After the merger of NSU with Audi, Claus Luthe was head of one of two design departments of Audi in Ingolstadt. From 1976 to 1990 he was chief designer at BMW AG in Munich. There he came into an environment that was technically advanced but conservative in design. In small steps he then upgraded one BMW model after the other, making them more lively until all BMW series were "Luthe models". This also allowed him to realize his ideas of a functional and stylistically appealing workplace for the driver.
Claus Luthe passed away on 17.03.2008
Claus Luthe, born on 8.12.1932 in Wuppertal, learned the trade of bodywork fitter and bodywork plumber at the bus manufacturer Voll in Würzburg. In 1954, he passed the master's examination in the coachbuilder trade and completed his studies as a "coachwork and vehicle engineer" at the technical college for coachwork and vehicle construction in Kaiserslautern.
After a short employment at Fiat in Heilbronn, he went to NSU in Neckarsulm in 1956 as a designer and body builder, where he became chief designer in 1966. As such he was responsible for the development of the body of the Ro 80. The specification Luthe was given at NSU at that time was a car of the upper middle class in which the Wankel engine would come into its own. As NSU was not yet established in this market segment, there was no house style or design hierarchy to be followed. Luthe wanted a bodywork that gave an idea of the revolutionary technology that lay underneath.
The car without a predecessor and without a direct successor was a sensation when it was released in 1967, because it broke completely with all traditions of design. The front was low, the rear high, and there was almost no chrome trim, everything was simple, harmonious and of an almost Italian elegance. The roof structure seemed to float on the body with its thin pillars. Even if sometimes in advertisements there was talk about the "body from the wind tunnel" or the shape "that the wind drew itself", Luthe himself explained that he drew and shaped the body shape of the Ro 80 almost intuitively, naturally using insights from aerodynamics.
Just how groundbreaking the Ro 80 was at that time, and how its influence continued for a long time to come becomes clear when it is first placed next to its peers from Mercedes, Opel and Ford. And then next to much later models from the German car industry, especially the Audis of the 1990s. Only then it becomes clear how great the leap forward was.
This presentation is based on the Luthe retrospective of our longtime member Christian von Klösterlein (1937 - 2019).
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