On Dasher: Remembering an underappreciated Volkswagen

We’ve all been finding solace in nostalgia of late. Volkswagen, which spends a lot of effort discussing its EV transition nowadays, decided to look back at some of its earlier models as examples of platform sharing when that first became a cost-saving industry strategy. The first case of it, naturally, involved the Beetle, which begat the T1 bus of 1950, the three-box 1500 of 1965 and the largely unloved 411 that first appeared in 1971. Three years later, in 1974, Volkswagen executed the greatest product transformation in its history, with new lines of cars that utilized water cooling and front-wheel drive. The most significant, obviously, was the first Golf, which was called the Rabbit in the United States and built for a time in New Stanton, Pennsylvania. But we shouldn’t forget Volkswagen’s lineup of larger front-drive cars, known internally as the B1 or the Passat, which first appeared in late 1973 as 1974 model. In the United States, this car was first known as the Dasher.

We figure that we can say with pretty high confidence that the Dasher, for all its significance, is largely a forgotten car, which is too bad. It was a fastback and wagon version of the Audi 80, introduced the previous year, which became known here as the Fox. At that point in time, the Dasher was a cutting-edge car, its lines created by the famed Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who also penned the original Golf. The Dasher replaced the 1500 and 411 in Volkswagen’s lineup, and boasted a longitudinally mounted front-drive powertrain plus a MacPherson strut front suspension, which was very contemporary at the time. In 1974, the only other European cars of similar size to feature front drive and a hatchback body design were the Renault 16 and the Austin Maxi. Sales of the Passat expanded globally and in 1981, a second-generation version was introduced and dubbed the Quantum in the United States, with optional five-cylinder Audi power. Once such vehicle that I got to experience was a tasty item called the Quantum Syncro, a B2-platform wagon that combined five-cylinder power with an early version of Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. It loved wet roads and would click along at 85 MPH while averaging 35 MPG. The Passat went through eight iterations before being relaunched for 2012 aboard the NMS (New Midsize Sedan) platform, jointly developed with Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive. This generation incorporated the original Volkswagen CC – if you’re wondering, its stands for “Comfort Coupe” – an oversized Passat with four-door coupe bodywork. Last year, Volkswagen essentially split the Passat line in half: For the U.S. market, the Passat remains on the NMS platform with an extensive restyling and interior upgrade for 2020, and is built in the Chattanooga assembly plant. The China-market Passat now rides on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform (it stands for Modularer Querbaukasten, which is German for Modular Transverse Matrix), developed at a cost of $60 billion, which encompasses nearly 50 vehicles for various markets from Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda. That lineup also incorporates the Volkswagen Arteon four-door coupe, which debuted in 2017 and replaced the CC in the U.S. model range.

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