Before Volkswagen’s $50 billion push, and the e-Golf, there were these VW electric cars

1976 Volkswagen Golf 1 Elektro, charging

With the formal nod of Volkswagen’s board on Friday, Volkswagen is embarking upon a five-year, $50 billion all-in push to develop a new generation of electric cars, plus complementary autonomous-drive technologies and mobility services.

As Volkswagen works toward a viable, global, mass-market business, and millions of vehicles built around its modular electric architecture (MEB), it faces the biggest change since moving from air-cooled rear-wheel-drive vehicles to water-cooled (primarily) front-wheel-drive ones decades ago—and arguably a bigger one.

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Teased by a series of concepts including the I.D., I.D. Crozz, I.D. Buzz, and I.D. Vizzion, these production models will be different than any electric vehicles in VW’s past as they’ll no longer leave space for internal combustion engines and fuel tanks.

Volkswagen Golf 3 CityStromer

It seemed like the appropriate time to look back at some of Volkswagen’s far-earlier attempts at electric vehicles. Like those from most other major automakers, they were surprisingly modest affairs—essentially back-garage conversions produced by research-and-development teams, that would get, at best, a fleet test to see how the batteries held up.

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Back in the 1990s, when electric vehicles were first injected into the realm of possibility thanks to several advances, Volkswagen made no grand commitments like the General Motors EV1. Some years later, though, the curious XL1 was Volkswagen’s way of showing that diesel had a long life ahead with the addition of electrification.

Years or decades earlier, there were these:

1972 Volkswagen T2 Elektro Transporter

1972 T2 Elektro Transporter

If you didn’t think Volkswagen could make a slower Type 2 (Microbus) than it already had, it did—and it was electric. The DC motor at the rear wheels delivered just 16 kilowatts (22 horsepower). And yet the Transporter weighed 4,840 pounds—with the lead-acid batteries fitted to the van’s floor weighing 1,870 pounds—more than a Beetle of that era. VW made 120 of these.

Golf 1 Elektro

1976-1981 Volkswagen Golf 1 Elektro

VW made 20 of these Golf 1 Elektro hatchbacks (based on a car sold in the U.S. as the Rabbit). The flat, tubular, lead battery system (at 96 volts) had a 13.4-kwh capacity but turned the Rabbit into a two-seater. Top speed was 62 mph, and range was about 30 miles. One item of note is that its 15-kw (20-horsepower) DC motor weighs 176 pounds. For a modern comparison, each 147-kw (197-hp) DC permanent-magnet motor in the Jaguar I-Pace weighs just 84 pounds.

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