Home » Look At This Fascinating Australian VW Beetle Ute Mystery

Look At This Fascinating Australian VW Beetle Ute Mystery

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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!

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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:

Vwute Article1

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.

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Fuskup 1

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:

Vwute Loadareas

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:

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Type2 Blueprint

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.

Countrybuggy

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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:

181pickup

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.

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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.

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Adrian Bodsworth
Adrian Bodsworth
5 months ago

surely it would have been easier to convert the frunk to a load bed and sort of have a reverse double-cab pickup.
Admittedly in that configuration bulky loads may cause an issue with forward visibility but in the Australian outback there can’t be a great deal to crash into

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago

Brooklyn dealer request:
“Yo VW, gimme sumpin fer da utes”.

Last edited 5 months ago by Chronometric
SK2807
SK2807
5 months ago

From here – https://www.clubvw.org.au/vwreference/history/history004/

“Volkswagen (Australasia) Ltd prepares at least one prototype of a possible new model, the Beetle ‘ute’. Based on the 1200cc Standard model, the utility is a normal Beetle to the ‘B’ pillar, with a rear wall and window behind the front seats. The rear is cut horizontally just above the side trim, with a deep full-width corrugated steel cargo well in the rear. With no rear engine louvres, the prototype uses the louvered engine lid of the German convertible. One example is shipped to the RAAF in Malaya for testing, but the conversion never enters production.”

Greensoul
Greensoul
5 months ago

I had know idea JC Whitney catalogs were a worldwide thing back in the day. Who knew? I’m shocked they didn’t order the Rolls Royce style fiberglass hood kit, too.

Guido Sarducci
Guido Sarducci
5 months ago

This article has piqued my curiosity regarding a vehicle sitting in the driveway of a neighbor several blocks away for the last month or so. It is in fact a VW Beetle Ute, however the donor Beetle is the most recent version of that platform. It definitely appears to be a home built conversion. I have no information regarding the car, but now am curious to learn some details. I will try to obtain details, and some photos for Jason.

Steve's House of Cars
Steve's House of Cars
5 months ago
Reply to  Guido Sarducci

Any chance it looks similar to this if it’s a modern VW?

https://www.smythkitcars.com/new-beetle-truck-conversion

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago

Wow that looks surprisingly good.

Guido Sarducci
Guido Sarducci
5 months ago

That’s it! Looks identical to those on the Smyth web page. Only difference I can see in passing is the paint job on the ute several blocks away from me looks like it was done with rattle cans. Hopefully the owner doesn’t install the headlight eyelids like those on the green ute featured on the Smyth web page.

Nicklab
Nicklab
5 months ago
Reply to  Guido Sarducci

I’ve see a couple half finished Smyth kits end up on craigslist and marketplace. The rattle can might just be your neighbors stopgap before real paint

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago

I remember seeing one of these in Miami sometime in the eighties. It had rear facing jump seats in the back with a couple of drunks and a boombox riding in them. Kind of a Beetle BRAT.

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
5 months ago

Bear in mind that Beetles and Kombis were assembled from CKD in Oz (Pagewood in Sydney, I think?) at the time so it wouldn’t have been a stretch for them to have cobbled together a speculative prototype from bits of both to satisfy the Singaporean importers curiosity.

Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
5 months ago

All VW assembly in Australia was done in Clayton – the factory was formerly Martin & King, who built railway locomotives and rolling stock. They started automotive assembly work (Jowett Javelin, Ford 103E utility and VW Beetle). In 1957 the newly formed VW Australia bought the site and started local production, which later (1968) reverted to assembly only. The company then changed name to Motor Producers Limited which started assembling Datsuns and Volvos as well (there are pictures online of rows of Beetle and Datsun 510 bodyshells running down the same lines). Nissan bought the site in 1976 and VW assembly ended soon after – Volvos were assembled up to 1988, and Nissans up to 1992.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
5 months ago
Reply to  Morgan Thomas

I always thought that my 1979 Santos Green Golf Mk 1 was assembled in Clayton but was it actually fully imported from Germany?

SK2807
SK2807
5 months ago
Reply to  Ford_Timelord

Unless your 1979 Golf was actually a 1979 Datsun 200B, there’s no chance it was built at Clayton.

VW manufacturing was well over by then and they weren’t making Golf’s in South Africa until the 1980’s, so yours probably did come from Germany.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
5 months ago
Reply to  SK2807

ha no but I did have a 200B Wagon. (that whistled as it went down the road and had fake wood paneling on the tailgate). So I still have a Clayton connection.

SCJeff
SCJeff
5 months ago

If that wharfie is still alive I think Jason needs to go to Australia for an eyewitness account of this discovery.

Laurence Rogers
Laurence Rogers
5 months ago

That looks exactly what an opal miner in Lightning Ridge might cook up after a few longies!

I’m wondering if the rear window is a side window from a VW Bus?

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

It looks exactly like the back window of the original type 2 pickup.

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
5 months ago

In my experience, your average opal miner wouldn’t leave quite so much of VW’s coachwork on the pan…

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

Since I think our nation’s capital should be Ute-ica, and the anthem “America the Ute-I-Full,” you know I’m all for this. That utility bed is shaped more like a sand/salt hopper than a traditional bed and that suggests a different bug name for this ute: VW Grasshopper.

David Escargot
David Escargot
5 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Australia is the real ute-opia

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
5 months ago

A conundrum of origin between Germany and Australia of an orphan 1965 beetle ute? I believe that qualifies as spooky action at a distance.
I suspect Yahoo Serious is involved somehow.

Last edited 5 months ago by Hoonicus
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
5 months ago

Weird it wasn’t built, as there was clearly a market in Australia, but I’d guess the amount of unique stamping dies is probably what killed it. Not enough commonality with the Beetle to be cheap to make, despite a lot of apparent commonality with the Beetle

Tbird
Tbird
5 months ago

VW archives “Oh God, not Torchinsky again!”

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  Tbird

I just assumed the VW archive was one English speaking person who had Jason’s telephone number.

Toecutter
Toecutter
5 months ago

How could you type such a long article about the VW Beetle Ute without mentioning the VW “Trug” kit car which it may have inspired?

A. Barth
A. Barth
5 months ago

I’d love to have one of those. It’s Bee-Ute-iful.

(Srsly, it is)

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
5 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Oh Fusck you!!

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