For today’s Nice Price or No Dice contest I bring you a VW Hormiga or “Ant.” You’ve probably never heard of it before, but now that you have, let’s see what you might expect to pay for it.
One of the most famous lines in the 1978’s Animal House is Dean Wormer chastising Delta House member Kent Dorfman that “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
Fat, slow, and baroque is how one might similarly describe yesterday’s 1979 Chrysler Cordoba, which is another icon of the ’70s. At just $6,350, enough of you felt the big coupe might actually be a reasonable way through life and awarded the car a solid 65 percent Nice Price win as a result.
As legend has it, if you make 1000 origami cranes, you’ll be rewarded by the gods granting you a wish. If that wish happens to be something as simple as discovering a Volkswagen product you never knew existed, then I might be able to save you all the paper cuts and carpal tunnel.
Today’s 1977 Volkswagen Hormiga truck is arguably one of the rarest of that German car manufacturer’s products ever. And, with its severely squared-off design, which was intended to simplify the construction, it does have the look of some sort of origami creation.
Officially the EA489 Basistransporter (Base Transporter), debuted in the mid-’70s as Volkswagen’s entry into the then-burgeoning market of developing nation transportation. Similar efforts were undertaken at the time by Ford, in the form of the boxy Fiera for Latin American and Southeast Asian markets, and General Motors which sold the similarly-designed Harabas trucklet. A handful of other competitors also entered this low-stakes game.
An important thing to note is that none of these basic transportation vehicles were ever sold in the U.S. Nor could they have been since they in no way met our requirements for emissions management or safety protection.
The Hormiga was built in and initially intended for the Mexican market. As such, about 3,600 of these small trucks were produced at VW’s Puebla, Mexico plant between 1975 and 1979. At the time of the model’s introduction, the Puebla plant had been pumping out Beetles and Beetle-adjacent models for the Latin American market for almost a decade. Today it’s the largest VW production facility outside of Germany.
What really makes the Hormiga interesting, other than that unique history, is its layout. The truck takes the Beetle drivetrain with its flat-four air-cooled engine and associated four-speed transaxle, and mounts it up in front, driving the front wheels. I know, amazing, right?
That mill is a 1600 cc edition, which was good for a factory-rated 44 horsepower which, along with a torsion-bar front suspension and cart sprung rear, gives the Hormiga a one-ton carrying capacity. Now, to be fair, it also only gives it only about a 50 mile-per-hour top speed. That may seem like a joke, but remember there weren’t all that many Autobahns in those emerging markets at the time.
That interesting layout and even more interesting history make this Hormiga a true rarity here in the U.S. It also appears to be in amazingly clean and serviceable condition. According to the ad, it has been in the same family for 19 years and presently has a clean Arizona title. The truck is offered on the Los Angeles Craigslist, but it’s likely not legal in California since in order to get a get-out-of-jail-free card for the state’s emissions requirements it would need to be a 1976 model or older.
There are 118,000 miles on the clock but those don’t really show in the rust-free bodywork (what there is of it) nor the simple interior fittings. That cabin offers three-across seating, a very upright steering column, and a tall shift lever that looks like something out of a tentacle porn movie. I’m not sure exactly how engine maintenance is handled since the boxer is buried under the cab but that must have been thought through by Volkswagen. The company is pretty good about that kind of stuff, even for the cheap seats.
These sort of extremely basic transportation vehicles never really took off in any great numbers. Most people in burgeoning markets seemed perfectly happy to just go with old Mercedes and Peugeot cars or Toyota pickups for their getting-around needs. Some of the models, like Ford’s Fiera, ended up doing taxi duty in places like the Philippines, but the Hormiga didn’t have quite that popularity.
I guess we’ll just have to see if times have changed as it’s now time to consider this Hormiga’s $19,900 asking price. Yes, that’s a lot of beans for so basic a ride but let’s be honest, this is about as cool a VW as you are likely to find, and seriously, where are you even going to find another one in the U.S.?
What do you think, is this Hormiga worth that $19,900 asking? Or, is that making a mountain out of an anthill?
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