There are few things automotive that get me more excited than Volkswagen’s vintage prototypes and design studies that ended up going nowhere. I’m not sure why, but I find these bizarre stillborns wildly engaging, and this one — one I never heard of before — may be the most incredible one yet.
I’ll admit it — I’d gotten cocky about my VW prototype knowledge. I thought I’d seen every weird, experimental VW project from the mid-20th century, and I’d even written about several of my favorite ones. When I was recently in Wolfsburg, Germany, I went to the gift shop at VW’s Autostadt museum, prepared to drop cash like a paranoid balloonist drops whatever balloonists drop. Sandbags?
At the gift shop I picked up a German book called Volkswagen Raritäten — even though I can’t exactly read it, it’s full of amazing Volkswagen prototypes and one-offs, and just flipping through it there in the gift shop convinced me this was an important reference tool I needed to have.
As I was flipping through the book, planning how to most effectively shoplift it, I saw something that made me run out to buy a drink so I could come back in and spit-take it: the Type 700.
It was technically a Porsche Type 700, since Porsche’s design bureau had been building protoypes and concepts for modernized/replacement Beetles for VW for years. But this one was different.
The Type 700 looks like Volkswagen decided to produce their own Fiat Multipla. Which is pretty much exactly what they — well, by ‘they’ I mean Porsche — did. The 700 was a one-box design, built on a standard VW Type I chassis. An early drawing and a model show a very modern, clean, and almost sleek (well, in a guppy-like way) car, having a massive greenhouse with wildly thin pillars, three rows of seats, an interesting wrap-around bumper/rub strip, and clean, curved lines throughout.
The early design studies are really quite amazing, and feel like they’re part of the same school of thought as the wildly futuristic designs of people like Norman Bel Geddes — just with less fins and a more conventional number of wheels.
This is clearly just a blue-sky concept. But even more incredibly, it seems — at least from the only photo of this car I’ve ever seen — that an actual metal version was built on a real, genuine VW Beetle chassis. The body realized in metal is somewhat more conventional, with thicker pillars and rain gutters and familiar VW parts-bin bits like the double-glass headlight units, here rotated 90°, just like they are on VW’s Type II Transporter.
It’s still a one-box design, though this prototype seems to have a stubby, opening hood, most likely containing a vertically-mounted spare tire and perhaps a bit of luggage space. The car seems to have used the same 1200cc flat-four as any VW of the era, mounted in the rear as usual. The body seems to be a four-door as well, which would have made this VW’s first actual civilian four-door car.
Everything about this prototype amazes me. It’s described here in the text as a “Volkswagen für die Großfamilie” which just means a Volkswagen for a big family — hence the three rows of seats. What’s puzzling — and what is likely the reason why this concept never got off the ground — is that VW already had such a car at this point, the Type II, which we mostly know as the Microbus.
The Type 700, though is certainly more car-like than the bus, even if it is very unconventional. Like the tall bus, the driver basically sits on the front wheel, but here the driver (and passengers) sit much lower, in a more car-like position. It really is just like the Multipla this way.
Also interesting is that the text references a possible three-cylinder engine choice as well, something which I had no idea VW was even considering in the 1950s. What the hell would that have been? VW had zero experience making anything but opposed engines, the well-known flat-four and an occasional flat twin (basically, half a Beetle engine) for at least one prototype. But a three?
Would it have been their first inline engine? Or were they considering a truly insane flat-3? Maybe radial? I really have no idea, and there’s almost no information about this online.
The few other sources out there that reference this car all say pretty much the same thing — it was directly inspired by the Multipla (which itself was based on the Fiat 600, which you could argue was directly inspired by the Beetle, making a nice ouroborus of cars) and that the project was abandoned because of fear of cannibalizing VW’s Type II sales.
Still, it does appear that the one built was built on a working VW chassis with a 1200cc engine, and it seems possible it could have been drivable. I think this prototype is long gone, which is a shame, because I think it’s an amazing design (I always loved the Multipla, anyway) and I can’t help but wonder if it could have found a place for families needing more room, but reluctant to move all the way up to a small bus.
I guess we’ll never know. But I do think if anyone is looking for a novel VW-based project, a Type 700 replica would make a fantastic choice.
(Thanks to Raph for translation and research help!)
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