From VW, an unlikely way to ply the open sea

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Well, why not a floating Volkswagen Golf? After all, while it never made it across the English Channel, the once ubiquitous VW beetle had long been rumored to float. Still, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

The four-place runabout seemed as much at home on water as on the Interstate -- well, almost. There it was, kicking up a storm as it cut across Newport Bay, R.I., at a 20-m.p.h. clip and headed for shore.

That was in the fall of 1983 -- and it was far from simple fantasy. The ``floating Golf'' was a test bed for an all-drive system for future VWs -- in other words, 4-wheel drive. The first VW vehicle to use the new all-drive system is the Vanagon, on display at the recent Geneva Automobile Show, which has just gone on sale in Europe. It is due to reach the United States in the 1986-model year. An all-drive system for the Golf is also due in '86.

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As to the ``floating Golf,'' to convert the front-wheel -drive, 4-seat Golf convertible to a ``boat,'' two pontoons, plus the rear-drive propeller assembly -- both already attached to the car -- were hydraulically lowered. The craft was rolled into the water and the Sea Golf was on its way.

Getting the power from the engine, which runs east and west, to the propeller shaft, which runs north and south, was admittedly a problem, but in true Teutonic fashion the victory was won.

The captain of the Sea Golf assured me at the time: ``We do not plan to build floating Golfs.''

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