To say I’m an air-cooled Volkswagen obsessive is sort of like saying that Sonny, the Cocoa Puffs bird, has a healthy interest in puffed-corn cereal liberally flavored with sugar and chocolate; it doesn’t really convey the intensity of the situation. That’s why I’m so stunned right now, since I’ve just discovered an air-cooled, (sort of) factory-produced Volkswagen sportscar I’ve never heard of: the VW-DMG Toro.
I have shelves of books about Volkswagens of the world, including a book called Volkswagens of the World, and none of them made so much as a passing reference to this car. Now, perhaps it’s because the company that built the car wasn’t technically Volkswagen, but rather DMG, who was the exclusive importer and distributor of Volkswagens in the Philippines.
DMG started out as a company called Diesel Motors of Germany, where they, you guessed it, imported German Diesel motors and trucks, mostly from Hanomag and Henschel. By 1958, they arranged with Volkswagen to assemble (from CKD kits) and sell VW Type II buses, vans, and commercial vehicles, and by 1959 were building and selling Beetles as well.
Really, this doesn’t sound all that different from how most non-German Volkswagen production started in places like Brazil, Australia, South Africa, and Mexico, for example. Almost all of these countries have produced locally-designed models that are considered part of the Global Volkswagen Canon or whatever, so I don’t see any reason why the Toro should be different.
I’ve covered the unique Volkswagens designed and built in Brazil extensively, and I feel like if we’re willing to count amazing cars like the Coffin Joe sedan and the SP2 sports car and the Karmann Ghia TC as ‘real’ VWs, the DMG Toro deserves a place as well.
DMG was responsible for giving the Philippines the car that’s widely considered to be the first truly Filipino car: the Volkswagen Sakbayan. The name ‘Sakbayan’ roughly translates to ‘peoples’ car’ in Tagalog, giving the car the fully translated name of People’s Car People’s Car.
The Sakbayan was essentially a version of the VW Country Buggy designed and developed by VW Australia, modified with enclosed bodywork and two or four-door variants. The Sakbayan was used by the phone company, as police cars, regular people, you name it, and they made them from 1968-1980.
They also built a version of the VW Basistransporter, called the Trakbayan, too.
I’m getting distracted; the Sakbayan is fascinating, but I knew about Sakbayan. I’ve seen ads for the car, pictures of the owners’ manual, even. What I want to talk about is the DMG-VW car that’s given me that delicious sense of surprise and wonder, the Toro.
The Toro was built from 1979 to 1982, and the goal was to design and build local, Filipino sportscar for people who wanted something either sportier or something that looked less like a file cabinet on wheels than a Sakbayan.
The Toro was built on the slightly wider Karman-Ghia floorpan (Type 14), and used the same standard VW Type I flat-four drivetrain as the Beetle, Ghia, Brasilia, and so many other cars. Windshields, door glass, handles, and many other parts were also from the Ghia, as well as the general VW air-cooled parts bin.
The styling of the Toro I think is really quite attractive. I suspect the Brazilian SP-2 was at least something of an influence to the designers, but looking at it I can also see a lot of SEAT Bocanegra in the front-end treatment and some influence from ‘70s-era Japanese sports cars. In profile, it almost feels like a Ford Capri, even.
You wouldn’t really know that this was a VW-based car just by looking at it: the Toro has the long hood/short deck classic sportscar look that you’d usually associate with a front-engined car. There only seem to be three pictures of these cars available online, and the only one of the front end is painfully grainy. It does show what could be a dummy grille, making the true mechanical nature of the car only hinted at by the vents on the rear deck.
It’s most attractive in profile, with lovely proportions, and a pleasing fastback design. The taillights appear to be Type II bus lights, rotated 90°. I have no idea what the interior is like, but I’d guess it’s using lots of VW parts-bin stuff for the gauges, seats, pedals, all that.
Technical details are scant, but there are some, and, as you’d expect, they’re basically the same as a Beetle or Ghia. It seems to be using the 1600cc dual-port engine making 54 HP, single carb, possibly a Mexican or maybe Brazilian-made unit, though I suspect it’s the Mexican one. The Toro is said to weigh 1874 lbs, and has a top speed of 87 MPH, which is a bit better than a stock Beetle of that era – maybe due to better aero?
So, like a lot of VW sportscars of the era, it’s not a screamer. Technically, it’s barely a moaner, but I bet it’s still fun, in the same way a Ghia is fun to drive.
I’m still amazed I’ve never encountered this car before. From the little information available online, there seems to have been at least a reasonable number of them made over their three-year run, and yet the only pictures I’ve seen have been these two presumably factory press photos and the one color photo of what I think is one parked in the wild.
One site even mentions a few changes during the production run, so either this is an odd, elaborate hoax or there are some people out there who know about these cars.
I thought perhaps the fact that their lineage wasn’t exactly pure Volkswagen may be a part of it, since DMG was the actual company who built them, with VW’s participation, but even if that was the case, there’s plenty of VW-based cars built by other companies that are well known: the Puma comes to mind, or perhaps even Gurgel.
So the Toro has to be the holy grail of air-cooled Volkswagens. An air-cooled VW sportscar that has only three pictures online, and I’ve never seen any in a book.
Filipino readers, please, I’m asking for help: has anyone seen one of these? Are there any Taro owners out there? Anyone want to comb some junkyards in Manila? I really want to see photographs of a real-world DMG-VW Toro. Please show me that this isn’t just some beautiful dream.
UPDATE: Clever commenter Garrett found the source of the yellow Toro photo:
According to this, the Toro is built on the 1303 Beetle chassis – we know that as the Super Beetle here in the US. The Super Beetle had McPherson struts up front instead of torsion bars, giving better handling and much more room under the front hood.
This is very, very strange because, as far as I know, no VW Type I-based car other than the Super Beetle or ‘71-’80 Beetle Convertible was ever built on this chassis. This may be the only alternate-bodied variant to use a 1303 chassis. Not even kit cars (other than some Bajas) used the Super chassis.
It also says the Toro’s body is plastic (fiberglass) and 30cm longer than a Beetle, but neither of those things are shocking.
A Super Beetle-based sportscar, though? I’m losing it over here.