It’s Halloween, and I’d like to commemorate that by both injecting harmless-but-hilarious amounts of grain alcohol into fun-sized Snickers bars and sharing one of my favorite Frankenstein cars with you. The car is the VW Type 147, known as the Fridolin, and it’s an unholy mash-up of four different kinds of VW.
By ‘Frankenstein car,’ I mean that it’s a car that’s made up, primarily, out of bits of other cars, in the way that Dr.Frankenstein’s noble experiment in corpse-reanimation used a variety of body parts crudely stitched together to form one majestic whole. And, like all good unholy stitching-parts-together-to-make-a-monster projects, this one was done at the request of the postal service.
Well, specifically, the German Postal Service, or Deutsche Post. See, in the ‘60s, the Deutsche Post was delivering mail in adorable but tiny Goggomobile Transporters. They wanted to have something a bit larger, and less likely to be stolen and enjoyed by a group of four to six determined toddlers. So they came up with a set of requirements, and approached their biggest car maker, Volkswagen.
The requirements list was really just a set of desired dimensions:
- 2 m³ (71 cubic feet) storage compartment
- Payload between 350 and 400 kilograms (772 to 882 pounds)
- Length 3.750 mm (12.3 feet)
- Width 1.440 mm (4.7 feet)
- Height 1.700 mm (5.6 feet)
Oh, and it had to have two sliding doors. They didn’t specify, but I think they meant one on each side. So, what they’re looking for seems to be a smallish vehicle with a good amount of load space. Which makes perfect sense.
In the US, we used the very cube-like AM General Mail Jeep, and thanks to convergent evolution, VW’s solution wasn’t too different in overall shape: a tall cube with a stumpy hood. Under that stumpy hood, though, they differed a great deal, as the VW kept to the company’s DNA and housed a little trunk and gas tank, while the familiar 1200cc Type I engine was out back.
What makes the Fridolin interesting is, of course, the incredible parts-bin nature of it. Here’s essentially what made up a Fridolin:
• Type 14 Karmann-Ghia chassis (like Type I Beetle chassis, but wider)
• Type 1 (Beetle) 1200cc engine and transmsission
• Type 2 (Microbus) Rear hatch, engine lid, taillights, and various other parts of the rear body
• Type 3 (Fastback, Squareback) Headlight assemblies, basic hood design (not quite a cut-down Type 3 hood, but close) and all sorts of trim and parts
... and, of course, wheels and hubcaps and instruments and all sorts of interior parts were from across the VW line.
For something made from whatever VW had laying around, I think the end result is pretty charming, and it proved quite useful. The load area was large and easy to access, the extra little trunk in the front was surely appreciated by the German postmen (who, I imagine, filled it with their lunches of oversized pretzels, strings of sausages, and ornate beer steins), and the little trucklet proved useful enough that it was employed for ten years, 1964-1974, and over 6,000 of the little guys were made.
The Swiss postal service ordered about 1200 of them as well, and specified some extra corner windows, which, of course, were taken from the 21-window Microbus. A few other companies ordered smaller quantities as well, including Lufthansa, who used them as field service cars.
Why the Type 147 is called a “Fridolin” is a bit of a mystery. The name is sometimes used to refer to a little boy, and the proportions of the car can certainly suggest that association. Also, the name is used to refer to a rail motor-handcar, the MKB 52, which certainly does resemble it, and was VW-powered as well.
Today, Fridolins are pretty prized among VW geeks, and well restored ones are worth a good bit. There’s not many left, since as state-owned utility vehicles, they tended to be run into the ground, and nobody really paid much attention to them for years. This is one of those few VWs that only hardcore VW nerds know about, and that makes them pretty special. To certain groups, at least.
As you can probably imagine, I’d love to have one.