Home » The Rare Volkswagen Beetle Super Bugger Is The Slowest, Cutest Way To Go Camping

The Rare Volkswagen Beetle Super Bugger Is The Slowest, Cutest Way To Go Camping

Super Bugger Ts1 Copy
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The Volkswagen Beetle is a car that has lived many lives. People have turned Beetles into drag cars, dune buggies, kit cars, police cars, and even air show support vehicles. Beetles have gotten plenty weird, but one of the strangest configurations is a motorhome. Decades ago, creative builders loved putting camper bodies on the backs of cars, and even the Beetle was a recipient. The Super Bugger is one of those motorhomes, and over 50 years ago it was a kit that allowed Beetle owners to chop up their cars to create a camper.

I’m a huge fan of campers that stand out in a crowd. Most RV manufacturers today make about the same thing and after a while, monochrome rectangles on wheels get boring. As I’ve written about many times in the past, a vintage camper is an excellent way to get an RV that’s brimming with character. This 1968 Volkswagen Beetle Super Bugger on Bring a Trailer is a piece of history and simultaneously a slow and cute way to go camping.

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The Volkswagen Beetle ‘Super Bugger’ is part of a line of Beetle-based campers. It started with one company seeking to make motorhomes far cheaper.

Chopping Up Bugs

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The history of the Super Bugger appears to be somewhat thin, but some sleuthing has unveiled much of its origin story. This VW-based camper story starts sometime in the 1960s when dreamers and builders were cutting up Beetles to turn them into different things.

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Among the people chopping up air-cooled Volkswagens was Doug Allenthorpe. According to the February 2018 issue of Dune Buggies and HotVWs, Allenthorpe was a designer and a draftsman with experience building travel trailers. In the 1960s, he took a VW Beetle, chopped off everything behind the dashboard, and built a wood-framed camper box on top. This new motorhome was called the Lil Bugger. The whole unit weighed about 250 to 300 pounds and other modifications included larger tires, a stiffened structure, and an upgraded suspension. The Beetle underneath still performed largely as designed.

Allenthorpe may have been an experienced camper builder, but he was not a businessman. So, when it came time to sell his idea, he partnered up with a firm. Reportedly, this business relationship was an utter disaster and it resulted in Allenthorpe selling the rights to the design to Robert Q. Riley, owner of Robert Q. Riley Enterprises, LLC. We’ll get back to Riley in a moment.

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Super Campers, Inc

With the Lil Bugger no longer under his control, Allenthorpe decided not to give up on making an affordable Beetle-based camper. His next iteration would be bigger and better, and this time, Allenthorpe wouldn’t lose the camper to the company that was supposed to market it. The new camper, which made its release in 1975, was called the Super Bugger, and Super Campers of Costa Mesa, California sold it.

Your Super Bugger started life as a Volkswagen Beetle donor car. The camper shell was advertised to fit on any Beetle built between 1961 and 1977 with a 1600 engine and you had a few major options for your build. For the price of $1,950 you got the shell, leaving you to chop up your Beetle to mount it yourself. If you wanted the shell installed onto your existing Beetle, that would cost you $2,995, toss on another $1,000 if you wanted the shell furnished, including seats, shocks, carpets, and curtains. Finally, if you just wanted to buy a turn-key unit, that was $5,995.

As I noted before, the Super Buggy consists of a wooden box with fiberglass batt insulation and metal siding. Inside, standard features included two double beds, a stainless sink, a rear bench, a two-burner stove with hood, a sink pump, swivel bucket seats, a 12-gallon water tank, an icebox, and nylon carpeting. Upgrades to the chassis included body reinforcements, custom wheels, and a stronger suspension.

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Super Campers advertised fuel economy of 23 to 25 mpg and that the Super Bugger had better stability than a regular Beetle. [Editor’s Note: I wonder what they mean by this? Maybe all that extra weight just made it feel more, um, planted? – JT] Kit build times were advertised to be as quick as 60 hours.

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Mechanix Illustrated

There’s one more variant of this type of camper out there, and some people confuse it for the Super Bugger. In 1977, Robert Q. Riley wanted to publish kit plans for the Lil Bugger in Mechanix Illustrated magazine. Reportedly, the editor of Mechanix Illustrated didn’t want the magazine’s logo to be applied to a camper with the name Lil Bugger. So, the name was changed to MiniHome and published in the June 1977 issue of Mechanix Illustrated.

The MI MiniHome was similar in design to the Lil Bugger and Super Bugger, including the swivel seats, two beds, and small, but usable kitchen. The MI MiniHome also advertised that the sink and stove were installed on a module on tracks so you can cook inside or outside.

Vw Super Bugger
Mechanix Illustrated

Mechanix Illustrated did not advertise a turn-key version — it was a magazine, after all — but did say you could build your MiniHome for about $1,300 and with 120 hours of labor, not including the cost of the donor car. The MiniHome was pitched as an alternative to spending $8,000 on a camper van in the 1970s.

It’s believed that there were around 1,000 Super Buggers built before Super Campers disappeared. I don’t have production data for the MiniHome, but that camper is still something you can build today. The plans have been modernized using 2D CAD drawings and 3D CAD models. If you have an old Beetle that you’d rather have as a camper, the plans cost $55.

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This 1968 Volkswagen Beetle Super Bugger

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Now we land back at the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle camper for sale on Bring a Trailer. This one is not a Mechanix Illustrated MiniHome, but a Super Campers Super Bugger.

According to the auction listing, this Beetle wasn’t a turn-key build but was converted by one of the vehicle’s previous owners. Super Campers said in advertising that completed builds could be re-titled as a specially constructed vehicle, but it appears some retained the identification of their donor vehicles.

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This camper is period-correct on the outside, featuring corrugated aluminum siding over the wooden camper body. The listing notes that the rear shock mounts are reinforced and there are two giant doors on both sides of the unit. In terms of visibility, the driver gets to look out of flat panes of glass and see behind them using a set of RV mirrors bolted to the camper’s front overhang. Another notable exterior feature is the staggered wheel set up. You get wide 15 inch wheels with 295/50 Cooper Cobra tires in the rear and 14 inch wheels with 185/70 Autopar 4S IV tires up front.

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Don’t expect a ton of power to back up those looks. A 1.6-liter air-cooled flat four resides in the rear making about 60 HP and transmitting power to the rear wheels through a four-speed transaxle. That engine is fed by a Weber progressive-style two-barrel carburetor and ignition comes from Edelbrock parts. The top speed of a Super Bugger was advertised to be about 10 mph slower than a regular Beetle, so I would expect 70 mph with a tailwind to be a very good day for this camper.

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Look, this is not the RV you buy when you need to get anywhere with any sort of speed. It’s also not a rig you should need to stop fast, either, because the brakes are all drums.

That said, the interior is lovely. All of the previously mentioned equipment is present, including a Trav’ler two-burner propane stove, a hand-pumped sink, and a dinette that turns into a bed. A tube TV is also present for those vintage movie nights.

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This RV spent a lot of time in Canada before getting sold for $29,700 by Mecum in Houston last April. Now it’s for sale again at Bring a Trailer. As of writing, bidding is at $5,000 with seven days to go.

The Beetle Super Bugger has a weird name and might be one of the slowest campers on Earth, but it’s a totally adorable ride. I bet camping in one of these is also a ball. Honestly, I’d love to see campers like this again today. I know vans are perfectly fine for this task, but I giggle at the thought of regular passenger cars turned into campers.

(Images: Bring a Trailer Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Rapgomi
Rapgomi
1 month ago

That thing is a super cute and cool camper! But slowest? Somewhere there is a 48hp VW Vanagon Diesel Westfalia watching a Super Bugger pull away…

Sgtyukon
Sgtyukon
1 month ago

My ’63 Bug wouldn’t keep up with the speed limit on I-95 between NYC and DC (not the most mountainous part of the country). My 67 wasn’t a lot better in that respect. I’ll pass a Super Bugger, but I certainly won’t be able to pass while driving one.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 month ago

Why nor just exchange your VW Beetle for a VW bus? So much more useful.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 month ago

Matt: “Adrian, we’ve finally found an RV! We’re bringing you to the US all expenses so you can come on the Autopian road trip!”
Me: “No deal”

Bruce H
Bruce H
1 month ago

I saw one of these at the Easter Concours D’elegance car show in St. Louis this year! It had been 45 years since I had seen one, although the one(s) I saw at a dealership in California in 1979 were called “Bugaroos”, but externally, at least, they looked exactly like a Super Bugger. I would never drive one, but they are cool to look at.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 month ago

Whoa, this looks awesome! I don’t know why I was surprised how little space there is in there but still like it.
Slugbug, green!

Electronika
Electronika
1 month ago

I am surprised that with all the available power upgrades to a air cooled VW engine and a bug chassis that the people that have obviously cared for very well for this camper haven’t done much to address the power and safety of this rig. I mean for not much money that engine could do well over 100hp (dual carbs, and other upgrades are easy and cheap). Then a disk brake conversion isn’t really that expensive. I mean with a disk brake conversion and an extra 50 HP this thing might actually be drivable on the freeway (Maybe a Freeway Flyer transmission would also be in order). Without that, its a curiosity at best. I mean I had a 98 v6 regular cab Dodge Dakota and with just me and the wife and a couple of sleeping bags couldn’t go over 70 on the highway through Colorado out here, with less than half the HP and more weight I can’t imagine how bad this would be driving from Denver to anywhere in the high country.. This guy, I think you would constantly hugging the right lane with your hazards on with the big rigs. Maybe if you live in Kansas it might be passible

Last edited 1 month ago by Electronika
Tagarito
Tagarito
1 month ago

Wow, that looks like something The Bishop would draw. Never thought it was really built. It would have had a headline like:

Bugs You Can Sleep With and Sleep In, c/o Our Daydreaming Designer

Toecutter
Toecutter
1 month ago

In a shit-hit-the-fan Mad Max scenario, this would actually make quite a nice Bug-out vehicle. Pun intended.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Maybe, but you sure ain’t outrunning Toecutter, the Night Rider, Johnny the Boy, and all the rest.

Toecutter
Toecutter
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

and all the rest.

…Bubba Zanetti, Diabando, Mudguts, Cundalini, Starbuck, Clunk.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 month ago

I saw one of these at a car show a long time ago (I think it was in the late ’90s?). They look weird in pictures, but in person they look really cool.

I am curious what the small air filter next to the crank pulley is. I haven’t seen that before and I have no idea what that would be. Does anyone know what that is?

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I think that is the crankcase vent. My ’67 squareback with the stock 1600 engine has it in that location, though it looks a lot different. Stock Type 3 has a mesh so the oil vapor condenses and drips back into the engine. This one provides ari flow, but maybe not a way for the oil to condense and drip back.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago

“…The Slowest, Cutest Way To Go Camping”

Well, perhaps. The Mini Wildgoose can give it a run for its money on both points:

https://cdn.motor1.com/images/mgl/LpBPj/s3/mini-wildgoose-1965.jpg

Last edited 1 month ago by Mike Harrell
Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

The Bedford Bambi (built on a Bedford Rascal aka a license-built Suzuki Carry) is in the same area:
https://www.quirkycampers.com/uk/for-sale/1990-bedford-bambi-compact-campervan-970-cc-12-months-mot/
Apparently they’re very slow, but very charming.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

I love that interior cutaway so much. Avocado green! Remember when interiors had colors and weren’t just neutral/earth/grey tones for resale?

Remember when cars were in colors and not just neutral/earth/grey tones for resale?

Puffalump Farms remembers (and picked her house for the cool baby blue bathroom).

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
1 month ago

This looks like something from a Muppet movie.

Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
1 month ago

I have wanted one of these ever since I saw the photos years ago. Utterly ridiculous, ridiculously silly, and totally my vibe.

Jon Benet
Jon Benet
1 month ago

Imagine it electrified with solar on the roof to help charge it.

Here is an EV converted bug.
https://youtu.be/mZZo8iOMIvc?si=36NQRBspcI5PlHo_

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

The ugliest way to go camping. The front of a bug, weld on a telephone booth, and tack on a metal outhouse. I would prefer attaching it to a VW Thing. Think about it an old would open cockpit for the driver, or just design a real camper where the whole think fits.

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago

I’m sure it would get 25 MPG… going downhill. And it handles just like a stock Beetle, too, no doubt about that.
It’s very clever and unique, but with no shower or toilet, it’s kind of half-baked.
The best way to camp without a bathroom onboard would be a pop-out tent trailer with built-in kitchen. It doesn’t have the aerodynamic difficulties, is roomier, and can be left behind at the campsite when you want to drive to town or explore the area. You can also enjoy an engine with more than 60 HP, and not worry about crosswinds.

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
1 month ago

Interesting choice of name. Clearly no Brits involved in that one.

Usernametaken
Usernametaken
1 month ago

There are 2 options here, either they had no idea or they DEFINITELY knew exactly what they were promising in the interior.

…if it’s a-rockin’…

…check for the upsidedown pineapple before a-knockin’

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
1 month ago
Reply to  Usernametaken

And you have to be serious contortionists to do that inside.

Hamish48
Hamish48
1 month ago

the BaT vehicle shown has spent much of its life in Canada where, I assure you, we fully understand its name in all respects in a Brit sense.

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