In 1976 my family left Puerto Rico, as Dad –after completing his studies- was about to take on a job offer in his native country, El Salvador. At the time, the island’s streets were mostly populated by large American land yachts. Being a colony, Puerto Rico was a captive market for US makers and was somewhat behind the rising import tide occurring mainland. Besides the ubiquitous Beetle, European makes were but just a trickle.
As a tender –and car fixated- 5 year old, the vehicles in the new country called my attention immediately. Endless streams of trucks and pickups moved about, large buses spewing columns of dark smoke sped by; then, heaps of small Japanese sedans swirled around.
Not a fan of trucks, buses or pickups, I fixed my eye on the alien Japanese offerings and studied them; those with broughamistic qualities fell flat on me (Corona, Carina, Cedric), while those with space agey qualities confounded me (Datsuns, Toyota Crown S60). These latter ones looked like props from Ultraman or Speed Racer.
Finally, in lesser but still significant numbers, European makes: Peugeot, Fiat, Alfa, Mercedes, BMW, Audi. In general, my eyes were drawn to them, as they looked like nothing else in traffic. Outside of Peugeots –which looked too dopey to my kid eyes- the European makes looked clean and purposeful, in ways American and Japanese cars didn’t.
I spent those first few weeks endlessly querying Dad on each European make. He rarely ignored my need for information. Most of my questioning revolved around whether the car was fast and good (i.e. reliable): “Yes, it’s a German car, and it’s fast… Well, those other ones are Italian, and yes, they’re fast too.” Just about each brand sounded exotic, and imagination took flight: “An Alfa Romeo? Who calls a car Romeo? Italy must be quite a place!”
My views on the world of cars stirred (not shaken), I was on the fence as to which ones I truly loved. Memories of Camaros and Mustangs in my mind, American makes already had a place in my heart (left ventricle, by the aorta valve). It was hard to get excited with Japanese ones, though a brand new yellow Celica next door told me not to dismiss them entirely (that and an ad for the 280Z on a Reader’s Digest). Now, the new to my eyes European makes looked really appealing to me; what if I found a place in my heart for them too?
Adding to the sensorial overload (no biggie for a kid), an extra odd European appeared. On a parking lot, the familiar VW logo was adorning a squarish vehicle. What kind of VW was this? Time to ask Dad. He made sure to lengthen the S sound, and accentuate the T at the end: “It’s a Passat…” On his voice, the car sounded nice and exotic. “… It’s a water cooled VW, it has a radiator.” A VW with a radiator? This was as deep a mechanical knowledge as my family could handle, and an effective one. Even mom understood it, and distrusted it: “They just can’t be any good! Volkswagens only come without radiators! They can’t learn to do radiators that quickly!” (As we know, mom was right to be distrustful).
On that first sighting, I liked the Passat immediately. Of course, I loved all fastbacks, even short small ones as I had just discovered. As the years went on however, this sentiment towards the Passat B1 faded. In my youthful eyes, the Golf and Scirocco took over the styling mantle at VW. With memories of the B1 dimmed, the ratty ones that appeared here and then didn’t make much to change my heart. Then again, my 5 year old was onto something in regards of those clean-looking European makes.
As previously covered by Paul, the Passat was hastily cobbled together in VW’s desperate race against marketplace irrelevance. With the aging Beetle and its intended replacements failing sales wise, VW took on Ingolstadt’s Audi 80 at the eleventh hour for a quick reskin. With new exterior by Giugiaro, the Passat became the template for what was to come: VW’s water cooled future would be Ingolstadt based.
While Japanese makes moved up the ante in regards of reliability and assembly, Europeans set it up for packaging and engineering. Their passenger oriented layouts became a universal template, and water cooled VWs and Audis became objects of study for American makes (The Taurus being just one example).
The Passat’s TS (Touring Sport) modernity was evident as I shot the car away, with the interior looking inviting, and the no nonsense dashboard looking logical in its intent and functions. The airy cabin provided nice quarters for the passengers, and defied the vehicle’s reduced foot print. In terms of space utilization, it’s a car that doesn’t require too many excuses; try that on a Mustang II, or a Maverick. The B1 offers a sensible, non-frills, purposeful utility in its design. In that regard, it was a harbinger of things to come. Soon after, Japanese makes would cease emulating Detroit (and the UK), as they took on this school of design.
This post’s Passat was a lucky find, it showed up while I filled up gas, and is literally a Car Of a Lifetime. Bought new by the driver’s father, the car has remained in the family ever since. The vehicle saw daily use until sciatica pain forced the owner to remain at home. After a few years stored, the owner’s son has been slowly getting the car back to functionality. As the photos show, the car was regularly maintained and kept to an undemanding routine; it is in outstanding original shape. The TS has never been repainted, with most mechanicals in place, and with only the interior showing wear. The son’s plan is to fix some blemishes, like the bits of rust on the lower panels, and replace some interior trim. No restoration is planned (and is not needed).
Regardless of me preferring the Golf and Scirocco, I have to admit the sight of this B1 rekindled my heart towards its charms. Giugiaro is credited with the lines, but the car’s styling suggests the Audi 80 was handed to him and he worked around that, adding the distinctive fastback. The interior is almost a mirror image of the Audi 80’s, which itself was derived from Claus Luthe’s original proposal for NSU’s Ro80.
After years looking over Toyota and Nissan engines, the Passat’s bay shouts European to me. I identified just about every bit; but all is slightly off, much like street signs when visiting the Old Continent. I recognized the EA engine immediately, as it’s pretty much what propels my own Golf Mk3. I looked at it as if it were a distant relative, somehow refraining from petting it amicably. Peeking at the engine bay was an interesting glimpse to a gone age -before homogeneity took over- where car makers provided out of the left field mechanical solutions.
Reliability on these was mixed. Some buyers endured short miserable ownerships, while others enjoyed units that lasted for perpetuity (See present example, and those in Oregon). Local mechanics didn’t help matters on this front either, with the new FWD tech being too much for most. Also working against these imports; the reluctance of us, non-Germans customers, to stick to maintenance schedules. Ultimately, while I commend the modernity and functionality that was put forth by these offerings, I can’t ignore some California coworkers who referred to these vehicles as smelly (diesels?), noisy and darty. Which I guess is what happens when one is used to driving Oldsmobiles.
Passats of this age were never that common in Central America, and rarely appear nowadays. If they do, tend to be in much rattier state, like this post ‘79 one. The B1’s mid cycle facelift was not a deal breaker, but didn’t enhance the lines a great deal either. The artisan three tone treatment on this one gives it a rather elongated look; and is it me or does it make the overhangs look even longer? Not good.
For those curious, the rear taillights come from a Toyota 1000 (Publica) pickup; neither Giugiaro, nor Claus Luthe would approve, but most owners over here have no such qualms. I had sat on this ratty Passat for quite some time, incapable to come up with words. But certain emotions and recollections can only appear when the dish is served right, and the orange TS did show up with the exact amount of sensorial memory spices. Curious how that works.
While space utilization and passenger comfort did become the way of the future, looking at this orange TS, I do miss its clean purposeful lines. Against the current crop of crossovers with overwrought styling, the B1 looks lithe and agile, even fast (it isn’t). Once again charmed to its qualities, I feel the Passat reclaiming a spot in my heart after all these years; somewhere in my right ventricle, near the pulmonary valve.
More on the Passat:
CC: 1974-1981 VW Dasher (Passat) VW Finally Enters The FWD Era
I remember these as the VW Dasher, as it was named in the US. To me, the car seemed modern, necessary and wrong, all at once.
I love your mother’s thought process on how VW needed more time to learn about radiators. I suspect that the radiators themselves were probably the easy part, but I love her way of phrasing it.
Putting the radiator behind the headlights was an interesting design decision.
My last clear memory of a Passat is the exhaust box detaching from one and ploughing into the door of my cherished 1990 Toyota Corolla while it was overtaking me on a freeway. This was a surprise only because I was expecting the very wobbly back wheel to fall off instead. Needless to say, the only thing left that appeared to be in decent operating order on the thing was it’s engine. That was 21 years ago, I presume it’s gone to VW heaven now, so it’s impressive that the one in your article is still looking good and being used regularly.
This car is comparable to the Audi 80 (Fox), not the smaller 50. The 50 itself was changed into the VW Polo.
Yes, the author did say earlier in the post that it was derived directly from the 80. I’ve edited the other part that referred to the 50. The Passat was just an 80 with a fastback that was penned by Giugiario.
I have a soft spot for these because I partially owned a 10 y.o. one when I was youthy in the last century.
You have it just so: the Euro stuff of the time lacked all the visual carry-on of the American or (especially) Japanese stuff. By the oddities of history, we seem to have been through a long era currently of over-elaborate design, now thankfully seeming to end with the electric creations. (Btw, also right with old Peugeots, and I say this as a fan and former owner of a few – they were somehow a bit grandmotherly in looks).
In their time, or ten years thereafter, these little film-flams WERE quite fast, albeit in a way the V8 stuff wasn’t. The acceleration was quite good, but more materially, they could be wound up to 150-160 km/h (90-100-odd mph) and just sit there. No great increase in wind noise, or other noise, no wandering about the road. Even if reduced to more legal 120-130 km/h (75-80mph) they were much more comfortable doing so than a Detroiter or Japanese car. There was just no fear if corner loomed, because they simply went round them, without leaning or crossing lanes or other wise needing white knuckles.
Of course, they were also hopelessly flimsy, and for most folk, not reliable. Nothing wrong in the fundamental bits like the engine, which kept on keeping on in one piece, but everything wrong in anything that wasn’t, which didn’t.
My goodness, they weighed little for a reason, and the tech that gave them that “blessing” had well and truly not been mastered by their maker: your mum was more right than perhaps she knew. Actually, she was right about radiators anyway, as they were nowhere near specced enough for hot places. The one in the picture is a replacement, which I know because the originals had highly advanced plastic-tanked and aluminium-cored construction, and the components disliked eachother, and often.
Anyway, this sample today is a remarkable find, and kudos to you for getting the owner to open it all up.
Kudos to you generally, btw. You have a real skill for writing, and humour, and I always greatly enjoy your efforts here, Baron Baron.
A Dasher showed up in my life when our Volvo-centric friends ended up buying a Dasher in its first year here in the US. In our Chicagoland world of domestic Brougham rides, it was quite a shock. Immediately clean, angular, modern, Teutonic, and EXPENSIVE, it just seemed like a lot of money for a car that didn’t have a vinyl covered anything, a porthole, an opera window, a Continental tire bump, or CHROME.
In our visual design language at the time, the Dasher looked like a small car’s big brother. No crushed velour pillow tufted interior, not swathed in wood grain applique, not even a hood ornament! It was as though someone took an old square Volvo and modernized it.
Dashers didn’t sell well. The design was to our eyes, suitable for small Golfs, Rabbits and Siroccos, but not for larger cars like the Dasher. We also didn’t see many Audis during this time, which would have probably prepared us for what we were seeing with the VW Dasher when it arrived. At that time, Audi was also a small car, and a BMW was a odd looking small car with a high roofline.
Dashers also weren’t known for being a quality ride either. Our Dasher pioneer had a lot of problems with his. Within a few years, rust appeared. It didn’t help appearances.
Today – I admire this design.
Lovely tribute to a paradigm-shifting car for VW. Of course all they had to do was slap a fastback on the Audi 80, but it signaled the end of the air cooled era.
The reason of course was because the 411/412 was DOA, and its corpse was smelling more by the day. And the interesting but overly expensive (complex) ex-NSU K-70 was also DOA, FWD and water cooling notwithstanding.
VW needed to replace both of those zombies ASAP, and the solution was in Ingolstadt.
My lust for an Audi Fox (80) when they first came out was raging; it represented the new world order for cars unlike any other. Sure, there were some interesting ones in places like France, but in prtacticval real-world terms (and available in the US) the Fox was in a league of its own. And I preferred it for some reason over its usurper Passat/Dasher, but I would have gladly taken one too. Especially a wagon.
“VW needed to replace both of those zombies ASAP, and the solution was in Ingolstadt. ”
I find this pic amusing, three dead ends in one shot: a K-70 and a 412, and the plant itself. This was Salzgitter assembly, ground broken in 69, opened in 1970. Apparently, VW decided that, with the acquisition of the NSU plant in Neckarsulm, they had too much capacity, and Salzgitter was converted to an engine plant in 75.
A rare find, and as always from you Rich, an enjoyable perspective on things. I found it odd that VW used the Dasher name here; to me the reindeer reference was not appealing. And then Quantum … it’s ironic that when they finally went with Passat the car sold well here.
Amusingly enough, just yesterday I was looking through my collection of old random photographs, and came across this one taken outside of a fast-food restaurant here in Fairfax, Virginia. Parked right outside is… a Dasher fastback. Along with a VW of the air-cooled variety, and a pair of other 2-door cars.
I liked this design a lot. On the US East Coast, it seemed that the 2-door was vastly outnumbered by the 4-door and the wagon, but I’m not sure if that was true everywhere. It was a good-looking design, in my opinion.
Growing up in a college town mostly as these cars were just going out of production and through their beater phase, it seems like wagons were by far the most common, and pre-facelift models more so than later ones.
Never cared for the Passat.(Dasher) Yet i loved my 74 Audi Fox. Just a matter of preferring Notchback over fastback. When Dasher was dropped in the 80s in Favor of Passat. I had already traded up to an Audi 4000. But the Passat was more interesting, and offered a Wagon version which was not available on the 4000.
The ’80 4000
The Gilmore hosts an all German brands show each summer.
This 76 example appeared at the 2015 show. Odometer read 8891 miles. The owner said it had been bought new by an older gentleman, who died shortly after. His son owned a VW dealership and decided to put the Dasher on display in the showroom, so the car had climate controlled storage for over 30 years.
He said he had replaced all the coolant and brake hoses, because, 40 year old rubber. I asked “timing belt too?” He said he looked at it, the belt looked OK, so he left it. I have not seen this car at the German show again, nor have I seen any other Dasher, in decades.
One thing I learned from an older cousin early in my car ownership history, that’s served me well over the years is that you NEVER just check a timing belt!
It’s such a cheap part and so hard to get to that once you’ve done the work to get the timing cover off, you might as well pop in a new one. There’s just no logic to “I looked at it and it looked OK”…