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Concept Car of the Week: Seat Tango (2001)

Fri, 26 Apr 2013 00:00:00 -0700

At the dawn of the millennium, there was no better ways for Seat to communicate its new philosophy "Auto Emocion" than in the shape of a pretty little spider. This new slogan, which suggests fun and excitement with a dash of explosive Latin character, would define the essence of what a Spanish car should be.

When Walter de'Silva left Alfa Romeo to lead Seat design in 1999, the Spanish brand was going through difficult times. He and his team developed a new design language first introduced on the Salsa Concept that then evolved onto the Tango concept presented at the 2001 Frankfurt motor show.

The very clean surfaces come to life thanks to long, bouncy curves wrapping around the front and the rear. Based on the Leon, the Tango is much shorter at only 3,685mm, shifting the proportions closer to a Ford Streetka or a Smart roadster, acting as a more compact alternative to the legendary MX-5. It offers the simple pleasure of driving as found in classic spiders from the ‘50s and' 60s but without using retro elements. It also achieves modernity via simplicity rather than futuristic fantasies.

The happy face became familiar on production models and conveys an eagerness to drive, and drive faster. At the back, the tail lamps, number plate and exhaust create a triangular graphic, which triggered its nickname ‘Tanga' because it reminded the team of the skimpy underwear. This hot-blooded humor was judged too provocative for VW's management and the name was then switched to the less offensive Tango.

Behind the headrests are two leather covers under which two specially designed luggage compartments could be stored. Between the tail lamps is another drawer containing tools and accessories. This leather is applied again on the inside, creating a beautiful connection between the interior and exterior. Its warm rust color contrasts with the cold silver paint and is an invitation to get in and grab the wheel.

In going back to basics, all embellishments have been kept away. Parts of the structure have been deliberately left visible with a raw metallic finish to form the car's aluminum skeleton. Instead of a roof, two beautifully designed helmets with integrated visor and leather lining offer extra protection.

Seat's integration into Audi's group meant it would have to respond to a new management. Unfortunately, the route chosen didn't include a two-seater. Instead, Seat went on developing the new Leon, the Altea and the hunchbacked Toledo. Whether MPVs were more profitable models than the Tango will remain anyone's guess, but with such obvious appeal there is no doubt the Tango would have cemented Seat's image as an emotional automotive brand better than those three.

Length 3,685mm
Width 1,714mm
Height 1,181mm
Wheelbase 2,200mm
Engine 1,781 cc, four-cylinder
Power 180bhp
Top speed 235km/h

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Flavien Dachet