As Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal continued to grow, sucking Audi and Porsche deeper into the mess, the automaker lost another key player who helped transform it from struggling automaker to global titan: Volkswagen Group design chief Walter de Silva would announce his retirement. The Italian-born de Silva is stepping down as head of global design as the company looks to slash the department’s $107.3 million annual budget.
While de Silva’s stint at Volkswagen has cemented his legacy as one of the most important designers of the modern era, the German giant was by no means his first rodeo. De Silva joined Fiat’s Centro Stile in 1972 at age 21, before becoming a founding designer at the Turin-based I.DE.A Institute in 1977. In 1986, he joined Alfa Romeo, where he rose to lead the company’s Centro Stile as it transitioned from struggling independent to Fiat’s mid-range performance brand. He was poached by Volkswagen chief Ferdinand Piëch in 1999 to makeover the company’s dowdy Spanish-based SEAT brand. From there he moved to the now-defunct Audi Brand Group, overseeing the design of Audi, SEAT, and Lamborghini.
When Piëch picked Martin Winterkorn from Audi to succeed him and chair the entire Volkswagen Group in 2007, Winterkorn brought de Silva along for the ride, and since then, every car to come from under the Volkswagen umbrella has had his fingerprints on it. To celebrate the end of an era, from SEAT to Lamborghini, here seven of Walter de Silva’s most memorable achievements at Volkswagen.
1. 2002 Seat Ibiza
When de Silva took over at SEAT, its best-selling Ibiza was still using a nearly decade-old Giorgetto Giugiaro design. His aggressive, rounded redesign created a splash in Europe, winning a number of awards and helping the once state-owned Spanish company shed its frumpy image once and for all. In FR and Cupra trim, the Ibiza even gave the company a sporting pedigree, and gave the Volkswagen Group a hot hatch to slot in below its legendary GTI in Europe.
2. 2007 Audi A5
The 2000s marked the decade when Audi finally became an equal with rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and it’s largely thanks to de Silva’s guiding hand. Launched in 2006 as a 2007 model, the A5 was Audi’s first executive coupe in a decade — and was described by the designer at launch as the most beautiful car he ever penned.
3. 2008 Audi R8
The A5 may be de Silva’s favorite, but the R8 is the one he’s likely to go down in history for. Taking its name from the first of many dominant Audi Le Mans racers, di Silva expanded on Frank Lamberty’s 2003 concept to make the company’s mid-engined supercar a reality, which legitimized Audi as one of the world’s top automakers. Other than a minor facelift in 2012, de Silva and the Audi team got the R8 right the first time — the first-generation car was on sale for nine years before finally getting a redesign in 2015.
4. 2008 Volkswagen CC
Following the sales disaster that was Volkswagen’s $100,000 Phaeton, the company resolved to keep striving upmarket — albeit in a more affordable way. Based on the Passat, the CC was a huge step forward in legitimizing the brand in the upper-middle class American market, even if it did begin to creep into Audi’s territory. Penned by Oliver Stefan under de Silva, the CC offered Mercedes CLS style at a Volkswagen price.
5. 2008 Volkswagen Golf
With more than 30 million of them sold since 1974, designing the latest Volkswagen Golf is no small feat. But de Silva proved to be up to the task, as evidenced by the 2008-12 Mk. VI Golf. While mechanically it’s little different than the Mk. V, de Silva’s Golf was different enough to win the 2009 World Car of the Year award. The Mark VI also gave us the fantastic all-wheel-drive Golf R hot hatch.
6. 2012 Volkswagen Beetle
When the New Beetle was released in ’98, it was integral in Volkswagen’s big American comeback. Then the market hit its saturation point, and the New Beetle became known as a goofy looking albatross with less utility than it platform-mate Golf. Under de Silva, the Beetle dropped the “new,” hit the gym, and emerged as something we wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive — especially when it’s in go-fast R-Line trim.
7. 2013 Lamborghini Egoista
If the R8 is a timeless classic of the modern era, Lamborghini’s Egoista is, well, exactly what it sounds like. The automotive equivalent of Lamborghini’s ego unchecked, the Egoista was a one-off single-seater based on a Gallardo platform built to celebrate the automaker’s 50th anniversary. The company said that from different angles, the car was designed to evoke both a fighter jet and a charging bull.