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 the chairman of Volkswagen AG Heinz Nordhoff
was seriously ill, but even then he knew that the future of the company
could not rely on the mighty Beetle. 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. Japanese car makers 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 VW 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 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 alive
the 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 60hp 1600cc engine along with a 1600cc
and a 1300cc version in Europe. To define the 1600cc model from the
1300cc in Europe an "S" was added, making the Beetle with
the larger engine the 1302S. 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 (instead of flat) 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.
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 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 versions like the Jeans Bug, 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 as
well as the 1302 Super Beetle. More than 35 different special edition
Beetles were to follow with even more being produced in Mexico. 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 simple 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 glass 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 or Oval window Beetle the glass
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
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 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 working a pair of vents where
added to the dash complete with tiny directional regulators. Back in
the engine compartment a electronic 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 to automatically check a number of
areas 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 now 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 been a Standard Beetle using
the torsion bar front end that had been in service 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, 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 of
the plans to continue 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 what enthusiasts called 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 used 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 other cars
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. Tapered tail pipe tips, door trim, door handles, wipers and
bumpers were all given a matte 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 leather gearshift knob, how sporty! The new and improved Super
Beetle was now being produced outside of Germany. With its importer
UNIS, Volkswagenwerk AG set up the joint venture with Tvornica Automobila
Sarajevo in Yugoslavia, with 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 already 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.
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 new 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 now 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
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.
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
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
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. These 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 more years. 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
the popular 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 burl 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 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. Despite a surge of popularity and on
that fateful day of January 10, 1980, the last triple-white Super Beetle
convertible rolled off the production line and into history forever.
This historic Super Beetle can be seen 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.
us | Contact