Today's story is by Alan Bradley, and pay close attention to the impact this car had on the Lotus Elise! Alan taught me something new, that's for sure!
There’s a story we see regularly on #bcotd: a successful engineer within a large organization plays a fundamental part in the development of one or more very successful vehicles; leaves and starts his/her own successful engineering or tuning firm; decides to build their own vehicle from the ground up; and then suffers through spiraling development costs and cash flow issues that lead to bankruptcy and failure.
This is another one of those.
A former racer and Pirelli test driver, Walter Treser, became Audi’s head of Advanced Special Vehicles in 1976. He was project leader of the quattro and then head of Audi Sport , responsible for their rally program, before founding his own self-named tuning and coachbuilding company that specialized in creations based on the quattro and other Audi platforms of the time.
And so the Treser Roadster was born: a quattro with a compact, folding hard top, probably the best-known Treser model.
Treser’s plan with what became the TR1 was for a light, “interesting”, and affordable convertible sports car. In order to avoid the weight penalty of all-wheel drive it was to be mid-engined and rear-wheel drive with power from a Golf GTi 16v motor and gearbox mounted transversely behind the driver.
In the early 1980s, there was no existing platform that could enable this so development had to begin from the chassis up. The front axle and steering also came from the Golf, so Treser's plan settled on building an aluminum spaceframe and cladding it in plastic panels.
Treser approached Hydro Aluminum and they worked together to produce and develop a means to produce the complex aluminum shapes and tubes required for the spaceframe. Together, Treser and Hydro Aluminum refined the hydro-forming process used to shape structural aluminum parts and the TR1 was to be the poster-car to advertise this new technology.
Ultimately, this aluminum frame, with bonded fiberglass panels and an aluminum / foam composite floor produced an exceptionally stiff vehicle, but given that the pre-fluids weight was still 1100kg one wonders if the level of effort can be justified.
Some of that weight has been attributed to the modification of a front-axle intended for use in a front wheel drive car being used in a mid-engined one after it originally showed a tendency to fold under the stresses larger wheels, harder cornering, and the lack of bracing provided by a front-mounted engine.
As development and factory costs rose, Treser had to revise the initial pricing of the car and focused on a market with more disposable income than his original “youth” market. In 1987, five years after the initial development sketches had been started, the TR1 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show costing 65,000DM (GBP22,000 or USD36,000 in 1987!) with extras such as the electric-folding hard top, for which the quattro-based Treser Roadsters had essentially been sellable prototypes, adding significantly to the costs.
Performance-wise, the TR1 was respectable for the time but it was no doubt hampered by its weight. Official numbers were 130bhp, 0-100km/h (62 mph) in 8.7 seconds and a top speed of 210km/h (130 mph).
Maybe the marketing tag line of “Foot off the gas. Roof. Fresh air. Music" alludes to the fact that the production version of the car was perhaps more of a GT than the out-and-out sports car initially envisioned. Supposedly, a 200bhp turbo-charged TT1 and a 170bhp TS1 were planned to expand the range and add some fire to the performance.
In the single year that the TR1 was available to the German market, and despite a reported 400 orders having been taken for the Roadster model, fewer than 30 cars had been completed. Two pre-production cars—a black coupé and a red roadster with cream leather and folding hard top—were used for publicity.
Twenty Roadster race cars were built for the Hydro Aluminum Cup, a race series intended to show the durability of the new construction methods and publicize the Treser (the first race of which, incidentally, marked the international race debut of future Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen).
A further 3 unnumbered but part-built cars are known to have been completed in private hands.
Ultimately, however, the cash-flow and finance wasn’t there and, after only a year of production in a brand new factory on the outskirts of Berlin, Treser folded and Walter Treser returned to racing as Sports Director at Opel, bringing the all-wheel-drive Opel Calibra to DTM racing, and then was appointed Director of Opel Advanced Development.
The Treser TR1 was not, however, the automotive cul-de-sac that many failed sports car manufacturers are. Hydro’s experience with Treser influenced the way they made the Lotus Elise chassis, with its bonded aluminum honeycomb chassis. The development of hydroforming also led to the first Audi A8’s aluminum space frame and the much-greater amount of aluminum found in our cars today.
Of course, there was a TR2 in the works when Treser was declared bankrupt, but perhaps that’s for another day.