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Volksawgen Beetle

How Volkswagen tried and failed to replace the Beetle

Volksawgen Beetle

Too much success can stunt the mind. That can apply to the collective mind of a company just as easily as it can a music artist struggling with that difficult second album.

And back in the late ‘60s, Volkswagen was having exactly this kind of problem with its Beetle.

Volksawgen Beetle

Not that this famous car was anywhere near reaching its popularity peak in 1967, when a 30% sales slump in its native Germany prompted VW’s management to take the challenge of replacing it a whole lot more seriously.

Although it hadn’t been ignoring the task entirely. During that same year VW revealed a whole heap of prototypes to a press becoming increasingly critical at the absence of a Beetle replacement. In fact, VW had developed no less than 70 potential successors since 1952, but none had made production and all shared the same basic rear-engine layout.

Some had been under development for as long as five years before being abandoned, others were simply styling mock-ups. And what they all pointed to, apart from the waste of millions of pounds-worth of r&d money, was the lack of a solid idea for replacing a car that by 1967, had been in quantity production for 22 years, having started life before WW2.

Hitler’s people carrier

Great Motoring Disaster VW Beetle replacement

The ‘Strength-through-Joy’ KdF-wagen was commissioned by one Adolf Hitler from Ferdinand Porsche, the Fuhrer keen for the KdF-wagen to become the affordable car of the people. And it actually became that very thing, though not entirely in the way Hitler had envisaged.

A few were produced before and during the conflict, the war-damaged Wolfsburg plant restarted in 1945 by British Army officer and engineer Major Ivan Hirst. In 1948 he handed over the running of the plant to Heinz Nordhoff, an inspirational ex-Opel manager who expanded production and successfully established excellent sales and service networks for VW overseas, most notably the US where for well over a decade, the Beetle became part of the fabric of North American life.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

In fact, it was not the only car that Wolfsburg was making. Volkswagen Type 1, as the Beetle was officially known, was joined by Volkswagen Type 2 (pictured above) in 1949, this the almost equally famous Transporter van and its Kombi brother.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

And in 1961 came the Volkswagen 1500 saloon (pictured above). It was still rear-engined and air-cooled, like a Beetle, still a two-door and still largely uninterested in ploughing a straight line on a breezy day. Despite this the 1500 did well, the Fastback and Variant estate versions helping it to sales of over three million between 1961-73.

The Beetle replacement, take one…

Great Motoring Disaster VW Beetle replacement

But the 1500  wasn’t a replacement for the Beetle. Another prototype came close to doing the job in 1960, when project EA97 got to the point where the production machinery to build it was being installed, and the first 100 pilot-build cars had been assembled.

A rear-engined two-door saloon, it was powered by an 1100cc engine and would have competed with the Hillman Imp, Renault 8, Simca 1000, NSU Prinz and Fiat 850, several of these big sellers.

But as author Russell Hayes’ excellent book ‘The Volkswagen Golf Story’ explains, EA97 was reckoned to be too close to the 1500 saloon – they looked pretty similar, besides – and now that VW had bought the Auto Union company, acquiring the Audi 60 saloon in the process, it suddenly had another in-house competitor.

So EA97 was cancelled at the last minute, losing VW yet more millions. But it was making so much money from the Beetle that this mattered a lot less than it would have done for other car companies.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

Its next attempt came in the gruesome shape of the 1968 Volkswagen 411, another air-cooled rear-engined car, this time with four doors. Its styling was as tortured as the VW management’s efforts to solve their new Beetle problem, this ugly beast living four short years and selling only 266,000 copies in the process.

By now mild desperation was setting in, Nordhoff’s replacement Kurt Lotz arriving to a largely empty new model cupboard, 411 apart, making him particularly eager for some quick-fix solutions.

Making slow progress

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

One of those came with Volkswagen’s acquisition of NSU, makers of the little Prinz and the radical rotary-engined Ro80 executive saloon. Sitting between these two was a yet-to-be launched modern, front-wheel drive saloon. Crisply styled and glassy, it was a vast improvement on the 411, if far from as gaze-freezingly handsome as the futuristic Ro80, whose design legacy can still be seen in the Audi saloons of today.

Nevertheless, an eager Volkswagen took this NSU design over, relabelled it the VW K70 (pictured above) and optimistically built a new factory capable of making it at the rate of 500 per day.

But like many hastily conceived plans in the motor industry, the K70 soon hit problems. It was expensive to build, sharing almost no parts with other cars in the group, expensive to buy for the same reason and rust-prone. That slowed, sales, as did VW’s activities within other parts of its empire.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

When it bought Audi in the mid ‘60s it was simply to get its hands on another factory in which to build Beetles, because it couldn’t keep up with demand. Audi’s small 60 saloon (pictured above) continued to be made, but product development director Ludwig Kraus was instructed to halt new model development.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

Instead he disobeyed, developing a new saloon in secret. It was eventually revealed to VW’s management, who got over their shock and annoyance to approve what became the 1969 Audi 100, pictured above. That car was a big hit, and would eventually keep a money-losing VW afloat, but in the meantime it seriously undermined the appeal of the less than stylish K70 that came a year later, giving VW yet another failure.

Replacing the Beetle bugs VW

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

If the K70 was a piece of misfiring opportunism, the EA266 prototype (pictured above) was the company’s main attempt to properly replace the Beetle. In fact, it was developed mostly by Porsche, whose engineers produced a hatchback with a water-cooled four cylinder that lay flat beneath the rear seats, to drive a gearbox and differential behind it.

In effect, this was a mid-engined hatchback, and development again advanced to the point of tooling being ordered. But despite its sporty mid-engined layout and Porsche parentage, EA266 apparently had handling issues, besides continuously perfuming its cabin with oily engine vapours via an access panel beneath a rear seat that was expected to get progressively grubbier as mechanics removed it to service the engine.

Nevertheless, EA266 was part of a major management review of VW’s new model plans in May 1969, along with a new front-wheel drive hatchback from Audi, its four-cylinder engine mounted longitudinally, and a similar prototype from VW itself whose front wheels were propelled by a Beetle engine.

Great Motoring Disaster VW Beetle replacement

It was this car, codenamed EA235, that would eventually lead to the VW Golf that became the Beetle’s real successor. A variation of it, codenamed EA276 (pictured above), can be found in Volkswagen’s museum.

At last: enter the VW Golf!

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

Neither prototype was a beauty, but one of VW boss Lotz’s best decisions during his brief and troubled career at the helm was to instruct Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign to style the car that would become the Golf, pictured in launch guise above.

It would be released in 1974, at the end of seven troubled years that had produced one of the ugliest family cars of the ‘60s in the 411, had proved the riskiness of opportunism with the K70 and ultimately, threatened the very existence of VW itself.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

And that’s without including all the abandoned prototypes built between 1952 and 1967, VW beginning its long and painful quest for a successor when the post-war Beetle was only seven years old.

But the lesson was learnt – many of us can count our lives out in Golfs, VW now building the seventh version of this car since 1974. And this multi-brand group is a long way from being dependent on only one model, the mighty Golf one of a number of big sellers.

Past master: the Beetle returns

Concept One

There is a footnote here. For decades, the original Beetle was moribund. It was still produced in South America for an increasingly diminishing market, but eventually faded away for good in 2003.

Then came the craze for nostalgia, one arguably accelerated by Volkswagen, which showed a ‘modern’ concept version of the original Beetle in 1994, called Concept One. The world swooned. Production for the Californian-designed concept was approved.

1998: the Volkswagen Beetle is back

New Beeetle

The New Beetle was introduced in 1998. Ironically, it was based on the platform of the car that sealed its fate back in the 70s, the Volkswagen Golf, but this did ensure it drove well.

Built in Mexico, it was shamelessly retro, taking the original cues of the Beetle and exaggerating them with cartoon-like emphasis: the separate wings, round headlamps and tail lamps, rounded roofline and chunky running boards.

New Beetle cuts a dash

New Beeetle

The interior was retro-inspired too. This meant packaging was dreadful, with a tiny boot and cramped, rear seats, but few at the time seemed to mind, because it was so bold. It even came with a vase on the dashboard.

New Beeetle

Yes, a vase.

2011: New Beetle take two

New Beeetle

Sales clearly convinced Volkswagen it was worth replacing. An all-new car arrived in 2011, with more of a fastback profile to the roofline and a more sophisticated, more practical interior – but still clearly a Beetle.

As with the original New Beetle, this second retro recreation also came in convertible guise, and was later offered with a tiny 1.2-litre petrol engine – the smallest since the original model ceased production. Luckily, it was turbocharged, so wasn’t quite as lethargic as the 1960s models…

Today: the Beetle’s second coming comes to an end

New Beeetle

But sales of this second remake never quite took off. And, like the original, soon started to go the wrong way. It seemed the world had moved on: a retro Beetle was nice as a passing fad, but didn’t seem to have staying power.

Rumours had thus circulated for years that this model would be the final Beetle – its second coming would come to an end. On September 13 2018, it was confirmed.

This week, the final Beetle was once again produced, 21 years after it returned from the great scrapyard in the sky. The last models off the line are going to VW’s ever-expanding heritage collection, presumably to sit alongside the previous final Beetle.

Goodbye again, then Volkswagen Beetle. It’s been an interesting ride, for sure…

New Beeetle

Will we all want a Volkswagen Beetle when it’s gone?

BeetleWe all want what we can’t have. At least, that’s what eBay reckons when it comes to the soon-to-be-discontinued Volkswagen Beetle.

We reported last week on VW’s plans to put the slow-selling Beetle out to pasture – and how the company would remain open to bringing back a new model if demand was sufficient. With that in mind, eBay is now predicting a last mad dash for remaining stock, as well as second-hand examples.

It’s not without precedent; similar situations cropped up during the many times Dodge tried to kill the Viper.

The Beetle’s death-knell has been ringing for some time. Volkswagen confirmed that both the Beetle and Scirocco would not be replaced in March of 2018. Meanwhile eBay reported that 19 Beetles were sold per hour in the three months preceding the announcement last week (September 2018). 

Indeed, since the news of the current car being discontinued, an inordinate amount of attention has been bestowed upon a model that enjoyed very little limelight prior to its death. We can thank the fame of the Beetle name for that.

The Motoring Research view

Of all the retro remakes, the Beetle has had a really tough time. Retreading and reinterpreting styling tropes from the past has almost always equated to a licence to print money, but not here.

The Beetle, however, beyond 2003 at least, never really made it happen. It was very much the fad that detractors dismiss these sorts of cars as. Especially following the relaunch of the model in 2011, sales figures in comparison to other retro-themed cars have been poor to say the least.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, though. The Beetle might not be anywhere near the boutique darling the 500 and Mini have grown to be, but perhaps, like the original, it could find latter-day popularity. Time will tell.

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Volkswagen Golf Mk3 A59 Rallye, prototype, 1993

Rare, exotic and unseen Volkswagens due at 2018 Classic Days Germany

Volkswagen Golf Mk3 A59 Rallye, prototype, 1993

It’s always a rare treat when a manufacturer opens its storage to reveal quirky perfectly-preserved and sometimes hitherto secret machines from its past. Volkswagen is the latest brand cracking open its vaults, if only a bit, to let out some gems for the Classic Days festival to be held at Schloss Dyck in Jüchen from 3 to 5 August.

Six cars have been selected to be brought out for the show – with two rare racing Golf prototypes heading the roster. Take your pick between a Mk3 A59 ‘Rallye’ prototype and the mad twin-engined Mk2 ‘Pikes Peak’.

The Mk3 ‘Rallye’ was a commission from Volkswagen Motorsport back in 1993 and features a 275hp engine. It’s just undergone a serious restoration and is in full working order.

The ‘Pikes Peak’ Mk2, meanwhile, was entered into that year’s running of the famous hillclimb event. Its combined twin-engined output is a heady 652hp – in a Golf! Sochi Kleint – the man to take it up America’s mountain in ’87 – will be reunited with it at the event.

Incidentally, it won’t be the fastest or most famous Pikes Peak racer at the event, with VW wheeling out the incredible record-holding I.D. R for the event.

Also joining the rabid Golfs is an altogether different prototype – a classic and elegant Type 3 convertible.

As for the production cars, don’t assume they’re mundane alternatives. The very rare and exotic SP2 coupe leads the production trio, with a convertible 1303 Beetle and a ‘Yellow and Black Racer’ GSR Beetle joining it.

The SP2 is an exotic South American slice of VW’s past, with the sloped rear-engined coupe being manufactured and sold exclusively in that region, making it a rare sight indeed on European shores.

The GSR was the original ‘hot but not’ people’s car. Not particularly heavily endowed but with aesthetic attitude thanks to the bright yellow paint with matte accents – the R-Line of 1973.

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Deutsch marques: fabulous classic German cars on show

Stanford Hall Volkswagen showThis year marked the 41st anniversary of the Stanford Hall Volkswagen show, set in the grounds of Stanford Hall itself, near Lutterworth in Leicestershire.

The show is organised by the Leicestershire and Warwickshire VW Owner’s Club, and a historic Volkswagen display has been a staple part of the event.

Air-cooled actionStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Stanford Hall brings out some of the best air-cooled Volkswagens, and some of the most unusual. ‘Bertie’ is a 1958 historic rally Beetle and driver Bob Beales drove ‘him’ in events as recent as the 2016 Wales Rally GB.

Beetles aboutStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Beetles have long been a key ingredient at Stanford Hall. Amanda Clampin’s 1972 ‘Marathon’ Beetle is well known in VW circles and on the show circuit. She has owned the car for almost two years.

Marathon milestoneStanford Hall Volkswagen show

A total of 1,500 ‘Marathon’ Beetles were built for the UK and celebrated the small VW overtaking the Ford Model T as the most-produced car in the world on 17 February 1972. Special features such as 10-spoke alloy wheels and the metallic blue body colour set the Marathon apart.

Karmann everybodyStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Of course, it’s not all about Beetles, though. Volkswagen’s other classic air-cooled models such as the Type 2 campervan and Karmann Ghia also have a starring role at Stanford Hall.

Ballistic busStanford Hall Volkswagen show

While the show prides itself on standard models, this Type 2 is anything but original, and packs a fearsome V8 punch. Your cutlery and plates would fly out of the cupboards…

Shaken, not stirredStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Similarly, this Martini-liveried Karmann Ghia has been inspired by Porsche. A lurid black and red 996/Boxster snakeskin interior features inside, while the running gear is taken from a 2004 Boxster.

Metal Ghia solidStanford Hall Volkswagen show

In contrast, this Type 3-based Karman Ghia is as it rolled off the production line at Osnabrück. Introduced in September 1961, the VW 1500 Karmann Ghia is also known as the ‘Razor Edge’.

As Volkswagen intendedStanford Hall Volkswagen show

The Concours d’Elegance at Stanford Hall is considered to be the best in the country, specialising in cars of original specification. Sixteen classes cover all VW, Audi and Porsche models and feature gems such as this very early 1975 Volkswagen Golf.

Clean machinesStanford Hall Volkswagen show

The concours judging is very strict and every car has to be as clean as when it left the factory, with points taken off for dirtiness and non-original accessories. A simpler design means air-cooled engines may be easier to clean than their later water-cooled counterparts. Here, a Mk2 Golf GTI 16V engine is so clean, the proverbial dinner could be eaten off it.

Mars Red Mk1 magicStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Stanford Hall used to be a predominantly air-cooled Volkswagen show, but in recent years there has been a surge in water-cooled cars’ presence. Golf GTIs are popular concours entrants.

Super Class winnerStanford Hall Volkswagen show

The concours ‘Super Class’ features only the previous year’s winners. 2017 Super Class and Best of Show winner was Chris Burt’s Mk 2 1989 Golf GTI 8V.

Derby dayStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Even Volkswagen’s sometimes ‘forgotten’ models get a look in at the Leicestershire gathering. Older Polos are regularly on display, and Vic Kaye’s booted Derby is one of the best Mk1 models.

The 1980s called…Stanford Hall Volkswagen show

David Cross’ super-rare Mk2 Jetta GT Special is a limited edition from 1986. An officially-marketed GTI Engineering conversion, special equipment included 15-inch alloy wheels, a 1.8-litre engine, a bodykit and two-tone paintwork.

There’s a Storm comingStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Volkswagen’s coupés were well represented at the 2017 Stanford Hall event. The later Corrado (background) contrasts nicely with this early Mk1 Scirocco Storm limited edition from 1979.

Audis on showStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Audis of all shapes and sizes are welcomed into the Stanford Hall concours fold, and there’s probably not a more disparate pairing than this 1980s 200 Avant and late 80-based Cabriolet.

Four-cylinder funStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Club stands are an important part of Stanford Hall, and the biggest gathering of Porsche 912s in the UK was aimed for at the 2017 show. We don’t know if that was achieved, but there were certainly more than we’ve ever seen in one place.

Germany’s favourite sports carStanford Hall Volkswagen show

And while the number of four-cylinder 912s may have outnumbered the number of 911s, the 912’s ‘big brother’ was still very much in evidence. 

Volkswagen Beetle pink

Volkswagen has launched a pink Beetle called #pinkbeetle

Volkswagen Beetle pinkVolkswagen of America has introduced the first-ever production Beetle to be painted pink – and, with one eye on social media, has decided to call it #pinkbeetle.

Yes, that’s #pinkbeetle. With the hashtag. Making it the world’s first car to be named after its own social media hashtag.

Officially painted in Fresh Fuchsia Metallic, the pink #pinkbeetle is based on the concept car seen at the 2015 New York Auto Show. It’ll be sold both as a hardtop and Convertible, with U.S. customers already being told stocks will be limited.

New York Auto Show on Motoring Research

Volkswagen Beetle pink

#pinkbeetle will use a 170hp 1.8-litre TSI motor, six-speed DSG and feature 17-inch alloys on the hardtop, 18″s on the Convertible. Xenon headlights, LED running lights, gloss black door mirrors and black running boards are standard on all.

Volkswagen Beetle pink

Inside, the #pinkbeetle has GTI-style tartan (or plaid in VW-speak) seats, only with a pink theme rather than red. There’s pink accenting for the dash too, and 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment with pink-zoom. Sorry, pinch-zoom.

Volkswagen is very excited by the #pinkbeetle. It is “poised to become an immediate automotive trending topic,” says the firm, ambitiously. It goes on sale this autumn and, if you don’t live in North America but are still desperate to own a #pinkbeetle, best get tweeting, Facebooking and Snapchatting your demands.

Volkswagen Beetle GSR

9 reasons why the VW Beetle GSR beats the Toyota GT86

Volkswagen Beetle GSRLast week I wrote a First 5 Minutes about the Volkswagen Beetle GSR. I wasn’t very complimentary about its appearance.

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First 5 Minutes: Volkswagen Beetle GSR

VW_Beetle_GSRThis is the limited edition Volkswagen Beetle GSR. Just 100 examples are coming to the UK. I booked the thing in for review and it still took me by surprise when I saw it in the car park.

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