Late in life, the architect Philip Johnson used an Audi TT to commute from home in Connecticu­t to his o ce in Manhattan. Home was a sensationa­l glass box in New Canaan, a ruthless copy of his mentor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House in |llinois. O ce was the Seagram Building, a superlativ­ely handsome bronze masterpiec­e of minimalism on Park Avenue. This too was designed by Mies and Johnson had been his assistant.

Mies had been the last director of the Bauhaus, which he transferre­d to the US in 1933 after failing to persuade Hitler that Modernism was authentica­lly German. Johnson was late to qualify as an architect, but made his name at New York’s Museum of Modern Art where, in 1951, he curated the ‘8 Automobile­s’ exhibition and coined the expression ‘rolling sculpture’. Never before had an art museum taken cars seriously.

Architectu­re is central to the TT story. Audi’s US press o ce realised this and, as if the loquacious Johnson was not enough of a spokesman, TTs were loaned to Frank Gehry and Richard Meier.

All cars are designed in that a person or persons unknown makes a decision about their appearance. But no car has ever been so designed with a capital D as the Audi TT.

The geometry is strict: those wheelarche­s are near perfect semi-circles. The whole appears to be assembled from spheres, cubes and cones, the symbols of the Bauhaus.

J Mays and Freeman Thomas created the concept, which was production­ised by Peter Schreyer, later at Kia. Mays and Thomas had both been students of the legendary Strother McMinn at Art School Center of Design in Pasadena. McMinn himself had been a protege of Harley Earl, so there is a curiously direct line from Detroit kitsch to Audi’s purism.

Philip Johnson was promiscuou­s in his a architectu­ral as well as personal. When it no longer suited him, he abandoned strict Modernism and wrote the Post-Modernist bible. His 1984 AT&T Building (now called 550 Madison) used a pediment derived from Chippendal­e. This historicis­m is shared by the TT: it explicitly recalls Auto Union Type C racers of the ’30s. | know: | have seen Mays sketch the evolutiona­ry process on a paper napkin.

The interior is cramped. As if to demonstrat­e absolute commitment, all the TT’s switchgear is bespoke and is not shared with other Volkswagen products. The exterior appeared to be ‘carved from a billet of postgradua­te education and a¡uence’ according to the Los Angeles Times.

Keen drivers criticised the slightly numb handling which betrayed VW Golf-sourced weight distributi­on, but this was like saying Royal Doulton china is not suitable for plate-smashing in Greek tavernas. |t’s really not the point.

The name is a story in itself. The concept was called Edelweiss, but someone sensibly shot that down. Audi’s defunct partner NSU produced the sporty Prinz TT from 1965 to 1967, possibly a reminder of NSU motorbikes sensationa­lly taking the first four places in the 250cc class of the 1954 |sle of Man Tourist Trophy.

‘Art and technology: a new unity’ declared the original Bauhaus prospectus of 1919. And here we have that. People always associate the school with ‘form follows function’, but no one at the Bauhaus ever actually said such a thing.

|nstead, form follows fantasy, in this case the fantasy of design perfection. The TT is something absolutely modern, but rooted in history. Literally, a work of art. As Proust’s biographer said: ‘He invented nothing, but changed everything.’ That too could be said of J Mays, Freeman Thomas and the design of the Audi TT.

And of course it’s the designers who have in many ways shaped the conversati­on, by the quality and quantity of the concept cars they have been making.

The first wave (e-Tron, e-Tron Spyder, Quattro) attempted to reimagine the TT. That had been a huge commercial success for Audi, and gave it an image boost that made it seem more sporting and more youthful while chiefly using components from the VW Golf family.

The second bunch (Prologue coupe, Sport Quattro, PB18 e-Tron) were emulations of the larger Ur-Quattro, the 1980 road and rally car that made an equally big shift in the public perception of Audi by overshadow­ing its saloons and estates with a technologi­cally advanced and visually powerful new era.

Sadly, none of these styling exercises was signed off. The same limbo awaited the various secret prototypes developed in sync, including a five-door coupe version of the TT, a TT shooting brake and a full-electric R8.

However excited the designers – and many onlookers, us included – might be, the Ingolstadt grapevine suggests the range-topper does not top Döllner’s pragmatic priority list. Instead, it’s dominated by worsening budget constraint­s. The brutal truth is that Audi has still

not even finalised the timeframe, funding and engineerin­g concept of its future dream machine. But it has at least narrowed down the alternativ­es and installed a couple of crucial gateways.

The task – generate a fully-electric high-performanc­e replacemen­t for the TT and possibly the R8 too – is both straightfo­rward and monumental. Making it profitable is essential. It needs doing in a way that won’t tread on the toes of Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghin­i. Throwing in a dash of iconic original Quattro will help make the

brand image glow.

But for all the good vibes emanating from the prospect of a hot new Audi sports car, not everyone at Audi is on board. Asked to sum up the dilemma and possible ways out of it, an Audi executive (speaking anonymousl­y) tells us: ‘Irrespecti­ve of Formula 1, we should never have abandoned customer racing, entered project Dakar or pulled out of LMDh [a contender had been developed to the point of being ready to test when it was canned]. Why? Because all our money is now on one card and, like Toyota and Renault, we don’t have a convincing bespoke product to make full use of that commitment. At some point, a potent power-hybrid sports car might have been a winning stop-gap concept. But we have become experts at deciding too late or making no decisions at all.

‘Now we have no choice but to go all-in, fully electric yet likely overweight because the required next-generation batteries won’t be available in time. From a brand perspectiv­e, I’m also afraid that the group won’t let us eclipse Porsche and Lamborghin­i. So even if the product is great-looking and dynamicall­y thrilling, it is also bound to be a compromise in more ways than one. That’s something the Ur-Quattro, the TT and the R8 never were.’

 ?? ?? liations,
 ?? ?? The silhouette is unmistakea­ble, as are those wheelarche­s
The silhouette is unmistakea­ble, as are those wheelarche­s
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