One of my prized possessions is a book from 1976 entitled Automotive Self Expression, and subtitled The Kit Car Phenomenon. Never being one to pass up a good phenomenon, I still peruse it to this day, pouring over its pages filled with Volkswagen-based kits, dune buggies, exotics, and V8 Corvair conversions.
The 1970s truly was the golden age of kit cars. Whether you wanted something that looked like it cost a hundred grand but didn’t break the bank, or desired a classic MG TD but demanded the VW engine’s chalkboard scratch of an exhaust note, the era had you covered.
Kit cars of any era offer the home builder the opportunity to own something they otherwise couldn’t afford. Performance may not be on par but at least the visuals could be in the same ballpark.
The Kelmark GT was a riff on Ferrari’s Dino 246, albeit with far less nuance. The Marauder GT LK II was a McLaren for the street, featuring the racer’s same cramped cockpit, but with its VW power only a tiny fraction of the performance. Others, like the Fiberfab Jamaican, offered new leases on life to old sports cars, re-bodying cars like TR3s and the ubiquitous Beetle.
One car that at the time was proving inaccessible not due to its exclusivity but to its popularity was Datsun’s S30 sports car, better known as the 240Z, 260Z, and eventually 280Z. These Datsun’s were so in demand that dealers would mark them up just to see what the market would bear.
The long waits and high prices on real S30s were probably what inspired a small company in called SIE Motor Corporation to create a VW Beetle kit car in 1976, that based its styling on that of the popular Datsun.
That’s right—the Z was so in demand back in the day, there arose a need to turn a Volkswagen Beetle into one. (Sort of.)
Called the Triad, the car was unique amongst the kit cars of the time. In addition to its Datsun-aping style, it was more than just a shell. Typical kit cars of the time used a one- or two-piece fiberglass body bolted to a shortened VW Beetle chassis.
The Triad on the other hand, used three fiberglass substructures as intermediary layers between the VW platform and the outer body panels. Those pieces could be wrapped over an available six-point roll cage. The whole thing was supposed to require nothing more than hand tools to build and kits could be had for under $3,000.
From certain angles, the Triad’s fiberglass body looked a lot like Datsun’s Z-car. From others? Well, not so much.
Up front is where the most glaring differences manifest. There, instead of the S30’s sugar scoop headlamp buckets and seven-inch sealed beams, the Triad featured a squared off nose with odd overbite grille in the middle. Rectangular headlamps, which were all the rage in the mid-’70s, sit in what look to be Chevy Monza surrounds on either side of that.
GM seems to have supplied the turn signals and side markers in front too. Or, maybe it was Pep Boys.
From the windshield on back the Triad looked like the Z, and probably used the same door handles and the glass as the Datsun all the way around. The back end however proved as unique as the front, and offered a choice of slotted, Pontiac-style tail lamps, or round Corvette units set into its fiberglass cap.
With the slotted rear lamps the Triad looked encouragingly like the Chevy two-rotor Corvette concept from the back. Rear window louvers are an additional nod to the fashions of the disco era.
Perhaps most oddly, especially considering the Triad’s VW base, the “car” was also available as a three-wheeler. That version came with the rear wheel arches glassed over and a bit of a wheelbarrow aesthetic to it. The front suspension still looks to be VW torsion bar, but the back end is obviously from a motorcycle. Hopefully you’d never need to reverse in your Triad trike.
Still, if you’ve ever wanted a three-wheel Z-car with VW underpinnings, then the Triad obviously should be your white whale. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though very many Triads made it to the 21st Century. At least, I’ve never seen one, and I’ve seen a two-headed chicken so I think I can say I’ve seen everything.
Because both SIE Motor Car Corp. and the Triad seemed to have come and gone in a flash, there’s very little information available on either. The site All Car Index has probably the best compendium of images of the Triad, including shots of the incomplete body showing the kit in all its bare-ass glory. Other than that, and my precious kit car book, there’s little else.
Today, both the air-cooled VW Beetle and the Datsun Z-car have seen attrition decrease their numbers and increase their values. The unholy union of the two—the Triad—came and went without much fanfare. I felt that its weirdness deserved, at the very least, for you to know it existed.