The K70 was a bold move for VW – and one that did not pay off. Which sort of makes it even more interesting today as a classic.
One of the more unusual cars my father owned was a metallic gold VW K70, which he ran for about 18 months back in 1975/6. Even then, it wasn’t a particularly common sight on British roads, although VW did build a total of 211,000 in the years between 1970 to 1975 (his was second-hand, of course).
I really liked it at the time: It looked modern, it was roomy and had a huge boot (we were a family of four), it offered outstanding all round visibility thanks to its thin pillars and expansive glasshouse (in common with many cars of that era) and as far as my limited new-driver experience could tell, it drove perfectly well without being particularly inspiring.
And yet it was a relative failure for Volkswagen – but then, it wasn’t originally a VW to begin with, but an NSU, and by their standards, it would have been a significant success.
The story of the K70’s birth is a somewhat confusing one. NSU originally conceived the K70 as a four-door saloon and three-door estate. The latter never made it to production – a shame, as I think the saloon’s lines would have extended nicely to make a handsome and stylish estate – and it was originally announced to the motoring world by NSU in March 1969. However, NSU was already in some financial trouble, and rumours abounded that they were going to be absorbed by VW.
Apparently, even before the VW acquisition, NSU was forced – by VW – to withdraw the K70 from its Geneva Show stand as it was deemed to be too close to the Audi 100, and in the end, just 23 NSU-badged K70’s were built – I wonder if any still exist?
Later that year, NSU was taken over by VW and integrated into Auto Union, forming the basis of what was to become Audi, and in 1970 the K70 was launched into the world as the first front-engined, water-cooled, front-drive VW. It was supposedly to replace the rear-engined, rear-drive 411/412-series, although in the end it competed with that car, and not always favourably, leading to lower than expected sales and ultimately, a short production run. Serious rust issues and poor fuel consumption coinciding with the 1973 fuel crisis combined to hasten its demise, and later that year it was replaced by the Passat, even though it continued to be produced until 1975.
The K70 came as standard with a 1605cc four-cylinder engine that was a development of the old NSU air-cooled 1177cc motor, with the later LS version being equipped with a larger 1807cc engine that gave it the performance lacking in the smaller-engined car, taking it to a top speed of 101mph/162kmh. The LS also came with round quad headlights as opposed to the standard model’s rectangular ones.
Retailing in the UK from £1,571 the K70 was mixing it with some stiff competition from FIAT, Opel, SAAB, Renault, Austin Morris and Audi. In a March 1972 test of the 1.6-litre version of the car, Autocar praised its roominess and capacious boot, but found fault with its heavy steering and less than inspiring performance, managing only to reach a top speed of 93mph or 150km/h, with a 0-60 time of 12.5 seconds, relatively slow compared to its rivals. Nevertheless, it still called it a “well-planned car” and ended by saying “we expect to see more and more K70s around”, an unfulfilled prophecy in the UK at least.
In a June 1973 group test of a later model with the FIAT 132 and Opel Rekord, Car magazine also liked its airy cabin and huge luggage compartment, but was critical of its ride, handling and performance, calling it “only just satisfactory”, and chose the Rekord as its winner.
And so we have a car that had a troubled launch, mixed test reviews and a less than successful sales run…and yet, looking at it now, I think it’s dated rather well. It’s simple, square clean lines, low waistline, excellent visibility and spaciousness combine to create what to my perhaps slightly sepia-tinted eyes is a good-looking car, and for the classic car enthusiast, also offers rarity with affordability, two desirable aspects of classic car ownership.
Which brings me to this week’s Prime Find. There seem to be precisely none currently for sale in the UK; indeed, only around 800 RHD versions were produced, which would account for the attention my father’s car got whenever I drove it even back then, and I haven’t seen one on the road here for very many years, so my search focused on it’s home market, and even in Germany, they’re not exactly falling from the trees.
I did however manage to find a couple that looked to be in good shape and settled on this very tidy-looking example for sale with a dealer in Mitterscheyern, near Pfaffenhofen in Bavaria. In green with a tan cloth interior, the dealer enthusiastically and in somewhat flowery prose describes this car as being in excellent rust-free condition, having been subject to a respray as well as having the seats reupholstered, clutch and shock absorbers replaced. Originally bought by its Swedish pensioner owner in April 1973, it now has 103,000km on the clock and is available for a pretzel under €8,000/ £7.165. If the car is as described, and with relatively low mileage, it looks like a cool and inexpensive way to get into classic ownership with a car that is both rare and significant and I think, pretty stylish. We’ve borrowed some pictures from the dealer’s website, and a full description can be found here in ad: 1973 VW K70.
As always, we recommend seeing the car in the metal before taking things further and we obviously have no direct involvement with its sale.
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org