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Welsh accent puts new Tango in the driving seat; SEAT: Frankfurt Motor Show gave Spanish manufacturer opportunity to unveil classic reinvention.

Byline: ROBIN ROBERTS Motoring Editor

IT'S a little known fact that one of the best known Spanish phrases which is shaping the future of the world's fastest rising car maker is really spoken with a Welsh accent.

The term "auto emocion" has been adopted by Seat but behind the Spanish statement of style which is driving its products stands the figure of Welshman Steve Lewis.

As head of exterior design with Seat, 37-year-old Steve is one of the world's most influential stylists who found himself a star in his own right at the German motor show, which closes tomorrow.

His latest styling creation, the sensational two-seater Tango roadster was a highlight of Europe's premier show in Frankfurt and Steve found he was in as much demand for photographs as the car itself.

Speaking to interviewers in any of four languages, Steve Lewis, enthused about Tango and eagerly explained its concept and creation and expressed the hope it would ultimately lead to a road-going production car.

In the two-seater Tango the Seat technical centre has evoked the spirit of 50s and 60s convertibles through its use of pure, uncompromising design.

Open and minimalist, Tango features expressive and innovative design ideas.

Materials and textures blend together creating a smooth, continuous flow from the cockpit interior to the exterior of the car. Skeletal, unpolished aluminium tubes are visible throughout the interior, which also displays parts of the chassis. Behind the seats of this enticing roadster, the storage compartments are covered by waterproof leather upholstery.

A distinctive feature of the concept is its novel lighting. Tango's streamlined headlamps, devoid of any internal structure, leave their architecture visible. Both the Xenon dipped headlights and sidelights automatically follow the direction of the front wheels.

A complex tubular structure, the safety skeleton, is the direct descendant of the World Rally Car safety cage.

Tango is a fully working concept car, not a styling exercise powered by a motor-cycle engine, which was hand built in a few months after Seat directors approved Steve's final sketches.

He was very keen to create a car that could be driven to show his ideas really worked.

"We hope that now, by seeing the car, that the reaction from the press and public will give us the right messages to put it into production, " he said.

Seat's senior management has been very guarded about possible production but the company has been very enthusiastic about making a roadster which would be both distinctive and emotional in nature to give it an edge over every rival on the road.

Steve's talent for design and good looks was influenced and encouraged by his parents, who were both art teachers.

The son of schoolteachers George and Jeanne Lewis, who worked at Whitchurch High School, Cardiff, Steve spent his early years living in Caerphilly. They have now retired to West Wales.

Steve studied automotive design in Coventry and London with a Jaguar scholarship and joined the British car maker after graduation in 1989, although he had spells with them in the summer holidays between terms.

His taste for uncompromising styling was whetted when he was asked to work on the exclusive Jaguar XJ220 project, which he described as "a fantastic experience."

A year later he was working for Volkswagen, styling elements of the former Passat, and then his career development introduced him to the Toledo and the Seat studios working on a number of projects from 1996.

He effectively created the face of the Toledo, which has come to be the corporate image of all its cars.

Tango technical Engine: Four cylinder 1781cc, 180bhp;

Estimated top speed: 140 mph;

Acceleration: 0-60mph in 7 seconds.

CAPTION(S):

IT'S A VISION THING: Seat's chief exterior designer, Steve Lewis, beside his brainchild - the two-seater Tango
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Title Annotation:Motoring
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:625
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