It Came from Outer Space

You’re engaged in some innocent retail therapy and then this beams down from planet Piëch.

Starship XL1. All images: Driven to Write
The car that fell to earth. XL1 amid the hatchbacks. All images: Driven to Write

As we’ve pointed out, Driven to Write never sleeps and while we don’t always get about as much as we’d like, our eyes and ears are everywhere. So while some of us are battening down hatches in windswept West Cork, others get to swan around a decidedly more temperate Marbella – a matter about which your correspondent is not bitter.

Now clearly, the sight of a VW XL1 in Cork’s fashionable out of town shopping outlet of Mahon Point would undoubtedly elicit the sort of panic that would do Orson Wells proud, but equally its appearance at Marbella’s La Cañada Parque Comercial must have prompted at least several Andalucíans to at the very least, raise their eyes skywards.

Parked outside an upscale Spanish retail outlet is one thing, but its proximity to a branch of Leroy Merlin (other DIY providers are available) begs the question of how the owner intends getting that flat pack wardrobe home? Perhaps they deliver.

Honey, where did we park the car again..?
Honey, where did we park the car again..?

Actually, I’m talking nonsense here. The owner of this vehicle isn’t DIY shopping – you need big pockets to purchase, let alone maintain one of these five-figure babies. Forget your Veyron. This my friends, represents serious exotica. Conceptually speaking, XL1 was the third evolution of Volkswagen’s 1-litre car programme. The brainchild (or vanity project) of Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Piëch, Volkswagen’s former chairman and creative mastermind who envisaged a practical and usable production car with fuel consumption of one litre per 100 km – (283 mpg in Brexit parlance).

XL1 is 3,888 mm long, 1,665 mm wide and just 1,153 mm tall – similar in length and width to a Polo. Even a Lamborghini Gallardo is taller. XL1’s design objectives called for low weight (795 kg), perfect aerodynamics (Cd 0.189) and a low centre of gravity – all of which you can be sure was rigorously adhered to, because after all, you really wouldn’t like uncle Ferdi when he’s narked.

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XL1 was powered by a 47-hp two-cylinder diesel engine, essentially a sectioned 1.6-liter turbocharged and intercooled TDI unit, working in ­tandem with an electric motor and a 60-cell, 5.5-kWh, 150-pound lithium-ion battery pack, giving about a 30 mile electric-only range. To achieve these figures, weight was pared ruthlessly. The highly aerodynamic body was made from carbon fibre, aluminium and magnesium, the paintwork was 50% thinner than normal, and there was no sound insulation. Rolling resistance was minimised by fitting 115/80R-15 front tyres and 145/55R-16 rear, inflated to 44 psi.

Production of these hybrid hypercars began in 2013 at the former Karmann facility, with numbers limited to 250 cars, so the chance of sighting one is remote to non-existent. Nice to see the owner of this one has the chutzpah to actually use it.

My thanks to JMC & MD for the photos.


Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “It Came from Outer Space”

  1. Amazing! I had no idea this had actually been produced and made available for sale. I bet the handling is challenging.

  2. Ingolstadt registration. I’d reckon it’s a high ranking VAG engineer who’s bolted as the net closes in.

    Is Marbella still a good place to avoid extradition?

  3. And I also didn’t know they’d been made. It’s yin to the Bugatti’s yan. A car for every type of show-off, you could say.
    It’s another would-be Citroen. They styled cars based on aerodynamics one time and they abandoned that for rubbery dots and fake C-pillar glazing.
    Alternatively, take 20cm from the width and call it a Bristol. The Fighter ought to have looked more like that.
    Is the XL practical?

  4. A stunning car, even more so for the context in which it has been photographed here. That said, the original Honda Insight offered so much of what this does visually, for a fraction of the price and so many years before. A delight to see this, though. Thanks.

    1. I’m not trying to belittle the Insight, but the XL1’s presence is an altogether different level. It’s spaceship-like in an almost Lamborghini Countach kind of way, with added soberness. I’d drive around in one in a heartbeat myself.

  5. Rarer than a Veyron and rather more cool.

    But – uh oh – it’s got a diesel engine. This poor orphan will now be expunged from the VW history.

  6. It only seems right that someone who spends £100,000 on a car to ensure that they only use 5 gallons of fuel travelling from Ingolstadt to Marbella should go shopping discount. Maybe Leroy Merlin had a special offer on Makita power drills that made the massive €32 bill for fuel (return) justifiable.

    1. This statement will probably ensure the everlasting derision of all #True Petrolheads, but the XL1 defecates all over the Veyron and its progeny in terms of prescience, visual impact, historical importance and outright cleverness. The abiding difference being that having done so, the XL1 would also offer to clean up the mess. After all manners cost nothing.

      On the subject of cheap laughs, given that it has in effect half a TDI diesel engine, did VW engineers see fit to install half a defeat device as well? (I’m here all week folks…)

  7. What a fantastic find! the XL1 is definitely one for the fantasy garage. In the past, all cars were going to look like this in the future. I cannot help that someone looking at our time from the 1970s would be disappointed at the sight of a Ford Kuga or Chevrolet Suburban.

  8. Are Marbella parking spaces unusually small?

    The XL1 looks as if it is spilling over that space, and I imagined that it might be a ground-based equivalent of these Rutan aircraft which run on very little energy, but have an enormous plan area.

    A bit of research later, I find out that the XL1 is about as wide as a current supermini, rather shorter, and far lower – L x W X H: 3888 x 1665 x 1153.

    For idle amusement I compared the XL1 with my 1983 Polo Formel E. The modern-day VAG economy champion is 82mm shorter, 85mm wider, and 197mm lower. It’s also 70kg heavier. The Polo’s IC engine manages 3bhp more, but doesn’t benefit from 27 additional electric bhp.

    I could manage 60 mpg in the Polo – Long John Kickstart made me do it – but rarely bothered. It does make me wonder how the XL1’s powertrain would perform in the Polo’s body. VW did try something of that sort with the Lupo 3 Litre.

    A noble effort but let down by weight. The standard Lupo / Arosa managed to be even heavier than the Polo 6N, on which it was based, and that was the first one tonne supermini. Despite aluminium opening panels and a bodyshell built from thinner steel than standard, its 830kg was still heavier than most manufacturers’ mainstream, larger superminis.

    1. Safety and refinement requirements probably drive the design towards heaviness. Safety in a crash would be the most pressing parameter.
      Still, I think that modern engines in older cars like the Omega, 605 and XM would make for very economical and competent vehicles. My XM gets 32 mpg; put in a new 1.6 petrol and it would get 50, I would guess. With an 18 gallon tank the range would be almost 1600 miles!

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