Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Volkswagen Enthusiasm in America

Text from Volkswagen of America.
A Rich History of Home-bred Know-how Embracing European Engineering

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Volkswagen might be the first European manufacturer to have an official “stand alone” display of its cars and technology at the annual SEMA Show, but it’s certainly not the first time Volkswagen has been a big part of the year’s most important showcase of aftermarket parts and accessories.

In fact, historians will quickly point out that tuners of VW vehicles have been an essential element in the growth of the enormous automotive enthusiast aftermarket since the earliest days of SEMA.

The VW enthusiast market really started a year before the first SEMA show, in 1966, when the Meyers Manx beach buggy, based on a VW Beetle platform, “became an overnight sensation,” according to Hot Rod Industry News, which regarded it as the true predecessor to today’s off-road vehicles, many of which continue to use VW engines and components.

Later, when the kit car market exploded, most of the faux sports cars were built around VW Beetle floorpans. A visitor to the SEMA Show in the 1970s would have found plenty of tuner companies selling parts to modify VW engines and suspension systems for a wide range of vehicles, from weekend offroader to high-performance street machine to blindingly fast drag racer. In fact, the market for VW components became so large that many hot rod companies, traditional suppliers of parts for V-8 powered cars and trucks, started making parts for the VW tuning community.

When Volkswagen switched to front-engine, front-drive cars in the mid 1970s, the new wasserpumpers immediately became favorites not only with tuners in Europe but with a small, hardcore group of enthusiasts in America. In 1976, VW itself got into the “hot-rod” business with the introduction of the Golf GTI in Europe, and though the U.S would have to wait until 1983 for its first GTI, the VW flame was kept burning brightly in small tuning shops across the country. Originally only 5,000 GTI models were going to be built in order to meet homologation requirements for racing, but it proved to be such a hit that over one million were made during the next 15 years. The GTI became the definitive hot hatch and owned the segment for years before other manufacturers copied the GTI’s winning formula.

Today the GTI badge has come to represent VW’s best qualities, and it’s still often used as the basis for a racing sedan or rally car. Volkswagen worldwide has, of course, been very active in motorsports for decades. Instead of spending millions of dollars on an exotic F1 car or a World Rally Championship program, though, it concentrated on supporting the competitors in grassroots motorsports and in series which prepared drivers for the big leagues of racing.

The best known of these series was the Robert Bosch/Volkswagen Super Vee Championship. Spanning 20 years from 1971 until 1990, its success was supported by the longest-running commercial sponsorship in U.S. racing history until it was eclipsed by NASCAR’s Winston sponsorship that ran from 1972 until 2003.

From 1978 on, the Super Vee single-seater race cars were powered by slightly modified 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines – the same ones that powered production Rabbits, Golfs and Sciroccos of the day. The series proved to be a great training ground for numerous professional drivers, including Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Geoff Brabham and Arie Lyundyk.

During the same period, the Rabbit/Bilstein Cup series for stock VW Rabbits became another crowd pleaser at race tracks across the country. It was closely fought racing, especially when the Rabbits ran on oval tracks, and spectators often compared the intensity of Rabbit/Bilstein racing to stock car battles.

Volkswagen’s first official appearance at the SEMA Show demonstrates the company’s efforts to strengthen this rich, long history of performance enthusiasm.

Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc. is headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. It is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen is one of the world’s largest producers of passenger cars and Europe’s largest automaker. Volkswagen of America and its affiliates employ approximately 3,000 people in the United States and are responsible for the sale and service of Audi, Bentley, and Volkswagen products through retail networks comprising in total more than 900 independent U.S. dealers.

"Volkswagen" and "4MOTION" are registered trademarks of Volkswagen AG. "DSG" is a trademark of Volkswagen AG. All other trademarks used in this document are the property of their respective owners.

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