In 1967, one of Germany’s smaller but progressive car makers, NSU, caused a sensation at the Frankfurt Motor Show when it unveiled the front-wheel-drive rotary engined Ro80. This car was similar in size to an early nineties Holden Commodore VN or Opel/Vauxhall Senator, but it was a four-door, front-wheel drive car powered by a twin rotor Wankel engine, virtually the same unit used in the Mazda RX7 sportscar.
At that time, the innovative engineers at NSU also started development work on a smaller, medium-sized version of this car, the Ro70, but because of teething problems with the Ro80’s rotary engine, they developed the new car to take a more conventional 1600cc in-line piston engine derived from smaller 1100cc and 1200cc NSU cars. Without a rotary engine, the design code was changed to K70. ‘K’ stood for Kolben or piston, whereas ‘Ro’ was the abbreviation for rotary.
The K70 was, nevertheless, quite an advanced and innovative car, with an all-alloy overhead camshaft engine driving the front wheels, all-independent suspension with McPherson struts at the front and trailing links and coil springs at the rear, and in-board front disc brakes. It also conformed to the toughest crash test safety regulations of the day. Several prototypes were shown to the press and public throughout development and the world waited with great expectation of the eventual production release of the NSU K70.
This was not to be, however. The launch of the K70 was to have been the 1969 Geneva Motor Show, but shortly before the show Volkswagen bought out NSU. The new Volkswagen management of NSU believed that production facilities at the NSU Neckarsulm factory would not be able to cope with the projected demand for the car. As a result, production was delayed until August 1970, with the K70 being produced at the newly-built VW factory at Salzgitter. Volkswagen decided to introduce the new car at all without any change from the NSU K70 except for a VW logo on the radiator grille, the only place on the entire car where the VW badge could be found.
So, in mid-1970, much to the dismay of the air-cooled VW purist, the company started production of its first front-engined car, its first water-cooled car and its first front-wheel-drive car. Would the K70 be a success due to its innovative design, or would that new design be a bridge too far for possible buyers who were familiar only with the VW Beetle?
Only 211,127 K70s were built before production ended in February 1975. It seems that the K70 sound design was overlooked due to the innovations that came with that design. VW had to wait until the introduction of the Passat in 1974 with a similar layout before the car was accepted by the motoring public.
The Volkswagen K70 was a well-proportioned car with pretty styling a good ten years ahead of its time, and more akin to that of the square and angular cars of the late 70’s and early 80’s. The K70 was available in three different models (K70, K70L and K70LS). The K70 and K70L used a 1605cc engine, while the K70LS used a 1807cc engine. From August 1972 the LS models were sold with four round headlights in place of the original square ones.
The 1807cc engined K70LS could reach a top speed of 165 km/h, and an acceleration to 100 km/h of just over 12 seconds. The only transmission offered was a 4-speed manual.
Production of the K70 was concentrated totally at the Salzgitter plat, with both RHD and LHD versions built. The majority of cars were built with LHD, for the European and African markets. The K70 is now a rare car, with many Volkswagen enthusiasts not even aware of the existence of the car.
The source for this blog post was the book “Volkswagens of the World – A comprehensive international guide to Volkswagens not built in Germany…and the unusual ones that were” by Simon Glen, Veloce Publishing, UK, 1999, pp. 34-35.