Increased Performance Greatly Enhances Top-Quality Small Car
The Volkswagen is an enigma. It has survived thirty years without change in its basic design or styling, in its fatuous Beetle form. Yet it continues to sell, and sell, and sell. And not only sell, but give service and satisfaction to countless customers throughout the civilised, and not so civilised, World.
It is a fact that to date over 10 1/2-million Volkswagens have been built and they are now coming off the production lines at the fantastic rate of 7,000 every day, without the ubiquitous Beetle losing much, if any, of its indisputable high quality. These production figures speak for themselves. Last year, Volkswagenwerk produced in excess of 1,600,000 vehicles; an increase of more than 200,000 over the previous business year. Of these, 1,100,000 were 1200/1300 Beetles, so this irrepressible VW becomes the first European model to be made at the rate of over a million in any single year. VW’s financial turnover rose from £7-million in 1964 to well over £8-million last year, making Volkswagemwerk the industrial concern with the largest turnover in the Federal Republic of Germany and the sixth largest manufacturing company in the World outside the United States of America.
VW’s incredible daily production represents 4,500 vehicles from the original, but vastly extended, Wolfsburg plant, 750 from their Hanover factory, 550 from Emden (where plans are already in hand to expand the capacity 100%, so that this year 2,000,000 VWs are expected to be built there), and 625 from Ingolstadt, where the Auto-Union factory was responsible for 52,000 of its own cars but also turned out 225 VWs a day. In Germany VW registration’s passed the entire 1964 total by October 1965, the total new VWs registered last year being 630,000, the first ten months’ sales representing 78.4% commercial vehicles, 32.9% Varient estate cars and 31.9% passenger cars, out of the total German market. Sales of the Beetle increased in Germany by 72,000 over this period.
On the export side, Volkswagenwerk sent 880,000 cars to 10 different countries, over 360,000 of them going to America, of which 315,200 were Beetles; involving an average shipment of 1,500 VWs every working day. The second biggest export orders came from the Netherlands, which took 58,300 VWs, an increase of 7,200 over 1964, while Sweden took 54,500, an increase of 1,500, Canada 39,400, an increase of 2,900, and Austria 33,850, an increase of 5,850. In Britain, where there was an overall fall in sales last year of 6%, the sale of VWs was only 736 lower than in 1964, last year’s total being 23,713. But since the introduction of the new models in September sales here rose by 13.6%.
VW’s total exports in 1965 represented an improvement of 82,532 over 1964. Clearly Volkswagen does not intend to relinquish its hold on the American market. In the period January-November last year, sales there were up by 15.4% for the Beetle, 1.7% for the Microbus. There are now more than 900 VW dealerships in the U.S.A. representing an American investment of over £90-million, and 80% of these dealers have premises less than four years old. This year the VW distribution network is expected to exceed 1,025, and sales are expected this year to climb from well over 350,000. to 400,000.
Statistics may be dull things but the foregoing figures show why British manufacturers still look askance at the VW, and why it is a subject of sometimes heated controversy whenever it is mentioned. Whether it is long life, high-grade finish, low tyre wear or whatever, there are those quick to quote other cars and deny the reputation the remarkable VW has justifiably earned in the respects. Yet it just goes on selling and selling, in the same way as the Model-T Ford did from 1908 to 1927 and the Austin 7 from 1923 to 1938. The VW will not be quelled! And as there are still an unbelievable number of Model-Ts in daily use in the American outback and plenty of pre-war Austin 7s on our own roads, we clearly shall not see the last of the Beetles until well past the turn of the century, in the years 2000 plus!
It is becoming fashionable to compare the VW with “rival” small cars. This May represent a happy journalistic pursuit but it is rather futile, surely? The Volkswagen is a quality small car which sells in ever increasing numbers on its own merits. It is, I suggest, beyond comparison. The Model-T Ford was crude in the extreme, the original Austin 7 was no paragon of comfort or road-holding, but both these immortal cars fulfilled such a definite need in their time, and sold at the right price, and were backed up by effective servicing facilities, that nothing could detract from their very substantial success. The Beetle may look much the same now as it did just after the war, but 2,132 subtle improvements have been made to it. I can see a close affinity with the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud in this least-expensive of the Volkswagen range: It is a car which is in many ways old-fashioned, Yet of impeccable finish. It sat not on performance alone, but because it is a top-quality car. The sales literature which accompanies the product is also of high quality-, the latest 52-page catalogue, with its colour pictures of VWs serving their owners in places like Acapulco in Mexico, the Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica, Badlands in S. Dakota, White Sands in New Mexico, in Ireland, on the New York Motorway, in Switzerland, Colorado, Italy, Finland, Kitzbuhel and England, is likely to become a collectors’ piece. (It lists the salient features of the new 1300,15-in. wheels, smooth undersurface, 4-speed all-syncromesh gearbox, air-cooling, independent torsion-bar suspension. all cables and fuel lines protected in a central steel tunnel, big brakes, etc.—but, curiously, does not explain that i.r.s spells freedom from wheel-spin on slippery surfaces, attributing this to big tyres.)
There is a further affinity with Rolls-Royce in dignified advertising and the careful attention to detail for which VW are noted— the pull-out sectioned, colour plan of the car in the very detailed instruction manual is changed every time a modification to the car renders it out of date, for instance. Then there are the modern premises where VW office work and servicing are carried out—as seen in this country at Lord’s Court in London, opposite the famous cricket ground, in which VW sometimes has overspill parking space, and at the fine new Volkswagen House at South Norwood, where dealer expansion and garage architecture, warranty claims, training lectures and so on are dealt with. As with the most costly cars, VW. have built up such an enviable reputation for reliability and prompt service that if this ever goes astray, it is NEWS! Thus complaints of breakdowns and delayed repairs of a Rolls-Royce or a VW, are apt to be exaggerated out of all proportion to actual occurrences, the penalty of being at the top of the class! There is, too, the feeling that they are primarily engineers first, car-salesmen a bad second, at Wolfsburg, as at Crewe. The many small but important improvements made to the original design down the years, without hullaballoo or pause for another Motor Show to come round, endorses this, and there is the test track at Wolfsburg and now the gigantic new climatic wind tunnel, soon due to start work there.
This wind tunnel is one of the most modern of its type. The maximum internal height of the duct is 45.28 ft., the return duct is 472.4 ft. long, and the test cross-section 377 sq. ft. Speed and temperature are regulated automatically by a combined electronic control and computer system, to which all the measuring instruments are connected. All possible climatic conditions with temperatures from 22 deg.F. below zero to 122 deg. F. can be simulated here, together with wind speeds of up to 95 m.p.h. Special heaters are also fitted to provide artificial sunshine.
VW consider that the steadily increasing demands for improved cars and the development of new measuring calls for more thorough research techniques. The size and weight of modern measuring instruments often make them difficult to install in vehicles for actual track and road-testing. The density of present-day traffic usually restricts this type of test, and the necessity for secrecy often means that prototype testing on public highways is hardly feasible. In view of these points, the VW wind tunnel with climatic chamber is a considerable improvement on the normal type of research centre. In a modern wind tunnel, air-pressure components and static-road stability can be determined by measuring the aerodynamic forces. Another important task is the testing of engines under realistic cooling and loading conditions. Air-conditioning systems and heating and body ventilation problems can be investigated in almost genuine operating conditions.
Experience has shown that the quantity test results obtained when using scaled-down models, which is the method used in aircraft design, are very difficult to transfer to full-size models with sufficient accuracy in the case of automobile construction. The highest degree of accuracy can only be achieved by using fullscale prototypes and models. The “nerve centre” of the Wolfsburg wind tunnel is the control room, which is alongside the test section and the data processing centre. The machine room with the refrigeration equipment, the cooling tower with its water reservoir, and offices and workshops complete the equipment.
For low-temperature testing, the test section can be closed with a movable, insulated cover. The return part of the duct is also insulated. Temperature regulation is provided by a two-stage compressor refrigeration plant, which uses trichlorethylene as a transfer medium and Frigen 22 as a refrigerant. The refrigeration capacity of the plant is about 2,000,000 Kcal./h. and the current consumption of the four-stage radial compressor is 2,300 Kw.
The air pressures and forces effective on the model are measured on a mechanical self-compensating 6-component balance and recorded automatically, on an electronic Type IBM 1710/1620 computer. The rolling resistance, climbing resistance, air and acceleration resistance for a vehicle of any given weight can be simulated on a programme-controlled roller test stand. The measuring values transmitted to the data processing centre in the form of electrical impulses are coded, stored, evaluated and printed in figures. The data centre also exercises a control and warning function by the cyclinal-numerical comparison of test values with numerically established border-line values. The air-flow is created by a single-stage axial blower 29 1/2 ft. in diameter, running at 175/176 r.p.m., which has an air-flow capacity of 51,200 cu. ft. per second at the maximum and continuous speed of 95 m.p.h. The air speed is regulated by altering the pitch of the ten hydraulically controlled vanes. The daily consumption of the synchronous motor is 2,600 kW., refrigerator consumption is 2,800 kW.
One of the problems of testing a VW has been the fact that it is in daily use in 136 countries, ranging in climate from the polar regions to the tropical forests. Test drivers have driven the vehicle over thousands of miles to collect the necessary data for research. In future a major part of this testing will be carried out in the wind tunnel. Electronic test programmes reproducing the climatic conditions prevailing in all relevant latitudes will be run off automatically in the wind tunnel, thus replacing the teams of test drivers who used to have to go off to Africa, Sweden or Canada for weeks on end to obtain the same information.
Increasing the engine capacity of the new VW 1300 from 1,1.91 c.c. to 1,285 c.c. has greatly improved the Beetle. It now accelerates far better than before (0-60 m.p.h. in 23 sec.; s.s.1/4-mile in 22 sec.), will reach almost 80 m.p.h., given time, and wind up to all but 70 in 3rd gear (but VW quote top speeds in the gears of 15, 30 and 50 m.p.h.). The engine, although still deliberately restricted in its breathing to obviate over-revving, now develops 50 (S.A.E.) b.h.p. at a very modest 4,000 r.p.m. and net torque has increased to 64.4 lb.-ft. at 2,000 r.p.m., which means rather less gear-changing—the light, quick, “non-mechanical” gear-changing, however, is a pleasure on any VW, in spite of being rather notchy.
All the old VW shortcomings are still there, -6-volt electrics, an engine which is noisy when accelerating, pedals uncomfortably high off the floor, comfortable, but hard, seats, the squab-settings of which can only be altered by getting out of the car, while the passenger’s squab, arranged so that it cannot fly forward under braking, cannot be released from the driver’s seat to give passenger access to the wide back seat, a boob which Porsche also committed. The scuttle is high and visibility is still somewhat restricted, although helped by the bigger back window and slimmer side pillars, the heater is not up to demisting in humid weather, and the Bosch 7021 headlamps are very poor on dipped beam. The steering is light and taut, the ride comfortable but inclined to be frenzied, the internal dimensions cramped. The facia is spartan. with but two Vdo dials, a 90-m.p.h. speedometer with non-decimal total-mileage odometer and a “Tank” gauge which indicates an empty tank for miles, when a gallon or more remains. And three knobs suffice,-one for lamps, one to pull out an ash-tray, the third for wipers, with the washers push-button in its centre—the washers are pressurised from the spare tyre, so work with vigour, and do not require pumping. But there is no denying the excellence of the internal finish, nice action of the window winders and door locks, and quality of the 4-coat paint-job, while the front bonnet is now self-supporting and closes with typical precision; the doors, too, as before, closed better if a window is first opened, proof of the effective body-sealing.
The brakes make a rubbing sound but, like the road-holding, are adequate, although the car was shod with ordinary 6.00 x 15 Michelin tubeless tyres. Two levers, one red, one white, now control the flow of warm air from the heater, which is more convenient than the former knob. A new black steering wheel is fitted but the plated half-horn-ring tends to reflect in the flat windscreen and the interior trim in the window.
The turn-indicators’ l.h. stalk now incorporates the neat inset push-switch on it’s underside for lamps full-beam and daylight flashing. The interior trim now blends in the same colour for side-panels, seats and carpets, and there are rubber mats. The engine boot locks , the wheel discs are slotted to cool the brakes, they have flat hub plates and there is a third defroster vent for the windscreen. Otherwise this is the same staunch old VW, with much enhanced performance, an improvement which really has made the Beetle a very acceptable car.
Cold starting was always instantaneous and the engine would pull awy at once without hesitation. In general running about I got 33.0 m.p.g. of mixture grade petrol costing 5s. 0 1/2d. a gallon (c.r. 7.3 to 1) and the tank holds a useful 8.8 gallons.During the test the o/s wiper blade came loose, but a screwdriver quickly re-secured it, and the n/s rear lamp failed. In a distance of 400 miles no oil was required.
With it’s vivid personality, impeccable finish and rugged reputation, the VW, which does not require running-in and greasing only at 6,000 mile intervals, is a good proposition, especially as the 1300 engine has given it a new lease of life and it contrives to sell, in spite of Import Duty and p.t., for 10s. under £650 It’s top quality reputation is no myth, as emphasised when the actor Paul Newman and his wife, leaving a party at Beverley Hills given for Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, called for their VW 1200 (a model now supplied only to special order in England) and drove off amid acclaim, amongst the fifteen Rolls-Royces, three Bentleys and scores of Jaguars and Cadillacs in which other guests had arrived!—W.B.