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Past Hare Passive Restraints

Disclaimer: This is either completely accurate or I’m making up some of this. 1978(?) was a long time ago.

I was working for VW and my company car, one time, was a rather nice Champagne Edition Rabbit. This was before the days of air bags for safety and people often didn’t use seat belts.

This car had a shoulder belt that hooked to the latch/striker end of the door, up high near the “B” pillar. It had a reel of some sort located between the front seats.

Driver and passenger could get in and out without unlatching or latching the belt. As the door opened the belt would be pulled out and away from your chest, unreeling the retractor.

I don’t recall a lap belt being part of this system, but instead a heavily padded knee bolster (knee crash bar) ran the width of the dashboard’s bottom. It sat fairly close to the knees and had little recesses to hold change, or whatever.

I remember that “submarining” (occupant sliding forward, down and under a lap belt) was a problem in collisions and that this knee bar stopped it.

This was a passive system, ahead of its time. I talked with people who crashed and were very thankful to have had this system.


Does anybody remember these?

What happened to them?

Do any cars still use anything like this?

Would this be a good system to combine with today’s air bags?

I loved those belts and that car.


I remember those (on VWs and other makes), CSA, maybe folks complained about getting tangled up? Maybe the knee bars weren’t so effective, or maybe folks complained about lost leg room? I would be interested to see how well the “sturdy” door frame on a 1st gen Rabbit handled stopping a 200 lb guy in a crash - as long as that guy wasn’t me! I had an '83 (GTI), not the model of strength…

I Think The Door Had A “Latch” Adjacent To the Belt Anchor That Closed Over A Striker Pin On The Pillar.

I saw some pretty gnarled up wrecks with these, where the occupants walked away.

I drove GTI company cars (I think it was in 84). That was a fun car to drive! Wasn’t that a 1.8L hooked to that manual trans? The seats were special, too, like sitting in a hand. I had a hard time going the speed limit, a really hard time.


Yeah, a 1.8l. The absolute most fun I’ve had in a car, you could drive it near 100%, not get a ticket (too often)! And I never understand how current cars can have uncomfortable seats - they just need to copy those GTI ones. I could drive it for hours, no problem. I had it 12 years, wish I still did…

I had one a diesel version. I really loved it when someone tried to get into the car for the first time. They tried to clime over it under it and around it. They never could quite get the idea of just sit down and close the door.

I would not mind one today.

Who remembers what it was called? Something like a rat in the slot?

They were called (surprise!) Automatic Seatbelts.

You can read about them here-

BTW- chalk me up in the HATED them column.

I Can See Why You Are In The “Hated Them” Column. These Are Not The Belts That We Are Talking About!

The automatic seat belts that you are referring to (and the link goes to) have belts that move their anchor position. I hated them, too, when I drove a car that had them. That car even required that you manually fasten the lap belt after the automatic shoulder belt was done doing its thing.

The VW Rabbit shoulder belts had a fixed anchor. There was no lap belt. It was truly passive and instantaneous. Get in, shut the door, drive!


I think some other cars (GM?) also had 100% passive/instant setup, but with both the shoulder and lap belt attached to the door. A real pain to use, IIRC.

Funny, they mention it first being offered in the Rabbit: The first commercial car to use automatic seat belts was the 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit [3].

I don’t believe they are talking about the auto-retract along the door rail version of the belts in that implementation. If you follow the link to [3] you get to this page: It seems to clearly show the retractor mechanism next to the seat, not along the door rail.

I think the term automatic seatbelt was still applied to the version you admire since the operator did not have to intervene in their use. This is how I recall them being named. And for the record, I find no distinction between them to change my opinion. I hated them. PITA to deal with IMO.

I remember them. Other cars had seatbelts attached to the doors, too. The most recent one I remember was my daughter’s '91 Geo Prizm. The Prizm had a lap belt that had to be fastened separately, and no knee bolsters, but I remember the VW system with the padded knee bolsters.

All I can say is, thank goodness there’s been progress since then. I’m ambivalent about airbags, but the fact that modern cars have simple, effective 3-point seat belts because of them makes them OK by me.

I never liked the belts attached to the door. I know they worked well most of the time, but they could also be a PITA at times, and the door is not the strongest place to mount a seat belt. I’ll take a regular 3-point belt any time.

Twin Turbo, Sorry, You Are Correct! That’s It! I Didn’t Click The Link That Goes To The Other Article.

I had that Rabbit for quite a while and I got used to jumping in and grabbing that shoulder belt and with a quick yank the door would close and away I’d go. I didn’t even have to reach for the door handle. I thought it was the wave of the furure.

What part of them did you dislike?


Joseph, It Appears We’re Just About The Only Ones Who Liked Them.

That was fun to watch passengers get in and try and “buckle up”.


Yea, now that I think of it, I believe it was my Mazda 626 that had the motor.

In order of aggravation-

  1. It was akin to a one-size-fits-all and people come in all different sizes and shapes. A fixed anchor point isn’t going to fit everyone comfortably.
    B. It was in the way when servicing the dash or trying to crawl around the interior. You can’t just sit in the car without having the belt across your chest. Back around that time, I was a late teenager and always hanging out with friends in our cars listening to tunes etc.
    III. I don’t like things like that forced upon me.

TT, I Remember That You Could Just Unhook The Shoulder Belt And Not Use It.

Look at the illustration. They show the “Emegency Release” (belt connection) that I recall.

Put in context, “One-size fits all” was pretty much the norm for cars in 1975-1978, but I agree that the knee bolster did complicate crawling around or working under-dash.


The safety concern with any belt connected to the “B” pillar/door was if the door popped open during an accident, the occupant would immediately become unbuckled (at a time when being buckled was most needed).

I remember these as well. Our neighbors had a new 1975 Rabbit with this (when I was a teenager) and at the time I thought that this system must be “better than nothing” but still not very safe. I rode in this car quite a few times. Now all these years later it’s interesting to hear people on this board say that the system was quite safe and that people walked away from very bad wrecks.

This car was also the first I rode in that had rear seat belt retractors that would only tighten up when you pulled on them very quickly. I thought the rear belts were defective until the concept was explained to me. Most people back then probably didn’t even notice or care about this as not many used seat belts at the time. My dad had been an Air Force pilot in the 1950’s and believed strongly in seatbelts–I and my siblings were some of the few children in the 1960’s and 1970’s who wore them regularly and I always tried to buckle up in other people’s cars if the belts weren’t too buried behind the seats.

Good point about the release. I don’t ever remember using it either. I do recall suffering with those belts but don’t recall anyone ever releasing them. Could be selective memory with the frustrating being burned in a bit more deeply :wink:

I don’t remember it being a VW, but a friend of mine had a car in the late '80s that had the knee bar as you described. I was incredulous when I first rode in it - I could not believe that car of that era could be sold without a lap belt.

That’s How I Felt. It Was Explained To Me That The Knee Bolster Was More Effective Than A Lap Belt.

The “bar” was to prevent one from “submarining” or sliding forward (under a belt) as one often does with a lap belt/shoulder belt, pre-air bag era.

I saw some pretty totalled cars and some pretty thankful and well people. I managed a VW Collision Shop at that time.