Volkswagen K70

Sad, unwanted child of a forced marriage
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Indy Lifestyle Online

If the German Press is to be believed, demand for the new Golf 5 is a bit softer than VW expected. Just a few months after this important model was introduced, production is reportedly being trimmed, with an extended Easter works holiday at the company's plants.

If the German Press is to be believed, demand for the new Golf 5 is a bit softer than VW expected. Just a few months after this important model was introduced, production is reportedly being trimmed, with an extended Easter works holiday at the company's plants.

If true, this would not be the first time that VW has stumbled because sales of its core models have stalled. It suffered the same problem in a much more dramatic form in the early Seventies, when it stuck for too long with its unfashionable rear-engined cars.

Then, it was an earlier Golf, the original Giugiaro-styled 1974 model, that was the company's saviour. Unlike the Beetle, it had a modern, front-wheel-drive layout and it symbolised an important break with the company's past.

But the Golf was not the first front-wheel-drive VW; it was, in fact, the fourth. The Scirocco coupe preceded the Golf by a few months and the Passat had been launched a year before. The first VW front-driver, however, was the unloved, and now almost forgotten, K70.

Looking at photographs of the K70 today, it seems puzzling that it is not remembered more fondly. It was a generously-sized, four-door saloon with crisp, neat styling and a large glass area, qualities that helped it to second place in the 1970 Car of the Year contest behind the impressive Citroën GS.

But that is to reckon without the K70's troubled birth as the unwanted child of a marriage between NSU and Volkswagen. Crippled by the costs of producing the spectacular rotary-engined Ro80, NSU had no choice but to accept a Volkswagen takeover in early 1969.

VW faced a problem. The K70 was about to be introduced by NSU in March 1969 and photographs of it had already been published -- pre-launch pictures were a rarity in those days, before Car magazine built its reputation on scoops.

But Volkswagen had also been about to introduce two new models of its own at around the same time -- the mid-sized VW 411 and the first-generation Audi 100. These launches went ahead while Volkswagen pondered what to do with the K70.

Eventually, it was put into production in September 1970 as a VW, but bizarrely, it kept its NSU model designation. Consider this: the "Ro" of the NSU Ro80 indicated that it had a rotary (or Wankel) engine. By the same token, the "K" of the K70 indicated a Kolbenmotor (or piston engine) while the "70" indicated that the car was smaller than the Ro80.

Before production started, it had been necessary to make a number of tweaks to the car, and it continued to need further refinements thereafter. But once launched, the K70's main problem was internal competition. It was just too close to the 411 in size and to the Audi 100 in appearance -- and these models now had the benefit of an 18-month head-start in the market-place.

Things became even more crowded with the arrival of the Passat and Audi 80 in 1973. The K70 managed to soldier on until May 1975, by which time only 210,000 had been produced, a tiny number by Volkswagen's production standards.

Looking back, it is easy to see how the K70 story could have been a happier one. If NSU had been able to limp on for a little longer under its own steam and launch the K70 cleanly in 1969, perhaps it could have turned the tide for NSU in the way that the Golf did for VW five years later.

And now that Volkswagen seems intent on accumulating as many car brands as possible, with the benefit of hindsight it seems strange that the company should have dispensed with the NSU badge (which had a reasonable following in Germany) for the K70 and subsequent models.

Come to think of it, perhaps that is what Volkswagen needs now to take up that slack capacity at its factories -- an NSU-badged, Golf-based car for buyers who don't want a VW, Audi, Skoda or Seat.

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