By on September 10, 2010

VW’s current strategy to design larger cars specifically for the US market isn’t the first time around. In the early sixties, VW gave serious thought to a six-seater rear-engine sedan to take on the Americans on their own (big) terms. Obviously inspired by the 1960 Corvair, which made a huge impression in Europe, but taken even further: the EA 128 was a fair chunk bigger and wider than the Corvair, right into mid-size territory. And with bench seats to seat six big Amerikaner. Even a wagon version (Kountry Knecht?). But where to get the underpinnings and six-cylinder engine for the AmiWagen? Where else:

Porsche, of course; that well-spring of VW prototypes and engineering for decades. And how convenient: the timing in 1962 was handy for Porsche, since their own new six-cylinder 901 (911) was just in gestation. The result: a (US) mid-sized sedan version of the 911, from the suspension right up to the steering wheel. And of course the 911 engine, which looks almost lost in that big rear end (pic here). Large copyrighted exterior pics here and here.

Stretching 4.7 meters (185 inches), the EA128 was a half-foot longer than the Corvair, and from the looks of it, substantially wider. The front seat was clearly designed for three-across seating, with a 40/60 split bench. (excellent pic here).

The 911 engine was detuned to 90 hp, which was respectable for European standards of the time, but the 911’s torque curve would have been anything but familiar with the typical American driver. Never mind the cost to build it, which presumably was at least one of the EA 128’s downfall. The Corvair’s own downward trajectory probably didn’t help. And even if VW could rationalize its production, it would have still come out way more expensive than a Fairlane. But VW had it all wrong: this should have been sold as a Porsche, with a zippy new name, say…Panamera.

[see related VW 411/412 CC here]

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34 Comments on “VW’s Stillborn Big Wide Car: The AmiWagen...”

  • avatar

    Wooahhh! I’m impressed. Do you know how long I’ve tried to dig up some info on that car? There’s nothing out there…

    It just looks so unbelievably cool. Like something the Russians would’ve come up with, if they had been as hell bent on rear engines as Volkswagen.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, because my initial reaction was, “Gah! It’s more communist a car design than even the Soviets could dream up!”  A red interior and curtains would have made it Mao-worthy.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Nobody in their right mind would buy a PORSCHE station wagon, though!  Nor sedan….

    Oh, wait……

    Hmmm.   No, I’m right.  NOBODY IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would buy a PORSCHE station wagon or sedan! 

    Ergo, nobody in their right mind at PORSCHE would allow such abomanations to be built! (But of course, they are!)

    • 0 avatar

      Some say without the Cayenne Porsche would have ceased to remain an independent automaker.

      Others say that because of the success of the Cayenne, and due to hubris, Porsche ceased to remain an independent automaker.

      I say, that with or without Cayenne, Porsche probably would have ceased to remain an independent automaker.

  • avatar

    It has way more character than the Phaeton.

    • 0 avatar

      That made me LOL:  thanks!

    • 0 avatar

      RWD has one key advantage over FWD: separation of steering and driving duties.  Packaging engine and driving axle together is also advantageous.  So rear-engine/rear-drive configuration always makes some sense.

      How about this for a modern RR design: A liquid-cooled transverse inline-6 turbo-diesel hybrid.

      The engine weight should be as close to the rear axle as possible, hence the transverse inline-6. mounted immediately behind the rear axle.  This being the rear axle, the wide engine will not result in a large turning radius.  There is room behind the engine for a trunk (in addition to the front compartment)

      Most modern cars have up to 3 headrests on the rear seat blocking views to the rear. So why not just raise the rear deck, instead of having the lower half of the rear window blocked and useless? Having a high rear deck here leave room for optimal engine intake and increases trunk space.

      Other advantages of a rear engine design: Lack of an engine block up front gives freedom for aerodynamic sculpting and improves pedestrian friendliness.

      For improved weight distribution/handling and traction, put a flat battery pack and electric motor up front, driving the front wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      On the other hand…
      In a crash, something has to keep a rear engine from intruding into the passenger compartment- something is more structure which means less weight savings.  Front engine, not so much since a dislodged engine won’t crush people (but instead you choose either the weight of a RWD driveshaft a gearbox/transmission/differential on both ends… or the packaging challenge of FWD engine/transaxle/steering gear).  Back-of-a-napkin engineering only, of course.
      On combining steering wheels and driving wheels, if you mean turn radius then yes, splitting them up helps a lot.  Handling at speed is a little different a the two wheels actually connected to the steering wheel are only part of the story.
      I was a huge fan of old RWD Volvo (and Mercedes) ridiculously tight turn radius.  Tight turn radius (U-turn) doesn’t agree with wide tires (remember when 205 and 215mm was “wide”?), wheel wells big enough for wide tires, front engine+front wheel drive+transaxle in between the steering wheels, a CV joint in the axle so you can drive the wheels while bending the axle/half-shaft through a large angle, and still have respectable up/down suspension travel.  Volvo sort of met the challenge with the FWD 850/S70 and Honda used to pull it off until about the late 1990s, but sadly both companies have since stopped bothering with this design trait.  (Yes, the numbers on late model Civics and Fits are nothing special for compact and subcompact cars.)

    • 0 avatar

      No need to worry about torque steer either.  Unequal length half shafts with a transverse rear-engine layout?  No problem!

  • avatar

    Manual transmission?  How are you supposed to put your right arm across the back, to cuddle with your sweetie?

    Also missing: necker’s knob.  Perhaps it was best that VW didn’t bring this amateurish effort of an American car to our shores.*

    *All or part of the preceding may have been facetious.  Viewer discretion is advised.

  • avatar

    Is it just me, or does that look a lot like a widened volvo 240?

    • 0 avatar

      I was kind of wierded out by how the banner photo reminded me of something … with it’s quad headlamps and the flat panel between them … there were plenty of cars that grouped the headlamps like this in the early 60’s … Econoline van, Corvair, etc.

      But there was something about the flatness of the hood and the base of the windshield, and how the two of these met … now a couple of days later, looking again, I think it reminds me most of the original NSU TT …  Anybody else?

    • 0 avatar
      Carlos Villalobos

      Yeah, you read my mind, though for me it is more like a Volvo 740/760, especially the Wagon

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    It sure isn’t vanilla or cookie cutter.  I like it.  Of course owning that it was proposed a good 30 years before I got a licence, it’s kind of irrelevant.

  • avatar

    Hey, who tore the grill off my Bentley Mulsanne?

  • avatar

    The part that I find most interesting is that this prototype is utterly devoid of badges. And it carries no hint I can detect of contemporary VW design language. I wonder if they intended to market it under a different nameplate? Had VW yet acquired Audi/NSU at the time this was developed?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t agree. I think there’s some family resemblence, especially to the 412. It’s clearly a prototype, hence the awkward rear light clusters and no badges. I could see this car with the later wrap around rear lights of the 411.

    • 0 avatar

      Volkswagen acquired NSU in 1969.  This AmiWagen prototype was developed in advance of this.  So this vehicle would not have been developed with the idea of marketing it as an NSU or Audi.
      The contemporary of the VW AmiWagen would be NSU’s Ro80 sedan (1967 to 1977).  The Ro80, while horrendously unreliable, was far more advanced than this VW prototype.  From what I understand after NSU was acquired by VW they (NSU) had far more impact on VW design and Engineering than the other way around.

    • 0 avatar

      To me, this prototype suggests the engineering was much farther along than the styling.  The greenhouse looks good in a generically German sort of way, but the front and rear clips seem like they are just boxes covering up the working bits, waiting for the stylists to apply some features and brand identity.  As discussed in the 412 thread, VW was slow to realize that aircooled engines were an evolutionry dead end once emission controls became mandatory and airconditioning, power steering and brakes, and other creature comforts were universally demanded.

  • avatar

    So beautifully weird – I want.

  • avatar

    Despite my best and feeble efforts I am unable to cease immediately interpreting the acronym NSU to “non-specific urethritis\'”  an all-too-common affliction affecting those wandering tropical areas and sundry oriental ports.
    “Keep it in thine pants, brethren, the chaplain mumbled into the ship’s announcing system prior to disembarkation and his heading off to wherever he disappeared to for days at a stretch but usually returned at least partially sober.

    • 0 avatar

      We American NSU owners — the few, the proud– liked to think of the acronym as “Nothing Stops Us.” That’s the kind of dedication it took to maintain and rely upon an unknown little car with few trained mechanics and fewer spare parts. But the real story leads us back to Neckarsulm, Germany, by the River Neckar, where the Neckarsulm Strickachinen Union made its fine sewing machines, them motorcycles, them microcars, then sporty sedans and finally their deadly sin, the rotary engine.

  • avatar

    I never would have dreamed of this…
    the spectre of the ’64 Chevy in the face on the wagon.
    And, oh, yeah, it has a LOT more character than a Phaeton.
    @Steve65: despite my comment about the 64 Chevy, I think it also has some family resemblance to the old Squareback.

  • avatar

    That picture of the Porsche engine in the V-Dub reminded me a bit of those big ol’ orange Deutz engines stuffed in the back of imported (to the U.S.) Neoplan Cityliners.
    Gotta love an engine with twin turbos and a supercharger and the thing was still a complete dog.

  • avatar

    Looks like they recycled the styling down at VW do Brasil.  Check out the rear view.  This car was called Ze de Caixao or Big Box Joe.  A favorite of the taxi fleets

    Cade voce Marcelo?

    • 0 avatar

      Hi djn!

      I know I’ve been somewhat absent, but work and a few other things have demanded my attention. Crossing my fingers for things to improve.

      As to the Zé do Caixão, you’re right, there’s a resemblence. As Paul Niedermeyer himself mentions below, it was one of VW’s unsuccessful attempts at getting over and done with the Beetle (or Fusca down here). It sold briskly for a while, but then became a big flop. Two reasons contributed to this: it became the taxi driver’s favorite and thusly turned off a lot of people and drove private buyers to prefer 2 cars for 20 more years (yeah, irrational and dumb, but whoever said any market is rational?). The second reason had to do with it being a 4 door. So some people “naturally” associated it with a coffin. This and the popularity at the time of a kind of Brazilian cinematic character (a la Jack in Friday the 13th), named Zé do Caixão (not to mention the general fragility of the car) rang the deathbell for the car. Nobody wanted a car associated with a coffin and a killer!

      A credible substitute for the Fusca was only found in the 80s (the Gol), though the Brasilia made a credible effort in the 70s. Old cars though have a hard time dying in Brazil as they are usually very cheap and the cars that come along to substitute them are always more expensive and complex. In a market as sensitive to price as ours, old cars never die. Examples abound like in VW the Beetle/Fusca which the Se do Caixão was upposed to kill but didn’t, then the Brasilian, then the Passat until the Gol finally did it. More recently, at VW do Brasil itself the Polo would kill the Gol, then the Fox. Neither mangaed. So VW finally gave up the ghost and completely reformed the Gol. So it will live on at least another decade or 2. Kind of like at Fiat, where the Palio should have killed the old Uno but didn’t. So now we have a completely new Uno that’ll live on and on and on.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned Corvairs, still a fan of Corvairs, but I must say this: If the production models had been even half as well finished as these prototypes, they would have made many Corvair owners of the time green with envy.

    Something about the size and quality of materials makes me wonder if VW wasn’t setting its sights on Mercedes Benz when this concept was dreamed up.

  • avatar

    Everything is right with this car.

    I like the styling,too.

  • avatar

    Hey, Paul.  Patiently waiting for that 412 Curbside Classic.   Learned to drive with my Dad’s 412 wagon.  That car took a beating…have not seen one in the flesh in 25 years.  Upstate NY winters……

  • avatar

    I wonder why these cars never saw the light of day …  could it be that, despite size, they were too primative to compete with US cars of the same size?  Or, possibly, given the very large panel sizes, VW would have had to invest in presses to handle the large tools, for a car that could only be needed by Americans, but with no certainty of being embraced by them?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Robert; VW built (or had Porsche build) dozens and dozens of prototypes during this era. As you know, it was different then than now: no computer design; more trial and error. Somebody in VW got the idea in his head to ponder a big wide sedan: call Porsche and have them cobble up a crude prototype, and see how it comes off.
      There’s a picture somewhere of over forty VW prototypes rolled out on a parking lot for Spiegel to shoot, to prove to Germans that they really were working on Beetle successors. Now days, it’s done totally different.

  • avatar

    Also, what’s up with the wipers on the sedan?  They are of an opposing type rarely seen (good for pushing the water up over the roof, and a common system for RH and LH drive vehicles, but not so good for wiping the very center of the glass and in trying to minimize this, with the inevitable lash, likely good for the two wipers to bang into each other…

    Or could it be that they are broken (compare to the wagon pic, which makes more sense)…

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