History of the Super Beetle
Story and photography by Wayne
the Volkswagen Beetle was selling over one million units per year in
the USA. Today, they remain a popular vehicle and one of the most affordable
vehicles to insure when using a provider such as Good2Go
Insurance. 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. automakers 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
Until the new water-cooled, front wheel drive Golf (Rabbit is the USA)
was in production, VW decided to re-work 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
The 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."
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.
Part of Volkswagen's master plan was to bring the handling and ride
of the Beetle up to North American standards with improved front suspension
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 semi-automatic 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 semi-automatic 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.
The 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
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.
Continuing 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.
In 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
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 U.S. 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 roofline. The new shortened hood lost
its traditional VW circle logo and gave the car a "pregnant look"
in the transformation.
The 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 inline 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!
The 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. U.S. 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.
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
Fresh air and scenery. It's all there and it's all free. Open your eyes,
it's there to see.
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.
Why 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
Again U.S. regulations forced Volkswagen and other car manufacturers
to clean up their act pollution wise. Unleaded gas would be the new
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
Sales 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 U.S. 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
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 U.S. automakers. 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.
U.S. 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.
On 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."
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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