I'm an unapologetic fan of the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle, and if I owned one, it would almost certainly be the striking yellow and black Beetle GSR. I like it even more now that I know about its crazy heritage.
When Matt posted his take on the Beetle GSR after having one for a few days in New York, he and a few readers wondered aloud if the 'GSR' moniker actually meant anything or if it was just three fast-sounding letters. (Or, more unlikely, a salute to the Acura Integra.)
It turns out the GSR does mean something, as a couple of you fine people were quick to point out. 'GSR' stands for Gelb Schwarzer Renner, German for "Yellow and Black Racer." And it's not the first Beetle to have that name.
The first GSR was a special edition version of the original Beetle released in the early 1970s. It's not terribly well-known today except among your diehard Volkswagen nutjobs, but besides its flashy yellow and black paint job, it actually has a pretty interesting backstory.
The GSR came to market in 1973 after some Volkswagen customers asked for a more sporting Beetle that could be used in rallying events, according to the website GS Renner. So VW took a normal 1303S Beetle (aka Super Beetle in the U.S.) with a 1.6-liter motor and gave it front disc brakes, long-ratio gearing, a MacPherson independent front suspension, and 15 inch wheels.
The car's spirited intentions were made even more obvious with the yellow and black paint, a salute to the badass Salzburg Rallye Beetles of Austria. It also had sport seats, a sport steering wheel, and a fire extinguisher just in case things went south on the rally stage.
How much power did this nasty, snarling beast of an air-cooled engine put out? Um, 50 horsepower and 78 pound-feet of torque. The 60 mph dash happened in 18.3 seconds. It's a Beetle, not a Corvette! Only 3,500 GSR Beetles were built and only in the German market, which is part of the reason the car is somewhat obscure, at least in the U.S.
But this racy Beetle ruffled a few feathers in Germany, not just because it came out before that country was known for the obscene horsepower levels of its cars and triple-digit speeds on the Autobahn. German leaders took the car's gaudy paint and performance enhancements as an invitation to hoon, wrote former TTAC editor Bertel Schmidt, who worked at Volkswagen PR when the car launched:
That car, and our campaign, got Volkswagen in trouble. 1973 was the year of the first oil crisis. Despite the puny 50 hp engine of the 1303, the campaign was understood as an invitation to hoonery. Huge discussions wafted back and forth, Volkswagen was denounced even in German parliament. Political correctness is not a recent invention.
It's pretty hilarious today to think of Germans getting upset at the garish-but-still-puny Beetle GSR, considering how fast and powerful their machines have since become. It's even funnier when you consider the modern Beetle GSR has 210 horsepower and, humble as it is, is in another galaxy when it comes to performance compared to those old cars.
So the next time you see a new Beetle GSR on the road, give it the thumbs-up. It has a legacy of hoonage that we can all appreciate, even if the newer ones don't come with fire extinguishers anymore.