The 1994 VW Concept One gave us the craze for modern retro design

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In the early 1990s, two very different retro-themed concept cars appeared on the show circuit barely 12 months apart. Both achieved almost unchanged production. One spawned a styling revolution that sold millions of cars over the next two decades, while the other became a punchline that has only recently gained popularity with enthusiasts and collectors.

The Volkswagen Concept One is the egg-shaped face that started the tidal wave of neoclassical design, moving from a California studio to German boardrooms across the ocean and back to the American dealerships where it sparked the industry’s fascination with nostalgia. Not only does he have it birth of more than 1.2 million New Beetles worldwide, but its success has also inspired sales stars like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the reborn Mini Cooper and the S197 generation of Ford Mustang, as well as equally ambitious but less popular takes including the Chevrolet SSR and HHR, the Fiat 500 and the latest Ford Thunderbird model.

(Editor’s Note: It’s easy to think of concept cars as marketing gimmicks and dead end design exercises. But every now and then, a company reveals the secret of its future without anyone noticing. With ever greater promises on electrification, autonomy and the material advancements made by today’s concepts, I thought it would be useful to take a look at the archives to see how and when the major engineering and design trends that define the present were truly sown. . This recurring column of the great Ben Hunting is entitled most Important concept cars you forgot everything about, and its goal is to give you the tools to understand what’s really to come. – KC)

The fantastic success of the New Beetle normalized car buyers to the proportions and stylistic language introduced by the Concept One, and its essence was quickly adopted by several OEMs as a template for future retro designs. Beyond that, one of his fathers would exert significant influence in an industry that had gone ga-ga for retrofuturism.

It’s funny, though. Today, Concept One is little more than a footnote, subsumed by its own success and forgotten by most. That other car? It was a failure and an instant and lasting icon.

Retro with a twist

Seek to coming out of a sales slump in the 1990s, VW turned to its new design studio in Simi Valley, California to find a solution. Two pillars of the Volkswagen group were eagerly awaiting the challenge. J Mays started his design tour at Audi in the early 80s, and after a brief detour by BMW, he returned to a leading role under the Volkswagen umbrella at the end of the decade. His fellow American Freeman Thomas was also steeped in Teutonic principles, which had moved from Porsche to Volkswagen during a similar period.

It is no coincidence that the Concept One (or Concept 1 as it is sometimes written) shared part of its name with the iconic Volkswagen Type 1, better known as the Beetle. At first, Mays and Thomas aimed to reimagine the very vehicle that had served as VW’s entry point into popular consciousness. Mays was no stranger to exploring the past in order to serve the present: he had just left the Audi Avus project in 1991, which modernized the brand’s championship-winning Silver Arrow racing car. The proportions of the iconic Beetle were perfect for spanning a modern platform, and Mays and Thomas were convinced that the car’s heritage could go a long way in helping VW regain its popularity in the American small car scene 30 years ago. previously.

After showing Volkswagen design director Hartmut Warkuss the initial look – which consisted of an almost symmetrical front and rear shape paired with a bump on the roofline that was unmistakably a Beetle-esque – both received the fire. green to produce a concept based on their design sketches. The VW One concept landed at the 1994 North American International Auto Show in Detroit where he was the undisputed star of the event. Volkswagen had no choice but to accelerate the creation of the Simi Valley to production.

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