For the Love of Audi (A3 San Francisco Driving Vacation)


How did we fall in love with our Audi in the first place? Was it the four rings? Was it the five cylinders? Was it the Quattro? Did it matter how we fall in love? We are all passionate about our beloved Audi. It is not just a transportation device. When we drive our Audi every morning, it generates positive emotions inside us. It makes us feel good.
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One balmy morning, I got up with a craving for some wood fire brick oven baked bread. And the only place I know is the Wild Flour Bread Bakery near Sebastopol in Marin. I am sure there are other specialty bakeries closer to San Francisco. But then, what is the point of driving one mile to get a loaf of bread when I can drive 72 miles through scenic northern California Highway 1?

Fellow enthusiasts

I called up my friend David, a fellow Audi Club of North America member, and asked him if we could get a few friends to go for an impromptu weekend drive. I thought of him because he recently did several modifications to his Audi A3, and I would like to see and experience his modified car.
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David bought his 2008 Audi A3 Sportback 2.0T Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) without performance option on purpose because he had a plan. Being a gadget person, he ordered the premium electronic package that includes the navigation system, multimedia stereo system, and Bluetooth.

We met at Crissy Field in San Francisco Marina district. Crissy Field was originally the Presidio US Army airfield. After some restoration effort, the airfield was replaced by charming landscapes of native vegetation, tidal marshes, and a lagoon. Water sparkled like diamonds in the lagoon, long-legged wading birds dug through the mud feasting on tiny crabs, and pelicans flew over the waves. In a distance, wind surfers dotted the foreground of the radiant Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side, the famous Alcatraz Island stood courageously.
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With the help of other A3 lovers, David accumulated various performance parts. And over several weekend get-togethers of A3 owners, they helped each others modifying their cars. David lowered his A3 by installing H&R sport springs and Bilstein gas pressure struts. Additionally, to get an even sportier ride, he upgraded the rear sway bar with the Neuspeed 25mm adjustable sway bar. To make sure that the tires can handle the racing-inspired suspension setup and, at the same time, can handle snow boarding trips to Tahoe in a blizzard, he switched to Ultra High Performance All Season Bridgestone Pole Position tires.

He and his friends ordered the 2009 style alluring Euro taillights and aspheric side mirrors directly from Germany. When the headlight is turned on, only the outline of the Euro taillight illuminates. The center part glows brilliantly when the brake is pressed. The extra concave edge of the side mirror allows the driver to see the blind spots; a clever idea. Planning to drive the car very fast, he improved the aerodynamics by installing the Votex roof spoiler.
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Northern California Back Roads

We followed the California Highway 1 sign just north of Golden Gate Bridge. We joined the Shoreline Highway and it took us through Muir Beach and Stinson Beach. Our first exciting treats were waiting for us as soon as we entered the Mountain Tamalpais State Park. Zigzags, hairpins, elevation changes, and mesmerizing views of jagged cliffs and rocks protruding from the choppy Pacific Ocean coast line elevated our enjoyment of Audi driving.
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As we shifted the DSG to two, three, and four, we could hear the turbo boost kicked in. Our heads were pressed back against the head rests and our eyes pushed back against the eye sockets. Downshifting to three and two rapidly by tapping the paddle shifter on the steering wheel, the A3 burbled confidently and pleasantly.
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We decided to make a pit stop at Point Reyes Station. This sleepy little town, founded by Northern Italian and Italian speaking Swiss immigrants, features small quaint craft shops, a cozy farmer’s market, and aromatic Californian cuisine restaurants and sandwich stores. Cyclists in Tour-de-France outfits, Harley Davidson bikers wearing colorful tattoos, and Ducati riders in colorful leather body suits fill this sleepy town most weekends for refreshments and foods during their pit stop.

Continuing on the CA-1 north, we passed the Tomales Bay oldest shellfish farm. And the thought of crustacean made us hungry. Luckily, Tony’s Seafood was not too far ahead. The over half a century old family-run quaint restaurant is famous for its mouth watering BBQ oysters, creamy warm clam chowder, and fresh generous crab salad.
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After the delicious late lunch, we continued on to complete our mission. Staying on Shoreline Highway towards Sebastopol, we were greeted by pastoral landscapes. Thin clouds scattered really high, and the late afternoon sun was providing very crisp visibility and contrast in the postcard scenery before us. I could see a herd of cows grazing on the far side of the hills. Curvy roads with fluorescence green rolling hills filled our windshield. Sport bucket seats held us tightly through the G-force-producing turns. The A3 did this with no drama. The sticky rubber barely made noise. Did that mean we didn’t go fast enough?
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Going fast through the zigzags, the aftermarket sway bar installed on David’s car demonstrated its prowess. And more often than not the zigzags were followed by hair pins. We didn’t feel any understeer. Instead, the steering was very confident and precise. We consistently hit the apexes of every hairpin and accelerated out toward more fun. We took turned driving with stops for pictures and absorbing the beautiful sceneries.

When I was in the passenger seat, in the comfort of the sporty but elegant interior craftsmanship, I wondered what it would be like to be an Audi designer. The question I had pondered and sought for an answer. I recalled the conversation several weeks earlier with my friends at the Santa Monica Audi and Volkswagen design center. I was fortunate to meet them through common friends.
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Audi and Volkswagen Designers

The Audi and Volkswagen design center is located in a renovated airplane hangar at Santa Monica municipal airport. The silver metal wall, two-story glass, and half oval roof airplane hangar architecture is matching the architecture of the Audi dealers around the world, except, this one is the real thing. This is one of the three Audi Design Centers in the world; the only one that is outside Germany.

The sound of Rolls Royce jet engines thrusting the Gulfstream G200 business jet up into the sunny Sunday morning Southern California sky filled the air as I was about to enter the Audi and Volkswagen design center. Just to the right of the entrance, two Lamborghini Gallardo Spyders, one in Borealis orange and one in Noctis black, were parked side by side.
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Jae Min, the Chief Designer of Audi Design Center California, and Melissa Knight, the Board Member of Audi Southern California Audi Club chapter (SoCal), hosted a get-together. About two dozens SoCal members attended this event. Jae provided very informative behind-the-scene stories of Audi design philosophy, approach, and accomplishments. What I got from his entertaining story telling was the concept of responsible design.

Everyone can do design. But not everyone can do a responsible design. A lot of products that we have today were designed from cradle-to-grave. They will end up in a landfill and pollute our environment. Recycling helps but it is just deferring the inevitable because recycling is actually down-cycling. Sooner or later, the materials were stripped to unusable forms and they ended up in a landfill.
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Audi (and Volkswagen group) is promoting the cradle-to-cradle design philosophy. In this school of thought, the product is designed with future reuse or repurposing in mind without the loss of materials’ quantity and quality. For example, a book can be made of a polymer that can be remade into another book without incurring any loss in quantity or quality. There are many documented successful cradle-to-cradle manufacturing techniques in the world in the field of textile and household products. Now, Audi is applying the same philosophy into car making.

After all this approach is consistent with Vorsprung durch Technik; Advancement through Technique. It is a common mistranslation that the word “technik” is translated to “technology”. “Technik” should be translated to “Technique”, which emphasizes the way of making.

It is a very challenging approach even for Audi. But Audi has become a world leading brand not because it takes the least path of resistance. Jae also gave us an inside into the various design considerations that went into the Audi R8. We could not tour the facility other than the conference room and the outside patio that had an R8 on a turntable. There were a lot of secret projects that would determine the direction of the automobile in the next 25 years!
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Later after the open house, Sulaeman “Abeng” Halim, Senior Designer, and I got together for coffee at the local Tea Leaf and Coffee Bean store. He told me that at this center, they also frequently perform design tasks for various brands under Volkswagen family.

Abeng recently developed a sporty 2009 VW Passat CC Performance Concept for the November 2008 SEMA auto show in Las Vegas. Previously, he created a sporty design for the VW RGTI for the same show. He collaborates with aftermarket tuners around the world to produce the most attractive sporty designs that appeals to not only the hard core sport enthusiasts but also general mass: a balance among form, day-to-day function, and available-at-moment–notice performance.

Jae and Abeng have what many consider a dream job. Listening to their stories, I had to agree they do have a dream job. Their paths to today’s roles and responsibilities were quite different and were not straight forward.

Abeng was a very comfortable software engineer. But he always had a nagging feeling. He realized that life was too short not to pursue his childhood dream. In elementary schools, he often got sent to the principal office because he was not paying attention to the teachers. He was drawing cars instead. So, he took the plunged and succeeded.
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Jae at the age of three was already picky about getting into a taxi cab. If his father hailed the wrong kind of cars, he would not get in. His father is an architect and his mother was trained as classical ballerina, so creativity is in his blood. At the beginning he was aimless, not sure what he would want to be. After attending several engineering schools and contemplating to become a doctor, he decided to revisit his childhood interest.

Both Jae and Abeng followed their childhood dreams and ended up at Pasadena Center of Arts and Design, and they became friends and colleagues since then.

For the Love of Audi

The sun was setting when we turned into the parking lot of the Wild Flour Bread Bakery. We could smell the aroma of baking flours with the scents of cheese, mushroom, rosemary, garlic, peach, and cinnamon as we walked into the store. Behind the counter, friendly bakers were mixing dough, pulling steamy loafs of bread out of the brick oven, and attending customers.
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Anybody can bake breads by following various recipes. But these bakers pour their passion for baking their special recipes and utilizing their unique wood fire brick oven technique. This passion fuses into the rest of the organic ingredients and makes these sourdough breads heavenly and delectable.

Similarly, Audi enthusiasts, designers, and engineers pour our love for technique, craftsmanship, and progress. Each of us expresses our love for Audi in a personal way. This love makes Audi distinctive. And like everything in life, when we pour love into something, that something will generate such powerful positive emotions within us that make us happy.
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