One of my favorite categories of not just cars, but objects in the known universe are little-known old Volkswagen prototypes. That’s why I’m always so delighted when I encounter one I wasn’t previously aware of. Last year, I found out about this amazing South African Beetle-based SUV prototype, and was amazed. Today, I learned that someone is, somehow, using one as their daily driver and it’s making my brain melt.
Just to give a quick recap, in the late 1970s Volkswagen of South Africa was doing a bit of R&D work to try and develop a possible successor to the Beetle. What they came up with was a very uniquely South African solution, and quite unlike the Beetle: a very SUV-like rectilinear vehicle, and a small, useful-looking pickup truck, both known as Project 1021.
These were both built on the Beetle chassis and used the standard Beetle engine at the rear, even if they looked like conventional front-engined SUV-type cars, like, say, a Jeep Cherokee. I took a stab at guessing what the interior packaging of these must have been like:
Anyway, these things are fascinating, but VW of South Africa didn’t really seem to agree, and the program was stopped in the late 1970s, with only a handful of prototypes built. I’m not really sure how many, exactly, but it wasn’t many at all. That’s why I was so shocked to receive an email from Adriaan, one of our readers who lives in South Africa. Here’s what Adriaan told me:
I thought you might be interested in these pictures I took yesterday in the small town of Knysa, South Africa (about 320km from Uitenhage, home of the VWSA factory.)
It is what I believe to be one of two privately-owned 1021's, a concept vehicle built in the late 70s for VWSA as a possible replacement for the Beetle. I saw you had some valuable information on the Jalopnik site.
I waited a while for the owner, but ran out time and had to leave.
Whaaaaaaaat. I have so many questions. It’s clear that the car is just being used as someone’s, you know, car, as it’s filled with the sort of stuff that peoples’ normal cars get filled with. It’s just that, in this case, the car happens to be an incredibly rare VW prototype.
These pictures also give some good information about the car itself—for example, that SUV body only has three doors! Why? Structural reasons, relating to the nature of the fiberglass body? Styling tests for two- and four-door versions? I’m really not sure.
Also, there’s no rear hatch for cargo, just a lower engine hatch. There’s a cargo area back there, but it looks like it’s only accessible from the inside. That seems a strange choice, but maybe it’s only because this is, after all, just a prototype. At the very least, I’d hope they’d have designed that rear window glass to open like a hatch.
Overall, this seems like a really useful little car! Good interior room, good cargo room, probably decent on gas and with some pretty good traction, too.
Still, there’s the big questions: Who is this person? How did they get this car? Are they affiliated with the Volkswagen plant? Were they once? What’s it like to drive? Are they aware of how amazing this thing is? Will they let me drive it?
The pictures actually included a shot of a registration sticker with a VIN and everything; is it immoral to try and find a South African person who may know how to do a South African VIN search to find out who owns this? Would that make me a stalker?
This world, she is filled with so many glorious mysteries.