Automakers have created Special Editions of their car offerings for almost as long as there have been cars, but perhaps Volkswagen holds the record for the most Special Editions based on any one model, specifically the Type I “Beetle.” Clearly, this 1973 Formula Vee Beetle has seen better days (as has its 1972 Super Beetle lot-mate); still, when it was new it represented Volkswagen’s attempt to capitalize on the growing interest in the new class of Formula Vee racing cars that were taking the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) circuit by storm.
The Formula Vee class had its genesis in 1959, when Hubert Brundage commissioned Enrico Nardi, an Italian race car designer, to create the Brundage Formula Junior car from components of a brand-new 1958 Beetle 113 that had been provided for the project. Formula Junior provided an entry-level racing class in which drivers could use inexpensive mechanical components from ordinary automobiles. Brundage Motors (later known as Brumos) was a Volkswagen – Porsche dealer in Florida, and Brundage himself an avid racer—in fact, Brumos still fields Porsche race cars to this day.
The Nardi design was influenced by the Auto Union Grand Prix race car, but it ended up not being competitive on the racing circuit. Brundage lost interest, and in 1961 sold the car to George Smith and William Duckworth for one U.S. dollar. The pair had taken an interest in the car, and now sought to create a new racing class based on Volkswagen-derived race cars built to rigid technical regulations, thus placing more emphasis on driver skill rather than the vehicle itself.
After making some revisions to the Nardi design, the two approached the SCCA with their “Formcar” design. In a 1962 race in Savannah, GA, the first Formula Vees took to the track. The four Beetle-based entries were placed at the back of the grid because it was felt they would not be competitive–but in an exciting turn, the cars took first, second and third places in the race. It was a spectacular victory that put Formula Vee on the map. The SCCA officially recognized Formula Vee as a racing class in 1963, and it quickly became the most popular class within SCCA racing.
Formula Vee continues to be popular today. The design is still based on a 1964-67 Beetle running a 1,200 cc, 40-hp engine with mild tuning improvements. A brand-new car will set you back around $15,000 (used cars start around $5,000), and usually can be maintained for a racing season for well under $1,000. Top speed is around 120 mph (190 kph), with cornering speeds up of to 100 mph at 1.6 g. The car (with driver) must weigh a minimum of 1,025 lb. (465 kg).
As the Beetle grew in popularity–both in popular culture as well as on the racetrack–during the 1960s, an aftermarket parts company called EMPI began offering a number of accessories for the car. Not to be outdone, in 1966 Volkswagen began offering a Formula Vee striping kit, which added “FV 1300” or “FV 1500″ decals across the engine lid. The number of accessories available from your VW dealer expanded each year to eventually include a full range of add-on accessories. Each Formula Vee ‘Bug” could be dressed out to suit the whims of the owner or dealer.
While our subject car has only the standard Beetle wheels, it does sport additional chrome inserts around the engine cooling louvers, as well as bumper-mounted horns and the obligatory Formula Vee decals along the running boards. I didn’t think to take photos of the interior, but there were also a number of dress-up items to be seen there.
I’ll take a moment to point out that the white 1972 Super Beetle with “Herbie” decals is not a VW Special Edition. The Love Bug movie was released in 1969, and Disney took great pains to obscure the name and brand of the car—in fact, you never hear the words “Volkswagen,” “Beetle” or “Bug” in the original movie, and nearly all its VW logos were removed or covered.
It wasn’t until the release of Herbie Rides Again, in 1974, that the movie referred to the car as a Volkswagen. It was at that time that VW offered a ‘Love Bug’ Special Edition Beetle in special colors and trim levels. VW Dealers offered a decal kit (seen above) which could be used to create a Herbie tribute car—a Volkswagen dealer we passed occasionally had one prominently displayed out front in 1975. Knowledgeable Herbie fans (such as myself) will be quick to point out that the VW dealer kits do not match the font and stripe widths of those used on the movie cars.
Another popular Special Edition Beetle from the early-mid 1970s was the Jeans Beetle with a blue-jeans fabric interior. This treatment was not limited to Volkswagen, as AMC offered a similar option on several of their models of the 1970s. Apparently, the jeans material did not hold up well, which likely explains why we haven’t seen a modern revival.
Volkswagen’s latest Beetle-based Special Edition is the recently-announced 2014 Beetle GSR, which harkens back to the Saturn Yellow-and-Black 1973 VW 1303 S “Racer” Special Edition. The 2014 edition features 210 hp, as well as a trim package that includes the signature yellow-and-black paint scheme. Only 3,500 will be produced–just like the original 1973 Racer Special Edition.
The Middle West is not kind to older Volkswagens; sadly, both these cars are pretty far gone, with evidence of rot along the heater channels (a structural part of the floor pan, located behind the running boards). The floor pans are almost surely rotted through and, in fact, this Super has “parts car” scrawled across the windshield under the phone number. Essentially, the cost to bring back either one would likely exceed their as-restored value.
Volkswagen got a lot of mileage out of the Beetle, and the platform itself was quite welcoming to the many and various permutations of Special Editions with which it was saddled. These two examples have been sitting in this yard for a couple of years now. Even though they’re in sad shape, they still bring a smile to my face every time I pass by.
A comprehensive list of Beetle Special Editions through the years can be found at sebeetles.com. Photos of the two Beetles are the author’s; all others come from various internet sources.