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Of the four prototypes made, two are known to have been destroyed while the fate of the third is unknown.

Ahead of its return to Volkswagen on the 13th December after what will be six faultless months, The Citizen Motoring’s long-term Tiguan 1.4 TSI Life DSG has quietly been raking-up the kilometres, or in some instances, sitting patiently waiting for its wheels to roll as each of its assigned minder’s test car departs after the customary seven days.

What has been happening?

While not merely limited to the everyday commute or schools runs, the Tiguan had its chance to show its worth when Deputy Sports Editor Clinton Jones headed for the North West bushveld a few months ago.

ALSO READ: Bread and butter VW Tiguan dazzles despite lack of bling

A task the Tiggie performed with ease, it not only proved frugal, but also comfortable and with just enough tech to keep Herr Jones and family happy.

Days after its return though, KZ 65 DS GP was assigned another road trip out of Gauteng, but this time a longer one down to the Eastern Cape and more specifically, the home of Volkswagen South Africa, Kariega, formerly known as Uitenhage.

Volkswagen Tiguan meets Project 1021
Meeting face-to-face for the first time.

The reason? A first-time one-on-one reunion with what would have been its ancestor, and Wolfsburg’s first ever SUV had production not been cancelled.

The lost “people’s SUV”

Volkswagen Tiguan meets Project 1021
Tiguan dwarfs Project 1021 in a sign of how big modern compact SUVs have evolved.

Referred to as a station wagon and not an SUV, the Volkswagen Project 1021 became a “reality” in 1976 based on the same platform as the Beetle, and powered by the same 44 kW 1.6-litre air-cooled engine mounted at the rear.

A curious mixture of Beetle components and Mk I Golf component as evident in the door handles and lights, it only had three-doors as a result of the main cooling vent for the engine taking the place of a second rear door on the left-hand side.

Project 1021: The lost Volkswagen SUV
Sparse interior a hybrid of Beetle and Mk I Golf components.

Its fuel tank placed underneath the bonnet – but not covered which would have happened in the case of production having happened – the positioning of Project 1021’s engine means it has no opening tailgate.

With the only opening being the access hatch for the engine, the only way of loading luggage would have been by opening the solitary side door and placing the various items on the sloped boot floor in what would have been an awkward and impractical way.

Meeting the Volkswagen Project 1021
Amarok before Amarok. Two Project 1021 bakkies were made, but neither exists today.

Unlike the Tiguan’s modern furnishings of a touchscreen infotainment, dual-zone climate control, a proper boot and four doors, the Project 1021’s interior is sparse – but not unexpected for a prototype – and without any features bar a central speedometer, a pair of air vents and two knobs for the hazard lights and main beams.

Fitted with the same steering wheel as the Beetle and the iconic golf ball gear knob for the four-speed manual gearbox from the Golf, the presence of the vents, a handle for the glovebox despite only a shelf being present, plus a cutaway for a radio and sealed centrally placed speaker suggests Volkswagen might well have included these had production gone ahead.

Project 1021: The lost Volkswagen SUV
Although resplendent with a recent Volkswagen corporate badge, the Project 1021’s light clusters originate from the Mk I Golf.

As it turned-out, Project 1021 very nearly did see the light of mass produced day as not only the Tiguan’s spiritual forebearer, but also the Toyota Hilux-based Taro that preceded the Amarok as Volkswagen’s first ever bakkie.

As told by famed Volkswagen South Africa historian John Lemon in his Re:in:car:nation book about the history of the CitiGolf, four Project 1021’s emerged from Uitenhage as a way of gauging interest from other markets.

Project 1021: The lost Volkswagen SUV
With the engine at the front, the Project 1021’s fuel tank resides underneath the bonnet up front.

In an even split, two single cab bakkies and a similar pair of station wagons were conceived, however, just a year after being showcased, the project died most likely as a result of Volkswagen having decided that 1977 would be the Beetle’s last year in South Africa and that the Golf would officially replace it from 1978.

Out of the four prototypes, both bakkies were destroyed while one of the station wagons, a bronze example, somehow survived and continued to be used well into 1990s by a private owner in next-door Despatch.

Meeting the Volkswagen Project 1021
Getting into the rear can only done from the left-hand-side.

Seen in real life by this writer during his forming years in said town, the one-of-two station wagon’s location today is unknown with the same applying of whether it is still driveable.

Finished in white, the last surviving Project 1021 now resides in Volkswagen’s AutoPavilion museum located outside the gates of the Kariega factory as unofficially the only example ever made should its sibling not have survived.

Meeting the Volkswagen Project 1021
Placing of the 1.6-litre air-cooled Beetle engine means the Project 1021 does not have a conventional opening tailgate.

Understandably given its history and priceless value, no attempts were made to take it for a drive either on the road, or even in the confines of the AutoPavilion parking lot.

Parked nose-to-nose with the Tiguan and alongside, it nonetheless remains a fascinating piece of Volkswagen’s storied history, but also a missed opportunity as it would have been interesting see to how it would have influenced the Tiguan had Wolfsburg given the all clear.

Volkswagen Tiguan meets Project 1021
Cooling vent for the engine left no place for the fitting of a rear door on the right-and-side.

As is well-known now, the newly released third generation Tiguan will make its South African market unveiling next year, which only adds to the mystery of what Project 1021 would have achieved.

Final road trip

Road trip in the Volkswagen Tiguan
The Citizen’s long-term Tiguan 1.4 TSI Life made little work of the 1 000 km plus road trip to meet Project 1021.

Away from meeting its ancestor, the Tiguan made light work of the seven days and 2 761 km spent between Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay by not only being surefooted and refined, but frugal as Clinton had mentioned.

Only requiring four fuel stops throughout the entire trip, stopping in Despatch saw the digital instrument cluster read 6.4 L/100 km.

Road trip in the Volkswagen Tiguan
Life sits between the unbadged base model and sportier R-Line in the outgoing Tiguan range.

Back in Johannesburg, after having consumed a total of 81.88-litres as well as numerous trips between Kariega, Despatch and Gqeberha, the trip computer displayed a consumption of 7.1 L/100 km with 330 km still left.

Kept in Normal mode with both the cruise control and climate control used frequently, the TSI engine’s 110kW/250Nm made for sufficient poke that warranted little as the drop in altitude to sea level had it performing stronger than ever.

Volkswagen Tiguan South Africa road trip
Tiguan’s interior lives in another world compared to Project 1021’s inside.

While not expected to head the same route as Project 1021 in readiness for Volkswagen going fully electric in 2030, it’s imminent return will, nevertheless, be a sad one as it has been a consummate performer more than able and capable of the tasks thrown at it over the last six months.

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