The Beetles that never made it to the showrooms

Over the years, the Volkswagen Beetle represented many different things to many different people. It was a classic example of German ingenuity, a symbol of the counterculture movement, and a reminder that the simplest of things can sometimes be the best. It was truly a car for the people, compact, economical, reliable and durable.

The Beetle was a boom car for affordable transportation in Europe and elsewhere and, by 1952, it was sold in 46 countries. Eventually, it would be built in 14 countries, including Malaysia, and more than 21.5 million were sold before the final, modern-generation Beetle left the line at the factory in Mexico in 2019.

When the original Beetle was produced in the 1940s, who would have imagined that it would remain in the same form until 2003?

The original Beetle retained its form for many decades, becoming a familiar shape on roads all over the world. Its attributes which kept it in demand were not easily replicated and so it continued n production even after the Golf arrived as a successor in 1974.

Although it may seem that Volkswagen did not consider redesigning the original car, starting in the early 1950s, it had design proposals from time to time. There were more than 70 potential replacements, but none seemed able to match what the Volkswagen represented. Here are some of the proposals that never made it to production.

1955/56 EA47-12: Number 12 of 15 prototypes produced between 1953 and the end of 1956, the EA-47-12 was the carmaker’s first attempt at creating a more modern successor. It was the first of many Beetle replacements designed by Italian automobile designer Ghia, which is probably why it looked like the Karmann Ghia. The car was powered by a 1192 cc 4-cylinder boxer air-cooled engine with a power output of 30 bhp. In addition, it boasted a transverse link front axle, torsion bar rear suspension, and fully synchronized gearbox—unique technology for the time. The top speed was said to be 80 km/h.
1955 EA48: In 1953, Volkswagen began toying with the idea of developing a car positioned below the Beetle in terms of size, performance, and price. The result was this boxy car. Some call it the first ‘City Car’, an accolade bestowed upon the British Mini because the EA48 never went into production. The EA48 was also the first prototype designed in-house without any input from Porsche. None of the components from the Beetle were carried over to the EA48; instead, engineers decided to start from scratch. The front-wheel drive car used unibody construction, a front-mounted 700 cc air-cooled, flat-twin 18 bhp engine, and a MacPherson-type front suspension.
1960 EA97: It is believed that the EA97 project was abandoned while workers were preparing its assembly line, and after 200 pilot cars had been assembled by hand. The development of this rear-engine 2-door model began in 1957. It featured a more pontoon-shaped body and a 1.1-litre engine. What was the problem? “It was positioned too close to the Beetle and the Type 3,” according to the AutoMuseum Volkswagen website.
1961 Type 3 Cabriolet: The Type 3 released in 1961 gave motorists a more upmarket alternative to the Beetle. This Cabriolet prototype featured a folding top and a glass rear window. Sadly, it was shelved out of fear the model would create internal competition with the Karmann Ghia convertible.
1966 EA142: While developing the Type 4, which made its debut in 1968, Volkswagen experimented with various bodystyles, including this elegant EA 142. The rear engine hatchback used the same 1.7-litre engine that would appear in the production version of the Type 4.
1969 EA276: This was the inspiration for the original Golf. The front-wheel drive hatchback was boxier than many of the other Beetle replacements. Though this car had the same air-cooled flat-4 engine as the Beetle, the powerplant was changed to a 4-cylinder, water-cooled inline engine before installed in the Golf 1974.
1969 EA266: One of the more innovative replacement candidates was the EA266. It was developed with assistance from Porsche and a team led by Ferdinand Piech, the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who would later become Chairman of the Volkswagen group in 1993. The mid-engine hatchback had a water-cooled 4-cylinder 1.6-litre engine mounted under the rear seat in a longitudinal configuration with the transaxle directly behind it to save space. Despite the sporty design and Porsche DNA, the EA266 never made it to showrooms and can only be seen in the museum today.

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