The Volkswagen world is quite diverse, and the more you look into it, the more you realize that there were more than just Beetles, Ghias and Buses built back in the 1960s, and not all VWs produced rolled off the assembly lines in Germany. As Volkwagens spread across the globe, production facilities outside of Germany were built to satisfy demand. Many of these started out as little more than warehouses where German made parts were assembled into running, driving cars. As time went on these satellite factories started producing parts and vehicles themselves, mostly the standard VW models, but on rare occassion they ventured off to build something different. Such was the case with Volkswagen of Australia in the mid-1960s and the Volkswagen Country Buggy you see before you here.
Australia is a diverse place with many different landscapes. The vast majority of the country is rough natural land where cattle ranchers and scant villages of folks reside. Normal cars in these extreme areas don't last very long and the need for a rugged, simple and economical vehicle was high on the list of these people. While most automakers focused on four wheel drive vehicles to market to the people, Volkswagen took a different approach. The Beetle's sturdy platform had already proven itself a worthy vehicle to the city folk, but better ground clearance and an even simpler design could be even more beneficial to those in the Outback. So towards the end of 1965, VW of Australia decided to move forward with a design project to meet the unique needs of the rural Australian car buyer. The first prototypes were built in the last months of 1965 and immediately went through extensive field testing in all possible terrains. Before VW of Australia could start production, they needed the approval of the big boys in Wolfsburg and in mid 1966, two prototypes were air-freighted to Germany for evaluation and track testing. Coincidentally VW of Germany had just started design work on their own rugged off road model and as soon as the Aussies landed in Wolfsburg they were ushered into a special project area of the factory where the design for the eventual Type 181 was taking form. The two prototypes were seperated with one going to the German Army and the other to the Wolfsburg testing facilities.
After VW of Germany gave their nod of approval, and a long list of suggestions and requirements, the Aussies returned home to get busy. A prototype was shown to VW dealers in Australia in Feb of 1967 and to the public in March of the same year. After the debut of the prototype, the factory geared up for production. The first "Country Buggy" rolled off the assembly line late in 1967 with the scheduled public release to be in spring of 1968.
On April 3, 1968, the Country Buggy was released to the public and a total of 842 cars were produced during the year. Unfortunately the financial health of VW of Australia was failing and only eight short months after the Country Buggy was released, VW officials made the decision to wind down production and closed the press shop that stamped out the body panels by the end of the year. Production continued slowly using existing materials until early 1970 and another 181 vehicles were shipped in CKD (Completely Knocked Down) form to the Phillipines in 1972. All in all, when production had finally ceased, only 1956 examples had been produced, with 469 of that number being built in CKD form at other VW factories, mostly in the Philippines and Malaysia.
Today the Country Buggy is a rare sight anywhere in the world, even in Australia. One enthusiastic Country Buggy owner in Australia, Bill Moore, has assembled a registry that currently has documented just 196 existing Country Buggies around the globe. While there are certainly some existing that are not on the registry, Bill has estimated that that number is perhaps no more than another 50 cars. In the U.S., there are only five examples known, including this one, a 1968 model owned by the folks at Oldbug.com in California.
The Country Buggy in this feature was imported to California in 2002 in unrestored original condition. It was complete but was quite rough from a lifetime of use on a ranch near Toowoomba Australia. Finding parts in the US for such a rare vehicle is not an easy task, so many of the needed parts were flown in from Australia or were fabricated locally. Mechanically the car is a blend of Type I and Type II parts from the era and a good bit of trial and error was put into play during the mechanical revival. The engine is a standard 1300cc six-volt unit with a crank start and a special aircleaner unit for dusty conditions. The special exhaust exits high above the rear bumper so the car can be driven through deep streams without flooding the engine. The tall ride height was acheived by the factory by using Type II king pins, steering knuckles and a reduction box equipped transmission. The rest of the chassis and many of the other parts were straight from the Beetle parts bins. The shared components were fairly easy to deal with but the long list of Country Buggy only items provided quite the challenge. The convertible top was created entirely off of photos from copies of original sales literature. The restoration was completed just in time for the VW Classic in June 2003 where it debuted to a long line of strange stares and shrugged shoulders. Bringing a freshly restored VW to any event is a treat, but bringing a VW model that few have ever seen, and even so, only in books, was a very exciting endeavor indeed.
After a season of local VW events, this Country Buggy has now been put up for sale to make room for the next Oldbug.com creation... what will be next?
Windshield folds flat for...
Windshield folds flat for clearing under low branches and for hunting.
Front seats use the bottom...
Front seats use the bottom frame and cushion from a Beetle and a special backrest with a grab handle on the top.
The bottom of the gas cap...
The bottom of the gas cap features a VW logo flanked by kangaroos.
The 1300cc engine has an electric...
The 1300cc engine has an electric starter as well as a crank start handle stowed in the trunk.