Our friends at the Petersen Automotive Museum have released their newest edition of #TBT, which talks about the Volkswagen MQB chassis and the roots of the brand.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth edition of #ThrowbackThursday, which talks about some unknown Volkswagen lore and fascinating tidbits on a weekly basis. All content and photos are courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum. -CM
Through the decades, Volkswagen has thoughtfully built its vehicles on platforms that are engineered to satisfy a wide variety of use cases. While there’s a financial benefit, the consumer gains, too—sharing the same architecture across multiple designs brings the benefits of increased engineering budgets to each variation but helps keep prices low. Consider the award-winning MQB chassis—some $60 billion was spent in development, but nearly every new Volkswagen sits on it now, with some starting at less than $20,000 MSRP.
1950 – 1979* Volkswagen Bus
The idea of economies of scale is nothing new for Volkswagen. The Bus (officially known as T1 or T2), launched in 1949, was available as a work van, a passenger van, a pick-up truck, a flatbed truck, and a camper van, as well as any number of specialty uses including police and fire department vehicles. The broad range of applications allowed Volkswagen to spread engineering costs over millions of vehicles, keeping purchase prices down for buyers for over 30 years—and more. While the last bus sold in the U.S. was a 1979 model, the bus continued to be built in Brazil until the 2014 model year.
1965 – 1974 Volkswagen Type 3
Volkswagen’s Type 3, known first as simply the VW 1500, made its debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1961, in coupe and swooping Karmann Ghia coupe form. Just a year later, a two-door wagon version (the 1500 Variant) was launched, using the same rear-engined chassis and flat-four engine configuration. In 1966, the Type 3 was imported to the U.S., and the Volkswagen 1600 TL joined the lineup in 1966, giving a “fastback” version of the same platform to those who were looking for a practical, yet sporting, vehicle.
1971 – 1975 Volkswagen Type 4
In 1968, Volkswagen launched the Type 4—called the VW 411, it was initially offered in both wagon and notchback formats, as well as in two- and four-door models. The new platform offered independent suspension and could be outfitted with an automatic transmission. The Type 4 wouldn’t be offered in the U.S. until 1971, and in 1972, the Type 4 was updated and named the VW 412. A cabriolet concept further cemented the versatility of the platform, but wasn’t actually produced.
1974 – Present Volkswagen Passat
First released in Europe in 1973, and brought to the U.S. first under the name Dasher and later Quantum, the Volkswagen Passat was available in sedan and wagon formats, in two- and four-door versions. Significantly, it was built on a modular kit system that was shared with the Audi 80, similar in idea to the shared architectures used in production today. This allowed the democratization of high-end engineering across the model range. In 2008, the Volkswagen CC was born of Passat roots, featuring a sweeping four-door coupe aesthetic. In 2017, the Arteon carried on the concept in Europe—being built on the same MQB platform as the European-market Passat—and was brought to the U.S. in 2019.
1974 – Present Volkswagen Golf
The most dynamic model in all of Volkswagen history is without question, the Golf. Through the decades, it has been available in three-, four-, and five-door variants, cabriolet format, and as a lifted off-road vehicle in the form of the Country Syncro. When first offered in the U.S. in 1975, it was called the Rabbit. Both the sporting Volkswagen Scirocco and swooping Corrado are Golf variants, as was a Golf-based pick-up truck as far back as 1980, and European markets even saw a minivan in the Touran in 2003. What’s more, the Golf has been available with gasoline-power, diesel engines, and electric motors. The Mk 7 Golf family included six variants in the U.S. Volkswagen lineup, from the all-wheel drive Golf Alltrack wagon to the high-performance Golf R hatchback.
1980 – Present Volkswagen Jetta
First built in 1979 in notchback coupe form, the Jetta was largely based on the Golf, sparking a fraternal relationship that would continue through the present day. As the Jetta grew up, it dropped its two-door trim, and was offered in sedan and wagon trims, with gasoline, diesel, and hybrid drivetrains. Today, the Jetta shares its MQB platform with the Golf, and when it was offered in wagon form (2009 – 2014), the Jetta was a Golf; just with a different nametag.
2017 – Present Volkswagen Atlas
Built for the U.S. market and launched for the 2018 model year, the Atlas was born as a seven-passenger SUV to fill the needs of growing families. It has already seen its first variation in the form of the Atlas Cross Sport, a dynamically-styled five-passenger SUV with a lower roofline and a dramatically angled rear hatch that still offers the all-weather functionality and much of the cargo carrying capacity of its bigger brother—not to mention its low price of entry.