Cohort Outtake: Polos; Then and Now

Continuing our theme of small and big, here’s a fine curbside shot of a VW Polo Mk1 and Mk5, shot and posted by Heinrik Sommer. Needless to say, there’s been some growth, and the Polo surpassed the dimensions of the Golf Mk1 a generation or two earlier. And as far as I can tell, the new Mk7 Polo is bigger yet, but I can’t find the stats yet. let’s take a closer look at the Mk 1.

This is a 1979 or later face-lift version, the grille being the giveaway. We’ve never done an in-depth post on the original Polo, but then it should really be on the Audi 50, as that is what the Polo started out as. Audi was on a roll at the time, and somewhat oddly, decided to develop an very compact car, despite Audi generally slotting above VW. But they didn’t have to start from scratch: the 50 was based on work that NSU had started to develop a replacement for the rear-engine Prinz/1200. Exactly how much of NSU’s work is encompassed in the 50 is unknown to me.

Audi brought the 50 to production in only 21 months, but the results were excellent. It was a stellar small car, and largely set the standard for its class in terms of performance, efficiency, space utilization, and handling. Typical for Audi, it was a fly weight, tipping the scales at some 1500 lbs (685-700 kg). And its very modern new 1093 cc OHC four was a delight, making 50 or 60 hp.

The Audi 50 was only built from 1974 through 1978, as VW coopted it for its Polo, and decided that such a small car had no place at Audi. It followed on the heels of the Golf, and the two essentially remade VW, although they were developed separately. But VW adopted the Polo’s 1.1L engine for the European version of the Golf. The EA111 series of engines went on to have a very long life at VW, used until just a few years ago in a variety of sizes and cylinders, but never made it to the US. Of course that goes for the Polo too, which was considered to be too expensive to sell/build profitably for the NA market.