History of the Super Beetle
Story by Wayne
the Volkswagen Beetle was selling over one million units per year in
the USA. Early in 1968 Heinz Nordhoff, the chairman of Volkswagen AG,
was seriously ill but even then knew that the future of the company
could not rely on the mighty Beetle forever. The Type 3 Notchback, Fastback
and Squareback were not the saving grace that they were thought to be
and something would have to be done soon. Sadly, Nordhoff passed away
April 12, 1968 before the new Type 4s (also known as the 411 and 412)
could come to market; another series that unfortunately missed the mark
for Volkswagen. After Nordhoff's passing, Kurt Lotz took over the helm
of Volkswagen, which at that time was like a ship without a rudder.
There was a lot of uncertainty at Volkswagen as they watched orders
for the Beetle start to dwindle. U.S. auto makers had learned a few
lessons from Volkswagen, which they had applied to their latest offerings
in the compact car market. The new Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto gave
U.S. car buyers the price, room and fuel economy that was needed at
a time when gas prices were rising steadily. The Japanese had also become
major competition for Volkswagen. With all the attention that had been
given the Japanese imports, Road and Track magazine did a head to head
comparison between the Beetle and the Toyota Corolla. Unfortunately
for Volkswagen the Corolla did it all better and for less money too.
This was embarrassing for Volkswagen as the Beetle lost in every category
except perhaps for its charming personality.
the new water-cooled, front wheel drive Golf (Rabbit is the USA) was
in production, VW decided to rework the Beetle and bring it up to the
standards being set by other car manufacturers. The plan was to reduce
the price of the standard Beetle and introduce a new updated model,
a Super Beetle. The principal reasons for the development of the Super
Beetle was to increase the utility of the vehicle by providing the customer
with a larger luggage compartment and greater comfort. These factors
were just as important some 30 years ago as they are today. By providing
more luggage space, greater overall utility and comfort, the Super Beetle
gave Volkswagen customers more choice in the model range of the period
and greater choice in the market segment. The decision to produce the
Super Beetle was going to be a costly one. Never before had Volkswagen
spent so much time or money on the Beetle. The new suspension design
required a new chassis and every panel in the front end had to be redesigned
as well. This meant new rounder fenders, a larger wider hood, redesigned
front valance, a new spare tire well, changes to other areas of the
body and new inner fenders to accommodate the mounting of the new struts.
This would be the most costly and extensive revision of the Beetle since
it was first launched. It was said that if Heinz Nordhoff was around,
the new Super Beetle might have never been built.
newly designed Beetle was to be called the 1302 Super Beetle. The 1302
designation was chosen due to the fact that car manufacturer Simca already
had a model that was called the 1301. The Super Beetle was to be sold
in North America with a carbureted 1600cc 60hp engine and available
in Europe with the 1600c and a 1300cc version as well. To define the
1600cc model from the 1300cc in Europe, an "S" was added,
making the Beetle with the larger engine the 1302"S". Planned
for release in August 1970 the new sales brochure stated, "And
now the new VW 1302S. The 1600cc Super Beetle. The most powerful, most
exciting and most comfortable Beetle ever." For the first time
in the history of the Beetle the spare tire was stored horizontally
in a recessed wheel well under the cargo area in the front trunk floor.
The jack was moved to under the rear seat and the air pressure powered
windshield washer bottle was relocated to the right inner fender. These
changes resulted in 9 cubic feet of storage in the trunk, an increase
of 86%. When this new space was added to the storage area behind the
rear seat, the Beetle finally had the carrying capacity that people
wanted. The new 1600cc and 1300cc engines featured dual port cylinder
heads for better performance. And to help overcome the problem of keeping
the number three cylinder cool, an external oil cooler was added and
the tinwork was redesigned to allow more fresh air in. The rear deck
lid was increased in size to accommodate the new larger engine and had
two banks of five louvers cut into it to help keep the new power plant
cool. Crescent-shaped air vents, trimmed with a silver metal edge were
added behind the rear windows. These vents were part of the new flow
through ventilation system that was added to ensure adequate fresh air
to the interior. Another nice touch was the addition of a passenger
side vanity mirror to the sun visor. These small touches were part of
what Volkswagen hoped the public was looking for.
of Volkswagen's master plan was to bring the handling and ride of the
Beetle up to North American standards with improved front suspension
and updated rear trailing arms. MacPherson strut-coil springs were coupled
with transverse control arms and a better turning radius was one of
the results. This strut front suspension also offered precise steering
and a comfortable ride. This type of independent front suspension was
used by a number of manufacturers at the time and continues to be used
widely to this day. The new suspension was lighter than the traditional
torsion-beam design, the inner fenders were now heavier and the anti-roll
bar was made much larger. The chassis frame head had to be substantially
modified and made flatter to accommodate the new suspension changes.
This suspension setup was similar to that used on the Type 4 Volkswagen.
In the rear, double-jointed half shafts were introduced. These were
formerly only available on the Beetle with the semiautomatic transmission.
The 1302 would now handle more like a Ford than a Beetle. The first
Super Beetle sedan rolled off the assembly line on August 11, 1970 for
the 1971 model year, during which some 700,000 were manufactured at
Volkswagen plants in Wolfsburg and Emden. The 1302 sold surprisingly
well despite Volkswagen enthusiasts giving it mixed reviews, with comments
like ugly, swollen, bulging and pregnant. With optional air conditioning
for only $267.00 and a semiautomatic transmission for an additional
$139.00, the Beetle was now offering creature comforts that would help
boost sales. Having Volkswagen's excellent reputation for quality and
value dating back to the 1950s didn't hurt sales either.
1970s were also the beginning of the special edition Beetle. With models
such as the Sports Bug, Sun Bug, Love Bug, Fun Bug, Winter Bug, La Grande
Bug, Champagne Bug and overseas, the Jeans, Big and City models. One
special edition for 1971 was the Jubilee Beetle, celebrating over twenty
million total Volkswagen sales worldwide. This was one of the first
special editions that were based on the standard Beetle and the 1302
Super Beetle. More than 35 different special edition Beetles were to
follow, with even more being produced in Mexico today. 1971 also meant
the end of the standard Beetle convertible. Until production ended in
early 1980 all convertibles produced would be of the Super Beetle variety.
1972. Volkswagen was busy pushing the Super Beetle with a 14-page full
color sales brochure with a cover that read, "The Super Beetle.
The older it gets, the better it gets". The 1302 was available
in seven colors while the standard Beetle came in only four colors and
had a 4 page black and white sales brochure. The second year of the
Super Beetle brought with it some changes to the already new design.
To increase visibility the rear windshield was enlarged by 4 cm or 11%.
This was to be the last time that the rear glass was enlarged and now
compared to a Split window or Oval window Beetle the rear glass was
now massive. The wiper switch was moved to the right side of the steering
column for convenience and the vents in the rear engine lid were increased
in number. Volkswagens' obsession with keeping the engine cool now required
a massive 26 louvers. These were grouped in four unequal banks at the
top of the rear engine lid.
Volkswagen's strategy of offering people more luxury, there was now
a shelf installed behind the rear seat. This cover could be hidden away
or extended over the rear storage area in an effort to keep valuables
away from prying eyes. A new flat design 4 spoke plastic steering wheel
was added to the interior. This was to help prevent injury in case of
an accident and came complete with the Wolfsburg emblem in the center.
To help keep the flow through ventilation draught free, a pair of vents
where added to the dash complete with tiny directional regulators. Back
in the engine compartment a diagnosis plug was installed. This would
encourage the customer to bring their Beetle back to their local VW
dealer for service. The dealer could then hook the Beetle up to a special
(VW only) computer analyzer, automatically check a number of areas on
the car and print out a report. On February 17th 1972 the 15,007,034th
Beetle was sold. Volkswagen had now claimed the world production record
for the most produced single make of car in history. It was a 1302 Super
Beetle that took the honors beating the 60-year-old record set by the
Ford model T. This was an important mark in automotive history and that
very car was donated by Volkswagen to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington
DC for permanent display in the industrial section. In recognition of
this special occasion Volkswagen equipped six thousand Super Beetles
with a blue metallic paint scheme, special 10 spoke pressed steel wheels,
and gave it the title of Marathon Beetle. This "European only"
Beetle was the World Champion or Der Weltmeister as it was called in
Germany. The Super Beetle was the global winner and was also being manufactured
in South Africa though none of these vehicles were ever exported.
the U.S. Volkswagen released 1,000 units called the Baja Champion SE.
This model was to commemorate the Baja off-road race successes from
1967 to 1971. The Baja title came from the desert races that are held
each year in the Baja California region of Mexico. The fact that the
Baja Champion edition was a 1302 was ironic because any Beetle that
would have competed in this race would have used the tried and true
torsion bar front end that had been in service on the standard model
Volkswagen since 1935. For any would-be Volkswagen purchaser that wasn't
lucky enough to get one of these limited production Baja's you could
buy the dealer-installed option package for $129.95. Included for that
low price were side body decals with the Baja name, mag wheel style
hub caps, a special shifter, Bosch fog lights for the front bumper,
walnut colored trim for the dashboard, bumper guards and chrome taper
exhaust tips. 1973. The cover of the 8-page color brochure for the Super
Beetle read, "The '73 Beetle. All small cars are not created equal",
a fact that Volkswagen had proven with years of constant improvements
to the Beetle. The updates that took place with the 1302 were just the
beginning in the plans to modernize the Beetle. In 1973 Volkswagen took
a huge step forward with the introduction of a new and improved Super
Beetle called the 1303. Most of the changes that had taken place on
the Beetle were done for function and style, but a new windshield was
added for completely different reasons. To comply with proposed US safely
regulations regarding the distance between passengers and the front
windshield, Volkswagen introduced the new sharply curved front glass
to the 1303. This panoramic windshield gave a remarkable 42% increase
in visibility and improved the aero dynamics of the car as well. It
also caused a change in the shape of the front hood and the roof line
The new shortened hood lost its traditional VW circle logo and gave
the car a "pregnant look" in the transformation.
1973 Super Beetle had VW purists rubbing their eyes when a redesigned,
full sized, padded dashboard replaced the traditional flat one that
had been inside the Beetle since 1958. This new dashboard was designed
to house future air bags and to improve ventilation inside the car.
By using an air vent channel that stretched from side to side near the
front windshield a greater volume of fresh and heated air could be delivered
to the occupants. The single gauge still remained but now was housed
in a plastic binnacle in front of the driver. Other switches were moved
downward, directly in-line with the radio and right at the driver's
fingertips. The glove box in the new 1303 was a good size but for some
reason was divided into smaller compartments. Unfortunately for coffee
drinkers everywhere the glove box lid would no longer open fully to
double as a beverage tray. There was also a new fuse box located centrally
for easy access in case of an electrical failure. In the rear of the
Beetle were the largest taillights ever installed on a Volkswagen, and
most likely any other car of that era. These soon earned the nickname
"elephant's feet" in VW circles and were thought to be ugly
compared to the stylish "tombstone" taillights that preceded
them. One well-known special edition for 1973 was the beautiful Sports
Beetle. For an additional $250.00 this 1303 Super Beetle came with distinctive
red and black stripes that encircled the car. The tapered tail pipe
tips, trim, door handles, wipers and bumpers were all given a matt black
finish and 5 ½" silver Lemmertz GT wheels with radial tires
were installed to complete the package. The Sport Bug's sales brochure
featured black headlamp rings although some of the cars were fitted
with the standard chrome ones. The interior came with sports bucket
seats, a leather sports steering wheel and gearshift knob, how sporty!
new and improved Super Beetle was also being produced outside of Germany.
With its importer UNIS, Volkswagenwerk AG set up the joint venture TAS
Tvornica Automobila Sarajevo in Yugoslavia, with its headquarters in
Vogosca. TAS started off by manufacturing replacement and series parts
for Volkswagen. After a period of one year, on November 10th, 1973 assembly
of the 1303 model started in the new factory. Production capacity was
a mere 20 cars per day. Meanwhile in Australia the 1302 had been produced
from 1971 to 1972 and was called the Volkswagen S. The 1973 to 1975
Australian built 1303 was called the Volkswagen L; all had 1600cc motors
with front disc brakes as standard equipment. 1974. The last Beetle
rolled off the production line in Wolfsburg to make room for the new
Golf model. As usual, Volkswagen brought out a few more changes for
the Super Beetle. US regulations now required that every car be able
to withstand a 5 mph front and a 2½ mph rear impact, and sustain
no damage. To comply with this new hurtle Volkswagen added what were
called self-restoring energy absorbing bumpers. Impact-absorbing shocks
were added to the now thicker steel front and rear bumpers to accomplish
this task. To ensure the front occupants were wearing their seat belts
an ignition interlock was installed so that the car could not be started
unless the front seat belts were fastened. Some inventive owners found
out that this system was quite easy to disable by merely unplugging
the sensors under both front seats, so much for technology! To improve
handling under hard braking the Super Beetle now had a negative kingpin
offset. Also in 1974 the old style generator was finally replaced with
a modern alternator and new type of alloy was used to improve the cylinder
head life. The 16 page sales brochure featured both standard and Super
Beetles. On the cover was a picture of a red 1303 Beetle floating in
the ocean with the caption, "The VW Beetles. Built better than
ever." This would be another year for the special edition with
the introduction of the famous Sun Bug. Available in standard, 1303
sedan and convertible models, the Sun Bug was painted a beautiful Hellas
Metallic Gold and came fully loaded. Stamped silver sports wheels, Kamei
tunnel console, a sunroof with wind deflector (Sedan only) and wood
finish dash panels were just some of the goodies that came with this
special edition. The seats had special Nut Brown upholstery, as did
the matching door, side panels and loop pile carpet. There was a Sun
Bug logo on the gearshift knob and one that was installed on the engine
compartment lid by the dealer. The sales brochure for the Sun Bug even
had the words to a song written especially for the car entitled "Let
a little sunshine into your life" by Keith Konnes. The lyrics for
the song went like this;
Fresh air and
scenery. It's all there and it's all free. Open your eyes, it's there
Let a little sunshine into your life!
Keep your disposition from draggin' in a golden Sun Bug from Volkswagen.
Even make a short trip set your heart a waggin'.
Let a little sunshine into your life.
Sun Bug Beetle or Super Beetle opens up a window to the sky.
Sun Bug convertible goes the whole route so you can wave at the world
as you go by.
Great gas economy, easy on the world's ecology. That's the Sun Bug philosophy.
Smile your way through problems and strife and let a little sunshine
into your life.
this song never made it to #1 will remain one of life's little mysteries.
Improvements were once again in order for the Super Beetle in 1975.
The worm and roller steering box was replaced by modern rack and pinion
steering and improvements in the rear end geometry where made. The engine
case would now be made from a better alloy classified as AS21 and the
twin tail pipes that had been on the Beetle since 1956 had now become
only one. Again US regulations forced Volkswagen and other car manufacturers
to clean up their act pollution wise. Unleaded gas would be the new
diet for the Super Beetle as computerized Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection
was added. This boosted the Beetles fuel economy from 25 to 33 mpg.
A silver "Fuel Injection" logo was added to the rear engine
lid where the traditional Volkswagen script had been for years. Beetles
produced for California sported a catalytic converter under the now
bulging rear apron, and pretty soon all the States would require one.
1975 produced a number of special edition Beetles as well. One of which
was called the La Grande Bug. This 1303 Beetle was basically a reworked
Sun Bug, minus the logos and some of the trim. The sales brochure for
this one proudly exclaimed, "You don't drive in it, you arrive
in it" with a picture of a uniformed chauffeur in front of an elegant
mansion along with two La Grande Bugs, one with its sliding steel sunroof
for the Beetle had dropped by almost half in 1975, from 791,023 the
previous year to only 441,116 and it didn't look like it was going to
get any better. Although this may still seem like a huge number of cars
compared to today's sales figures, Volkswagen had been selling over
900,000 Beetles annually since 1964 in the US alone. In February 1975
Tony Schmucker took over as chairman of Volkswagen and decided to end
production of the 1303 sedan and direct more resources to the newer
products. Only the Super Beetle convertible and a standard Beetle sedan
were to continue and for how long was anyone's guess. In September 1975
the new Golf Gti debuted at the Frankfurt Motor show. Its powerful water-cooled
1600cc engine put out 110bhp. That was more than double the horsepower
of the Super Beetle. It seemed that the writing was on the wall for
the European production of the Beetle, as more plants were needed to
produce the newer models that Volkswagen had based their future on.
1976. The 1303 sedan had faded into history but the 1303 Super Beetle
convertible remained. The MacPherson front suspension, full sized instrument
panel and panoramic windshield that characterized the Super Beetle Sedan
continued on in the convertible. In 1976 there were very few convertibles
being produced by US auto makers The Super Beetle was one of the only
choices for those who wanted the open-air experience. Worldwide demand
started to increase again, so the order was sent to Karmann in Osnabrück
to increase production of the convertible from 33 to 50 units per day.
The increase in sales sparked the release of one of the most popular
special editions, the Triple White convertible. White was Germany's
national racing color so this 1303 came with Alpine white paint, Opal
(white) upholstery and a white convertible top. US sales for the convertible
had been increasing by over 5,000 units per year since 1974. And in
1977 the Champagne Edition was Volkswagen's latest special offering.
Like the Triple White this Beetle was painted Alpine white with Opal
upholstery, but this time it came with a light ivory (or light sand)
colored top. There was a gold stripe that was applied just above the
running boards on each side of the body, a rosewood dash insert, sports
wheels and even white wall tires. The 1303 Super Beetle convertibles
were some of the nicest equipped Beetles ever. So Volkswagen decided
to make it even better with the addition of a rear window defroster
and adjustable front headrests.
January 19th, 1978 European production ended for the standard Beetle
sedan at the Emden plant, but the convertible was to continue at the
Karmann factory for a couple of years more. The 1978 sales brochure
read, "Once again, Volkswagen promises you the sun, the moon and
the stars". However, articles in magazines had people speculating
that 1978 would be the last year for the popular convertible. This forced
an increase in production to keep up with the demand for the soft top.
Colors available were Chrome yellow, Mars red, Barrier blue and of course
Alpine white. The Champagne edition was back as the Champagne II and
for the first time ever it included a Blaupunkt AM/FM radio, quartz
clock and a burled elm wood appliqué on the dash. Volkswagen
surprised everyone in 1979 when the convertible returned for yet another
year. The new federal safety and pollution guidelines had been delayed
and that allowed the Beetle to pay North America its final visit. The
very last one page brochure for the Super Beetle simply stated, "After
29 years, millions of Beetles, and countless improvements, the 1979
Convertible is still a very sensible way to flip your lid." All
of the options that were on the Champagne edition Beetle were now standard
equipment. The Super Beetle was now the only four-seat convertible for
sale in the USA, and at $6,495.00 was still a very good deal. The last
special edition Beetle produced was fittingly called the Epilog convertible
or simply the "Triple Black." This rare Beetle featured black
paint with a matching interior and top. The Epilog was produced to show
the special bond between the first Kdf-Wagen convertibles assembled
at the Karmann plant 40 years prior to this date that were also painted
black. Included for the $200.00 extra that the Triple Black option cost,
was an AM/FM radio that was added to the other standard equipment. The
news started to spread that this was finally the last year of production
for the Beetle convertible. This created a huge backlog of orders at
the Karmann plant. Production that was supposed to end July 31st 1979
was kept up until January 1980 to fill the thousands of orders that
poured in from around the world. But on that fateful day (January 10,
1980), the last Super Beetle, a triple-white convertible, rolled off
the production line and into history forever. This car can be seen today
on display in the Karmann museum in Onasbrück Germany.
[adj] 1. excellent, extremely good, wonderful 2. extra good or large
of its kind. 3. above, beyond or over.
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