Many felt the Volkswagen Passat LS to be simply a badge-engineered Audi. True, Volkswagen had their own ideas about gear linkage, body styling and suspension rates, but broadly speaking the Passat LS was an Audi 80 with a VW badge on it, and a rather poor indented Wolfsburg castle symbol on the cross-spoke of the steering wheel.
The Passat was one of the most modern European family cars at the time, and was intended as a replacement for the aging Volkswagen Type 3 and Type 4. The Passat was Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1974 and its sister model Audi 80 was nominated car of the year by the European motor press a year earlier. The platform was named B1.
Taken in its own right, there was no doubting the quality of the finish and trim, and perhaps just enough reminders were present to satisy the Beetle owner that had upgraded. The LS was the mid-way model with the 1,471 c.c., 75 b.h.p. engine, an economy 1,296 c.c. version and an 85 b.h.p. TS 1½-liter model being available in some markets, along with a station wagon (estate).
As the Passat was basically an Audi there was water-cooling, front-wheel-drive and the special Audi steering geometry which was planned to give straight-line running when braking hard on slippery surfaces or should a front tire blowout or aquaplaning conditions be encountered - the poor man's Maxaret, although on a different principle.
Certainly the Passat went a long way to closing the gap on the luxury opposition, even if it remained less stable than contemporary models from BMW and Mercedes. It did corner very safely with no real hint of driven front wheels, the understeer of extremely rapid cornering becoming neutral for the average fast driver. Like the Beetle, the steering, geared 3 turns lock-to-lock, was very smooth and pleasant, needing a light touch from those accustomed to beefier control.
The Passat originally used the 4 cylinder OHC 1.3 l (55 PS (54 hp/40 kW)) and 1.5 l (75 PS (74 hp/55 kW)/85 PS (84 hp/63 kW)) petrol engines also used in the Audi 80 - longitudinally mounted with front-wheel drive, in Audi tradition, with either a 4-speed manual transmission or 3-speed automatic. The SOHC 1.5 was enlarged to 1.6 l in August 1975 with unchanged power ratings and slightly higher torque ratings. In July 1978 the Passat Diesel became available, equipped with the VW Golf`s 1.5 l Diesel (50 PS (49 hp/37 kW)), followed in February 1979 by the Passat GLI with a fuel-injected version of the 1.6 l engine.
The servo disc/drum brakes, their hydraulic circuit split diagonally, were very effective, although in practice there was an awkward off-set which placed the pedals too close togther, nor was there anywhere to park the left foot.
At highway speeds the Passat was noisy, the engine noise prompting many motoring journalists at the time to describe the car as a "Buzz Box". This was not really fair criticism, because for a family type car it wasn't excessively loud and, strangely, once you really opened it up (read autobahn speed) and the Passat neared its 98 m.p.h. maximum, it quietened out quite noticeably.
The gear change was vague, with the positions clearly marked in the nacelle before the driver, sometimes baulked badly getting into bottom and second. The seats had a durable knap-surfaced cloth trim but the cushions were surprisingly hard, although strangely they remained fairly comfortable on long runs.
Once you understood the confusing lighting sequences to comply with the German never-sidelamps-only law, the minor controls were excellent and very neat. Two substantial stalks looked after the usual services, with the horn sounded by pressing the steering wheel spoke. Neat little press buttons, with innbuilt lights, look after hazard-warning, rear winndow heater (Sekurit) and side and headlamps, dipping being by flicking the left stalk lever. The two-speed wipers, properly angled for r.h.d., were operated by the right hand stalk and there was a powerful electric washer.
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The shallow simulated wood fascia had excellent fresh-air vents at its extremities and the simple heater controls, with two horizontal quadrants for positioning, a two-speed fan and a big knob for heat-control.
The heater was very good and simple to use. The VDO instruments comprised a speedometer and matching dial containing six tell-tales and the heat and fuel gauges, with a VDO quartz crystal clock of smaller diameter between them, all in a nacelle before the driver. In certain conditions of day-light the fuel contents were almost impossible to read but the gauge was commendably accurate, if very slow in operating.
Owners past and present have told us that the ignition key is a little difficult to put into the steering-column lock. The interior-and internal door handles, and the arm-rests, etc. were very nicely finished. The turn-indicator stalk and interior lamp were not altered to the opposite side for right-hand-drive cars, but similar issues were apparent on much more expensive European cars so you could forgive the Passat somewhat. A cigarette lighter and ashtray were nicely fitted to the underside of the black-finished bulkhead.
On the road the Passat could do 0-60 m.p.h. in under 12 seconds and its canted-over; overhead-camshaft engine would rev. to 7,500 r.p.m. which gave you almost 60 in second gear and a comfortable 85 m.p.h. in third. The Giugiaro-styled body was pleasingly crisp and functional in appearance,and had generous areas of glass, if rather wide screen pillars, and was very spacious in the back seat, which had no central arm-rest, and in the unobstructed boot, the lid of which was openable without the key, using a turn-control.
There were no bumper overriders but the lamp clusters were smart. The Passat LS had rectangular Hella headlamps, which could have given a better full-beam, the small-engined VW having circular lamps, the TS dual headlamps. For a 97"-wheelbase car the space within was brilliant. Another notable feature was the economy, and in normal driving it was easy to obtain figures of around 34+ m.p.g. The 10-gallon tank thus gave a range of around 340 miles.
The steering was rack-and-pinion, the suspension MacPherson front struts and the dead back axle was sprung on coil springs, which gave a generally good ride. Heated rear window, reversing lamps, "fitted carpets", heater and under-sealing were standard equipment and the 17 fuses were as accessible as the rest of the servicing items. Note, too, that apart from an oil change every 5,000 miles the Passat needed servicing only at 10,000-mile intervals, something rarely heard of in the 1970's. The rear-end treatment of the VW Passat distinguishes this car from the Audi 80
on which it is based.
The whole range received a facelift in 1977
outside Europe), featuring an interior upgrade and subtly revised styling including repositioned indicators and, depending on the model, either 4 round or 2 rectangular headlights.