History of the Super Beetle
Story by Wayne Dean
1968, 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.
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 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.
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 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 open.
Super: ‘s -p r [adj] 1. excellent, extremely good, wonderful 2. extra good or large of its kind. 3. above, beyond or over.