The forgotten Audi A8 Coupe concept's an elegant stunner

Audi pushed hard for market credibility against Mercedes and BMW during the 1990s. The aluminum-framed A8 was a major step forward in that effort. Product planners in Ingolstadt wanted to find a way to build on their success.

In an attempt to mirror the pattern Mercedes established with its two-door S-class, Audi contracted with IVM Automotive in Munich to create a fully-functional A8 coupe as a feasibility study for production. The prototype's fabrication required extensive reengineering of the aluminum space frame and changes to nearly every body panel. Seats with integrated seatbelts were modified Audi Cabrio components, used to maintain the pillarless look. The finished car was painted a very deep Ming Blue Pearl and made its debut at the 1997 Salon International de l'Auto in Geneva.

Audi eventually decided against building it because of the production costs and the weak sales of established competitors like BMW's 8-Series. IVM has since been acquired by global engineering consulting powerhouse Semcon. The sole example remains in company hands, but has not been seen in public since 2002.

Compared to today's standard vehicle choices for downturn-ignoring ultra-high-net-worth individuals, the A8 Coupe is modest, almost weirdly lacking in stylistic indulgences, status badges and monster wheels. It's a restrained study in luxury transportation that trades on innate attributes — speed and usability and comfort and good taste — instead of showy excess. In that, it is the very definition of timeless elegance, fifteen years after its creation.