The globe has been explored. The human genome has been mapped. Scientists finally know why urine is yellow. It would be understandable if you felt all mystery was gone from the world, and we’re all now condemned to wander through life under the grim, cruel blanket of the known, deprived of bafflement, wonder, and surprise.
While that way of thinking may be understandable, it’s thankfully wrong, dead wrong, and you should feel like an ass for thinking that was even a possibility. There is still so much unknown in the universe! Mysteries abound, including the most important kind of mystery, the kind that deals with decades-old Volkswagen shit! And boy do I have a good one for you today: this peculiar and compelling 1965 magazine article from Australia that seems to have uncovered a Beetle Ute! A factory Beetle Ute!
Yes, a Beetle-based ute, you know, that uniquely Australian category of car-based pickup trucks. This mystery comes to me in the form of a page from the January 1965 issue of Modern Motor, found for me by my friend Jason Smith. Give it a look:
This is quite a scoop for Modern Motor; the idea of a Beetle-based ute would be a pretty radical and unexpected thing! But a very interesting thing as well. As the article notes, the most common reaction to seeing this would be to assume it was some sort of home-built one-off, or perhaps a kit: these types of Beetle-based pickup kits are certainly well-known, though 1965 would be sort of early for them, which had their heyday in the ’70s.
Here’s a good example of one of these sorts of Beetle-into-pickup kits, a Brazilian one with a double-take-causing name, Fusck Up. The name is a sort of portmanteau of the Brazilian name for a Beetle, Fusca, and “pick-up.” It just happens to look exactly like “fuck up.”
This kit, and, really, most of the other Beetle pick-up kits, are different than the Australian ute because the kits tend to rely mostly on a high flatbed design, with the engine below. The Aussie ute Beetle is a bit different, combining a deep central load area with a two-piece corrugated metal cover that could act as a flatbed load platform as well:
Now, a rear-engined pickup truck is always a challenge, especially for a car like the Beetle with a relatively tall engine and a design never really considered to be a pickup truck. VW got around this with their Type 2 rear-engined pickups by making a very long flatbed and carving out large storage areas below the bed, in front of the engine:
So, VW definitely knew how to make a rear-engined pickup, but this Beetle-based ute was clearly something different. The Modern Motor writer seemed pretty convinced this was a genuine VW factory job, not some backyard hack, because they noted the quality of the welds and sheetmetal work was just too good, the body was covered with the “silvery-white protective coating” VW applied to cars during shipping to keep corrosion at bay, and it had VW factory stickers on it. Those are pretty convincing bits of evidence!
So, what is this thing? It’s mostly VW factory parts – the body is all stock sedan parts, save for the rear cabin panel (what is that rear window from?) and the corrugated rear cover/platform. It’s using the convertible-style engine lid, with its integrated air intakes, since the body’s usual intake grille has been cut away.
Was this ever really being considered as an Australian-market ute? Maybe. But I also wonder if perhaps this could also be some sort of very early mule for the Australian-designed-and-manufactured VW Country Buggy, which was in development around this time, with approval for production coming in 1966, and the first ones shown in 1967.
As you can see up there, the Country Buggy was intended to be used as a sort of pickup-like vehicle, even without the traditional rear tailgate, since it was based on the rear-engined Beetle chassis, too. Could this Beetle-ute have been a sort of proof-of-concept test of the utility of this design of pickup?
The Country Buggy was only around for a short period of time, since it was too close to the VW Type 181, known as The Thing here in America, and VW corporate felt that they didn’t need the internal competition.
Speaking of the Thing, Volkswagen of Mexico did introduce a pickup-like vehicle based on the Type 181, that had a very similar layout to this proposed Beetle ute:
Of course, the Type 181 had rear doors, making access to the cargo area easier, but it still lacked any sort of rear access. This odd vehicle, called the Safari Pick-Up, came out in the early ’70s, a good bit after the 1965 mystery Beetle ute.
So, what do we make of this Beetle ute? I reached out to Volkswagen about it, and was told they’d kick it over to their archives people in Germany to see if there’s any records of what this may be; if I get anything back from that, I’ll be sure to publish an update here.
Personally, I think the most likely explanation is that this was a sort of pilot vehicle for the Country Buggy program. The time and place are about right, and I suspect this ute was tested doing ute things, like driving off-road and loading up with all kinds of stuff, to see how the basic mechanicals performed and how the somewhat unusual layout lent itself to the life of a hardworking ute.
Of course, I’d be thrilled if VW decided that a pickup/ute variant of the Beetle, a Beetleamino, if you will, was something not just Australia, but the world needed. Because, as I think we’d all agree, we do. Or did. Or both.