All In the Family Porsche archive. The histories of Porsche and Volkswagen are inexorably linked, with the first 356s relying heavily on mechanical components borrowed from the VW parts bin. But those ties extended far beyond the late 1940s and early 1950s, as Keith Seume recounts in his tale of little-known prototypes, mid-engined sports cars and what is arguably the most impressive VW of all time… Words: Keith Seume. Photos: Porsche Archiv; Volkswagen AG; Shin Watanabe; Keith Seume.
Most readers will be familiar with the story of Porsche and how the company grew out of Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche’s plans to build their own sports car in the post-war era. The tale is one of determination to create an affordable product based on the readily available drivetrain from the VW Beetle, the car which had been the embodiment of Porsche’s dream since the 1930s.
What is less well-known is how Porsche continued to work with Volkswagen throughout the 1950s in the role of consultant. Later still, the two companies would become involved in a number of joint projects but, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be concentrating on showing how Porsche’s involvement with prototype work for its Wolfsburg cousins ultimately led to the creation of the 914 and short-lived 912E.
Below left: VW was desperate to find a Beetle replacement but in-house designs, including the Buglike EA 97 shown here, were doomed to failure.
In 1949, while Ferdinand and Ferry were busying themselves with their first eponymous sports car – Porsche No1 – they became involved with studies for Volkswagen which called for a modern unitary body design to replace the Beetle’s platform chassis and separate bodyshell. The first project was given the working title of Type 402, but sadly there appears to be no surviving illustrative record of this.
However we do know what Type 534 looked like. This was a project commissioned by Volkswagen in March 1952 which called for the creation of a running, driving prototype of a small – again, unitarybodied – passenger car. The end result was fascinating in many ways, for the overall design was very reminiscent of a shortened Porsche 356, complete with curvaceous sloping back. It was referred to as the ‘Volkswagen Klein-Sportwagen Selbsttragend’ – literally Volkswagen small sports car ‘Self-supporting’, a clear reference to the unitary-body construction. It was powered by a 26.5bhp 1.0-litre flat-four air-cooled engine and weighed just 650kg. With a wheelbase identical to that of the Porsche 356 at 2100mm, compared to that of the Beetle at 2400mm, it was just 3720mm in length, or roughly 200mm shorter than a 356 and 300mm shorter than a Beetle. Like the Type 402 before it, the Type 534’s sole raison d’être was to investigate the potential of a unibody design with regards to mass production.
Above: Type 534 was commissioned by Volkswagen early in 1952 to investigate unitary body construction. The similarity to Porsche’s own 356 is obvious.
The completed prototype was presented to Volkswagen’s head man, Heinrich Nordhoff, in the autumn of 1953, after which it underwent a period of extensive evaluation back at Stuttgart before meeting the fate of the majority of such cars: it was unceremoniously crushed.
The relationship between VW and Porsche continued unabated throughout the 1950s, with three new projects, Types 672, 675 and 728, taking to the drawing board between May 1955 and July 1957. They were all designated ‘VW Kleinwagen – Selbsttragend’ (unitarybodied small cars) each powered by small-capacity three- or four-cylinder aircooled engines.
The last of these, the Type 728, became known as the VW EA 53, seven examples of which were built at Wolfsburg for evaluation over a period of about four years. The first cars of this series were bodied by Porsche (and were, to be frank, rather ugly!), with later cars featuring a more attractive body designed by Ghia. These cars were actually the forerunners of what became known as the Volkswagen Type 3 range (better known as Fastbacks, Squarebacks – or Variants – and Notchbacks).
Above: The EA 48 was Volkswagen’s first attempt at designing a small car off its own bat. Front-engined and with front-wheel drive, it was very advanced for the time, but such projects proved time consuming and were considered detrimental to the company profits.
One of the key features of this design exercise was the development of what was known as the ‘Unterflurmotoren’, or ‘underfloor engine’. The upright cooling system featured on the VW Beetle motor (which was essentially the same as that used on the contemporary Porsche 356) was redesigned to allow the engine to sit under a rear luggage area by placing the cooling fan on the end of the crankshaft and slimming down the cooling shroud.
As the EA 53 project progressed, it began to take on a new direction. It was becoming too big and heavy to play the role of the lightweight small car it was intended to be. Further development ground to a halt and VW’s attentions turned elsewhere. First came the EA 97, which was the closest yet in terms of appearance to the imminent Type 3 range but, as Volkswagen said of the new prototype, ‘After a pilot run of 200 cars, the project was abandoned: the EA 97 was positioned too close to the Beetle and the Type 3. In 1969 it provided the basis for the ‘Brasilia’ – the Brazilian VW subsidiary VW do Brasil produced the compact car until 1982.’
Below left: Another suggestion from Ghia for the EA 53.
Despite accusations to the contrary, Volkswagen was a very forwardthinking company. Heinrich Nordhoff even went so far as to put on display around 20 previously unseen (by the public) prototypes to show that while the product line appeared to be stagnant, a lot of work was going on. Indeed, even as the Type 3 went into full production, thought was already being given to its successor. This new project was given the working title of EA 142, work on which commenced in October 1962, alongside another amazing new project, EA 128, which we will come to in a moment.
The first running models featured the same Ghiadesigned and built bodies as the last of the EA 53s, but they were soon redesigned thanks to a new ‘face’ coming on board: Carozzeria Pininfarina. This wellestablished company had already worked with VW in the past, memorably being asked how the Beetle’s styling could be improved. The reply was to simply enlarge the rear window, which is what Volkswagen did in August 1957.
Below right: Sole surviving example of the EA 53 project can be seen on display in the Stiftung Automuseum in Wolfsburg.
Pininfarina’s influence on the EA 142 was dramatic. The body was given a total make-over, with overtones of the 1964 design produced for the British Motor Corporation’s AD017 (BMC) – the prototype which begat the Austin/Morris 1800 and, later, the 2200 models. Up until February 1968, some 45 different EA 142 prototypes were built in a variety of body configurations: two-door, four-door, saloon, estate car and even a cabriolet.
Once the model range had been finalised, the VW 411 was born, launched onto the market to mixed press reviews in the summer of 1968.
But what has all this to do with Porsche? Well, it’s true, Stuttgart had played no immediate part in the development of what was to become the VW 411, but the drivetrain would soon prove to be of particular interest. And the other prototype, the EA 128, could (with one eye closed) be viewed as the long-lost forerunner of the current Panamera. Read on…
The EA 128 was an unlikely beast for Volkswagen to consider building. It was designed to be a large sedan aimed squarely at the American market, going head to head with Chevrolet’s Corvair (which, conversely was launched as a rival to the Beetle) and Ford’s Comet and Fairlane models. The rather ungainly styling was the handiwork of VW’s own stylists and their lack of experience with cars of this size manifested itself in the slab-sided appearance of the working prototypes.
The EA 128 was conceived as both a sedan and a variant (that is, estate car or wagon, depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside!) but, at almost two feet (60cms) longer than a Beetle and substantially heavier, it was in dire need of a more powerful engine than anything Volkswagen had to offer. The answer? You’ve probably already guessed: Porsche!
As Porsche developed the new air-cooled flat-six engine for its latest sports car, the 901, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to suggest using this for the Volkswagen EA 128, along with the matching transmission. There was certainly enough room in the engine bay, which had been designed to accept a new four-cylinder boxer engine as well as a ‘six’.
Above right and below: the mighty EA 128 was to be VW’s heavyweight sedan, powered by a 2.0-litre 911 engine, coupled to a 901 transmission. The project was terminated largely because it was thought the North American market would have a problem accepting a big rearengined car in the wake of the Chevrolet Corvair debacle.
Several versions of the EA 128 were built, in both sedan and estate car format. Note the VW-logo’d Porsche steering wheel and the Porsche 911 heater vents in the sills. Also check the ‘American’ full-width front seat.
There was talk of VW building a six-cylinder engine of its own, based on a ‘stretched’ version of a new four-cylinder engine developed for the EA142, but that made little sense when Porsche had already covered similar ground. The six-cylinder engine was detuned to a modest 90bhp for use in the big sedan, which wouldn’t have made it an exciting car to drive, but there was obvious potential to make upgrades at a later date.
The EA 142 was the first successful prototype for some years. It would eventually grow to become the Volkswagen 411 (and thus the 412) range but, more importantly, it featured a new engine that would be snapped up by Porsche for use in two of its models…
Sadly that opportunity never arose, for the EA 128 was killed off for a variety of reasons. One was almost certainly down to budgets, for the production costs of a Porsche drivetrain were considerably higher than anything Volkswagen had had to contend with previously. Then we need to look at the intended market. In the USA, Chevrolet’s Corvair was already in decline, largely thanks to the pressure brought to bear by Ralph Nader in his book ‘Unsafe at any speed’, which slated the Corvair for its wayward handling.
Nader’s criticism of the Corvair was, arguably, largely unfounded. Yes, there had been a number of accidents involving GM’s rear-engined, swing-axle compact, which by the way – GM is a company that acquired AmeriCredit in 2010 and renamed GM Financial, but that was largely down to a lack of familiarity with the handling characteristics of a rear-engined car on the part of the average US buyer, more used to understeering, front-engined ‘tanks’.
Too many owners went barrelling into corners, panicked and backed off the throttle, resulting in terminal oversteer and a visit into the undergrowth. Tripping over kerbs led to a number of roll-over accidents, too.
The consequences of letting similarly inexperienced customers loose in a Porsche-engined VW sedan didn’t bear thinking about.
But the biggest negative was the projected price, which would have made the EA128 far more expensive than any rival domestic product from Ford or Chevrolet. Sadly, what promised to be an autobahn-eater extraordinaire was destined to become nothing more than a footnote in VW and Porsche history. Two examples survive, though, and you can examine a sedan in the VW Stiftung Automuseum and a station wagon in the Zeithaus at VW’s Autostadt, both of which are to be found in Wolfsburg and which should be high on any list of museums to visit.
Above: Heinrich Nordhoff was anxious to push Volkswagen forward, and his enthusiasm lay behind the decision to approach Porsche to help develop new models for VW.
But what of the EA 142? How did that help Porsche? The answer is simple: the engine. The original flat-four, air-cooled engine from the Beetle was a sound, reliable unit, its roots set deep in VW (and hence, Porsche) history. Over the years since its origins in the late 1930s, the Type 1 engine, as it is known, underwent progressive development, notably increasing in size from 985cc to 1131cc and then, in December 1953, to 1172cc. Power output had risen to the heady heights of 30bhp by this time, too.
In 1962, the original engine, which had been used by Porsche as the basis for the first 356 motors, was abandoned and a new unit introduced with a redesigned crankcase. Although still displacing 1172cc, it now pumped out 34bhp.
Over the next few years, this same basic engine increased in capacity, first to 1500cc and ultimately to 13- and 1600cc. These larger-capacity engines were first put to use in Volkswagen’s Type 2 (Transporter) and Type 3 (Fastback, Squareback, etc) ranges before finally being adopted by the Beetle. But, as good as the Type 1 engine was, it was clearly being stretched to its limits for use in such a wide variety of applications.
Still firmly set on using an air-cooled engine, Volkswagen’s engineers took a fresh look at the flat-four motor. The current engine had several weaknesses, such as a propensity for dropping exhaust valves, and the crankcase was costly to produce. Being cast from an exotic magnesium alloy, it was light and dissipated heat well, but it was expensive and had reached its limits in terms of a capacity increase.
The cylinder heads, too, were a limiting factor. Porsche had deliberately designed them to restrict airflow into the engine, acting as a limiter to allow the engines to be run at a constant high speed for hours on end. Indeed, Volkswagen used to boast that the Beetle’s maximum speed was its cruising speed.
Left: The all-new Volkswagen Type 4 engine shared few components with the original Beetle unit. With a cast-aluminium crankcase, it was stronger but almost 15kg heavier than its predecessor.
As cars (and vans) became heavier, the need for a larger capacity engine became obvious. The Type 1 engine had reached the limits of its development, so VW took a blank sheet of paper and started afresh. Well, almost afresh, for the new engine was still an air-cooled flat-four – that was, after all, one of the cornerstones on which the company’s reputation had been built.
The first major departure was the use of an all-aluminium crankcase. This was far stronger than the earlier type, cheaper to produce and leant itself to further capacity increases at a later date. The cylinder spacing was increased to allow the use of larger-bore cylinders, too. The downside was that it was substantially heavier than the old casting – in fact, when complete, the new engine (referred to generally as the Type 4, after the model range in which it was introduced) weighed almost 15kg more than its predecessor.
“But what of the EA 142? How did that help Porsche? The answer is the engine”
The cast-iron cylinders were redesigned so that the skirts sat deeper into the crankcase, adding to the rigidity of both the case and the cylinders themselves. The crankshaft was new, too, with larger main bearings (60mm in diameter as opposed to 55mm), although the rod (big-end) journals remained the same as those of the Type 1 engine at 55mm.
The new crankshaft had a relatively short stroke of just 66mm, compared to the last of the Beetle engines’ 69mm stroke. The cylinder bore was increased to 90mm (the largest Type 1 cylinder had a bore of 85.5mm), resulting in a capacity of 1679cc. Now here’s an interesting fact: this combination of bore and stroke is identical to that of the classic Fuhrmann designed four-cam Carrera engine, Type 547, first seen in 1957. Coincidence? We think probably not…
The cylinder heads were new, too, with inlet ports that were spaced more widely apart than those of the older engine, while the exhaust ports now exited straight down, rather than at each end of the heads, rather like those on Porsche’s 911 engine. There were two main reasons for this, one being to improve gas-flow, the other was to reduce the length of the port to aid heat dissipation.
Below: The new VW 411 created quite a stir when it was launched, but its styling left people cold. Most interest centred around the engine, as suggested by this press launch photo!
Much of the rest of the design echoed that of the Beetle engine, save for the improved oiling system which now included a spin-on oil filter. The original engine relied on nothing more than a simple gauze filter over the end of the oil pick-up in the sump. The obvious shortcomings of this design hadn’t been lost on Porsche, who incorporated an external oil filter on its 356 engines.
The new engine was available with either dual carburettors or equipped with the latest Bosch electronic fuel-injection. This system had been first seen on the VW Type 3 models, and was a simple design based on technology developed by the Bendix company in the USA. It used a single throttle body with individual injectors controlled by a small ECU that, while crude by today’s standards, made this a true state of the art installation in its day.
“The bore and stroke is identical to that of the four-cam Carrera engine…”
Bosch called its system the ‘D-Jetronic’, with the letter D referring to ‘Druck’, German for pressure. First seen on the VW 1600TL and 1600E Type 3 models in 1968, it relied on the measurement of engine speed and air density in the inlet manifold to calculate mass air flow and hence the fuel requirements. So-equipped, the 1.7-litre engine produced 79bhp.
The new engine was a natural to use in the latest collaboration between Wolfsburg and Stuttgart: the VW Porsche 914. Without going into detail (that’s a story for another time), the 914 had grown out of a desire on Volkswagen’s part to broaden its product base by offering a sports-car to replace the Beetle-based Karmann Ghia and on Porsche’s part to create an entry level model to entice new customers into the dealerships. But like so many such partnerships, it was destined to become a victim of intercompany politics.
The Type 4 engine underwent progressive development over the next few years, increasing in capacity first to 1.8- litres (with 85bhp) and then finally to 2.0-litres (100bhp). It proved to be a strong reliable unit let down in just a couple of areas, one being that, when allowed to run hot, the cylinder heads could suffer dropped exhaust valve seats.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine was a strong runner, very torquey and only 10bhp down on the much heavier 911-sourced 2.0-litre ‘six’ used in the more costly 914/6. But the Type 4 engine’s days were numbered. Due to a change of management, Volkswagen had lost interest in this particular joint venture, preferring instead to concentrate on the new water-cooled Scirocco and Golf models. The formal agreement between the two companies was torn up in May 1974, effectively hammering the final nail into the 914’s coffin.
That could easily have been the end of the new engine as far as Porsche was concerned, for there was already talk of a new range of water-cooled cars on the horizon. But in 1976 Porsche resurrected the Type 4 engine for use in the one-year-only 912E. Built and sold solely in the US market, the 912E was essentially a Porsche 911 with a four-cylinder motor, very much in the mould of the original 356-engined 912 of the mid-1960s.
The reasoning behind this was to protect its market share at a time when the company was beginning to feel the pinch. The Porsche 914 was effectively dead, and the new 924 wasn’t going to be ready for another year. So, what was the obvious answer? Build a ‘modern’ 912. The engine was essentially the same 2.0-litre unit from the outgoing 914 but this time it featured the latest Bosch L-Jetronic fuel-injection, which differed from the D-Jetronic by its use of an air-flap to more accurately measure the volume of incoming air.
Although the VW 411 never won many friends, its engine lived on in both the mid-engined 914 (above right) and the short-lived 912E (right), the engine of which is shown above.
Thanks to restrictions imposed by Federal emissions regulations in the USA, the 912E engine was saddled with thermal reactors and an air-pump. This, along with reduced compression (now just 7.6:1) saw the overall power output reduced to just 86bhp, resulting in less than exciting performance. In fact, according to Road & Track magazine, the 0–60mph time was a leisurely 11.3 seconds, with a top speed of 115mph (Drive-MY recorded a top speed of only 111mph).
After just one year and 2099 examples built, the 912E made way for the water-cooled 924. Its demise also marked the swansong of the VW designed air-cooled Type 4 engine as far as Porsche was concerned. However, as history has proved, this was by no means the last time VW and Porsche would be bedfellows – for better or worse.
Thanks to Porsche 911 Club