The route from Salzburg to the Sahara.
Volkswagen? In rally sport? This combination would have seemed unimaginable 45 years ago. Under director Heinrich Nordhoff, the message was clear: no official works sports activities! Yet countless private drivers had long since been involved in motor sport with the Beetle and ‘made them faster’ with modified carburettors, lower chassis and aerodynamic accessories. And this was being done throughout the world – there was the Brit Bill Bengry in his red RAC Beetle and the unforgettable ‘Salzburg Beetle’ from the Austrian Volkswagen and Porsche importer.
The Golf gets a move on.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Volkswagen reconsidered its decision to shun official rally activities. From 1975, with the legendary Golf I GTI, a contemporary ‘basic configuration’ was available for sporting purposes. In 1976, a Golf with a naturally aspirated diesel engine was launched and set new standards with its combination of sporty performance and low fuel consumption. The newly established Volkswagen Motorsport division under Klaus Peter Rosorius in Hanover was very interested in this car – and its potential for being upgraded. In 1978 the time had come: as an experiment, Jochi Kleint and Andreas Hänsch entered a turbocharged Golf Diesel in the Monte Carlo Rally, and in 1980 Per Eklund and Hans Sylvan immediately racked up a fifth place finish in the 170 hp ‘Pierburg Golf’ based on a GTI – the first official works rally vehicle.
Through deserts and across mountains.
A completely different, rather less sporty car gave cause for victory celebrations in the same year: the unforgettable Freddy Graf Kottulinsky won the challenging Dakar Rally, still known as the ‘Oasis Rally’ back then, in his 110 hp Race Iltis off-road vehicle.
The series of wins continued. In 1981 Alfons Stock and Paul Schmuck were crowned German rally champions in their Rheila Golf and Volkswagen also achieved success with the Golf II: in 1986 the 215 hp Golf II GTI 16V won the newly established Group A World Rally Championship with Kenneth Eriksson and Peter Diekmann. After that, Golf models were continually used for rally sport, such as the Bi-Motor Pikes Peak Golf II or the Golf II G60 Rallye Syncro.
From 2003 onwards, it was back to the desert: with the first-, second- and third-generation Race Touareg cars, the Volkswagen Motorsport teams regularly worked their way onto the podium, winning the tough desert tour in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
And next it’s the turn of the Polo R WRC. The World Rally Car. From 2013. A new challenge and a new team, which is being supported by a rally sport legend: in Carlos Sainz, the Spanish winner of Rally As and the Dakar Rally, Volkswagen has a top-class man assisting in the development of the Polo R WRC. The countdown is on.
Seven litres. That is the almost unbelievable amount of engine oil contained in each of the massively modified racing engines in the legendary 1302 and 1303 ‘Salzburg Beetles’, which would turn the model into a rally icon at the beginning of the 1970s. But that’s not all: predominantly modified on the camshaft, with enlarged outlet and inlet valves, plus carburettors from the Porsche 912 and later from the Porsche 904, the black and silver racing Beetles from Porsche Salzburg catapulted the modest, spherical-shaped Volkswagen into sporting realms.
The story began in 1965 when Louise Piëch, the mother of Ferdinand Piëch and head of Porsche Austria, gave her permission for an in-house motor sport division to be set up in the hope that any potential sporting success would have a positive effect on the image and reputation of the Volkswagen and Porsche marques. Racing sport chief Gerhard Strasser, ‘engine wizard’ Paul ‘Pauli’ Schwarz and eight carefully selected employees successfully set about giving the Beetle real sporting genes. From a purely visual perspective, the Salzburg Beetles were a real delight in the style of the time – and unmistakable: with silver metallic paint and sporty matt-black bonnets, the powerful Alpine Beetles also bore a red and white strip representing the sovereign colours of Austria. There was also an imposing (and effective) battery of auxiliary headlights mounted on the front bumper.
‘Pauli’ Schwarz took care of the technical side of things. He initially ordered a dry sump lubrication system for the Salzburg Beetles and increased the engine oil capacity from 2.5 to the aforementioned seven litres. As such, there was no risk of the fast racers suddenly having no lubrication when cornering at high speed with high load change. The engine was enlarged to the cylinder capacity limit of 1,599 cc using oversized pistons. Polished cylinder heads increased the compression ratio from 7.3 to 9.1:1. The inlet channels were widened; the size of the inlet valves was increased from 35.5 to 40 millimetres. On the outlet side, the channels were polished, but the valves were left unaltered. The piston rods were balanced and the crankshaft was finely balanced. Fuel was initially mixed using two Solex twin carburettors from the Porsche 912; later on using two Weber 46 IDA carburettors from the Porsche 904.
To crown the engine conversion, ‘Pauli’ Schwarz polished the camshafts in secret – allegedly in his private, soundproof cellar. In addition, there was still room behind the slotted front panel for an oil cooler from the Porsche 908. All the effort was rewarded with 120 to 128 hp at 7,000 rpm from the 1600 Beetle engine and enough steam from 2,000 rpm.
Especially between 1971 and 1974, a total of eleven Salzburg Beetles got properly involved in the international rally scene: 15 overall wins – including victory in the Austrian state championship in 1971 and 1972, the Jänner Rally (rally Beetles finished in places one to five, with places one to three occupied by Salzburg Beetles) and the overall win in the Rally dell'Isola d'Elba in April 1973, an event that was part of the European rally championship – turned the silver and black racers into legends.
In 1974, the year of the energy crisis, Beetle production ended in Wolfsburg, and the water-cooled models began to prevail. The sports division of Porsche Salzburg closed its doors. Many of the original Salzburg Beetles are still in existence today and can be found in the hands of enthusiasts.
An off-road vehicle? On the rally track? Quite a few contemporaries reacted with bewilderment to the somewhat heavy-looking, not particularly aerodynamic ‘racer’, which arrived on the motor sport scene in 1980: we are talking about the Iltis, the successor to the VW 181 Trekker and the first all-wheel-drive off-road vehicle from Volkswagen.
The Iltis was handed a special challenge in 1980: it was to take part in the Dakar desert rally, still known as the ‘Oasis Rally’ back then. The all-wheel-drive vehicle with the characteristic reinforcement ribbing in the panels was practically made for this task: it had four-wheel drive that could also be engaged at high speeds, formidable ground clearance and it came with standard equipment such as a multiply sealed driveshaft, a ventilated, waterproof single-disc dry clutch and a centrifuge for the dry air filter to separate out sand particles. Thanks to a twin carburettor, the 1.7-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine was capable of 110 hp instead of the standard 75 hp; the first unsynchronised gear was designed to be an off-road reduction gear. The roll cage, underbody protection, 90-litre auxiliary tank and huge searchlights rounded off the features on this rally pioneer.
The legendary racing driver Freddy Graf Kottulinsky sat behind the wheel of the modified ‘Race Iltis’ – and secured first place straightaway in the all-wheel-drive newcomer! Kottulinsky’s team colleagues finished in second and fourth place, and even the fourth Race Iltis in the competition – the workshop model – ended up in a totally unplanned ninth place. It was an unbelievable result for an unusual rally car. But not for long: the Race Iltis made all-wheel drive acceptable in racing sport.
Only a handful of Race Iltis models were built. These days, the victorious original stands like an icon in the Volkswagen AutoMuseum in Wolfsburg.
In 1976, sport was very much in people’s minds at Volkswagen: the new Golf appeared as a new GTI. The 110 hp gave it wings; many young buyers appeared to have been eagerly awaiting the compact sports car, at least that’s what the number of spontaneous orders received in Wolfsburg would seem to suggest. The Golf GTI thus came to epitomise a new, dynamic vehicle class. The Brits enthusiastically christened it ‘the hot hatch’.
And while ‘the’ GTI was basking in glory, thoughts were already turning towards enhancing its sporting credentials. Besides the popular visual tuning, engine professionals got to grips with the successful Golf GTI – including the carburettor manufacturer Pierburg. Fuel injection became a big trend that Pierburg picked up on. What was missing was a suitable vehicle for the technology, one with a good image. Pierburg found it in the Golf I. And so it came to pass that a yellow Golf GTI with racing trim entered the Monte Carlo Rally in 1980 – the ‘Pierburg Golf’, an official works rally car.
Fitted with the Pierburg CS racing fuel injection system, the 1.6-litre, 16-valve Oettinger engine was capable of 185 hp at 8,500 rpm. Since the Pierburg Golf weighed in at just 860 kilograms, this technology had an easy time of it. As such, Per Eklund and co-driver Hans Sylvan drove into fifth place in the Monte Carlo Rally and fourth place in the Hunsrück Rally, which was also part of the European championship at the time. Disc brakes all round, a special chassis and a five-speed racing gearbox with limited-slip differential completed the rally technology.
In 1981, a second bright yellow Pierburg Golf got properly involved in the Sachs Winter Rally between Bad Harzburg and Wolfsburg: the Alfons Stock/Paul Schmuck team finished third in the first of ten runs in the German rally championship. It was certainly promising – yet Volkswagen only had one contract with sponsor Pierburg relating to the occasional use of star driver Per Eklund. At short notice it was possible to acquire the throat lozenge manufacturer Rheila as an additional sponsor.
Immediately after the Sachs Winter Rally, one of the two Pierburg Golfs was repainted Rheila green and was henceforth known as the ‘Rheila Golf’. One year later, the last yellow Pierburg Golf also turned green; the technology was retained. When driver Alfons Stock ‘landed’ on a tree in one of the Rheila ‘frogs’ a little later on (the occupants were unhurt), the car was no longer used and subsequently scrapped. But that didn’t stop Stock and Schmuck: the car was constructed on a new bodyshell and the pair brought the German Rally Championship title back to Hanover for Volkswagen Motorsport in 1981.
More than 20 years later, the battered body of a green Golf I was hauled out from the furthest corner of a hall. As part of a private initiative, it was restored to the original ‘Rheila frog’ specification. What’s more – completely independently from the resurrection of the ‘frog’ – the company KWL Motorsport restored a yellow ‘Pierburg Golf’. Consequently, the yellow and green cars can be seen drifting in competitions once again – this time united.
A baptism of fire, in at the deep end, world debut – call it what you will. There are many terms that could be used to describe Volkswagen Motorsport’s initiation into the first World Rally Championship for touring cars in 1986 – which ultimately landed it the title in Group A. Few people, a manageable investment in materials and a comparatively unspectacular Golf II GTI formed the basis of the world championship success achieved by drivers Kenneth Eriksson and Peter Diekmann in the near-series Golf. Yet between the first screech of tyres and the cup there would be numerous surprises to overcome with steely nerves and floor panels at breaking point. And when needs must, even on three wheels. The team’s experiences remain unforgettable to this day.
The timing was perfect: when the world championship for near-series cars – ‘Group A’ – was held for the first time in 1986, the Golf II Rally GTI was still fresh. Volkswagen sports chief Klaus-Peter Rosorius used the unique opportunity to establish the second Golf generation as a sports car. With the talented Swede Kenneth Eriksson and the German champion Peter Diekmann as co-driver, he entered a 194-horsepower Golf II GTI that had been specially customised for the world championship: the two-door model was ‘stripped out’ and reinforced in crucial places – front end, strut bearing, spring and suspension mounts, welded joints and seat consoles. Two bucket seats with six-point safety harnesses were fitted; the fire extinguisher was also obligatory. The roll cage rested on big floor panels. Painted in the blue and white colours of the main sponsor, with fibreglass wheel arch extensions and a battery of auxiliary headlights, the Group A Golf II GTI was unmistakable and, due to its sporting prowess, soon to be famous the world over. Three class wins, four second-place and two third-place finishes were enough to secure overall victory: rally world champion for touring cars in 1986! And this was achieved against the mighty all-wheel-drive cars of the other teams, which often consisted of more than 100 men – Volkswagen had just 15 mechanics at the time.
In the second half of the year, a new sixteen-valve engine was fitted under the bonnet of the Group A Golf – capable of an extra 20 hp. Combined with the low vehicle weight of 900 to 1,000 kilos, the rally successes kept on coming. In 1987, the Volkswagen Motorsport team was the Group A winner of the FIA Two-Wheel Challenge with Eriksson/Diekmann and the Golf II GTI 16V. And when needs must, sometimes even on just three wheels, in reverse gear or in the mud and dust with no windscreen wipers or view. That is how the Golf II GTI secured its place in rally history – and it is still driven at historical racing events to this day.
Precisely 25 years after the sensational victory of the Race Iltis in the Oasis Rally, Volkswagen came up with yet another unusual rally vehicle: the Race Touareg 1. In contrast to the Iltis, the design of this vehicle had nothing in common with the ‘civilian’ Touareg: the completely independent, airflow-optimised carbon bodywork sits on a particularly stable lattice frame. It is all powered by a longitudinally mounted, 2.5-litre TDI engine with exhaust turbocharger capable of 260 hp.
A diesel? In a rally car? Yes, because the diesel also ultimately succeeded in making the transition from niche product to a tried-and-trusted mass product in everyday vehicles. In addition, a diesel was the perfect choice for rally sport, because it provided colossal power via quickly available torque of more than 500 newton metres. Furthermore, the impressively low fuel consumption in turn made the tank lighter.
In 2004, the first year in which it participated in the toughest rally in the world, the Race Touareg 1 was able to finish among the placings: the Frenchman Bruno Saby ended up in sixth place; number 21 in the final rankings was Jutta Kleinschmidt – who was able to improve on that result one year later by finishing in third place. In 2006, the Race Touareg 2 cars lined up at the sandy start. With the torque increased to more than 600 newton metres and the cars now capable of 285 hp, they finished second and fifth. The success story began in 2009, when the Dakar Rally was held in South America for the first time: Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz became the first ‘Dakar’ winners with diesel technology in the Race Touareg. The second coup followed in 2010: ‘El Matador’ Carlos Sainz won the Dakar Rally just a few minutes ahead of his team colleague Nasser Al-Attiyah in second place.
The model that was difficult to keep away from the winner’s podium also happens to be last instalment of this success story to date – the Race Touareg 3, which now featured a five-cylinder TDI engine capable of 310 hp. In 2011, Al-Attiyah turned the tables and secured overall victory ahead of Sainz. Two further blue desert riders with the Volkswagen logo finished third and sixth. Volkswagen Motorsport called it a day after this formidable triumph and will be turning its attention to new rally sport challenges from now on.