This was one of the most popular European made SEBs being marketed at the height of the mid 1970’s and one of a significant trio of Sales Campaign models from that era: Jeans, City and Big.
Together they formed the “Käfer der Käufer” Edition which repeated a theme used by Volkswagen earlier that year in the “Drei Käfer auf Extra-Tour” Edition of using a trio of Beetles as the base models: spartan 1200cc, luxe 1300cc and sports 1600cc.
All three Beetles of the “Käfer der Käufer” Edition were represented on the extensive Volkswagen display at the 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show where the Big Beetle was priced at DM 7670 just DM450 more than the standard German market 1303S on which it was based. Unusual for the era was the fact that the Jeans, City and Big Beetles shared an official Volkswagen sales brochure. For markets such as the UK that did not import the City Beetle an alternative version of the brochure was produced featuring only the Jeans and Big Beetles. Publicity photos of this trio were also liberally produced and as a result these three models grouped together have become one of the most frequent seen illustrations of 1970‘s SEBs in books and magazines.
The model was based on the 1303 S Super Beetle with 50bhp engine and was therefore the “top end” offering of the Jeans, City, Big’ trio.
The Big Beetle brochure illustrated it being available in L95C (Y6) Moosgrün-metallic, L95M (U6 )Ontario-metallic and L98C (W4) Hellas-metallic. We believe that, certainly in the UK, there was a second importation comprising of further Moosgrün-metallic cars together with the introduction of a fourth and predominate colour – Diamantsilber-metallic.
Whilst Moosgrün-metallic and Hellas-metallic were standard 1974 model year paint colours (at least in Germany for the 1303 range) Ontario-metallic and Diamantsilber-metallic were not.
Information available on the UK 1303 Big Beetle Register website shows that not only where there two distinct batches of frame (chassis) numbers series imported but two distinct groupings in the dates of UK first registration. The bulk of the initial importation were registered between October 1973 and March 1974. Given the practicalities of exportation, distribution and stock control this correlates well to The Käfer Revue 1/2015 article “Käfer spezial:” information that the Big Beetle production period was 15 September 1973 – 16.November 1973.
When looking at the same information source it can be seen that of the second series of Big Beetles imported into the UK the bulk of the cars were registered between June and October 1974. In addition the second batch Moosgrün-metallic and the Diamantsilber-metallic examples came with 4½Jx15 rather than the 5½J x15 Lemmerz “GT” sports wheels normally associated with the Big Beetle Edition. Other minor differences included rubber bumper strips and the standard plastic gear shift knob instead of the wooden version shown in the Big Beetle brochure. There is good evidence that these cars carried the S729 option code on their delivery documentation rather than the expected S763 code. This then links the Diamantsilber-metallic Big Beetles to that Edition supplied into several “export” markets listed as the “S 729 “Sonderaktion *Luxus-Käfer* Export-Länder nicht USA, Kanada 1303: 135, 136”
The end result of this research is that SEB history has to be rewritten – certainly as far as the UK is concerned. Those later batch of Moosgrün-metallic and Diamantsilber-metallic cars that for 40 years had been considered Big Beetles were in fact S 729 *Luxus-Käfer* but because UK Big Beetles had the plain side stripe, as did the *Luxus-Käfer*, it seems nobody particularly noticed and they came to be assumed just “more of the same”.
In the home (“inland”) market and some “export” markets this side stripe carried the lettering “1303 Big” whilst in some other markets, notably the UK, the side stripe was plain black without lettering.
It’s special velvet cord faced upholstery was coordinated to the paint colour (blue with L95M and L97A, bamboo with L95C and L98C) and combined with loop pile carpet, inertia reel seat belts, wood veneer dashboard, vinyl padded steering wheel, special gearshift knob, 5.5Jx15 sports wheels (M444) with 175/70 tires, engine hood lock and in most markets, although not the UK, M Pack (Z 05) comprising of heated rear window, rubber bumper inserts, anti-dazzle rear view mirror, reversing lights.
The Big Beetle was also one of the most extensively equipped SEBs with quite a range of specifications variations depending on recipient markets. Quite a few were produced with high-back seats notably for Scandinavian markets and some also appear to have been factory fitted with opening rear side windows. In Italy they were sold with 1200 and 1300 engines, the latter having twin Weber carburettors.
Shown at the 1973 Earls Court (London) Motor Show the UK bound Big Beetles arrived with a slightly less well equipped specification than the “inland” and “export” markets in mainland Europe – a fact recorded on sales brochures for the UK that came with an Erratum sticker declaring “Not so Big”. UK market Big Beetles were however priced, at £1,260-00, only £34-00 more expensive than the standard 1303S. Significantly though, from a buyers point of view, it provided an immediate purchase opportunity to get a 1303 with the 1600cc engine because the 1303S was only available to special order in the UK for the 1974 model year which entailed a three month delivery period.
Further reading on this website:
The individual profile for The Luxury Beetles.
“Retrospectively Speaking” editorial columns RS 002 and RS 003
UK Big Beetle pictures courtesy Stephen Paul Hardy. Belgian brochure courtesy Jean-Marie Verhulst.