Been a long day, pal, already? Sure it has. I know it has. Look, I know you’re busting your ass out there, so to let you know how much I appreciate all you do—no, wait, how much I appreciate you—I’m going to show you an obscure air-cooled Volkswagen vehicle I suspect you’ve never heard of. So hang on. It’s called the Polauto Pagus.
Yes, that odd little crew-cab pickup truck you see there is actually a rear-engined, air-cooled Volkswagen under its fiberglass skin. Like so many truly bonkers air-cooled VW oddities, the Polauto is Brazilian.
Thanks to Brazil’s very restrictive automotive import policies from the 1960s to the 1980s or so, pretty much every single sector of Brazil’s automotive market had to be filled by just the few manufacturers already building cars in Brazil. As a result, companies like VW of Brasil built a far greater variety of cars than pretty much any other VW market in the world, and a lot of small companies sprung up to give some much-desired variety to the market, usually by turning Brazilian Volkswagens into, well, pretty much anything.
As I’ve said multiple times, what Australia was to marsupials, Brazil was to air-cooled Volkswagens. The basic VW mechanicals became host to all manner of automotive styles and designs and functions, which is why the Polauto exists, something that looks like a shrunken, ‘80s-era front-engined pickup truck.
While VW made its Type 2 buses and pickup trucks in Brazil for all manner of utilitarian uses, there were still those who wanted the utility of a truck but with a bit more style and status than the Type 2-based vehicles afforded. Hence, kits like the Polauto.
There’s some differing reports on just what chassis the Polauto Pagus was built on, with some sources suggesting a Type 3, and others suggesting a Type 1 chassis from the VW Brasilia, which was actually the Karmann Ghia chassis, which the VW Type 181 (Thing) also used, and was itself just a slightly widened Beetle chassis.
Based on pictures, I’m inclined to think it actually used the Type 1/Brasilia chassis, especially since it seems to have an upright-fan Type 1 engine under that short truck bed.
The Polauto is a fascinating car because it literally could not have existed anywhere else in the world or at any other time. Only Brazil’s very specific set of restrictions would have made the idea of re-bodying a compact family car into a double-cab pickup truck make sense. But it did, and people actually used (and still seem to use) these as you’d use any pickup truck.
They’re really a remarkably good design, all things considered. Even with a rear, relatively tall engine, that truck bed looks usable, and there’s even a trunk up front, and the cab looks pretty roomy, with that odd but not unpleasant rear quarter window that drops down below the beltline.
The styling is very rectilinear and late ‘80s-looking, with rectangular headlamps and a not-really-convincing fake grille stamped into the front, in various styles. Taillights seemed to vary as well, being pulled from the VW parts bin, sometimes Type 2 lights, sometimes ones from the car we got in the U.S. called the VW Fox, sometimes from the Brasilia.
Here’s a video of the salvage and restoration of one, complete with some triumphant drifting.
There seems to have been multiple makes of this same sort of concept, like this 1990 one that seems to be called the Savana. It’s a similar design to the Polauto models, but a bit cruder, and with an even more exaggerated rear side window design.
I’d love to see one of these in person, one magical day. Really, this seems like a wildly practical format for a vehicle: pickup bed, enclosed trunk, room for four, and I think it’s sort of insane that nothing this versatile really exists on the market today.
Chances are, there will never be circumstances quite like this to produce a vehicle like the Polauto again. So, with that in mind, let’s just quietly appreciate the one that actually exists.