So, what is the car that saved VW?
I’ll give you a hint.
It is not the Beetle.
The Beetle kicked off VW’s post World War II success.
It did not save the company.
The automotive saviour was the 1970 K70.
What is a K70?
Well, it is a non-descript, crisply shaped, four door-sedan with VW badges.
Yet, no one really remembers it.
It is forgotten, almost airbrushed out of VW’s history.
But a game changer it was for VW.
For it is the K70 that ushered in VW’s great rotation, literally, out of rear-engine, air-cooled, rear-drive cars into front-engine, water-cooled, front-drive cars.
It is the car on which the very successful 1973 Passat and 1974 Golf were based.
It is the car to which VW owes its global domination.
And, believe it or not — it was not even a VW.
It was an NSU product, the same folks who developed the rotary Ro80.
VW got their hands on the K70 by way of a takeover of the financially failing NSU.
NSU had spent up big on trying to make the Ro80 reliable, but as we all know, that was a lost cause.
The K70 was developed because of delays in getting the Ro80 into a state of technical reliability caused NSU’s decision makers to take out a little insurance.
They need a sedan with a conventional in-line engine, “just in case”.
NSU announced their intention to make the car at the 1969 Frankfurt International Auto Show.
But the Ro80 situation had proved too much of a strain for NSU’s balance sheet.
Soon after the Frankfurt Show a complicated takeover arrangement with VW saw NSU absorbed into the VW/Audi organisation.
VW got something they badly needed in a car: an almost completely sorted, water-cooled 1.6-litre overhead cam engine, front-wheel drive technology, independent suspension and a roomy interior.
You see, back in 1969 VW was not in a strong position.
All it had was the Beetle and a range of larger two- and four-door sedans — all rear-engined.
The Beetle was an aging design—it was old in 1960—and the bigger cars were not the most svelte automobiles in the parking lot.
More worrying was the slow but inevitable shift to small, efficient front-wheel drive cars, which had been started by the Mini a decade earlier.
VW was way behind its European competitors in this regard.
The K70 brought immediate salvation and an immediate solution.
It was, in hindsight, a brilliant move.
That said, it was not all plain sailing.
The typical VW buyer did not take to the K70 and only 211,100 K70s were built before production ended in early 1975.
But VW was not looking at the typical VW buyer to replace their old VW with a new K70.
Their 1973 Passat and 1974 Golf, both using K70 technology, showed they were after the typical Renault, Peugeot, Opel, Vauxhall, Ford and Fiat buyer.
The world was next.
David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au
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