I know there’s lots of car engines that got stuffed into pretty much everything: the Iron Duke was shoved into everything from Camaros to mail trucks, and the original Volkswagen air-cooled flat-four powered everything from Beetles to Buses to Sno-Cats to Airplanes to Zambonis. This other VW engine isn’t going to beat that, as it was in a much smaller set of cars. But the set of cars it was in just makes for a wonderfully pleasing and befuddling group.
Many of you may have already guessed the engine I’m talking about: it’s a fairly conventional cast-iron two-liter inline-four water-cooled engine, and it originally made only around 75 horsepower. It’s known as the EA831, and it was originally developed by Audi for use in the Audi 100 sedan, a car that effectively replaced the much more daring Wankel-powered Ro80 after VW/Audi bought NSU.
Next, the engine ended up in Volkswagen’s line of larger-than-the-Type 2-vans and trucks, the LT series.
The Volkswagen LT line is also interesting, because it’s also the only time Volkswagen has ever built a front-engine/rear drive vehicle. Sure, these were cabover vehicles with the engine on the front axle and the driver and passenger effectively sitting on/around it, but it’s still as close as VW ever came to a “traditional” automotive drivetrain layout.
Things got interesting when this workhorse four-banger got selected to be the powerplant for Porsche’s entry-level sports car, the 924. The 924 took a front-wheel drive transmission from Audi (which, remember, were FWD but longitudinal) and stuck it at the rear to be a transaxle, and connected that to the EA831 engine, which had been massaged with fuel injection and a Porsche designed cylinder head to make 95 HP and then 110 HP (123 in Europe, sans all the smog stuff).
The group gets weirder from here: AMC used this engine with a Weber/Holley carburetor as an option on the Gremlin, and then later the Concord and Spirit, which was really just a re-styled Gremlin.
AMC also put the weirdo cherry on this weirdo cake by offering this very same engine in their DJ series of Postal Jeeps, just for 1979.
So, let’s run down the lineup of this group of cars, all unified by the beating iron heart under their hoods:
• A premium executive sedan (Audi 100)
• Work vans and trucks (Volkswagen LT)
• The entry-level sports car from a legendary name (Porsche 924)
• A weird economy car made from lopping the trunk off a sedan in desperation (AMC Gremlin)
• A line of mid-level family sedans, coupes, hatchbacks (AMC Concord and Spirit)
• A freaking Mail Jeep (Jeep DJ)
Like I said, other engines ended up in way more things, but when it comes to a limited set of vehicles for one engine, this is a pretty wonderfully diverse group.
They all have such distinct personalities; some band should take their names from each of these cars (Audie Hundy, LT, Portia Nine to Four, Gremlin, Conk, Spirit, and DJ).
They’d have a very geeky fanbase, I bet. I’ll see if I can book them for my kid’s Bar Mitzvah around 2025 or so.