Following the Volkswagen Group's acquisition of Audi in 1964, Volkswagen used new engineering expertise to develop a modern front-wheel drive car with a water-cooled engine, and thus the Passat and Golf (the latter being introduced in 1974) were the first of a new generation of Volkswagens. The first Passat was developed directly from the Audi 80/Fox and until 2005 the two shared a history.
The original Volkswagen Passat was launched in 1973. The body types offered originally were 2- and 4-door sedans and similar looking three- and five-door versions. Externally all four shared a modern fastback style design, styled by the Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. In essence, the first Passat was a fastback version of the mechanically identical Audi 80 sedan, introduced a year earlier. A five-door station wagon/estate was introduced in 1974. In Europe, the Passat was equipped with 2 rectangular, 2 round 7", or 4 round 5.5" headlights depending on specification.
The Passat was one of the most modern European family cars at the time, and was intended as a replacement for the aging Volkswagen Type 3 and Type 4. The Passat was Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1974 and its sister model Audi 80 was nominated car of the year by the European motor press a year earlier. The platform was named B1.
The Passat originally used the 4 cylinder OHC 1.3l (55PS (54hp/40kW)) and 1.5l (75PS (74hp/55kW)/85PS (84hp/63kW)) petrol engines also used in the Audi 80—longitudinally mounted with front-wheel drive, in Audi tradition, with either a 4-speed manual transmission or 3-speed automatic. It had a MacPherson strut front suspension with a solid axle/coil spring setup at the rear.
The SOHC 1.5 was enlarged to 1.6l in August 1975 with unchanged power ratings and slightly higher torque ratings. In July 1978 the Passat Diesel became available, equipped with the VW Golf`s 1.5l Diesel (50PS (49hp/37kW)), followed in February 1979 by the Passat GLI with a fuel-injected version of the 1.6l engine.