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Motors

VW restores ahead-of-its-time 1970s electric Transporter

Wednesday, 4th March, 2020 4:31pm

Reckon that the electric car revolution is a new phenomenon for Volkswagen? Reckon again.

The modern rush for electric power down Wolfsburg way might be down to a combination of legislation and the hangover from the diesel emissions scandal, but VW actually started working on electric cars some years ago. Fifty years ago, in fact…

Back in 1970, VW set up a small group of engineers to come up with possible electrification options for the Beetle and the T2 Transporter van. Even that far back, before the first OPEC oil shocks, there were concerns over the use of resources and air pollution (although CO2 worries were still a long way off).

The solution? VW worked with battery maker Varta to make this, the Elektro-Transporter. This original model, built in 1972, but not registered until it was sold to the Berlin city authorities in 1978, has just been fully restored by Volkswagen.

It will be displayed at the huge Techno Classica classic car show in Essen at the end of March, and will then form part of VW’s marketing efforts ahead of the 2022 launch of its all-electric ID. Buzz MPV and ID. Buzz Cargo van.

The Elektro-Transporter was way, way ahead of its time, though.

Not only could the big, 800kg Varta battery be charged up through a rear-mounted socket, but you could also, relatively easily, slide it out from under the van’s rear floor (where the conventional flat-four Beetle engine would normally be located) and pop in a freshly charged one.

A special battery swapping station was actually built in Berlin’s Tiergarten just for that purpose, forty years ahead of anyone else thinking of rapid-swap battery cars.

Performance was surprisingly decent, even by modern standards.

The battery had a capacity of 21.6kWh, which would give the Elektro-Transporter an 85km range and a maximum speed of 75km/h.

The ‘externally excited direct current shunt-wound motor’ was initially supplied by Bosch, and later by Siemens, and although its peak power was only 44hp, it did have a decent 160Nm of torque.

VW claims that in spite of the heavy battery, the Elektro-Transporter could still haul a reasonable 800kg maximum payload.

It’s only a shame that the Elektro-Transporter didn’t get a more glamorous job from the Berlin city authorities. Although it had the forward-looking slogan ‘Electrically powered - Environmentally friendly’ emblazoned down the sides, its working role in life was a little more down to earth.

Under the earth, in fact, as the Elektro-Transporter was bought by the Berlin city drains maintenance division.

We imagine that its new role as promotional vehicle will mean a much lower-emissions life than it first lived.

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