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The All Roaders (Before The T4)

The rear engined Transporter's have always been remarkably useful off-road, even with mere rear wheel drive...

... yet the ultimate four wheel drive T3 was able to compete head on with Jeep, Land-Rover, Mitsubishi and Toyota, even if it was a tad more exclusive (read expensive).

Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen's (a name not normally associated with off-roaders) all wheel drive legacy stems from before the Second World War.

Ferdinand Porsche's all wheel drive legacy goes back to the turn of the twentieth century with his Hybrid Mixte and the Landwehr land train - both used internal combustion engines to power electric motors at each wheel - the Land Train even had motors on each trailer wheel. Each trailer could be uncoupled and steered into it's parking slot.

In the 1934 discussions with Professor Porsche about the People Car project, Hitler slipped in a muttering about a military spin off. Nothing came of it until 1938, when Porsche was finally called upon to develop a light weight Field Car for the Wehrmacht, which became Germany's answer to the Willys Jeep.


Most of the 50,000, or so, Kubelwagens were 2 wheel drive - their lightweight (900kg fully laden), smooth underbellies, and high ground clearance (a happy consequence of the axle mounted reduction gearboxes, which later found their way onto the first generation Transporter) giving surprisingly good off road capability - all factors that paved the road to the post war Beetle's worldwide fortune. A small number of all wheel drive models were built, which led onto...

... the 1944 Swimming Car (Schwimmwagen) and the 4wd Kommanderwagen (below) which were notable war-time developments by Dr Porsche...

The end of World War II almost saw the end of Volkswagen with the factory virtually destroyed by allied bombing. The British Army was left to pick up the pieces, after the idea of transfering production to France was rejected. In desperate need of Transportation a work force built by Major Ivan Hirst set about salvaging and building cars with whatever they could find, literally building the ruined factory up around them - some of the early cars they built were all wheel drive, only because of the materials that lay to hand.

The Beetle's extensive pre-war testing provided the Allies with cheap reliable transport that, due the the weight of the engine bearing on the driven wheels, had abundant traction that was ideally suited to the ravaged terrain of the time, reducing the need for all wheel drive. Build costs were kept low - the resulting rising force of VW, as a World Player, meant that they had little time for specialised low volume military projects.

Dune Buggies

Often overlooked, and seldom taken seriously, at this point in the story it would be rude not pay homage to the Dune / Beach Buggy, Baja Bug and Sandrail scene that swelled in America during the 1950's and 60's. Perhaps nothing else epitomizes a Bug's off-road capabilities than a buggy, so in true Hot Rod fashion, Beetles shed their bodies and headed off-road, adorned with big fat tyres.

Empi is credited to have made the first kitcar buggy - the all metal (heavy) Speedster, whilst the debate still rages as to whether Bruce Meyers's Manx (that's the man himself showing off to the press in Manx No.1 or "Old Red") or the Empi Imp were the first glassfibre tub kits to be fitted to shortened Beetle floorpans. Naturally, those on a budget could simply shave the ends off their Beetle to make a Baja Bug, named after the 1000 mile race in the Baja desert in Southern California. Bruce Meyers won the first race in 1967 with Old Red outshining everything else - even bikes.

The Sand Rail concept - basically a spaceframe on wheels with a big engine - would later be adapted for military use in the form of the 1993 (UK-built) Cobra rapid assault vehicle (shown here), powered by VW's 1.9 TDI engine, hanging out the back...

Rallying the Beetle

Although a popular Clubmans vehicle, the Beetle and 1500S Type 3 enjoyed team success in the 1950's and 60's - simplicity and strength overcoming the relative lack of power. The first team entries were in the Carrera Panamerica events of the 1950's. Scania Vabis (VW's swedish importer) had success in 1963 with the 1500S saloon.

Arguably the most famous of the sporting Beetles were the 126hp 1599cc 5-speed Group II Salzburg Beetles, fielded by Porsche Austria (VW's Austrian importers) in the late sixties / early seventies, before rallying became the focus of more manufacturer attemtion. Although VW money went towards sponsorship, the Porsche team never enjoyed full factory backing at a time when Lancia were developing the Stratos.

The Rally Porsches

Perhaps better known as a circuit racer, the 911 has been fielded in rally championships around the World, since it's launch in 1963 - Scania Vabis (Porsche's Swedish importer) entered a team in 1967.

One of three 953's, otherwise known as the 911 4x4, with manual differential locks won the 1984 Paris - Dakar. It was the test mule for the 959 which replaced it to win in 1986 and led to the 4wd system used in the 993 Carrera 4 and Turbo (1993 - 1998) - the last of the air-cooled 911's. The previous 964 model (1989 - 1993) used a less sophisticated 4wd system.

Europa Jeep

Meanwhile, with VW's reluctance to build a vehicle that met the specific needs of the military after the War, DKW (whilst under Mercedes wing) built the two-stroke Munga, for the recently reformed, field car hungry, German army of the mid 1950's. With ownership of DKW passing to VW's hands in 1965 as part a Auto Union, VW once again had a 4wd vehicle in their range. In 1968, the Munga was the last of DKW's two-stroke line-up to be put to grass, leaving the German army without a supply of light all-terrian vehicles.

In anticipation of this, the 1/4 tonne amphibian "Europa Jeep" project was put to tender in 1966 and two consortiums - Fiat/MAN/Saviem (FMS, a handful of these saw service with the Italian army) and Büssing/Hotchkiss/Lancia (BHL, shown here) - raced to fulfil the requirements.

The "Europa Jeep" bidding started in spite of the unboat-like Steyr-Daimler-Puch Haflinger's (1958 - 1975) popularity with the Austrian and Swiss military. Powered by an air-cooled 643cc flat twin of possibly Fiat origin (they also made the Puch 500 under licence from Fiat during this period). Muted as a replacement, work began on the larger Pinzgauer in 1965 which had a 2.5 litre air-cooled in-line 4-cylinder engine (until 1985, when it was replaced with the turbo-charged 6-cylinder LT diesel engine - also found in certain Volvo cars)...

Launched in 1972, the Pinzgauer is still made in Guildford, England by BAe Systems Land Systems. The EU3 version of the T4's 2.5 litre TDI engine replaced the LT engine but the latest Pinzgauer II is powered by a 6-cylinder EU4 diesel engine.


The "Europa Jeep" development process became a needless, drawn out affair with ever spirally costs. So, as a stop gap, VW stepped in with The Thing - sorry, Type 181 (which we Englanders knew as the Type 182 - the rhd version - or, Trekker). Aping the wartime Kubelwagen, this was a 2wd model based around the Beetle floor with an amalgam of T1 (swing axles and reduction gearboxes) and early T2 Transporter running gear with ZF limited slip differential, which also happened to be an option for the Type 2. Ironically, this hastily conceived contrivance fulfilled most of it's obligations as a tactical field car, finding favour with both the Dutch and German armies.

The French withdrew altogether from the "Europa Jeep" conglomorate in 1976, leaving the whole project dead in the water and ultimately saw the demise of the famous Hotchkiss brand. Once the amphibious requirement was dropped, VW and Mercedes rolled up with their own takes on the "Europa Jeep" concept. VW, or rather Audi, drew heavily on the defunct Munga design, whilst Mercedes developed the Gelanderwagen (G-Wagen - the Haflinger's natural successor) on the back of an order from the Shar of Iran (which fell through, by-the-way), with the help of Steyr-Daimler- Puch* and Peugeot - and later on, Panhard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the VW Type 183 was ready for duty first in 1978; the Mercedes G-Wagen / Peugeot P4 followed in 1979.

* the Daimler part of Steyr-Puch came from Austro-Daimler, not Daimler-Benz or Daimler-Jaguar

Peugeot took the G-Wagen bodied P4's, installed with their 504 petrol and diesel engines and gearboxes, across Africa but trade agreements meant that Peugeot could not export their version beyond French affiliated boarders - so effectively the P4 was almost exclusively used by French forces (and the Foreign Legion?). Mercedes set it's sights on the civilian Range Rover, making the G-Wagen it's first serious competitor almost a decade later, whilst Peugeot also played at cosying up their P4 with limited success. This was not the case with the simple permanent 4wd VW Type 183 (with it's 1.7 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine, derived from the US market Audi 80 (Fox) / Passat (Dasher), and interchangeable front and rear suspension).

Clearly inspired by the Munga, the Type 183 Field Car was launched in 1978, becoming known as the 110bhp Paris Dakar winning Iltis (1980), which (from 1982) was solely produced under license in Canada by Bombardier for Canadian forces and sold back to Belgium in 1985 to replace their fleet of Ford Mutts!

Meanwhile, with VW prefering to return to it's expanding range of civilian models, the G-Wagen - and P4 (now assembled by Panhard) - assumed active duty in place of the Iltis throughout Europe and later updated with full military Wolf versions (also joined by Wolf versions of the Land Rover Defender). Interestingly, in an effort to win the French armed forces contract, Peugeot owned Citroen offered the Iltis with their own 1.8 litre CX based engine - they lost the bidding war to the P4, but entered their C44 version of the Iltis in the 1981 and 1984 Paris Dakar rallies.

With the demise of the Iltis, for a short period the only 4x4 model in VW's line-up was the LT...

... a model built by VW Partner Sulzer since 1978, it enjoyed success in the 1988 Paris Dakar, fielded by Peter Seikel.

Some African Jeeps...

... were actually built under licence by VW South Africa for the civilian market between 1975 and 1980 when Renault had a bash at running Jeep for a while, before handing the keys to Chrysler. The CJ6 had a 3.8 litre engine; the CJ7 had a 4.1 litre engine and the CJ5 had a smaller 4-cylinder engine - all VW models are characterised by Type 2 like flattened off rear wheel arches, rather than the more familiar fully rounded arches.


It is no secret that the Iltis running gear was tried in a number of Audi 80 rally cars in the late 1970's, which suitably impressed Hannu Mikkola enough to sign with the Audi Sport team two years prior to the Quattro's debut at the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally. When the 4wd running gear was coupled with a 5-cylinder turbo-charged engine, the all conquering Quattro was born, taking the motoring world by surprise at it's Geneva launch in 1980 - a full decade after the Italian styled Jenson Interceptor FF (1966-1971 - a progression of Harry Ferguson's* futuristic post-war R5 concept and Project 99 Formula One racing car of 1960, which also used Dunlop's Maxaret anti-lock braking), which in itself is the true inspiration to VW's own Syncro system...

* what is it with Tractor makers? Lambourgini, Ferguson, Ford - and Porsche - built cars that could out run Ferrari's


However, upon it's 1950 launch, the capable Type 2 immediately found a military role as a utility vehicle, for the very same reasons that allowed the Beetle to overcome the ridicule and scorn of the western Motor Industry after the war - and the box on wheels could be easily adapted for specific purposes.

Circa 1975 - the 2.0-litre air-cooled semi- automatic ("stick-shift") 4wd "Allrad - All Road" was a pet project of a group of VW engineers from the truck division headed by Gustav Meyer (no relation to Bruce?) and Henning Duckstien, using chassis technology and components that were to be incorporated in the Iltis.

Some press spy reports christened it project Tetra, and by all accounts the 4wd T2 performed way beyond expectations - even out performing the Iltis in early army field trials, giving rise to...

... the T3 Syncro, launched in 1985.

In true VW style, their engineers (who seldom go for the obvious choice) devised a workable all wheel drive system for their range. The Audi system works well with their in-line configuration, but VW needed a compact system that would also work well with their transverse engines. Drawing on the Ferguson viscous clutch, as used in the Jenson, the Allrad range of Golfs and Transporters were developed side by side (although they were badged Syncro, the 4x4 second generation Passats - up to 1988 - used the Quattro system), and were launched together in 1985.

The T3 Transporter's layout could be called in-line so why did VW opt for the Syncro system for the Transporter? Indeed, with the bulk of the driveline over the driven rear wheel's, traditional VW's had always displayed exceptional traction - "How does the snow plough driver get to work?" asked one of VW's famous adverts from the sixties.

The T2 prototypes impressed enough for VW to press on with an "All-Rad" option in the Transporter range - a decision further buoyed by the four wheel drive revolution, sparked off by the Quattro's dominance in it's debut rally - the 1981 Monte Carlo. Driven by Hanno Mikkola, the Quattro was 2 3/4 minutes ahead of the opposition by the end of the second stage, and a full six minutes clear approaching the finish at Monaco (that was after loosing a wheel, and various other mishaps and misdemeanors along the way)...

Obviously, Transporter's are portly vehicles at best, with relatively weedy (some would say), yet economical engines, so light weight was a must. Even in two wheel drive mode, transmission losses and noise on traditional systems were simply intolerable for such a refined road vehicle (which cannot be denied).

The beauty of the Ferguson Viscous coupling was the seamless - even automatic - transfer of drive from the rear to the front, should wheel slip occur on either rear wheel.

VW simply refined the process with their patented silicone fluid in the coupling, making the system their own.

VW turned to all wheel drive experts Steyr-Puch in Austria, famous for their Haflinger / Pinzgauer, the Mercedes G-Wagen and Eurpoean Jeep Cherokee production. In return for 6-cylinder LT turbo diesel engines to power their Pinzgauer, Steyr-Puch would build the Syncro chassis and running gear to attach to T3 bodies supplied from Hanover, which were then returned to Hanover for finishing - with Camper models sent on, again, to Westfalia. All this logistically made the Syncro Transporter very expensive, adding about £3,500 to the price. From 1985 to 1992 just over 2,000 right hand drive models were built, with a similar proportion of 16" models being made, out of a total run of 45,000 or so. Many that survive today have been retro-fitted with the high torque 1.9 TDI engines from the MK3 Golf and Passat, but at the time Oettinger satisfied the insatiable demand for high powered Syncros with a specific 140bhp version of it's WBX-6 engine, at further cost.

The loss making Steyr-Daimler-Puch group was broken up during 1990/1991 - MAN bought the Truck divison; the car divison became Magna Steyr. At a time when orders for the new T4 were floundering (there was a recession, you know), they undertook further limited production of T3's (some with South African bodyshells) to satisfy demand, including the 4x2 Limited Last Edition Multivan, alongside the G-Wagen.

Critically, the Syncro design took nothing away from the T3's equal weight distribution, which gave them superb handling characteristics.

Despite the increased height brought about by their additional chassis, Syncro's enjoyed crisp, responsive cornering, especially in the wet, but the extra weight and transmission drag did lop off outright performance and economy. Coupling this with the T3's existing plusses, the Syncro made every emergency service and military wish list, albeit as an expensive (and underpowered) choice that most could not justify. Most were sold as utility vehicles for pipeline maintainence - and other infrastructure - in the field. Camper and Caravelle versions also found homes with the more adventurous...

In standard form the Syncro was undoubtedly an impressive "soft roader" but, without diff locks, wheels lifting off the ground caused loss of drive - most Syncros to see active duty were specified with rear diff locks, at least - a select few even had front diff locks too...

... the Syncro-16 gave VW another credible shot at some off-road titles.

Enter Peter Seikel, racing driver and Motorsport team owner with a long association with Audi and Porsche (and BMW). His adventures in the early 1970's across Africa in a Split-Screen Bulli, led him to explore and develop the T3 Syncro's potential, with VW's blessing. He entered an Audi Quattro in the 1985 Paris Dakar followed by a team of 4x4 LT trucks in 1988 rally, and on the launch of the sought-after Tristar double-cab (or Doka - short for Double Kabine) various Seikel prepared Syncro-16's were fielded in events across the world, including his own Doka (shown above), with some notable successes.

VW vs Audi

The early eighties saw Volkswagen Motorsport in direct competition with Audi Sport. VW had the Syncro, but Audi had the all conquering Quattro. VW needed more power so why not fit two engines and gearboxes for four wheel drive?

Starting with the 2 x 1600cc (110hp) Jetta Twin-Jet featuring two GTI engines...

... and finishing with the accomplished 2 x 1800cc Scirocco Bi-Motor - the twin engined concepts didn't go any further - except for a number of twin VR6 engined MK1 Golfs and Lupos that have been spotted occasionally on the VW Show circuit, so the idea isn't quite dead and buried...

The in-house battle culminated in 1987 when the Colorado Pikes Peak Hillclimb was won by Walter Rorhl in a Quattro Sport, beating VW into submission. VW had entered a number of twin engined Golfs in 1985, '86 and '87 with limited success - these were the precursor to the wide-bodied supercharged Rallye Syncro with it's Quattro style blistered wheel arches, that was intended for international rallying (a rule change quoshed that idea; the Rallye Golf seldom ventured beyond German borders)...

... The Mk2 Golf spun a number of variations of the Syncro theme - the highlight being the G60 Limited (shown) - both the Rallye and Limited were hand built by VW Motorsport at Hanover. The jacked-up Country had true off-road capability - a proper Cross Golf (unlike the current Dune models).

Audi went on to offer an all wheel drive version in each of it's model ranges and enjoyed notable recognition in the British and German Touring Car Championships...

And Then The T4...

Along with the 1992 introduction of the 5-cylinder petrol and diesel (70) T4a and (7D) T4b Syncro (built in-house at Hanover), the VW's Syncro range flourished during the late 1980's and early 1990's with the Golf based Passat (1988 - 1997)...

... and (7M) Sharan VR6 (1996 -2000).

Low ground clearance and shallow approach / exit angles, brought about by aerodynamic bumpers, meant that the T4 could never quite match the Land Rover busting prowess of the T3 Syncro-16, even with Auto Seikel add ons (including 16" chassis mods, snorkels, etc).

However, this sorry situation changed when the high torque TDI Syncro, with broader gearing, was launched in March 1998. The following year two factory prepped TDI Syncros made a record breaking 15-day run along the entire Panamerican Highway from Alaska to Argentina. A limited edition Caravelle Panamerica Syncro was made available, with highline upholstery and twin barn rear doors, to celebrate this acheivement.

Although popular in Australia, the Syncro option was never offered on the American market despite the continuing popularity of the all-roader Vanagon and Vanagon Camper, which remain highly sought after and can fetch premium prices on the secondhand market.

With cheaper Formula One style electronic differential locks (EDL) and traction control systems (TCS) and Electronic Stability Programs (ESP) becoming mainstream during the early 1990's in run-of-the-mill front wheel drive vehicles, all wheel drive took a back seat in the market (with Audi and Subaru being the notable exceptions).


The fundamental difference between the Syncro and the 4Motion (so far as the Transporter, Golf, the latest Golf based Passat and 2000 on Sharan are concerned) is the supplanting of the Viscious Coupling with a Haldex electro-hydraulic clutch - a product of Swedish firm Haldex - also used by Volvo in their 4wd XC models and Ford.

The Audi based Syncro/4Motion Passat (1997-2005) reverted back to the Quattro system, which was further refined in the late 1980's with the introduction of Torque Sensing (Torsen) differentials, which enabled ABS to be introduced to the Quattro range.

The Seikel T5 Extreme in action.

With the Haldex clutch installed on the rear axle, one of the Syncro's shortcomings was effectively eliminated without the need to resort to a manually controlled differential lock. When coupled with EDL / TCS / ESP systems already in place at the front end truly automatic full / part time four wheel drive can be acheived, in a system that emulates (but not surpasses) Porsche's mid 1980's PSK system as fitted to their Gruppe B 1983 show car...

... which became the Paris Dakar winning 959. The computer controlled Porsche system remained unbeaten for sophistication, until the arrival of the Mitsubishi EVO's and their ilk, as the automatic transfer of driven power, for and aft, didn't depend solely on wheel spin.


Sport Utilities

VW was a late dabbler with Sport Utility Vehicle's - in 2wd form only. The Golf based Rabbit Sports Truck pick-up (above) was originally an American built model - released in 1980. It was soon adopted by the South Africans and became the Citi Golf pick-up (where it was made until 2008) and European Caddy models were made in Yugoslavia from 1983 until the outbreak of the Balkan conflicts at the turn of the 1990's.

... VW teamed up with Toyota to build 1-tonne pick-ups at Hanover from 1989 to 1996. These were sold throughout Europe as the 2wd Toyota Hi-Lux and VW Taro, powered by Toyota's 2.4 diesel engine.

However, it was not until 1994 that a four wheel drive, extended cab version of the Taro joined VW's range, which was made by Toyota at their Tahara factory in Japan. The Taro was replaced by a rebadged 2wd Skoda Felicia based pick-up - rebadged as the Caddy pick-up, as opposed to the Seat Inca twin Caddy Van (based on the Seat Ibiza car).

Another VW / Porsche Connection

However, with an eye on more profitable luxury cars VW looked at the rapidly expanding SUV market. BMW and Mercedes had joined Range Rover and Jeep in that market sector in the late 1990's. With Mercedes encroaching on VW's entry level market territory, Volkswagen - together with Porsche - wanted a slice of the upper crust action...

Advanced Activity Concept

Like Concept Microbus, and the Sharan (which also enjoyed a VR6 Syncro model) before it, Volkswagen's Advanced Activity Concept grew from the T platform to become the T plus (or 7L) platform. Perhaps VW had succumbed to American tastes on the back of the T4's failure to impress Minivan buyers so this Touareg / Cayenne Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) prototype was showcased at the 2000 Detroit Motor Show...

... featuring a 5 litre V10 TDI (two T5 Caravelle engines joined together) and full time four wheel drive.

Launched at the 2002 Paris Motor Show, the Touareg effectively replaced the American market Eurovan - the Minivan eventually faded from VW's US line-up late in 2004.

A joint project with Porsche (the Cayenne), entry level Touareg's shared their 2.5 litre PD 174bhp diesel and the 3.2 litre V6 petrol engines with the T5 - with Audi V8 petrol models filling in the gaps. The Cayenne range started with the 3.2 V6 with turbo or non turbo V8 petrol engines.

A number of records were attempted - and broken - including the scaling of the World's highest volcano, Ojos del Salado and a number of record breaking runs along the Panamerican Highway and not forgetting Stanley - the trophy winning robot Touareg.

The Touareg name - was first used by Peugeot in 1996 for this buggy like concept (shown here) but the ultimate "Beach Buggy" has to be this...

... the very reliable Works Touareg - successfully fielded by VW in the FIA Cross Country Championship since it's debut in the 2004 Paris Dakar Rally. The concept was showcased a year earlier as the Tarek, which won the Paris Dakar two wheel drive class in 2003.

Or could it be this???

The unclothed 2009 5-litre V10 common-rail TDI Baja Trophy Touareg.

Looking Forward

The Golf based Tiguan is VW's first attempt at a compact Sport Utility and was the first model in the car range to receive EU5 common rail diesel engines to replace the EU4 Pumpe Duse.

The 2008 Search and Rescue Robust concept showcased the 2010 Amarok 1-tonne pick-up model, and VW's new corporate nose...

This impression has recently circulated the internet - production of the VW's new 2wd and 4wd SUV Amorak range will centre in Argentina from 2010, for Worldwide consumption.

Another concept, shown in 2006, was the all wheel drive Crafter Atacama - at the time VW said they would make 100 if there was enough interest...
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