The Volkswagen Group’s Autostadt—Automobile City—in Wolfsburg, Germany, is well worth a day trip, offering everything from factory tours to restaurants to kid-go-crazy play zones. One of the best attractions is the ZeitHaus auto museum, which traces the history of automotive technology and design. The collection of historic Volkswagens is worth seeing, but the ZeitHaus collection goes well outside the Volkswagen Group. Here are some of the most interesting vehicles we saw on our most recent trip to Autostadt.
1937 Porsche V30 Prototype
Naturally, the ZeitHaus has several Volkswagens, and its 1937 Type 60 V30 prototype is the earliest car we saw on display. This was one of thirty cars built for testing, and together they amassed some 1.8 million miles. The V30s have rear-hinged suicide doors and louvers instead of a proper rear window. Seeing the car in person is very cool, but also a bit chilling when you consider the events of the time.
1938 Porsche Type 60 Prototype
This 1938-built Porsche Type 60 one of the pre-production vehicles, a late-build prototype that matched the production-sped KdF-Wagen in all but a few minor details. Our tourguide told us that this was the actual car Ferdinand Porshce used as his own vehicle. Yowza!
Right behind Porsche’s pre-production Type 60 is the 21,529,464thVolkswagen Beetle to roll off the production line—the very last one built. It rolled off the production line in Puebla, Mexico, on July 30th, 2003. Comparing the Type 60 to the final Beetle, it’s easy to see how little changed over 65 years of production.
Volkswagen Type 3 and Type 4
Volkswagen was on a constant mission to evolve the Bug, which led to the Type 3 of 1961 (sold in the US as the Fastback and Squareback) and the Type 4 of 1968. The Zeithaus has a Type 3 notchback coupe (not officially sold in the US, though several were imported by private owners) and a 1970 411 wagon. The Type 4 was updated to the 412 in 1972, but it would be discontinued two years later, leaving the Type 2 bus as the only air-cooled Volkswagen.
1970 Volkswagen K70 and 1975 Lamborghini Countach LP400
The Volkswagen K70 was the first “modern” Volkswagen with a front-mounted water-cooled engine and front-wheel-drive. No surprise that it was developed not by Volkswagen, but by NSU, which Volkswagen acquired in 1969. Next to it is a Lamborghini LP400, the original version of the Countach. Stripped of the wings and fender flares that afflicted later cars, you can see how futuristic the design was—it looked more like a spaceship than a car.
1899 Benz Velo
Several museums have replicas of Karl Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen, the world’s first automobile, but how often do you see a Benz Velo? This was the first car to be built as a series production model, and it was designed to be mechanically simple and inexpensive—a formula Henry Ford would perfect a decade later with the Model T. The Benz Velo has a three-horsepower single-cylinder 1045-cc engine and a top speed of 13 MPH.
1968 Empi Imp
The Zeithaus acknowledges (if in an understated way) the role of the Volkswagen Beetle on American car culture with this 1968 Empi Imp, one of several Beetle-based dune buggies that flooded the American market in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Displayed behind it is a 1979 Volkswagen Type 181, know to us in America as The Thing.
1967 Renault 16
The ZeitHaus has several displays about design, and it was here that your author found one of his favorite cars: The Renault 16. We love the funky design with the semi-skirted rear fenders, but the Seize is here because of the pattern it set: When it was introduced in 1965, it was the first car to combine the elements of a sedan and a wagon. At the time, there was no word to describe this new body style, but today the term is common: It’s a hatchback.
1930 Cadillac V-16
There are several American cars in The Autostadt ZeitHaus collection, including this beautiful Cadillac V-16 converible, one of the earliest of the 4,000 or so examples produced. The 45-degree 16 cylinder engine (essentially two straight 8s sharing a common crankshaft, as each bank had its own carburetor, distributor, and accessories. The Caddy was displayed with a 1927 Chevrolet convertible.
1956 Citroen DS
The ZeitHaus’ design display included another one of the author’s favorites, the Citroen DS. This is a first-generation car with the original single headlights—but who chose that hideous green color?
1966 Oldsmobile Toronado
Another American design classic on display is the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. The first American car to employ front-wheel-drive since the 1937 Cord, the Toronado was named as Motor Trend’s Car of the Year—and it was also the only American car to with the European Car of the Year award. You’d expect the Toronado to dwarf everything around it, but when we saw the car it was displayed in the same room as a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz and a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr.
Chevrolet Corvette and Trabant 601
The ZeitHaus has cars displayed in groupings, like this first-generation Corvette paried with a Trabant 601. What do they have in common? Both eschewed steel bodies: The Corvette’s shell was made of fiberglass, while the Trabant’s body was made of Duroplast, a plastic material made from recycled materials including cotton waste from Soviet plants and phenol resins from East German dye factories.
1990 Volkswagen Golf Country
It’s not all well-known classics at the ZeitHaus: The collection also includes some European oddballs like this 1990 Volkswagen Golf Country, which featured all-wheel-drive and a high-clearance suspension. This car presaged the crossovers that would become so popular in twenty years’ time, but back in 1990, the world wasn’t quite ready—Volkswagen sold only 7,735 cars during the Gold Country’s two-year production run.