(that’s my very own Vectrex, in fact!)

There was audio as well, piped in to a speaker in the cabin. The computer was capable of generating the following sounds:

Sounds are also generated completely synthetically in the driving electronics from the components of:

motor sounds (RPM dependent)

driving sounds (speed dependent)

tire squeal (acceleration dependent)

crash sounds (situational)

Tire squeal! That’s a nice, unexpected touch.

The physical/mechanical components of the system, while not as germane to the Simulator’s role as the inspiration for computerized racing/driving games, was nevertheless a huge part of the system. The driver’s cabin was capable of full three-axis movement, as well as a fourth motion element where the bumpiness or smoothness of roads could be simulated.


The massive-looking rig was hydraulically controlled for the main 3-axis motion, and other force-feedback motions look to be simulated via electric motors. The steering column, for example, had a motor on it to simulate the torque a steering wheel would feed back in driving situations.


The digital model of the moving simulated vehicle and all of the environmental conditions tracked (road inclination, overall speed, road curvature, and I think some limited set of wind and weather conditions) interacted directly and in real time with the analog system to perform what must have been a pretty convincing feeling of motion. You accelerate, and the weight shifts rearward (via the pitch motor on the car’s long axis), you’d lean into turns, all that good stuff. I’m not sure, but I’d like to think if you crashed it’d give you a good shaking around.


Other companies of Volkswagen’s size had similar simulators, and, knowing how quickly this sort of equipment would become obsolete in the early ‘70s, it’s safe to say the costs to doing similar systems would be dropping dramatically every year.

There’s so little information available about this Simulator that I’m not really sure how long it remained in use. I imagine that by, say, 1976 or so the computation technology would have advanced so much that a more sophisticated visual system could have been developed — definitely by the early 80s.


I can easily imagine that the digital components would have been replaced and the much more physically and mechanically complex hydraulic system kept, at least for a while, but so far I haven’t found any evidence either way.


I really am amazed at how little anyone at VW or computing/video game history in general seems to know or care about this machine, and others of the era like it. At least in the case of the 1972 VW Driving Simulator, I think the machine’s role as the direct ancestor and inspiration for first-person driving game is quite ironclad.

Let’s just walk down the chain here. The VW Driving Simulator was developed and running by 1972, somehow Dr.Foerst saw it and was driven to attempt to replicate it on a more manageable scale, which gave birth to the Nürburgring series of games, a flyer for which was seen by Dave Sheppard, the Atari programmer who came up with Night Driver. Here’s a quote from him about that:

I was given a piece of paper with a picture of a game cabinet that had a small portion of the screen visible. I don’t recall if it was an actual flyer for the game or simply a Xerox of the front page of the flyer. I recall it being German or maybe I was just told it was a German game. I never saw the game play nor did I know what scoring was used on that game, only that there were a few little white squares showing. With that germ of an idea, out popped Night Driver.


And, of course, Night Driver spawned its own crowd of imitators, games like 280-ZZZap, which then grew to games like Pole Position, and on and on until we get to the modern era of full-3D games like the Gran Turismo or Forza series. It’s a remarkably straight chain of evolution, and I feel very confident saying VW’s Simulator was where it all began.


It’s my hope that by writing about this remarkable and influential machine, finally giving it some real mass-market acknowledgement on the internet, someone who remembers it, or, even better, helped develop it may come forward and tell us more about it. Does any of it still exist, in some forgotten VW storage unit somewhere? Is there any video of it in action? I’d love to know.

So, VW-Fahrsimulator, wherever you are, thanks for all you did. You owe me a lot of wasted time and quarters, but we can take that up later.