Dream maker: Treser Walter

Treser is a leading supplier of aftermarket equipment for the Golf and Scirocco family. But he also deserves a special place of his own in this anthology of the GTI because, apart from Formula 3 racing cars, the Treser Sportscar is the only purpose-built special vehicle so far to use the Golf GTi powerplant. It was perhaps an obvious choice for someone who had worked at VW Audi before going independent. Along with Jorg Benzinger, Walter Treser shared joint parent-hood of the Audi quattro concept. It was these two men who realised the potential of marrying the 4WD parts of the military VW litis to an Audi 80 saloon floorpan, and managed to convince the product strategy committee to approve the car for further development.

It had seemed that Walter Treser, the son of a hotelier, was destined to enter the world of gastronomy. As a boy, however, it was technology and cars in particular that became his fixation. He taught himself to drive at eight, built himself a motorcycle at 14 and by 18 had proved he could drive his car on two wheels. In 1962, aged 22, Treser passed his exams in automotive and aeronautical engineering and went to work for Daimler-Benz and then Veith Pirelli where he was put in charge of the experimental tyre department, developing low profile tyres like the P7. Treser moved to Audi in 1977 where he worked closely with Ferdinand Piech, head of the experimental department. It was not long before his obvious talent earned him the post of Head of the Preliminary Experimental Department and he became the youngest member of the Committee for Technological Strategy. With the development of the quattro under his belt, Treser under-took the organisation of Audi’s rally sport involvement. From March 1980 to August 1981, he was head of the Audi Competition Department. On January 1, 1982, Treser founded his own company, Walter Treser Automobiltechnik und Design in Ingolstadt to develop and manufacture high-quality aftermarket components for Audi cars as well as exclusive specialized models based on Audis. On August26,1985, he founded Walter Treser Automobilbau GmbH in Berlin to develop the sports car that had been his childhood dream.

An extremely high standard of design and manufacture enabled Treser to gain independent car manufacturer’s status from the West German Federal Department of Transport soon after he started his business. Professionalism is something that he pursues relentlessly in his projects. Originality was another of his assets. Treser can never be accused of taking styling cues from other designers. He introduced blacked-out tail-lights on his quattros first. The factory’ subsequently adopted the style. His radical sculptured body-styling for Audi and VW cars has not been mimicked by anyone else.

There has been some debate as to whether the style of the Sportscar is the culmination of the design details that Treser had been working with in various Audi and VW styling kits up to that point or if indeed he was trying ideas for the Sportscar all along. The truth is probably a bit of both, but there is a clear lineage of development in his products, symbolized by a coloured drawing done for him by an employee and framed on his office wall. It shows an open door with the stylised ‘ 1’ that is the Treser logo, in the distance. That ‘1’ used to be an Audi corporate logo and Treser uses it now with their authority, which shows the high regard they have for him.

Three prototypes and a few partly finished cars and several patents are lying around in the hands of the receiver, for sadly the Sportscar is no more, killed off by politics and short-sighted bankers who jointly and severally failed to see the up-and-coming international boom in the market for reasonably priced small sportscars. Those who refused to finance Treser in 1987 must now be kicking themselves in the wake of the success of cars like the Mazda MX5 Miata and Lotus Elan, the latter very similar in concept to Treser’s ill-fated Sportscar.

In 1985, Treser’s first company was doing a brisk trade. He had a staff of 65 and an annual turnover of £10 million. The time seemed right to embark on the Sportscar project. A well sorted sty ling and tuning programme, originally based around Audi cars, had been expanded to include the ubiquitous Golf GTI , beginning with alloy wheels, black tail-lights, gearknob and steering wheel. A new front grille and then a dramatic full body kit were added, followed by engine conversions. The Sportscar required a compact and powerful engine that could be augmented by tuning parts already in the Treser programme. The logical choice was the VW GTI 16-valve unit, and the mid-engined two-seater was designed around this powerplant.

Designing, developing and manufacturing a whole new car is a very time-consuming and expensive business that must be measured in millions of Pounds, Dollars or indeed Deutsch-marks. But Treser was initially lucky. I le was given the first push away from the shore by the City of Berlin which was looking for dynamic young entrepreneurs. They delivered a factor) site, a £500,000 research grant and various tax benefits to get the company going. But a larger Malaysian investor had pulled out of the project even before this, and raising the 15 million DM capital ultimately required was a hard uphill slog.

In the meantime, the Sportscar slowly took shape. The first concept drawings existed as far back as autumn 1983. By May 1984 a wooden model had been made and wind-tunnel testing was underway. The first full-size model appeared in October 1985 and, in March the following year, the Treser stand at the Geneva Show had a full-scale half of the model mounted in a mirror wall to reflect the image of a complete car. A year later, the chassis prototypes were running, and the complete prototype was unveiled at the 1987 Frankfurt Show.

The little Sportscar was the centre of attraction on Treser’s stand and the press information given away revealed that there was far more to the car than just a thoughtfully sculptured body based on VW Golf GTI 16Y mechanicals. In his capacity as a recognized vehicle manufacturer, Treser was not content simply to sell a small number of cars to European countries. One of the serious export markets that Treser had found for his Audi con-versions was the USA. The safety and emissions regulations there are complex and very trying for even large manufacturers, and require substantial financial investment for the testing and development of components that comply. Treser was thus fortunate in being able to use the VW engine which was already certified for the USA should he decide to sell the car in that market. While motive power was not a problem, the body structure and chassis had to be designed from the outset to comply with American DO T as well as European crash and safety regulations. Clumsy impact bumpers are a thing of the past thanks to new plastics technology used by manufacturers like Porsche, and to this end the Treser Sportscar was designed with a defined crash area filled with a foam material to absorb impact energy . The foam was embedded between the covering laminate shells of the deformable zone. Elastic front and rear bumpers were integrated and were designed to absorb parking bumps without damage.

Aerodynamically, a cigar-shaped vehicle is the theoretical ideal. In the real world this is impractical and so a kamm tail is the next best thing. Although the two-seater Treser Sportscar is not a fastback in the true sense even when the top is raised, its profile resembles a wedged semicircle and gives smooth airflow over its contours, which have been sculptured in places as necessary to admit or extract air. The bodywork construction is novel. The body itself is glassfibre and Treser hold the patent for AVUS, a lightweight but very rigid aluminium composite structure which is used for the floor of the car. The material is corrosion resistant and easy to adapt to aero-dynamic requirements. One of the aluminium chassis profiles is used as a service conduit and all the ducts and pipes required for cooling, brakes, clutch, gear selection and heat run through this. The front and rear suspensions are located on their own subframes. MacPherson struts are used at both ends with progressive minibloc springs, lower wishbones and anti-roll bars. Ventilated disc brakes are used at each corner.

Convertible cars are practical only when the sun is shining. The rest of the time the disadvantages – waterproofing, noise and security – are prominent. A detachable hardtop is a good solution but you cannot take it with you wherever you go. The Treser Sportscar neatly sidesteps this problem with the design that Treser pioneered in 1983 on his quattro Roadster. An ingenious hinged hardtop with counterbalance weights disappears backwards below the rear deck when it is not needed and this solves the problem without impinging on cabin or boot space.

When the first prototype was completed on March 29, 1987, optimism in the company was high and, despite mounting financial problems, Treser announced plans for a one-make race series using a slightly modified version of the car. The plan was that 30 cars, or about a week’s production, would be committed to the series. The main championship sponsor was Hydro Aluminium, supplier of the alloy and plastic sandwich material used for the floor of the car, with co-sponsors Bilstein, Pirelli and Recaro. Just over a year later the Treser TR1 was able to give an impressive demonstration of its dynamic abilities in the first event of the planned series, held at the Avus track in Berlin. The race attracted 19 Treser owners from four countries, including Walter Treser himself. He started last on the grid and by the end of the race had worked his way up through the field to sixth position. It was a great tribute to Treser that all the cars finished the race, proving an important point about the thorough development and production-worthiness of the design. But fate took an unkind turn and a few weeks later the company was in serious trouble, with a possible last-ditch rescue attempt being negotiated with Oettinger. This fell through and on August 16 the receivers were called in. If there is a lesson to be learnt from Walter Treser’s misfortune, it is that trying to design and build a car and raise finance at the same time is not humanly possible. Compared to what it would cost a major manufacturer to design, develop and tool up for a sportscar, the £5 million that Treser needed was peanuts; Mazda and Lotus have spent much more than that on the Miata and Elan. Once again, short-sighted financial institutions have totally misjudged the fast-moving motor industry and missed being able to back a company that would have been at the leading edge of the new wave of sportscar fever that has now gripped countries across the globe.

The originality of design and high-quality standards of manufacture that characterized the Sportscar are evident too in the products of the continuing Treser Audi and VW styling and tuning operation. Treser modifications for the GTI started off in 1984 simply as an extension of the bolt-on parts available for Audis. These first parts were the distinctive alloy wheels for the Golf and Jetta Mk2 cars made only in a metric size as Treser had an agreement with Michelin. This size is known as 165TR365 and is approximated 6.5J x 14.4in. The tyre size is 200/55R365 TRX 86H – which makes our Imperial system seem simple by comparison! Also available were a Treser steering wheel and gearknob.

The next product was once again an extension of the work Treser had done on Audi cars. His black tail-light design had been picked up by Audi for the upgraded quattro and Treser released a kit for the GTI which consisted of blacked tail-light covers and a black centre piece that attached to the tailgate. Visually, this helped to break up the bulk of the rear panel and proved very popular amongst GTI owners despite the high cost. The full body styling kit which followed in 1986 was very dramatic and completely changed the appearance of the Golf. It had to be laminated to the bodywork and was no weekend DIY job. Accompanying it was an optional new tailgate with a wraparound glass design. The special glass was very expensive to manufacture, and this was reflected in the price. Wider wheels and tyres became available with this kit and were once again the Treser/Michelin design but with 180TD390 (7.1 J x 15.4in) rims and 220/45VR390 TRX tyres. Koni dampers and special springs were offered as a package to lower and stiffen the car.

By this time also, an engine modification package had been developed for the 16V and this involved re-boring and fitting new pistons to bring the capacity out to 1.87 litres. The cylinder head was polished, ported and gas flowed and a new camshaft fitted which improved torque and economy. The result of these changes was 163bhp at 6,600rpm, up from 139bhp at 6,100rpm, but more significant was an improvement in torque throughout the range, taking out the dips in the standard car’s curve, and peaking 121b/ft higher at 5,000rpm.

Latterly, a simplified styling kit has also been offered which has a slightly different front grille, and you can buy the various parts individually. With the release of the Treser Corrado styling kit at the Frankfurt Show in 1989, Treser showed a new three-spoke alloy wheel design. This answered the criticisms of owners who did not wish to be restricted to the Michelin system. The wheel is available in 7J x 15 in and 7J x 16 in sizes for 205/5OVR15 and 225/45VR16 rubber. Engine modifications that apply to the Corrado and Golf include a 240bhp turbocharged 16V engine or, for those with the G60, a useful power increase to 210bhp is achieved by modifications to the engine, supercharger and electronic fuel/ignition management.

©Ian Kuah. This article was published with explicit permission from author Ian Kuah

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