The road that led to the development of the first-generation Volkswagen Golf, as we know it, was a long and winding one. And along this path you will find a number of abandoned projects which intended to succeed the iconic Beetle long before the first Golf came along in 1974.
With its water-cooled engine and front-wheel drive configuration the Golf was a radical departure from the air-cooled, rear-engined Beetle and the earlier intended replacements followed the latter’s technical format, but attempted to modernise the packaging and styling.
Creating a successor to the Beetle, which went on to sell more than 21,5 million units around the globe, was no easy task, and over the years Volkswagen considered more than 70 potential replacements and off-shoots. Let’s take a closer look at five of them:
Volkswagen EA47-12 (1955 – 1956)
The EA-47-12 is said to be Volkswagen’s first attempt at creating a modern successor to the Beetle, and the first of many to have been designed by Ghia – note the similarity to the Karmann Ghia?
The prototype was motivated by a 1,2-litre air-cooled flat-four engine that produced a mere 22,3 kW, which was enough to get the car to a top speed of 80 km/h. The car featured a torsion bar rear suspension, transverse link front axle and a fully synchronized gearbox, which made it impressively advanced for its time.
Volkswagen EA48 (1955)
Although not strictly a Beetle replacement, the EA48 of 1955 would have taken over its role as VW’s entry-level product as it was meant to sit below the Bug in terms of price, size and performance.
This prototype was also the first Volkswagen to have been designed without any input from Porsche. Unlike the Beetle, the EA48 was a front-engined, front-wheel drive, unibody car, although the engine was still an air cooled unit, and a modest 0,7-litre one at that, which produced just 13,4 kW. Thanks to its light curb weight, however, the car was at least capable of reaching 100 km/h.
Had it seen light of day as a production car, the EA48 would have beaten the Fiat 500 and Mini to the post as the first true ‘city car’.
Volkswagen EA97 (1960)
The EA97 of 1960 came remarkably close to production, with the project having been abandoned while workers were busy prepping its assembly line. Strictly speaking it would have slotted between the Beetle and Type 3 and that’s what ultimately led to its demise – as management was reportedly afraid that it was positioned too close to its siblings.
The two-door EA97, which featured a quirky pontoon-shaped body, would have been powered by a rear-mounted, air-cooled 1,1-litre engine that produced a ‘mighty’ 22 kW, which allowed for a top speed of 145 km/h. However, it did find new life at the end of the 1960s by forming the basis of the Brazilian Volkswagen Brasilia.
Volkswagen EA276 (1969)
The Volkswagen EA276 was said to be the true inspiration for the first-generation Golf that emerged in 1974. However, unlike the latter, the 1969 prototype featured a Beetle-sourced 1,5-litre water-cooled flat-four engine, which produced 32 kW and allowed a top speed of 130 km/h. According to the Volkswagen Automuseum website, this carried-over configuration aimed to save cost.
However, it was at least moving in the technical direction that VW took with the Golf as the EA276’s engine was front-mounted and drove the front wheels. Unlike the Beetle, this car also featured a hatchback tailgate.
Volkswagen EA266 (1969)
Quite possibly the most interesting of all the potential Beetle successors, and the most stylish in our opinion, was the EA266 prototype of 1969. It was created with assistance from a Porsche team led by Ferdinand Piech and took the form of a cleverly packaged mid-engined hatchback, in which the flat-four engine was longitudinally mounted beneath the car’s back seat, with the transaxle positioned directly behind it in order to save space.
The 1,6-litre water-cooled motor produced around 74 kW, which was impressive for the time, as was its top speed of 189 km/h. But despite its relative sophistication, Porsche DNA and strong performance, the EA266 was not deemed appropriate as a replacement for the Beetle. Perhaps it would have been too expensive to produce? Roadster and minibus versions had reportedly also been planned.