Monday, August 7, 2017

Top 5 Most Obscure VWs of All Time


By: Sebastien Bell

For a lot of Americans, the history of Volkswagen production is so limited that it’s a reverse-synecdoche. The name “Volkswagen,” that is to say, applies equally to the company and the Beetle. But that bit of verbal conflation conceals a surprisingly rich history of adventurousness from the company known primarily for one product and we figure all of these VWs can be boiled down into just five categories.

Coachbuilt:

Few words in the classic car dictionary are sexier than “coach” and “built.” Like a bespoke suit or a tailor made shirt, coachbuilding subtly suggests old world wealth and class. Coachbuilt cars were stylish and were made by artisans carving statues out of hand-formed steel. Some of the most beautiful cars of all time were made by these European artists and many turned their eyes to VW.
Coachbuilders like RometschBeutler, and Hebmüller all took the chassis that Volkswagenproduces and made their own modifications or bodies for them. These became elegant cruisers, sumptuous convertibles, and even over-built pickups. No coachbuilder did it better than Karmann Ghia, though. Now before your knickers bunch and you start yelling that the Ghia isn’t obscure, we aren’t talking about the Type 14 that everyone and their mother has owned (not that there’s anything wrong with it), we’re talking about the Type 34.
Admittedly, if you’re reading this site, you’re probably aware of the Type 34, but to the wider public, this never-sold-in-America Ghia would draw more question marks than the Riddler. Introduced in 1961 and fitted with VW’s 1,500cc flat four this was Ghia’s second crack at the VW sport car and this time, they used the Type 3 platform, rather than the Beetle’s. With an elegant body, a (relatively) powerful engine, and a hefty price tag, the Type 34 is pretty, fun to drive, and rare—the classic trifecta. So it’s our pick for the number five slot in this list of obscure VWs.
type34

Kit:

It’s not just Italian and Swiss artisans who decided that they could make interesting bodies for VWs, though. Amateurs (in every sense of the word) decided to body their own VWs, too. Thanks to the wealth of Volkswagen chassis available and their simplicity, it’s only natural that these dreamers would be drawn to the people’s car.
Meyers did it most famously with his Manx and countless Porsche enthusiasts have been infuriated by the promise of a 356 that turned out to be a reproduction, while others went wild with the styling. With the advent of fiber glass construction, nearly anyone could make a wild supercar body for their humble Beetle, and boy did they. The Bradley, the Nova, and the Sterlingall evoked the supercars of the day with wedge-shaped bodies, but really the options were limitless and people made bodies of all shapes and sizes.
Our pick for the number four spot, though, goes to the Coyote X that starred for three years on the swear-to-God-we-didn’t-make-this-up Hardcastle & McCormick. Based on the Can-Am homologation special McLaren M6GT (despite the Ferrari switch gear in the video below), the cars on the show were made by Mike Fennel whose creation was actually fairly faithful to the McLaren body but used a Beetle chassis and engine, instead of the Chevy V8s that would have powered the real deal to 100 mph in just 8-seconds. The Coyote X could not. But it did jump pretty high, and it was the star of an ill-remembered TV show, and what could be more important than that?

Air Cooled:

Honestly, this could better be called the Torchinsky category. These, again, are from VW’s early days, but instead of handing over the design work to others, VW took care of everything themselves. Designed for small and foreign markets, with the usual brief of being as rugged and simple as possible, these are the oft forgotten VWs that make fetishists weak in the knees.
Odd to our eyes because they normally weren’t offered in English North America, and now rare because they were ridden hard and put away wet, models like the Pingo and the Country Buggycould stump even the most knowledgeable VW nerd at a trivia contest.
Our favorite, though, is the Basistransporter. This truck was sold as a knock-down kit, meaning that VW would ship everything needed to make one of these to smaller markets where they could be easily assembled and quickly sold. Only about 6,000 were ever built, but some of you may have actually seen one of these since, apparently, they’re still being put to work in Mexico. And isn’t that a wonderful credit to everything that early VW stood for? Simple, rugged design that’ll outlast you.
VW_Hormiga_front_left

Brazilian:

The penultimate spot on our list is dedicated to the Brazilians. Sexy, soccer-obsessed, and in love with Volkswagen. While VW’s role in Brazil is complicated, the cars it made there are indisputably cool. VW got set up in the country early, establishing an assembly plant there in 1953 and quickly became a fixture in the country.
Then in the ‘70s the Brazilian market was closed to importers, meaning that VW took an outsized role in the country. This led to the construction of the aptly named Brasilia and the Karmann Ghia TC. In the ‘80s the market opened up again, and since it was VW’s hub in South America, Brazil could export cars like the Gol.
Although these are undoubtedly cool cars, our top pick for this spot on the list is the effortlessly sexy, Brazilian-designed SP2. Unable to import sports cars in the ‘70s, VW do Brasil decided it would make its to inspire enthusiasts and started work on Project X. The eventual result was the air-cooled, rear engined, and attractive SP2 that benefitted from the 1,700cc Volkswagen flat four.
Like the Ghia before it, the car suffered from accusations of being underpowered, but be honest, that doesn’t really matter. Because as Fernando might say from his Hideaway, “it’s better to look good than to feel good” and this car looks marvelous.
1280px-VW_SP2_Aguas_de_Lindóia

Special Edition:

And finally, we leave the luftgekühlt era and enter the water-cooled era just in time to end this list with special editions. By the time the ’80s and ‘90s rolled around VW was messing around with liquid cooling solutions for their cars and the Golf had taken over from the Beetle as the sensible option. Full of promise for the future and sensibleness, these quotidian wonders were made more attractive with special editions.
The most famous, of course, is the GTI (a little too famous to really be included on this list), but VW gave numerous cars the special edition treatment. No generation of Golf did this more than the Mk3, with the Bon Jovi, Pink Floyd, Movie, Joker, Savoy, and countless other special editions. Even before the Golf rolled out of Wolfsburg, VW was trying this with the Beetle GSXand the Jeans Beetle.
No special edition is more interesting or fun, though, than the Golf Harlequin. Based on a Beetle ad and never truly intended for production, this multi color Golf was so popular that VW was forced to put it into production. Our own contributor, Jamie Orr, recently trekked across the nation to save one from the junkyard. It may not be the most obscure special edition Golf, but it’s the most special obscure Golf we can think of.
harlequin-mk3
And that’s it. The breadth and the depth of obscurity explained. The whole entirety of VW’s back catalog covered. Or maybe not. But we certainly gave it a shot. Think there’s a category we missed? Think we’re way off base? Did your favorite obscure Volkswagen not make the list? Think this article was the best piece of prose ever committed to print? Let us know about it in comments.


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