1980s Germany was all about figuring out the car of the future

Auto 2000 project was funded by the government to help the local industry set more precise standards for its future projects

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1981 Mercedes-Benz Auto 2000 Concept
Porsche took part in the project as well, but didn’t reach the stage where it had to actually build a concept car

What was the challenge?

According to CarStyling, the Ministry for Research and Technology prompted companies to develop prototypes of urban cars that would consume up to 9.5 l/100 km weighing from 1,250 to 1,700 kg while seating four, carrying 400 kg of payload and doing all that without other standards such as comfort, overall safety, ease of maintenance, emission levels, performance, and service life. In other words, perfectly appropriate for the time, but much more fuel-efficient.

1981 Audi Auto 2000 Concept


As AudiStory puts it, Audi received the smallest portion of the federal fund for the project. While that didn’t reduce the maker’s effort to create a good car, it affected the range of innovations applied to it: the car had a turbocharged 1.6 gasoline engine with a carburetor even though emissions weren’t concerning at the time and electronic injection was already popular. Besides, the gearbox had long gears, and body and chassis used high-tech materials to weigh less.

1981 Mercedes-Benz Auto 2000 Concept


Another Auto 2000 concept was longer and featured a Kamm-tail: rear fascia with a gentle slope that ends abruptly. That’s a classic resource to achieve low drag without an excessively long body. Pair that to the smooth shapes and the lack of protruding accessories once again and you obtain the 0.28 coefficient. The overall looks came from regular Benzes, but this one stood out for having a wraparound rear windshield that could be opened as a secondary trunk lid.

1981 Volkswagen Auto 2000 Concept


Since the intention was to create models as similar as possible to those already available, it’s only natural that the Wolfsburg maker would concoct something more humble than the other two. This two-door coupé uses streamlined body just like the Audi and a Kamm-tail just like the Mercedes-Benz, but paired to a front end without an upper grille, a C-pillar wide enough to look weird, and a rear windshield split in two parts in order not to require a longer rear fascia.

BMW was another company not to present a concept car for Auto 2000. However, it had many other projects of its own

What can we conclude from all that?

First of all, many technologies developed for the projects ended applied to the regular models, such as digital instruments, engine downsizing, forced-intake systems and cylinder deactivation. Besides, did you notice which models were directly influenced by the projects’ design? Audi derived the ‘1982 100 sedan directly from it, while Mercedes-Benz applied some cues to the ‘1985 S-Class. Volkswagen’s project inspired both the ‘1982 Scirocco and the ‘1988 Passat.

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.