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.
The mk1 Fiat Panda had at least 112 special editions, from 1982 to 2002. However this list might not be complete.
[edited to remove very lengthy list of Panda Limited Editions, which can be viewed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_Panda instead]
Not sure, but you may have meant to post this here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/beach-time-fiat-panda-bianca-boxy-and-foxy/
Zounds, that’s a lot of Special Editions!
Some of those Formula Vee accessories, namely the steering wheels and some of the shifters are worth a good bit of money these days.
I had a really neat Formula Vee shifter on my ’71 Beetle, I found it really cheap and it was the best shifter I’d used. I sold it after I got rid of my ’71. It won’t fit on my ’59 Beetle and I like the look of the early shifter on it anyway.
I love the EMPI GTV and the decked out Formula Vee Beetles.
Oh and I almost forgot, if you are so interested, here’s a website devoted to all of those cheesy special edition Beetles all over the world.
This is probably the most unusual VW Beetle design that I have seen.
I don’t think any of those aftermarket body kits were offered as official VW Special Editions, though… Cool none-the-less, though!
The ’40 Ford schnoz looks good on a Beetle because it is roughly contemporary with the Beetle’s design. This is a 1973 or later Super Beetle with the curved windshield and somewhat extended front bodywork, which helps make the pseudo-hood longer and more convincing.
This is of course the fascinating conundrum of the Beetle, that buyers in the 60’s and 70’s happily snapped up millions of a car that is obviously a late-30’s design. There is no way GM or Ford would have gotten away with that.
I was always curious about that double standard of the automotive press. It seems everyone expects US automakers to redesign their cars periodically and skewer them in the rags. I remember reading an article in 1990 when the new 1991 Caprices were coming out with the headline like “GM puts new skin on an ancient barge” or something to that effect. Really like Volvo didn’t sell the 144/240 which was basically the same thing for 20+ years and its considered ‘quaint’. Right. When the Vega came out, they tried to crib some of that by stating “no changes for like 5 years” or something but of course things began to change (though the body shell remained largely the same) almost immediately based on customer demand.
I got a kick out of that Jimmy Durante Edition woody VW that was sold by an acquaintence of mine who runs a consignment business underneath a museum/hotel in Canton, OH.
The Beetle had a market niche to itself below the smallest US built cars in the Sixties. It was significantly cheaper to buy (important when more lower-income people bought new cars) and got better gas mileage.
It was still a legitimate alternative in the 70s. When my dad bought a new Beetle (our first “good” second car), I remember him saying that the Pinto and the Vega were junk, and he didn’t like the Gremlin. (Japanese cars were too much of a novelty to be on his radar.) I can understand someone preferring a Beetle to a base Gremlin, esp when the family already has a fancy full size car when everyone needs to go somewhere together and never needs to actually use the extra space in the Gremlin.
Nice post on the origins of FV. I never really knew that it started in Europe as a Formula Junior entrant. I had assumed it was an American SCCA thing, as it certainly was hugely popular here.
And I’d totally forgotten about the FV edition Beetle. The one that always stands out in my mind from that era was the Baja SE. They were quite popular in CA; I’ve been hoping to find one, but that would be a stretch.
The yellow one’s got ’73 taillights….
My reference says the ’73s got the large ‘elephant ear’ taillights, but these look like the smaller ones, only with amber turn indicator lenses. Perhaps it is indeed a ’73, though.
Those are definitely the “elephant ear” style. Note the absence of a body color sheetmetal mount (as visible on the white one).
Ah, got it. I’ll correct the text… here’s what I was visualizing – they just didn’t look that large to me in my photo (even when I zoomed in).
You managed to get the perfect photo angle that maximized ambiguity for the shape. It was only the absence of the mount that made it clear which it was.
Formula V is a popular entry level race category here below formula Ford which uses Cortina engines and are a whole lot faster, never seen a VW with those decals but by the time the 70s rolled around VW was pretty well finished with horribly overpriced cars for what you got special editions might not have worked here.
I would say the Jeep CJ/Wranglers and the Chevy Camaros probably has about as model variants as any car. Then you throw in the RPO variants like the Dale Earnhardt Hall Of Fame Edition below that actually had a legit GM RPO assigned to it.
I took that pic at Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet in 2010.
I thought I had a great memory of import car trivia of the ’60’s and ’70’s but have no recollection of these Beetle Special Editions. But I have seen a a lot of “Island Edition” and similar Wranglers, and today I saw a “Mountain Edition”, complete with the latitude and longitude of the referenced mountain …. 27S and 68W. It’s Catamarca in Argentina. I know Jeep has a long heritage in Argentina but it seemed like an odd choice; I expected something in the Northern Hemisphere, maybe in the Sierras closer to the Rubicon.
I bought a new 72 VW Baja Special Edition Beetle from Phil Winslow VW in Colorado Springs, CO. It was the regular beetle body, not the super beetle. Special silver/blue metallic paint, spoke wheels and interior variations were the only options on it that I recall. The dealership was also including a cute, fuzzy stuffed VW with the purchase. I have a black and white picture of the car somewhere. This was another one of the many cars that I owned in that era that I should have kept. Little did I know what I had at the time and I sold it after 2 years.
That 72 interior brought back fond memories of my 68 Type 1, quite an oddity because it too had a hang on air conditioner, mine was a “Delanair” unit that used a York compressor. It was pretty much worthless but was an interesting (and complex) conversation piece.
Chrome louvers, external horns, and decals doesn’t make for a very special special edidtion, but still an interesting little bit of VW history.
I enjoyed your article and the Formula V race info.
I’m liking the wood interior. Beetle Brougham anyone?
Oh, yes! But it needs a special vinyl roof and opera windows.
In South Africa we also had formula Vee racing. Special VW Beetles produced at the Uitenhage plant neat Port Elizabeth were the Jeans Bug (denim upholstery), the Luxbug (Luxury looking appointments and metallic brown paintwork), and the SP with twin carburettors, yellow paintwork and black striping. A lot of after market go fast equipment was sold here. Beetles were built in South Africa till 1978. As a Peugeot 404 fan (already at that time) I was never very impressed. At the Cape Town newspaper (Die Burger) where I worked as a reporter we used Beetles for city jobs and Peugeot 404s for country assignments. No comparison between the cars…. One thing, you could drive it on the revs if the clutch cable broke! The new Beetle does not quite make it, even if it is made by Volkswagen. Somehow the Mini, which is owned and made by BMW and has a BMW/Peugeot engine is a much bigger success!
Hmm, to my Eastern Canadian eyes these don’t look unsalvageable, but I much prefer working on my Texas un-rusted beetle, which also wore a Herbie decal on the back for a while.
But what about that sweet looking green and white Ford pickup in the background?
Written up here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-outtake/curbside-outtake-1970-ford-f-250-sport-custom-camper-special/