Open Menu
Open Menu

A tour of VW’s other museum in Wolfsburg – the Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen

Published in

Volkswagen operates two museums in its home town of Wolfsburg, Germany: The ZeitHaus and the Stiftung. The ZeitHaus stands out as the most visited automotive museum in the world, but the Stiftung is the one that truly piques the interest of enthusiasts.

That’s because the Stiftung museum is a treasure trove of one-off models, concept cars, and prototypes that were never meant to see the light that awaits at the end of a production line. Volkswagen’s collection includes over 250 cars, though only about 150 of them are on display at any given time. We’ve looked beyond the Beetles and the Golfs to highlight the improbable and the obscure from the company’s past.

1961 Type 3 Cabrio

1961 VW Type 3 cabriolet

The Type 3 was introduced in 1961. The German economy was well on its way to recovery, and Volkswagen believed that a new, more upscale car would draw more affluent buyers into showrooms. The lineup included a sedan, a fastback, and a station wagon, and company executives toyed with the idea of building a topless model to slot above the Beetle convertible.

The Type 3 Cabrio prototype was built by Karmann. Based on the notchback model, it featured a cloth soft top with a glass rear window and a four-seater cabin that was more spacious than the Karmann Ghia’s. It was never approved for production, likely because Karmann was already building two Volkswagen-badged convertibles at the time.

1961 VW Type 3 cabriolet 1961 VW Type 3 cabriolet 1961 VW Type 3 cabriolet 1961 VW Type 3 cabriolet


1963 EA 128

1963 VW EA 128

The EA 128 is one of the most fascinating prototypes in the Stiftung museum. It’s a 185-inch long sedan that was designed to compete directly against the Chevrolet Corvair, meaning its main market would have been the United States. The letters EA stand for entwicklungsauftrag, which translates to development assignment, and the number 128 is simply an internal code.

Engineers installed a 2.0-liter air-cooled flat-six borrowed from the then-upcoming Porsche 911 and de-tuned to 90 horsepower. Rear-engined, the 128 could hit a top speed of 99 mph. Most steering and suspension components came from the 911, too.

A look inside reveals a luxurious cabin with leather upholstery on the seats, the door panels, and the dashboard, as well as an elegant wood-rimmed steering wheel identical to the one found in early 911s. The EA 128 didn’t progress beyond the prototype stage for cost reasons, but we can’t help but wonder if it was on Ferdinand Piëch’s mind when he dreamt up the Phaeton decades later.

1963 VW EA 128 1963 VW EA 128 1963 VW EA 128 1963 VW EA 128


1966 EA 142

1966 VW EA 142

The EA 142 is one of the prototypes that led to the Type 4. It was built roughly two years before the 411’s official introduction so the design wasn’t quite finalized yet, but it already featured unibody construction, a big step forward for Volkswagen.

Engineers experimented with many different layouts during the Type 4’s development process, including both water- and air-cooled engines, as well as flat-four and straight-four configurations. The EA 142 is fitted with a 68-horsepower 1.7-liter air-cooled flat-four, a unit that was retained for production.

1966 VW EA 142 1966 VW EA 142 1966 VW EA 142 1966 VW EA 142


1969 EA 276

1969 VW EA 276

The EA 276 traces its roots back to the Golf’s earliest days. Clearly, designers wanted to ditch the Beetle’s rounded lines and adopt a sharper, more contemporary silhouette with a practical hatchback from the get-go. When viewed from the front, the 276 arguably looks more modern than the original Golf.

The 276 was equipped with a front-mounted 1.5-liter flat-four engine borrowed from the Beetle, and a manual transmission that spun the front wheels. The engine delivered 44 horsepower, though Volkswagen stresses that the 276 wasn’t fully functional.

Ultimately, the 276 didn’t have much of an influence on the first Golf, which was penned by renown Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. However, its minimalist dashboard design (with a single protruding gauge and small, round air vents) was carried over to the curved-windshield Super Beetle that debuted in 1973.

1969 VW EA 276 1969 VW EA 276 1969 VW EA 276 1969 VW EA 276


1970 Kombi GT 70

1970 VW Kombi GT 70

This highly-experimental Bus powered by a gas turbine was developed jointly by Volkswagen and an American firm named Williams Research Corporation. Neatly mounted in the space normally occupied by the flat-four, the turbine sent 75 horsepower to the rear wheels via an automatic transmission borrowed from the 1600.

Volkswagen’s archives department explains the advantages of a turbine were its high efficiency, and its relatively compact size. However, like all other manufacturers that experimented with the technology Volkswagen gave up and began looking for other ways to boost efficiency. A little over a decade later, the T3 became first Volkswagen T-Series van offered with a diesel engine.

1970 VW Kombi GT 70 1970 VW Kombi GT 70 1970 VW Kombi GT 70 1970 VW Kombi GT 70


1971 ESVW 1

1971 VW ESVW 1

The ESVW 1 was developed as part of the Experimental Safety Vehicle program launched by West Germany’s Department of Transportation. The basic idea was to create extremely safe prototypes, and gradually apply the new concepts to production models.

Built in 1971, the ESVW 1 was designed to protect its occupants from fatal injuries in a head-on crash at up to 50 mph. It also inaugurated a so-called “silent co-pilot” that improved high-speed stability by measuring the amount of wind hitting the side of the car and automatically adjusting the steering angle

The ESVW 1 was powered by a 1.8-liter air-cooled flat-four engine that generated 100 horsepower. Volkswagen opted not to use airbags – which were labeled as controversial at the time – and instead fitted the prototype with shoulder and knee belts that tightened automatically in the event of a crash. The company boasted that its prototype looked more like a production model than many other ESVs, which generally stood out with gargantuan plastic bumpers.

The ESVW 1 was never intended as a production model. Some of the features (like the knee belts) didn’t make it past the prototype stage, but others (such as 5-mph bumpers and the adjustable steering column) ultimately trickled down to series-produced cars. Today, large commercial vans — and, curiously, the smart fortwo — use a system similar to the silent co-pilot, though it acts on the brakes and not on the steering.

1971 VW ESVW 1 1971 VW ESVW 1 1971 VW ESVW 1 1971 VW ESVW 1


1972 EA 272

1972 VW EA 272

The EA 272 previewed the first Passat, which was developed to replace the aging Type 3. Sticking to the proven rear-engined, rear-wheel drive formula was ruled out, so Volkswagen’s research and development team outlined a front-engined, front-wheel drive sedan. The 272’s lines were penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

A 55-horsepower 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine was mounted transversally over the front wheels to gain space. The 272 was about as long as the Type 3 from bumper to bumper, but it offered a markedly more spacious cabin because its wheelbase was much longer.

The influence that the EA 272 had on the original Passat is clearly visible, though the sheet metal ahead of the A-pillar was revised, and the trunk lid was replaced by a more practical hatchback on the four-door model. Bigger differences were found under the hood, where the Passat used a longitudinally-mounted engine for cost reasons.

1972 VW EA 272 1972 VW EA 272 1972 VW EA 272 1972 VW EA 272


1973 Plattenwagen

1973 VW Plattenwagen

The Plattenwagen was built to carry parts, tools, and machines around the factory in Wolfsburg when the British Army asked Volkswagen to return the forklifts it had loaned when production resumed after the war. Starting with a Beetle chassis, mechanics installed a pair of seats right over the rear axle and fitted the front end with a flatbed. No major mechanical modifications were made, meaning all of the running gear was sourced directly from the Beetle.

Plattenwagens were built as-needed starting in 1946. Volkswagen doesn’t have any official production figures, but the company’s archives department points out that some period photos of the Wolfsburg factory show up to ten examples at the same time. And while it was never sold to the public, it’s not too far-fetched to say that the Plattenwagen was Volkswagen’s first-ever commercial vehicle.

“Ben Pon, who was going to be the importer for Holland, he wanted these Plattenwagen for Dutch companies. Out of that, he talked to [Heinz] Nordhoff and out of that came the Transporter,” revealed Volkswagen engineer Ivan Hirst in an interview with German historian Ralf Richter.

The example displayed in the Stiftung museum doubled as a mobile tea dispenser for factory workers.

1973 VW Plattenwagen 1973 VW Plattenwagen 1973 VW Plattenwagen 1973 VW Plattenwagen


1975 Chicco

1975 VW Chicco concept

The Chicco represented Volkswagen’s vision of an entry-level model intended to slot a notch below the original, Audi-derived Polo. It was designed in response to the first oil crisis so it had to be as efficient as possible. Consequently, power was provided by a 900cc three-cylinder engine tuned to deliver 40 horsepower.

1975 VW Chicco concept 1975 VW Chicco concept 1975 VW Chicco concept 1975 VW Chicco concept

Volkswagen continued to experiment with city cars after the Chicco was shelved; notably, it showed a more modern-looking concept called Student in 1982. However, the idea of a sub-Polo model didn’t make the transition from concept to production until the Lupo was introduced in 1998.

1982 VW Student 1982 VW Student 1982 VW Student 1982 VW Student


1977 Passat GTI

1977 VW Passat GTI

Encouraged by the Golf GTI’s success, Volkswagen dropped its hot hatch’s 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood of the Passat. The mechanical upgrades were complemented by bigger brakes on all four corners, wider tires, a lowered suspension, and a sporty-looking body kit that included a rear spoiler. The cabin received a short-throw shifter, additional gauges installed in the center console, and tartan upholstery. All of the ingredients required to build a car worthy of the GTI emblem were accounted for.

The Passat GTI was briefly tested on the roads around Wolfsburg, but it never received the proverbial green light for production. However, the 1.6-liter was fitted to the more comfort-focused Passat GLI starting in 1979. And though the Passat has never worn the GTI emblem in its eight generation-long history, it’s spawned a handful of performance-oriented variants such as the 300-horsepower R36.

1977 VW Passat GTI 1977 VW Passat GTI 1977 VW Passat GTI 1977 VW Passat GTI