Trip into the Gravel – Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen

For this month, the Gravel Trap will go to a new place – as a well-known children’s song in Germany says: “Everything is made anew in May”. In this subcategory of the Gravel Trap, the author (and possibly future other GPR staff) will give travel advice for the passionate motorsport fan. Our first entry will be about the Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The Stiftung AutoMuseum Volkswagen is located around 600 metres away from Wolfsburg’s central train station and is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday (10 am to 5 pm) except during the Christmas period from December 24 to January 1. A short bus ride with line 212 is convenient for days where the weather makes walking unfeasible. After finding the entrance – a task more challenging than it needs to be (or, for that matter ought to be) – a ticket for adults runs €9.00, groups of ten or more can get entry for €6.00. Guided tours are available for groups of 10 to 25 people at individual enquiry. The museum

The first sight is a tastefully designed floor telling the early story of Volkswagen, surprisingly not shying away from how the history of Volkswagen is directly tied to the Nazi regime (something the Volkswagen company often tried to more or less sweep under the rug in the past), though they obviously put more focus on the reconstruction of the company after the war. After the “company introduction”, the visitor enters the main floor – first seeing one of the most indefatigable concepts in the history of the company. The good ol’ reliable VW Golf, represented by multiple generations. Of course by no means the only regular model finding representation, as other vehicles like the Type 3 are displayed. While the extremely wide range of models produced by Volkswagen make assembling a display of all of their models an unrealistic prospect, the visitor is certainly given a good insight into the variance of Volkswagen types throughout the company’s history.

Outside of the classics one would expect out of a Volkswagen museum, many interesting concept models also are showcased. Certainly, for the car enthusiast, seeing concept models like the VW NILS (an electric model at a light 460 kg), the Caddy Vantasy (a luxury version of the 90s VW Caddy) or the VW Student (a compact car maximised for space in contrast to the excesses of the 80s) is a rather appealing prospect. 

If the visitor chooses to follow the line of VW Golfs, their path leads to the motorsport section of the museum. While Volkswagen’s motorsport history is not as expansive as, say, Mercedes-Benz would be, and the museum is explicitly a museum of the entire company, not just its motorsport division, there are still a number of vehicles for the enthusiastic visitor to see. Especially when accounting for the fact that a lot of the motorsport glory of the Volkswagen AG was earned through its subsidiary brands like Audi, there are still some valuable insights to be gained. Outside of some of the expected models, such as a Dallara Formula 3 car powered with a Volkswagen engine (the particular model that was on the site was driven by current Formula E driver Eduardo Mortara) and the Polo WRC that Sébastien Ogier drove on his way to becoming the 2013 WRC champion, there are rallying models from the rallying days both on a national and international scale of the late 70s and early 80s to behold. Given as the author is not that deep into rallying compared to closed-circuit racing, he probably only understates the very fascinating nature of the rallying models exhibited in the museum.

After that, following the implicit direction leads the visitor to the utility vehicle section of the museum. Every boy (or girl) who ever gleamed in excitement at a fire truck will find something here. Volkswagen models modified for the use by fire departments and rescue vehicles are found here. While it is a comparatively small selection, once more the refusal to completely shy away from Volkswagen’s part in the war effort of Nazi Germany shows its part: two (at the time of writing) military vehicles produced in the 1940s get showcased. 

The last part (or the first, if the visitor goes the other way around) is dedicated to Volkswagen’s most successful model – the ol’ reliable Käfer. From the classic model to modifications that would make the most aggressive tuner accept they still have a lot to learn, the museum understands that the history of the company is invariably tied to the persistent and ever-trustworthy model. In a surprising twist, the visitor even gets to see a number of decoy frames that make use of the Käfer’s base model, including a falsetto Mercedes kit sold by an American company. 

In addition to the previously mentioned cars showcased, the museum has special exhibits which run for a comparatively long time. From April 4 until December 23, a special exhibit about the New Beetle showcases many variations of the younger brother of the aforementioned Volkswagen legend. 

After seeing all the museum has to offer, the visitor can take their time to indulge in the merchandising shop at the entrance. From more “classic” merchandising, such as VW Bulli-shaped bottle openers (ever helpful both in Germany and its beer-obsessed neighbours) to positively quaint ideas such as VW Golf-shaped pasta (the museum staff even gave the author cooking advice for those), the store leaves the new Volkswagen convert not wanting. Some of the merchandise on offer can make for a fun gift for car enthusiasts – unless they are not into the Volkswagen brand, obviously.

In conclusion, the Volkswagen museum is a fascinating place for anyone interested in the history of the German automobile. Its many fascinating exhibits offer new knowledge both for the visitor interested in road car culture as well as the motorsport side of Volkswagen – though the author wishes to stress that it is first and foremost a road car museum. While it is not one of those museums that justify a city trip alone, if you are already on holiday in Lower Saxony or are visiting Wolfsburg to see a Bundesliga match, the museum is very much worth a visit.

Since our editor said this column does not feel complete without an “arbitrary rating”, the author awards the museum a rating of Merzario A1B out of A4 on the Official Merzario Scale of Reject Sites (trademark pending).