Is there anything better than a really mysterious, baffling car? No, there isn’t. Every time you think there’s nothing left to learn about the rich tapestry of automobilia, something like this sleek lovely little whatever drives up, honks, and lets you know how wrong you are. So what is this thing? I’ll give you a clue: it’s Japanese.
Here’s a pic of the front so you can get a better sense of what’s going on:
Okay, let’s look at this thing carefully and see what we can determine. It’s got a novel glass or plexiglass roof panel, that’s interesting. There doesn’t appear to be much of a grille, but, at the same time, there don’t seem to be any air intake vents on the rear. Maybe it’s rear-engined? Maybe it’s pulling cooling air in below the bumper, like a Citroën DS?
It appears smallish, a sporty coupé of some sort. Styling has the sharper creases of a car from the early-to-mid 1960s, I’d guess. It’s quite clean and striking and lovely, I think.
Those wheels, though, and those hubcaps. They look familiar, right? And this is from Japan? It actually seems a bit big for what most of the Japanese carmakers were building in that era, doesn’t it?
Give up? Well, too bad, I’m going to tell you anyway: this lovely little thing is a Yanase YX1200, what I think is the only example of a sort-of production Japanese car built on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis.
Yep, that’s right, the YX1200 is yet another star in the vast galaxy of Weird Shit Built on a Volkswagen Chassis.
Yanase was an early and yet strangely little-known (at least in the West) Japanese carmaker. The company built their first car in 1922, and prior to that was GM’s exclusive agent to sell Chevrolets, Buicks, and Cadillacs in Japan.
In 1952 Yanase became the first post-war company to import foreign cars into Japan again, and soon after Yanase began to import Volkswagens into Japan. That’s how the YX1200 came to be.
From 1964 to 1965, you could order a Volkswagen from Yanase with a custom, sporty body—that’s our mystery car here, the YX1200. The name comes from the 1200cc engine the Beetle was using at the time, which informs the performance capabilities of the YX1200, which at 40 horsepower, mean that the YX1200 is more like VW’s own Karmann-Ghia: more show than go.
Still, it is a nice show, and this may be one of the most striking VW-based sporty cars that I’ve seen. I’m not sure where the engine is drawing its cooling air, but I suspect there may be some under-car intake scoops of some kind, which suggests some pretty careful design work on Yanase’s part.
A number of these were built and sold, but I have yet to be able to find out how many.
Yanase had built and sold more traditionally mid-century Japanese cars as well before the likely higher-end YX1200, including this charming little 1957 YX360, named for the 360cc engine size that would allow this little car to fit in with the first generation of Kei-class cars.
The YX360 used an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed flat-twin driving the front wheels, and seems to have been a hatchback design, which was very advanced for the era. I think it may be using a Beetle windshield, but I’m not entirely certain.
So, there you go—yet another strange VW-based something, and made even stranger by its Japanese origins. You can now enter your weekend with the cool aplomb of someone who’s learned something wonderful and deeply important.