But the car never reached production after Audi took the design for its own.
The original Audi TT is arguably the German automaker's most iconic design, penned by American designer Freeman Thomas. But did you know that the TT almost wore a Porsche Crest? During a drive event to celebrate the TT nameplate (and wave goodbye to it before it goes away), Thomas told CarBuzz that he was asked to sketch the car in two different styles: one for Audi and one for Porsche.
"I was asked to do a Porsche version and an Audi version, and [the Porsche designers] in Weissach were also asked to do a Porsche version and an Audi version," Thomas explained. "And because I came from Porsche, I knew their design language and said to J Mays (Audi's then-design director), 'this is what they are going to do, and this is what we are going to do.' We kept to this Bauhaus absolute design and theirs was very styled."
"We had a big meeting in Ingolstadt. Very private. Just [Porsche's] group and our group," Thomas recounted. "We had two scale models and they had two scale models, both very detailed. If the meeting went well, it would go to the next level. But the meeting didn't go very well because there was a lot of politics going on."
Thomas said that the models shown in the first meeting were convertible Spyder models. "We had the coupe too, but the meeting didn't go well. So we never shared the coupe with [Porsche]. There was a second meeting in Stuttgart; they wanted to limit Audi in not having the all-wheel-drive and lower horsepower. We told them everything was off, but we are going to [the Frankfurt Auto Show] and beginning the full-size [model]. Porsche had no idea we were doing this. We developed the coupe first. That was at Frankfurt 1995; it surprised everybody."
Audi later went to Tokyo with the TTS Roadster Concept and the rest is history. Thomas and his team won the battle to keep the TT under the Audi brand.
Production cars are notorious for looking nothing like the concepts that inspired them, but this is not the case with the TT. That's because Thomas actually designed the concept and the production TT at the same time. "As we developed [the concept], we already had [the production model]," he explained. "It was a two-sided model; one side had the concept window graphic, the other had the production window. The idea was to bring the concept to the auto show, but leave something extra for production."
What Thomas created went on to draw critical acclaim as one of the 2000s best designs. It even received compliments from one of the most legendary designers of all time. "We went to Italdesign and I got to know Giugiaro very well," Thomas recollected. "I remember presenting the [TT] to him and asking him 'What do you think?' He said 'I wouldn't change a line.'"
Even the classic TT logo has an interesting story behind it. The name TT stands for Touring Trophy from the Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, but Thomas said he was inspired by an obscure piece of Auto Union history. Auto Union was formed up of four German brands (Audi, Horch, DKW, Wanderer) that later went on to be known as Audi following a merger with NSU. That company had a model called the Prince, which spawned a sporty version called the 1000 TT. NSU also built motorcycles, hence the connection to the Touring Trophy race.
"I loved the idea of a hill climb giant killer," Thomas said of the NSU TT. "I went to the Volkswagen Group library to find more information about NSU, but they told me 'we have nothing to do with that brand. I ended up befriending the curator, who happened to have a Bic lighter with the TT logo. I took a photocopy of it and handmade the logo. [Audi] loved it."
No one knows what would have happened if Porsche ended up with the TT, but we are happy that Thomas' design ended up with Audi. After three generations and more than 20 years on sale, it stands out as one of Audi's best cars of all time.
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