This story took place in 1973 in Lapland at one of the early winter trials organised by VW. A combination of snow, low temperatures, and an exposed cam belt caused us considerable problems and even led to engine failure. But in those pioneering days, no problem seemed insurmountable. Instead, it inspired me to develop the cam belt cover, which went into mass production 40 years ago for the first Golf.
After a long flight, I landed in Gällivare, Lapland, late at night, where I was greeted by the curious sight of cars being drip fed! Due to the extreme temperatures, either the water circuit or the engine oil had to be heated in order for the engines to start. When filling up, we had to add half a litre of isopropyl alcohol due to the risk of freezing.
Working under the toughest possible conditions
We were a small team of six and had been assigned five cars. For confidentiality reasons, the engines of the first Golfs were fitted in the body of a different vehicle – no details could be allowed to leak under any circumstances. Unfortunately, our workshop was too small so we had to fit the cars with our measuring devices outside in the yard. I really felt for my colleagues who had to lie in the freezing snow while bolting the parts into place. But this had to be done in order for the first road tests to begin.
The devil is in the detail
It was a few days later during the tests that it happened: an engine suddenly failed! So we quickly returned to the workshop. At first, it was unclear what was causing the problem, as the engine compartment was full of snow. But we finally identified the cause: the cam belt had slipped. The snow had found its way underneath, become compacted in a flash and had pushed the belt one or two teeth out of place. It was clear straight away that the cam belt and train needed a cover to protect them from the weather.
Turning a problem into an innovation
I designed the first sheet metal prototype of the cam belt cover which would later be mass-produced in plastic. But how could we test it for functional capability? How certain could we be that the test results would work in practice? The solution: we simply drove the vehicles into waist-high piles of snow at the small airfield in Gällivare. Once again, snow got into the engine compartment but thanks to my cover, the cam belt was well-protected and everything worked. It was easy to drive into the snow, but once stuck, the car had to be towed out by a second vehicle. As I said before, those were pioneering days.
It is exactly 40 years since the first Golf came onto the market. I look back proudly on this time and the fact that MANN+HUMMEL contributed to the success of this series with the development of the cam belt cover.