• With roots in Ingolstadt and the Simi Valley, the design history behind the infamous Audi TT is anything but boring.
  • However, the design itself is simple and comfortable in almost any decade, explains Jeff Wardle, executive director of ArtCenter.
  • With the Audi TT name in the dark, we look back at 25 years of sports coupe design and examine how Audi got it right.

Simi Valley, California, and Ingolstadt, Germany, are about 6,000 nautical miles away from each other, providing a flight time of about 10 and a half hours on a good day. Despite this distance, the two arenas share some sort of larger goal, though that’s not obvious even to the eye of attuned car enthusiasts.

Ingolstadt and Simi Valley lie northwest of the world-famous major cities, overshadowed by the glory of Los Angeles and Munich, respectively. Tradition holds firm in both places too, but the seemingly innocuous towns are home to the infamous coupe shape, one that will disappear later this year. This of course is the Audi TT.

An original 1995 Audi TT on display in Frankfurt.


Unveiled to the world at the 1995 Frankfurt International Motor Show, this stunning little coupe was a revelation in automotive design as a whole, but also in German design as well. And it took some extraordinary distance to get there, with Freeman Thomas and Guy Mays behind the wheel.

The connection to California goes back to Freeman Thomas’s time at Volkswagen’s design center in Simi Valley, from where he was transferred to Audi’s Ingolstadt design center. It was in California where Thomas and Mayes collaborated, both in their time at the Volkswagen Design Center but also in their respective educations at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

With a legacy stemming from the Audi Avus Quattro concept, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race, and the design of pure sports cars within the Audi range, Thomas and Maes (under the supervision of then Head of Design Peter Schreyer) worked on a car that is now undoubtedly an icon of any generation. But it won’t be long on this earth, the year 2024 will come.

This is because Audi will officially retire the TT 25 years after its initial public release. After three generations, two model launches in Detroit, and widespread acceptance of the model in America, the TT has captured domestic buyers since its launch and developed an enthusiastic following.

Audi TT in papaya orange, photo taken in 2003

First-year Audi TT models were prone to instability at high speeds, with 1999 and 2000 model years recalled shortly after launch. A trunk lid spoiler, shown here, was fitted to later versions to improve the position of the rear end.


In fact, about 35,000 TT units have been delivered to US customers since 2005. But within those sales and the three updated body styles, the TT’s formula has remained largely the same. Sharing a platform with the Volkswagen Golf might lead you to think that the TT is merely an exercise in design, but that would be far from the truth.

For a fitting farewell, we spent some time with the final version of the Audi TTS. Our 2023 test car featured Tango Red Metallic paint, black 20-inch Y-spoke wheels, and a red interior that Parsons School of Design students described as Polly-Pocket-esque. There’s no infotainment screen either. basic.

2023 Audi TTS in red parked on farmland in New Jersey

Stability issues can be ruled out with the 2023 Audi TTS, as it was eager to cruise at near triple-digit speeds.

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Mechanically, the 2023 Audi TTS features a 2.0-liter EA888 four-cylinder engine with 288 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque through all four wheels.

Described by co-workers as a Golf R in luxury packaging, it actually pulls harder, launches harder, sticks to the road, and moves as instructed. Plus, they make fun crackling and popping sounds too.

But we’re not here to review the TTS’s back-road talents (of which it has plenty) or to marvel at Volkswagen’s multi-platform MQB.

Even in the third generation, the Audi TT looks quite historic and comfortable in 2023.

Instead, we’re here to experience just how much influence the Audi TT has had on the world of design as a whole. And who better than Jeff Wardle, Executive Director of ArtCenter, to explain the profound impact of TT?

“It was very influential at the time it came out because there were some design characteristics that were pivotal,” Wardle said. Car Week. “One is that the belt line is too high. The bottom of the side goggles was too high on the rider’s shoulders.”

By changing this dimension of connection with passengers, a level of aerodynamics and inherent sportiness are established in the TT’s shape. It’s a design style that has evolved since then, with our shoulders now more often in line with the window sill, partly due to safety regulations. But the TT wasn’t just impressive because of its beltline.

In fact, it was the simple form that surprised Wardle. He had a certain purity and smooth skin, but still retained a certain geometry nonetheless. Even as a round model, it was not a bubble.

1998 Audi TT design drawing in charcoal

Original drawings of the rear design of the first generation Audi TT.


“It’s a bit like Bauhaus minimalism, a very Germanic look,” Wardle said. “As a professor, I have noticed for a long time that students took their design inspiration from the Audi TT.”

Recently, it has not been well recognized by students, he said. It’s still a car that stands out in the parking lot but it doesn’t have the same authority, at least from a design perspective. As someone born in 2000, I often thought of the Audi TT as a cool-looking, achievable sports car, but not necessarily a true definition of design.

But the word Bauhaus is seductive in itself to many young art students, as the movement continues to fuel the idealism and creativity of modern life. However, the Bauhaus movement cannot be defined as the advancement of the automobile, and instead focused on distilling design from its basic elements. The Audi TT has followed these principles precisely.

Audi TT RS and Audi TT parked together pictured in grey

The five-cylinder TT RS has upped the ante on aggression, although the basic shape remains unmistakable.


“It had a lower form, which basically covered the engine and wheels, and then an upper form or greenhouse that was like a bubble above people’s heads. He was very clear about the intention of the car, which was basically carrying two people, but also for some kind of gesture,” Wardle explained. Sports. “It wasn’t too much.”

Of course, Wardle cannot speak to Freeman Thomas’s own interests in the Bauhaus, but the form made such influences fairly obvious. Being part of Volkswagen as well, Audi and its designers have kept a close connection with Porsche, which means it’s easy to see Porsche’s influence throughout.

Audi TT in red with mountains behind it

The value of a good used Audi TT seems to be on the rise, at least since the days of searching on Craigslist.


Just like the Porsche 911, the car’s extremities are located directly below. It’s all uphill from there, and the TT’s widest point will always be at the bottom of the car. Whether it’s a 1999 model or a 2023 model, it somehow rests on its hips.

The late 20th century Porsche 911 and 959 (also built by Freeman Thomas) made their own design waves and had been around for some time by 1995, but the TT paved its own way. It is important to return to sunny Southern California to understand its full reach, starting with the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

2023 Audi TT

It goes well with the Manhattan Night Light too.

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“I think J. Mays invented the term retrofuturism,” Wardle said. “He actually had an exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art about Retrofuturism, which is the idea that you can design objects or cars that are very contemporary or even futuristic, but still harken back to some of the earlier famous design gestures.”

The Audi TT was exactly that. Even in its third generation, the Audi TT looks historic And Completely comfortable in 2023, a status that contemporary Audi designers have worked tirelessly to maintain.

“For us, the greatest compliment was when the trade press appreciatively pointed out that not much had changed from the study model to the series model, although, of course, we had to adapt many details…” said Torsten Wenzel, exterior designer at Audi. Helped introduce TT. For Wenzel, the Audi TT will always be a “driving sculpture”.

If we look back over the TT’s two-and-a-half decades, we’ll certainly remember its eager handling, torquey powerplants, and absolutely gorgeous RS versions, but it’s the look that will ultimately stick in our minds. In a sea of ​​rectangular SUVs and late-model sedans, it’ll always be a pleasure to pick the TT out from the crowd.

Do you remember the first time you saw it? Audi TT? what do you feel? Please share below.

Headshot of Emmett White

Associate editor

Emmett White, a New Yorker hailing from the Pacific Northwest, has a passion for everything: cars, bikes, airplanes, and motorcycles. After learning to ride at 17, Emmett worked in the motorcycle industry before joining Autoweek in 2022. Alternate side parking issues kept his fleet idle, with a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta GLI and a 2003 Honda Nighthawk 750 parked on his community street South Brooklyn. .

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