IAIN ROBERTSON 

VW ID Buggy

VW ID Buggy

Fans of the Cali-look buggies of the seventies will need to look twice, reports Iain Robertson, when they spot VW’s latest iteration on the theme, mainly because there is no accompanying flat-four exhaust crackle and certainly no puffs of oil-smoke!

Sadly, I can recall the era of the archetypal beach buggy. I never owned an example but I did have a chum, who owned one. He never actually assembled it, although it was eminently possible in the early-1970s, so prolific was the range of buggy manufacturers promoted through august publications like Hot Car, Custom Car and Cars & Car Conversions.

VW ID Buggy

VW ID Buggy

The entire concept of screenless, doorless, roofless fun transport has been exploited to bursting point over the subsequent decades, with efforts from smart, Fiat and other enterprising manufacturers keen to test the waters. However, some examples survive, even though their manufacturers seem unwilling to venture any further with production runs. Face it. It was appropriate for the time. Free love, freer access to non-prescription unguents and both social and moral ‘freedoms’ that stretched the bounds of credibility, partly as a way to break our links with Victoriana, in a post-WW2 time-line.

It was a coitus-interruptus of widespread endeavour, although subsequent reflection may suggest it was the complete opposite. The original Beetle platform was a tough old boot upon which to screw a plastic body that needed no add-ons for fear of glassfibre curing fumes overwhelming its occupants. A gutless flat-four engine, usually of 1.2-litre capacity, propelled the typical beach buggy to a very noisy 45mph, with scant regard for noise, fuel, or even safety, with thrills aplenty from its wobbly steering, bone-hard suspension and welded wide steel wheels. Refinement was not an attraction.

VW ID Buggy

VW ID Buggy

On the other hand, the VW ID. BUGGY is a zero-emissions high-tech vehicle for summer, spending time on the beach, or even in the city, based on the modular electric drive matrix (MEB platform). While VW is allowed to dream aloud, surely it cannot believe that we have such an idealistic view of our leisure time? Yet, it demonstrates the broad spectrum of emission-free mobility that can be achieved with MEB from within VW, although the German carmaker has stated that it wants to open-up the platform for third-party suppliers too, more on which momentarily.

Parallels between the Californian dune buggies of the 1960s/1970s and the new ID. BUGGY are abundantly clear. Based on the chassis of the legendary Beetle, with a four-cylinder ‘boxer’ motor running at the rear, a number of small series manufacturers from North America and Europe stretched a cover made of glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP) over the chassis and engine of the Beetle, as mentioned earlier and made their estimable contribution to automotive history. The ID. BUGGY is linked to this ‘cult concept’, with the technical potential of today’s EV era, with a platform constructed from a high-voltage battery pack.

VW ID Buggy

VW ID Buggy

Consisting of lithium-ion rechargeable components, the Buggy’s 201bhp electric drive motor is located (as it was in those Cali-specials) in the rear. An additional electric motor in the front axle could realise an all-wheel drive version, although that would defeat the whole object of dune-bashing, where getting stuck was a vital element of the buggying phenomenon and provided an ideal juncture to roll-out the picnic rug, take a glug on the ‘ripple wine’, have a tussle with the passenger and roll-up a sharing herbal joint.

The clear design language expresses the unique experience of driving a buggy, which I was fortunate to do, in period. To be able to feel the wind, both fixed roof and doors were dispensed with. The concept car is a pure two-seater, although it can be converted to a 2+2, its resilient and minimalist interior bedecked in waterproof materials. Mind you, with the far-from-scratch-resistant plastics of today, I am unconvinced that you would be too happy with your buddies clinging to the roll-bar, sand-covered feet abrading the trim with abandon. VW has not talked price, which may be a pertinent factor. You can reckon that the platform alone is worth around £12-15,000 minimum.

VW ID Buggy

VW ID Buggy

Its composite body is manufactured from a mixture of aluminium, steel and plastic and is self-supporting. Thanks to the modular design, the upper body can be detached from the MEB chassis/platform, which presents a clear signal to small series manufacturers and potential start-ups in the leisure scene. While Volkswagen never exactly opened its doors to the rash of buggy-makers of half a century ago, in fact, it wanted to sue them for misappropriating its much-loved Beetle, it appears to have softened its approach and is looking at external producers with the ID. BUGGY concept.

The offer, which is quite likely to be loaded, suggests that these constructors might build new-era, zero-emissions dune buggies based on the platform. It seems like a generous opportunity but the technology is far from cost-effective, or mainstream, in its intentions. While MEB harbours potential to become the new technical platform for e-mobility for any number of carmakers, unlike Volvo that actually gifted its innovative three-point safety-belts to the world, VW is not exactly renowned for being so ‘giving’.

VW ID Buggy

VW ID Buggy

However, it is more important to note that the ID. BUGGY shows-off a broad spectrum of emission-free mobility that can be achieved with a modular electric drive matrix. This type of platform engineering possesses further-reaching possibilities, of that there is zero doubt. However, for the ‘Blofeld’ of the automotive scene, stroking its white cat, in its lofty Wolfsburg lair, its hopes of ‘world domination’ (having already been achieved) seem uncannily unrealistic.

Conclusion:      As a technological achievement, a statement of intent, VW must be praised for its inventiveness, but we somehow cannot imagine a raft of electric beach buggies hitting the road at anytime in the near future, even though it might be a ‘right-on’ gesture for vegans, liberals and ‘save the whale’ fanatics, all of which are eminently upstanding in their own ways, of course.