Right off the bat, let me make something absolutely clear: this is only freaky if you’re a hard-core air-cooled VW geek. Many of you won’t even realize what the big deal is, but if you’re a hard-core Beetle person, lay down a dropcloth since your mind is gonna be blown.
Well, at least mildly blown. Since only really fierce hardcore gearheads will be shunning their families to check out cars on the web on Thanksgiving, it seems like a good time to get a little more geeky.
So, some background: as any VW enthusiast knows, the most dramatic change in the original air-cooled Beetle’s life was the addition of the Super Beetle in 1971. The changes may seem relatively minor when you compare them to most other cars, but for a car like the Beetle, which only introduced evolutionary changes gradually, they were revolutionary.
First, the front suspension setup was changed from torsion bars to a McPherson strut setup. This allowed the room in the front trunk to be more than doubled, which was pretty damn nice. The front bodywork became a bit more bulbous and wider as well. Then, in ‘73, VW’s engineers went totally bonkers, giving the Beetle a real-car-like curved windshield and a real dashboard that was thicker than a wallet, finally. This was actually to accomodate the early airbags which never came.
For most of the Beetle-having-and-building world, these two main variants defined Beetledom. In the US we called them the Standard (or just Bug, Beetle, Type I, Sedan, whatever), and Super Beetle for the fancy one. The rest of the world called the Supers the 1302 (for the flat-windshield ‘71-’72s) and the 1303 (for the curved window, made up until 1980 for the convertibles). We were all happy and content with our two Beetles.
But not South Africa. Along with Apartheid, South Africa decided they needed to separate from the rest of the world in their Beetles as well. The result was an unholy chimera of a Type I Beetle, taking parts from both standard and Super Beetles with the gleeful aplomb of a mad scientist.
Behold the VW 1600S: It had the standard Beetle torsion-bar suspension, but with the curved windshield (6% more glass area! Holy crap!) and big dashboard of the ‘73 and up Super Beetle. It also had a special hood to bridge the divide between standard- Beetle front valence and Super Beetle cowl. Plus, the ‘elephant’s foot’-style big taillights were mounted to old-style fenders with a strange extra cuff, which I’ve seen described on one forum as “uncircumcised.” Oh, and it had real fake wood dash inserts!
The hybrid Bug came to be as a way for the South African factory to update their cars with the absolute minimum of production changes and costs. The tooling changes were reported at the time as being about 1 million South African Kruggerands or Rands, or whatever they used. Rands. That’s pretty cheap.
There’s actually not a whole lot of information about these Beetle variants online, so I hope this was at least mildly interesting. Any readers out there in South Africa have any good photos of one? Put them in Kinja, please, because I want to see them, dammit.
Now get back to the kid’s table before your weird Uncle finds out you’re missing. Don’t make him angry.