A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the VW Beetle prototypes in the VW museum at the Wolfsburg factory.

While there, I also ran across these two early 1970s superminis - the charming Autobianchi A112 and the original Audi 50. The A112 deserves its place in the museum because it’s one of the first modern, front drive, hatchback, superminis. 

It was launched in 1969 and was really an Italian take on how the BLMC Mini should have been developed. A successful take, too. It stayed in production for nearly 17 years until it was replaced BY the Y10 - which we knew as a Lancia.

Seeing the A112 and Audi 50 next to each other shows just how much styling changed in a short period. The Audi was launched just four years or so after the A112, but they’re a world apart.

The accepted theory is that the wedgy ‘folded paper’ styling trend pushed by Italian design houses became all the rage among manufacturers, typified by the Giugiaro work on the Audi 50/Polo and Mk1 Golf.

However, while staring at the two cars, I suddenly remembered an email I received last year from a chap called Alan Ponsford. Today he’s one of the world’s leading bus designers, but back in the 1970s he was wrestling with suspension designs for the British car industry.

Ponsford pointed out that the Giugiaro consultancy was founded by the legendary stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro and a body engineering specialist called Aldo Mantovani.

‘This period was the start of chasing shorter model programs so they decided the shallower the press tooling, the faster & cheaper it was to machine. Hence the pretty folded cardboard shape from tools that took no time to sink’ said Ponsford’s email.

So this edgy look was driven as much by the easy and speed of pressing out body panels as it was by pure styling. Look at the A112’s front wing (left). It is very deep, complex and shaped and is joined to the pressing that runs around and under the grille. The shutline between the wing and bonnet is far from consistent.

There’s also a welded joint under the headlamp and the hole in the wing has to be accurate enough to hold a perfectly round headlamp. The side light and indicator look like stuck-on after thoughts.

Now look at the Audi’s wing (right). It’s a shallow, simple, pressing with a nice straight shut against the flat bonnet. The headlight is contained in the grille, where there’s more margin for fitting error. The indicator is fitted into the bumper.

There’s no doubt that the sharp, edgy, Italian look was fresh and modern nearly four decades ago. But this look was as much driven by the need to simplify panel pressings and make assembly easier as it was by pure aesthetics.