Csaba Wittinger, the designer whose early sketches inspired the shape of the new Renault Twingo, pulls a well thumbed magazine from his bag and finds a grainy photo of a 1980s Renault 5 Maxi Turbo rally car.
“The driver of this car was a local star in Hungary, where I come from,” he says, “and I’ve been looking at this picture since I was 10 years old. The original 5 was always my favourite Renault, and this was the best-looking of the lot. So I’m really pleased we used some of its features to influence the new Twingo.”
It’s not that Wittinger and colleagues actually set out to recreate a rally Renault in a 2014 city car. They had no such pre-conceived ideas. What they had instead was a package model, an object that demonstrated the hard-points already agreed with Renault’s co-developer, Smart.
“When I saw that package model,” says Wittinger, “certain features reminded me of the 5, so I proposed a design that used some of the detail: the rake of its C-pillar and rear window, the shoulders over the rear wheels, the rear lights positioned like the 5 Turbo’s engine air exit vents and so on. It worked. Our chief designer, Laurens van den Acker, saw the allusion at once and liked it, and he helped me and my design partner, Raphael Linari, preserve it all the way to production.
“I’ve had a very productive partnership with Raphael,” says Wittinger, who also designed the recent off-the-wall V6-powered TwinRun concept. “But I guess it was me who came up with the original sketches that kicked the project off.
“It occurred to me early on that what we had here was a rear-engined car, a type that doesn’t come along very often. I thought the design should reflect what we had. We did a lot of work on the car’s haunches, on the rake of the tailgate and the shape of the C-pillar, not to copy the 5 but to convey a little of its magic.”
There were problem areas, and Wittinger recalls them vividly. “We knew we were going to share the front structure, the windscreen, the front pillars, the front side windows and the front section of the roof. That led to some ‘energetic’ discussions about the belt-line, because Smart was aiming for a wedge profile and we needed something more classical. But by negotiating over millimetres, we managed to work it out.”
The depth of the body was another concern (Renault’s remedy has been to introduce a selection of waistline decals) and so was subtle stuff like the size of the headlights. Wittinger is pleased, if a little surprised, to learn that I’m impressed with the car’s shape, which to my eye shows no evidence that, partly at least, it is formed by negotiation with another manufacturer.
“I am pleased to hear you think we have succeeded,” he says, modestly, “but I believe we will only really know for sure when we see the car on local roads, surrounded by traffic. If it works there, then we will know we have succeeded.”