The Volkswagen GTI is widely considered the first (well, there were some before it) really popular modern hot hatch as we know them: an economy car tweaked by the factory to be a sports car, of sorts. Interestingly, VW actually played with the idea of turning a cheap car into a sports car the year before the GTI, with what is likely the only factory-built truly performance-enhanced variant of the Beetle: the 1974-1975 1600S Bizorrão.
For those of you good at reading letters and words, that name probably hinted to you that this wasn’t a German Volkswagen product–this was something made by Volkswagen of Brazil, but it was an official factory product, and not some special, limited-run edition from a dealership or tuner, of which there were a number.
I think the name must roughly translate to bizarre, but I’m not entirely certain about that. A reader just tweeted that the name actually means “Big Beetle,” so there’s that mystery solved.
I’m pretty sure that the Bizorrão is the highest-output, most performance-oriented air-cooled Beetle ever officially sold by Volkswagen, and it really is the closest VW has ever come to producing a muscle-car variant of the air-cooled Beetle. It even has functional hood (well, rear decklid) scoops!
I know there’s other sporting Type I variants out there, too, like the well-known Yellow-and-Black Racer. The thing was, though, the Beetle GSR, while certainly looking the part and having some significant upgrades, made do with just the largest normally-available engine. Volkswagen didn’t really expect most of the GSR buyers to just stick with that, though, and provided a list of suggested tuners who were capable of getting much, much more out of the little flat-four, but the factory itself didn’t bother trying.
Let’s take a look at what this Brazilian monster actually is, and make sure we put it into the context of the era, because by modern standards it’s hard to see what the ‘performance’ angle is. I promise you, though, it’s very much there.
The 1600s Bizorrão was, I think, the first factory Beetle to come with twin carburetors. Later Brazilian Beetles (they called them Fuscas) did have twin-carb setups, but none produced the Earth-rending power of the Bizorrão: 65 screaming, agitated horses.
To put some context around that power rating, in America, a stock 1600cc, single-carb Beetle was making about 48 HP, down from 50 HP thanks to stricter emissions standards and parts on the engine that most people ditched within a few years.
The 1971 Beetle, first year of the dual-port engine, was rated at 60 HP, but that was bhp, and when most carmakers switched to the SAE rating system, that number dropped to about 50 HP. At least, from what I can tell, most now seem to agree that the 1600 dual-port makes about 50 HP.
Anyway, all of this is just to make clear that, within the scope of what a factory-built Beetle could do, 65 HP is a goddamn monster. It also helps that it’s for an 1873 pound car. To get to that sky-scraping number, VW of Brazil used the 1600cc cylinders from their Type 3 engine, and added a pair of Solex carbs. The exhaust system had one exhaust exit instead of the traditional two, and likely was a more open exhaust setup.
Those scoops on the engine lid weren’t just for show, either. This engine lid is unique to these Beetles, and the scoops funneled air right to the twin carburetors on either side of the engine bay.
The 0-60 times of the car also sound laughable now, about 16 seconds, but, remember, back in 1974, that really wasn’t all that awful. The Bizorrão Beetle would have beat much more obviously performance-oriented cars of the era like the MGB, Datsun B210, and even the Ford Capri, and been right on par with a Triumph Spitfire or a Volvo 242.
To handle all that raw, dripping power, the Bizorrão had a number of other performance-focused upgrades: a full set of dash instruments, including a tach, ammeter, oil temperature gauge and even a device designed to monitor the passage of time in the universe, known as a ‘clock.’ The 1600S also had a special three-spoke Walrod steering wheel, and sporty steelies from the VW Brasilia.
The Bizorrão also had slightly lowered suspension and more aggressive 5J x14” tires to improve handling as well. It’s not known if the luggage space was improved to make room for all those autocross trophies you’d be winning, though.
This has got to be one of my favorite factory air-cooled Beetle special editions, and in many ways it’s still the template for a fun, every-day Beetle that I use when modifying my own Beetle. If anyone knows where I can get one of those engine lids with the hood scoops, please let me know so I can alert my surgeon that he can start the organ removal process and arrange a buyer.