Concept Car Case File: The wedge that wowed the 1980 Paris motor show
The Karin was a styling exercise that distantly previewed a number of wedge-shaped Citroens of later years, most notably the XM.
There have been sharp-edged concept cars and there have been rakish concept cars, but few have been as uncompromising in their devotion to two dimensions as the Citroen Karin. Unveiled at the 1980 Paris motor show, the Karin was penned by Citroen designer Trevor Fiore, and it featured a novel 1+2 seating layout. Meant purely as a design exercise, the Karin expanded upon several recent concepts that had also gone crazy with trapezoidal shapes -- especially the Aston Martin Bulldog -- with corners almost sharp enough to give showgoers paper cuts.
Today, the Karin seems like a prop from a film centering on the violent, daily lives of droogs, or a car-based test bed for the radar-evading geometry of the F-117. But the inspiration for this concept car came about in an interesting way: Citroen was headed into the 1980 Paris motor show without a production or a concept to show the public, a situation that flirted with getting bad press and scaring off shareholders. Fiore, who was a recent arrival at Citroen and who eventually took the spot of longtime Citroen designer Robert Opron, led the effort that produced a small, pyramid-shaped coupe with an engine placed far in the front and a relatively compact and glass-laden greenhouse that led to a less rakish rear window.
The Karin featured a central seating position.
The interior was dominated by a tube-shaped steering column protruding far from the dash, with a signature Citroen steering wheel that also featured actual telephone buttons. All of the controls were located around the steering column hub or on small pods at the three- and nine-o'clock positions, a design reminiscent of the Maserati Boomerang concept.
When it came to exterior details, news reports of the time attempted to trace the headlights to the design of Citroen SM, though viewed through today's eyes they are essentially dictated by the shape of the hood, while the rear fascia and taillights would probably remind most of today's viewers of the Lotus Esprit.
Today, the rear fascia of the Karin reminds us of the Lotus Esprit, which is perhaps the most rakish wedge-shaped supercar that made it into production.
Needless to say, the Karin did not immediately lead to a production car, even though Citroen may have looked back at the Karin when designing the XM sedan a few years later. In 1981, the automaker also created an MPV interpretation of this design dubbed the Citroen Xenia that actually made much more sense from a production point of view. Scaled up a little, it reminds us of what would become the Renault Espace.
Was this pyramid shape the pinnacle of wedge design? The Aston Martin Bulldog, penned by Lagonda designer William Towns (once again using nothing but a ruler) that debuted a year prior with a similar wedge-like shape, was on track to actually go into limited production before Aston Martin reconsidered. The Karin could be described as being a little late to the party, kicked off by the likes of the Lancia Stratos Zero, the Lamborghini Bravo and Jaguar Ascot, even though Bertone remained fond of wedge shapes with flat surfaces for quite some time thereafter.