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Conceived in Germany, at home in Brazil: EA 97/Volkswagen 1600

In Germany it became the big stranger. It was a stranger, because it was never available in its country of origin. And this in turn was because the EA 97 ended up being too big (‘EA' is an abbreviation of Entwicklungsauftrag, which roughly translates as ‘development assignment'). Maybe this was due to the not exactly small objective that the test engineers had in mind to replace the Beetle someday. Nobody knows for sure. But one thing is certain: although it was conceived, designed and, at the start, even built in Germany, the EA 97 only began to feel really at home in Brazil. But first things first:

If you ask those involved at the time, you get impish looks and a shrug of the shoulders: it just happened whilst looking for the ‘perfect' heir to the Beetle. Starting in 1959 the technical developers at Volkswagen in Wolfsburg were working on the new model. The technical genes were sacrosanct: tubular frame, rear-wheel drive, air-cooled boxer engine with vertical fan mounted at the rear. In other words, a Beetle, together with rear swing axle. Yet as is often the case, the developers were naturally striving to make the new model better than the previous one. So they took the frame of a Karmann Ghia Type 14, rounded off the front section and widened the sides. It had already begun to grow. In an age of nascent objectivity, the stylists renounced all embellishments and came up with an uncompromising three-box design. Luggage space at the front, engine at the rear, passenger section in between. In this respect Volkswagen was not alone: many competitors at the time were building such cars –with success. 

The EA97 and the later VW 1600:

A German–Brazilian development story 

An estate version (the Variant), a cabriolet and a hatchback rounded off the family of models. The estate featured extra-long, end-to-end quarter-light windows on the side, which had an enormous glass deflection to such an extent that it made hinges on the B-pillar unnecessary – a technical masterstroke which led to significant savings when it came to series production. However, while the assembly lines were being built for production and 100 so-called pilot series vehicles were built, considerable doubts were being raised in the marketing department: however impressive it may have been, the strategists feared that the EA 97 would substantially conflict with the still relatively new Type 3. What's more, it would be lining up in the starting blocks against another internal competitor: the Audi 60, which had been recently acquired from the Auto Union in 1965. The solution was ultimately perplexing – yet simultaneously plausible: instead of scrapping the brilliant idea, it was completely dismantled, including all production tools, and shipped to Brazil, where they worked out that the chances of it selling well were good.