’s history and IP. Semantically, it’s quite interesting too, because when you think about it, most big, luxury SUV names end in ‘er’ - Range Rover, Land Cruiser, and ‘Wanderer’ represents a break from Audi’s usual naming system.
“If we rely on AI alone, then car design could almost become a caricature of itself.”
“Not too long ago, I was in LA speaking to one of Freeman Thomas who designed the original Audi TT, and he mentioned he enjoyed what I’d been throwing up onto 4Rings. The Wanderer and the use of AI in car design of the future cropped up in conversation.”
The question of what role AI will play in the future car design is something that I wanted to ask George. After all, both Audi and Toyota have been gradually incorporating it into their design processes over the last few years.
Despite his enthusiasm for the software, he remains cautious about going ‘all in’ when it comes to permitting the computer to substitute for the human brain.
“I can see that AI could be beneficial for car designers to an extent,” George concludes. “If we’re talking about Audi specifically, then it could maybe be a fresh way to consider the single frame grill, or even try to re-imagine that boxy design that Hyundai went for with the IONIQ 5 or N Vision 74.
“I’d like to see designers use AI to be a bit more edgy, but at the same time, I studied some art at college, and I can see why actual human designers would be somewhat reluctant to use it, because I don’t think AI can replace design properly. For example, much of what I post on 4Rings isn’t particularly cohesive design, so I still feel like we need human input to oversee it. If we rely on AI alone, then car design could almost become a caricatures of itself.
“Anyway, I’m no car designer! I’ll just keep doing my thing with 4Rings and treat it as a creative outlet where I can continue evolving and putting myself in a somewhat immersive position with AI and the tools that are available to me on MidJourney.”