“For me, the Audi A5 was close to perfection”
Walter de Silva.
There are perhaps 80 cars that we all know well which Walter de Silva has played a (greater or lesser) part in bringing to a street near you. His personal favourite was the 2007 Audi A5. From his early days at Fiat up until his very quiet retirement a little over a year ago it’s very hard not to respect the quiet, patient professional way he went about his business. That’s not to say everything’s rosy in the garden, in fact I have a bone to pick with Mr de Silva. A very serious bone.
His endurance and tenacity are beyond question. He worked as a designer for almost a quarter of a century before his name was definitively placed beside a car – the Alfa GTV and Spider we saw in the mid nineties. It is likely he was involved with the Mirafiori’s facelift and the Ritmo before he joined the IDEA design house in ’79. However once he joined Alfa in the mid ’80s the fuse that had been lit in 1972 at Fiat finally reached the gunpowder. It would be far quicker to list the Seats, Audis and VWs that don’t have his hand in them since the turn of the millenium than those which don’t.
Hyperbole aside there are a serious whack of cars that have Walter’s fingerprints all over them. Most of them do nothing for me. Some I even dislike strongly. The 2004 pair of Altea and Toledo from Seat at best leave me nonplussed. The 2005 Audi Q7 still wakes me in a cold sweat and VW’s Amarok must take the prize for the most comically undersized wheels of all time. The less said about his Beetle the better. I did quite like his 2008 CC and the second gen A3 (in 3 door format) still looks sharp.
My beef with Mr de Silva relates to none of these cars. There are many car designers out there who’s output veers towards the mundane and I haven’t time to be getting grumpy with all of them. 1997’s 156 is the real issue here. I’m not going to go completely against the grain and say I disliked how it looked. I’m also willing to overlook it’s truly terrible overlong gearstick and imprecise gearchange. Both the motoring press and the public loved it and one of the things they especially loved was how de Silva hid the rear door handles in the C pillar making it “look” like a sporty two door car. It never worked for me. I always felt that it just appeared that someone had stolen the rear door handles. The shut lines and B pillars were in the wrong place and this made what should have been a beautiful car look a little out of proportion when viewed side on. Have a really good look the next time you see one and you’ll see I’m right. He then went and did the same on the 5 door 147. It actually took me almost a decade to realise the true import of what he had done. He had stylistically legitimised the death of mainstream two and three door cars. Sure the process had begun and was likely to have continued without his unwanted intervention but what a catalyst this seemingly innocuous design feature proved to be.
The very fact that you are hiding the door handles is tacit admission that a two door car looks better. This subterfuge truly makes the proportions look wrong. Not even the 156 can carry it off. As for Renault, Nissan, Toyota, Citroen and Honda who have all pinched this money saving idea my thoughts aren’t fit to publish on these restrained and moderate pages. I really liked the cost effective and stylish way the original Renault 5 discreetly made the door handles flush with the car but Walter’s “bright idea” is a step too far.
R.I.P. Three Door Cars, Thanks Walter.
P.s. That A5? Definitely not perfection, not even close. (I do see the irony in this!)