Curbside Capsule: 1981 Bremen Mini Mark – That Time When VW-based Kit Cars Roamed the Land

(first posted 9/28/2017)      Kewanee, Illinois is recognized as the “Hog Capital of the World,” and actually was just that back in the late 1940s when the town processed more of ‘the other white meat’ than anyone else. The town puts on a pretty good car show every year, and as I was working my way past all the ‘so-clean-you-can-eat-off-the-valve-cover’ street rods, this VW-based (apparent) kit car caught my eye and I had to swoop in for a closer look.

Dennis, the owner’s father, happened to be close by and stepped in to offer some details on the car, which his son had purchased only a day or two before the show. They did nothing more than give the car ‘a lick and a promise’ cleaning, secured plates and insurance and drove it in. Dennis didn’t know too much about the car – only the basics that his son had found online – so I offered to research it and send him a letter with the details (he doesn’t do computers or even smartphones, which is refreshing this day and age!).

Bremen got its start around 1965 building Citation dune buggies out of a chicken coop in Bremen, Indiana, and they’re still around, although today they primarily manufacture aftermarket fiberglass accessories for trucks and SUVs. Realizing at the time that they could make a go at factory-built conversions, they eventually moved to larger facilities and offered five different vehicles, including the Citation, Sebring, Creighton, Maxi Taxi and of course, the Mini Mark.

The Mini Mark was based on a VW Type I chassis and running gear, usually purchased directly from Volkswagen, but donor cars were occasionally used to keep up with production demand, after having been carefully inspected for fitness. Sales literature also references the Mini Mark being available using the Ford Pinto platform.

The front ‘grille’ on the Mini Mark is a faithful copy of the 1976 Lincoln Mark IV’s grille, and in fact, the center sections from the Mark IV supposedly will slip right in, should the Mini Mark owner so desire.

While our subject car is registered as a 1981 (the year of manufacture by Bremen), it’s powered by a single-port VW engine (1970 or earlier) rocking a generator and air conditioning compressor. I’ll hazard a guess that this particular Mini Mark started life as a donor VW as opposed to using new components.

The interior is tidy, with substantially more switches and dials than that which came with a Beetle. No blank-out plates, though.

Here’s another peek in the ‘trunk,’ in which there’s precious little room for storage, given all the air conditioning paraphernalia.

The Bremen factory unfortunately burned to the ground in 1975, but was rebuilt on the same site, and new molds were created. Production of their conversions continued through 1984 when one of the partners left to pursue another opportunity. The molds were eventually hauled off to the dump, leaving us with just over 100 known surviving Mini Marks today, out of an estimated 300–400 produced.

When I was a youngster in the late 1960s / early 1970s, it was always a thrill to spot a VW-based kit car – the MG knock-offs were probably the most popular, but variations abounded, limited only by their creator’s imagination. While not technically a kit car, the Mini Mark represents the era well, and it was a pleasure to learn a little more about this example for its owner.

More recently, the Pontiac Fiero, with its “mill and drill” space frame and plastic body panels seemed to be a popular kit car platform, but they’re getting scarce on the ground these days. So what modern automotive platform best serves as a kit car platform today?

Related Reading: QOTD: VW Types I & II – Most Modded Vehicle Platforms Ever?