I Had No Idea VW Invented Automatic Seatbelts

Illustration for article titled I Had No Idea VW Invented Automatic Seatbelts

While looking through the cache of vintage car magazines I got from a pantsless man in Arizona, I stumbled upon one very interesting little article. It was about the very first use of automatic seatbelts, way back in 1973. And, surprisingly, this innovation didn't come from Volvo or Saab – the first cars to have it were VW Beetles.

Illustration for article titled I Had No Idea VW Invented Automatic Seatbelts

It's strange for a number of reasons: first, Beetles never actually came with automatic seatbelts of any kind. In fact, these sorts of belts weren't common at all until the 1980s, when they were briefly required by the US as a sort of stopgap safety innovation while we were all waiting to see what was going on with airbags.

US-market Rabbits and other VWs certainly had automatic seatbelts, but I think it's fascinating these got their start on a limited run of 50 Beetles. I haven't been able to find if any of these 50 Beetles survived, but I suspect they'd be quite interesting to a very, very small subset of the Beetle-loving population. That subset probably is me and one or two other painful geeks.

That 'anti-submarining' knee bar is interesting in that it appears to fit exactly where VW used to offer optional below-dash parcel trays.

I don't think anyone actually misses those annoying, hair-grabbing automatic seatbelts, but this is an interesting snippet of auto safety history.

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Ash78, voting early and often

My dad's '81 Jetta had separate lap and shoulder belts, and the latter could optionally stay attached to the door frame for low-tech automation. That appears to be what's shown in the pic here.

Apart from that, I can't say I had ever heard of this as a VW innovation before. And we've had some VWs...I think 26-27 of them.

Here are some shots from circa 2001 and 1990. 98 passat, 01 passat, 95 golf, 81 jetta, 84 quantum/passat, and 73(?) squareback