15 July 2022
A term usually taken, in the context of scale models, to mean highly-detailed, large-scale, one-off display models. But there is alternative take...
We have, very happily, seen an increasing number of diecast and resincast models released over the past few years portraying prototypes of cars that have, or have not, then made it into series production. All too often, in the past, automotive manufacturers abandoned, or worse, destroyed, their pre-production or motor show exhibit studies. Backstories of some notable examples of both regularly feature in the quarterly Avenue43 magazine - the most recent of which (issue #8) has just been published.
Happily, though, increasing numbers of prototypes have been saved (or in some cases rebuilt) and are now preserved in private collections or permanent museum displays. One of the most notable being the Automuseum PROTOTYP in Hamburg.
Way back in 1981, respected Scottish scale model collector Jim McLachlan and I were privileged to be the guests of a private viewing by the late Dr Bernd Wiersch of the growing collection of cars he was gathering together and storing under cover at Volkswagen AG, Wolfsburg, in the hopeful anticipation that one day they would be displayed in a museum at the factory.
Dr Wiersch’s aspirations became reality with the AutoMuseum being officially established on 25 April 1985. By January 1992, the growing number of vehicles in that collection were divided up by separating the VWs from all the other marques. Still within the confines of Volkswagen, in Wolfsburg, the VWs went to the non-profit-making Volkswagen AutoMuseum Foundation (Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen) and the other marques to become the starting point of the growing collection at the ZeitHaus museum, housed in world's largest new car delivery centre, Autostadt, Wolfsburg. In terms of Volkswagen’s collection of prototypes, they are displayed at Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen, Wolfsburg, a small collection at VW’s Hannover commercial vehicle plant, and at the Automobilsammlung Volkswagen, Osnabrück, at the site of the former Wilhelm Karmann GmbH headquarters.
Karmann, perhaps best-known for the VW Karmann-Ghia, was a coach building firm dating back to 1901. With the coming of the automobile age, the company specialised in making cabriolet versions of series production models made by several manufacturers. The range of models for a wide range of well-known manufacturers originating from Karmann’s Osnabrück plant (and in time worldwide satellite) was extensive and, in many cases, surprising to the unaware. After surviving for a very long time as an independent, family-run firm, Karmann sadly filed for bankruptcy in 2009, being acquired a year later by Volkswagen AG.
Whilst the Karmann-Ghia, Beetle and Golf cabriolets were amongst the series production models produced by Karmann, there were designs for several other stablemates developed at Osnabrück that never progressed beyond the prototype stage, a significant number of which are preserved and viewable by appointment in the Automobilsammlung Volkswagen, Osnabrück.
Prototypes in miniature
For many collectors, the opportunity to add scale models of prototypes into their collection is a very important one because, set alongside scale models of the series production versions, they enhance the illustration of the production history of the subject vehicle(s) on display in miniature. Then there is the sheer attraction of prototypes and motorshow concept models in their own right as a collecting theme.
Museum-housed vehicles provide scale model manufacturers with a very helpful source of vehicles from which to take scans and base future releases on. They also provide a provenance to the subsequent model’s release.
Helping to satisfy that demand from collectors for previously unmodelled prototypes, AutoCult has consistently delivered very attractive, highly-detailed, 1/43 scale resincasts to fill those gaps. Some are released under AutoCult’s Prototypes category, with #06*** series catalogue numbers, whilst others can be found in the Avenue43 range.
Looking specifically at Karmann cabriolet prototypes, one of the latest releases adds to the back catalogue of coverage from Avenue43 so far of VW 1500 Typ. 3 Cabriolet (2017 - #60003), Audi 100 LS Cabriolet (2018 - #60011), Golf Cabriolet Prototyp (2020 - #60054) and BMW 316 Cabriolet Karmann (2021 - #60068).
VW 411 L Karmann Cabrio Prototyp - 1968 (#60073)
Unlike the VW 1500 Typ.3 Cabriolet modelled as #60003, which can be readily found in Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen, Wolfsburg, this prototype based on the original version VW Typ.4 is tucked away in the vaults at Automobilsammlung Volkswagen, Osnabrück. Another very welcome addition, this very attractive model illustrates Karmann’s intentions based to the then emerging VW Typ.4 model range that went into production in two and four-door saloon guise, supplemented by a three door Variant (estate). As with all products from AutoCult, the detailing is very fine - and superb. Being a cabrio the interior and dashboard detail is accessible to the eye as the external detail. The second release under my Spotlight is of a car that is as much part of “Volks(wagen)law” as the legendary VW Käfer "Wolfsburger Bähnle” (#10001), released by AutoCult back in June 2017.
VW Maxikäfer - 1973 (#06051)
Yes it actually existed, has survived and now resides in the Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen, Wolfsburg. Photos of the car can be found in many of the books written over the years about the Beetle and it turned up regularly in press packs when Volkswagen was displaying nostalgic tendencies in the 1980s. For its fascinating backstory, you need to go to AutoCult’s website. But some additional snippets I can pass on is that the original vehicle was based on the then new but short-lived VW 1303 (1973-75) fitted with factory option M550 (vented front apron for air conditioning) usually seen on North American market export models, but also part of the contemporary S714 “Gelbschwarzer Renner” and “Sports Bug” Special Edition Beetle. And like both of those Special Edition models, the Maxikäfer was also finished in special L13M 926 Saturngelb paintwork. Finally, its Lemmerz Sports Wheels were originally only fitted to the 1972 'Weltmeister' (World Champion) special edition Beetles. A fabulous, delicate, model that fills another (two space) gap in the display cabinet.