Enjoy this great write-up by our friends over at the Petersen Automotive Museum on Volkswagen’s relationship with the average consumer.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second edition of the Petersen Museum’s weekly installment titled #ThrowbackThursday. These articles explore various aspects of Volkswagen’s prominence through the years. All content and photos are courtesy of the Petersen Museum. -CM
Since the day the first Type 1 Beetle rolled off the assembly line, Volkswagen has remained determined to bring mobility to the people. This core ethos has taken many forms over the decades; and while the Golf still carries the torch lit by that first Beetle today, a diverse lineup offers something for families of just about every size. The model offerings throughout the years have been as dynamic as they are diverse, changing in shape, size, and function to meet the needs of families through the years. Still, a few constants have always been served throughout—affordability, utility, and dependability. Some of Volkswagen’s best family vehicles will spring immediately to mind, and others are sure to surprise.
1949 – 1973 Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle)The car that started it all was the Volkswagen Type 1, affectionately known as the Beetle. Though it’s since been cemented as an icon, thanks to Hollywood and decades of pop cultural significance, the original mission was to provide affordable transportation for the masses. Rear-engined and air-cooled, the Beetle could seat two adults and three children—and it was like nothing else on the road. It was only offered with a flat-four engine that displaced between 1.1- and 1.6-liters through the decades of its production, with the first Type 1 models producing just 25 horsepower.
1950 – 1967 Volkswagen Type 2 (T1)It wasn’t top of mind for Ben Pon, the accidental designer of the Volkswagen Type 2 “Transporter,” to create the most iconic van in history back in 1947. Though its mission statement was utilitarian, the bus simply had too much personality to ignore and took the world by storm. In its first year of production, more than 8,000 were built; by 1962 that number had reached one million. The Transporter’s diminutive 1.1-liter engine, borrowed from the Type 1, was flat-mounted in the rear, giving the affordable people hauler plenty of interior room. The bus could seat up to nine, and set the standard for modern vans in the U.S.
1974 – 2010 Volkswagen Passat WagonDesigned and built well before the SUV boom that has swept the world, the Passat Wagon was a handsome way to transport the family to the lake or the mountains over the weekend. It was offered in the U.S. as the Dasher when it launched in 1974, and as the Quantum when it was redesigned the following decade. It gained its rightful Passat nameplate in 1990, and endured in wagon form in the U.S. until 2010, oozing the unique European character that made it special. Perhaps the most interesting—but least common—Passat was launched in 2001, with a unique W8 engine, all-wheel drive, and available manual transmission; it was a rarity whose existence could be credited to Ferdinand Piëch, the then-Chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Group.
2001 – 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon and Jetta/Golf SportWagenEven as American families turned toward SUVs, many still appreciated the effectiveness and the fuel economy of a well-built wagon. The Jetta Wagon, and later, SportWagen, gave families in the early 2000s a smaller, more affordable wagon option than the Passat. In 2015, the model line transitioned to the Golf’s nameplate, on which it was based, with the arrival of the seventh-generation Golf. The Golf SportWagen was joined by an Alltrack variant in 2017, which offered a rugged exterior and higher ground clearance than the SportWagen for families looking to venture off the beaten path.
2004 – 2017 Volkswagen TouaregThe luxuriously-appointed Volkswagen Touareg arrived in 2002, punching above its mainstream weight class, and inviting comparisons with luxury SUVs priced far higher. It had real off-road capability, with systems like a low-range transfer case, locking rear differential, and adaptive air suspension. It was even briefly offered with a V10 TDI engine, which produced more than 550 pound-feet of torque. The Touareg had a long run through three generations as Volkswagen’s midsize family SUV until its U.S. discontinuation in 2017.
2009 – 2014 Volkswagen RoutanDespite having singlehandedly introduced the idea of a small van to the U.S., Volkswagen didn’t return to the minivan concept for more than 40 years after the Type 2 was discontinued stateside. But families were looking for a car-like driving experience with the ability to easily haul large families and gear. Negotiations with DaimlerChrysler yielded the Volkswagen Routan, built by Chrysler on its popular Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country platform, but fitted with different front and rear design treatments and a unique interior.
2017 – Present Volkswagen AtlasAs the needs of American families evolve, so too does the automotive landscape. Today, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a single vehicle that can seat seven people, tackle the variety of weather Mother Nature throws at it, and offer a high level of comfort and technology—all without breaking the bank. Volkswagen’s Atlas, launched in 2017, does it all with poise, earning awards from Cars.com (Best of 2018 and 2020 Family Car of the Year), Good Housekeeping (2018 Best New Midsize SUV), MotorWeek (2018 and 2019 Best Large Utility), and PARENTS magazine (three years running on the Best Family Car list). Its popularity spawned a coupe-like variant, the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport, catering to smaller families who demand the same extraordinary blend of capabilities.