Retrospectively Speaking: The black trim embellished 1303 Special Edition Beetles manufactured in Europe.
Just occasionally in, for example, design, art, architecture, fashion or music something is introduced that makes the world sit up and take note. A new era is started. (I refuse to fall into the trap though of using the contemporary, overworked, cliché “iconic”.)
Quite often this new era brings strong reactions – or anti-reactions. Just 40 years ago, in June 1976, such an event happened in the automotive world. Volkswagen launched a new version Golf. First shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show the previous Autumn, the newcomer had a simple red trim line around the radiator grill. An innovative, striking, design detail which started a whole new chapter of motoring history. The Golf GTi had been born. An implicit part of accenting it’s red line image was the contrasting black, rather than chrome, trim.
Now, in retrospect it seems almost unbelievable that only 3 years previous to the introduction of the Golf GTi Volkswagen’s use of black trim had itself caused quite a stir. In those three years this inspirational use of a counterpoint to automotive decorative convention had become a hallmark of the European SEB model production. It then also quickly became a signature theme of the austerity level “New Generation” water-cooled Volkswagen models. The GTi reversed the connection of black equals austerity in the eyes of many auto-critics.
There could not have been more distinct counterpoints to the Lux’ trim 1303 SEBs than ones with black trim embellishments. Nor has there been any other detail that is more strongly associated with being a consistent theme of the Special Edition Beetles manufactured in Europe than the contrast between bright colour paintwork and black trim accents. But how did this come about in those three short, but very, busy years in Volkswagen history?
For answers we first have to look, yet again, to the Volkswagen “S” list when searching for the origins of black trim as an SEB theme. (“S” standing for “Sonderverkaufsaktion” or “Sonderaktion” meaning , literally, “Special sales deal” and“Promotions” respectively).
But before we do I need to go back one step further. To 1979. At that time I was gathering together a lot of new OE and accessory parts to modify my then new 1200L into a “Dream Car” (Volkswagen & Porsche Magazine Dec 1982). This gathering process included quite a few visits to the Parts department of my Local Volkswagen dealership. As far as they were, patiently, concerned I had a seemingly insatiable hunger for enquiries framed along the lines of “Is it possible … can I get…?” For them the consequent burden was regularly having to scroll through the, then fairly new, microfiche parts slides. In the end we reached an amicable compromise. They would order anything (usually non-standard, out of UK, stock) I wanted if I could find the part numbers! This meant being allowed to take the dealership’s precious volumes of (paper paged) parts books home provided that they were collected at close of business on a Saturday morning and returned prompt by 08:00 Monday morning.
What an education it was looking through those parts lists – a veritable “Aladdin’s Cave” of information and insights. It was during those weekends of searching for orderable part numbers that I first discovered the “S” list references, specific parts lists linked to them – as well as of course the “M” list. All that information had to be extracted by long-hand note taking and eventually became key reference material that structured the 1983 Volkswagen Audi CAR Magazine series on the SEBs.
More significantly to the theme of this column is that one of the components I sought was a set of wing mounted front indicator lights. Because I was setting about accenting my Alpine White Beetle with both black and white trim I was delighted to find an additional line of entry to the list of metal indicator caps. Below the entry “chrome” was a mysterious description “Black is Beautiful”. Naively I ordered a pair of caps from that entry line and was mildly disappointed when they duly arrived in grey primer finish rather than black. Through that simple, pragmatic, evidence I know for certain that “Black is Beautiful” referred to the trim items being painted and highly probably painted black.
So returning to the “S” list. It includes the following entry: S759 Sonderaktion *Black is Beautiful* (Export, nicht USA,Kanada 111-14) (Export, nicht USA, Kanada 1303: 135, 136.)
Very surprisingly I know no more about this Campaign now than I did in 1983. The SEBeetles profile carries the same “bare bones” information that the Volkswagen Audi CAR Magazine entry did. We know that this Edition shared common paint colours of L10B Texasgelb/Texas Yellow, L21E Blutorange/Blood Orange/Tangerine and L65K Ravennagrün/Ravenna Green with the two series of “Spring Messenger” – S736 “inland” and S785 “export”. Indeed the “Black is Beautiful” and “Spring Messenger” were the only two Editions that were manufactured in Texasgelb. Yet for over 30 years I have been absolutely thwarted in finding any photographs of them.
Patterns of SEB series pairings are emerging out of recent research. The German home (“inland’) market for example with the 1974 “Die Volkssparwagen” models: the black trimmed S714 1200“Jeans” and chrome trimmed S717 1200L “Herringbone”. Another example: the 1973 “Speciale Belgique” with, again, a black trimmed 1200 and chrome trimmed 1300. I just wonder therefore if the S759 “Black is Beautiful” and S719 “Messenger of Spring” were another chrome/black trim pairing.
There was commonality also between the base models used for the S759 “Black is Beautiful” and “export” series S785 “Spring Messenger” in the base model for both Editions being types 113-114 and 135-136. In addition the frame (chassis) number series are more of less common to both Editions – as well as to the S714 Sonderaktion *Gelbschwarzer Renner* (GSR)
If the ‘Black is Beautiful” Edition remains an undocumented mystery the S714 “Gelbschwarzer Renner” / “Yellow and Black Racer “(GSR) is certainly it’s antithesis. It and it’s equally well known North American cousin the “Sports Bug” are, arguably, two of the best known and most charismatic SEB editions ever made in Europe.
According to the Volkswagen “S” list GSR frame (chassis) series fell within Nr. 133 2199 639 to Nr.133 3200 000. The Käfer Revue 1/2015 article “Käfer spezial:” gives the GSR production period (presumably based on those frame numbers) as 12 December 1972 – 09 February 1973. Production quantity is well documented in various sources as 3,500 cars.
The “Sports Bug” on the other hand cannot be traced on the Volkswagen ’S” list: there is no “Sonderaktion für USA / USA, Kanada 1303: 133, 153” listed with a 1973 frame number series ab Fg.Nr. 133 —— —-.
But we do have evidence from automotive journalist Bill Schwartzberg in his “Report from America” column for the June 1973 issue SAFER MOTORING Magazine that:
“Volkswagen of America have several new models planned for the American market, and the first car to be announced in the near future is the Sports Bug, of which only 20,000 will be available for sale in the US”.
The accompanying photo at the foot of the page carried the caption “The new limited edition (20,000 only) US Sports Bug Beetle, with dealer-fitted black “racing” striping over Canary Yellow (or Metallic Silver) bodywork. The bumpers of this car are painted black with a matching yellow stripe.”
The references to 20,000 for the US raise the question: How many were also imported into Canada? Given that this “Report from America” column was published in June 1973 with a guessable delay between press release, the column being written, posted and catching the monthly publication lead in makes it reasonable to assume that the “Sports Bug” may have been manufactured contemporaneously with the German home market “Sportkäfer”.
So having established at least some sort of base information about the production timescales and quantities what about the cars themselves?
The GSR established the Edition package that, with slight modification, the “Sports Bug” then followed.
The GSR was announced by Volkswagen in January 1973, intended exclusively for sale in Germany and with the anticipation that many would be tuned. Mechanically this model was based on the then recently released 1600cc 1303S, in standard form, having an output of 37kW/50bhp (DIN) at 4,000 rpm and a claimed maximum speed of 81 mph.
The only non-standard part of its mechanical specification was the new 5½J x15 Lemmerz “GT” Sports road wheels shod with specially developed Veith-Pirelli 175/70SR15 tyres. These tyres were specially developed for the car, and were available from Pirelli dealers for all Beetles with 5½J x15 wheels.
Externally Volkswagen intended this car to “stand out from the crowd”! The main body paint colour was L13M Saturngelb/Saturn Yellow contrasted with L41 Schwarz/Black bonnet and engine lid emulating, amongst others, the black panels of the Salzburg Rallye Beetles. All fittings including mirrors and windscreen wiper arms (but excepting the headlight rims and front indicator caps) normally produced in ‘chrome’ brightwork came instead in anodised black finish. The VW 1303S badging on the engine lid and bumper central strip were finished in Saturn Yellow to enhance the contrast detailing.
Internally the Edition had side padded Recaro front rally seats seats (M 409) and a small (38 cm) diameter padded steering wheel all complemented by an interior finished in black (black 37).
The most distinguishing body panel component of the package was, in many ways, the inclusion of the perforated front apron panel (M550) normally associated with North American “export” models where it was integral part of the air-conditioning option. The intended purpose of this perforated apron on the GSR however was that it should a provide pre-installed ventilation to facilitate the addition of a front mounted oil-cooler. An addition very necessary to complement any serious engine tuning upgrades undertaken by owners.
The North American “Sports Bug” was in most respects identical to the GSR although based on the North American specification 1303 (Super) Beetle which, in detail, included the replacement of the VW 1303S engine lid badging with the familiar North American market “VOLKSWAGEN” badge. Abandonment of the black bonnet and engine lid and the addition of L96M Marathonblau-metallic/ Marathon Blue Metallic paintwork as a colour choice option were the main differences between “Sports Bug” and GSR as far as the Edition packages were concerned.
What was also available to US and Canadian buyers though was a distinctive red and black ‘waist’ stripe option. As in Germany the factory black trim could also be further enhanced with Volkswagen Genuine Accessory parts comprising of matt black door finger plates, front and rear stone guards/gravel guards and air vent louvre trims for the engine lid (deck) and for the long grill below the rear window (enhancing body stripe continuity). Even further enhancement was offered in the sales brochure by way of dealer fitted accessory options included the ‘short throw’ Formula Vee range shifter, a stereo radio and fog lamps.
No sales promotion literature was published by Volkswagen in Germany for the ‘GSR’. By contrast the “Sports Bug” was vigorously publicised, not only through sales literature published by Volkswagen of America Inc (VWoA) and magazine advertisements but via other advertising media as well – including television commercials. Produced entirely in the USA the VWoA sales brochure is a fascinating little folder which opens out to illustrate two Sports Bugs surrounded by full colour cartoon figures (very much of the period by artist Jack Davis) commenting on the cars. The text teased “On rare occasions we blow our minds and put out a limited production of a real fun car. This is one of those rare occasions… We made a small number, and then, so to speak, we broke the mold. So if you want one, let’s hear it. Like now?’
The sales brochure also encouraged buyers to “come on heavy, deck your Sports Bug with these black metal trim options… bumper overriders, door handle shields, gravel guards, rear hood grille and flare-tip exhaust extensions”.
Curiously, this sales brochure and some press photographs show the “Sports Bug” with black headlight rims whilst others cars were are to be found with chrome ones as on the preceding GSR production run. A similar mixture of black and chrome seems to have occurred on the caps of the front indicators which, being North American specification units with inclusive side reflectors, were much larger than the European market ones fitted to the GSR.
Then, finally, the basic package returned to it’s homeland as if, in turn, influenced by the “Sports Bug” as the “Sportkäfer” in L96M Marathonblau-metallic/Marathon Blue Metallic paintwork but with reversion to “Lux” trim chrome trim fittings and 4½J x15 Lemmerz “GT” Sports road wheels as the top line model in yet another trio of 1200, 1300 and 1303S Beetles that made up the “Sonderverkaufsaktion Drei Käfer auf Extra-Tour:”
With the “Sports Bug” the tale of the black trimmed 1303 SEBs had come back full circle – save for the mystery of the 1303 model in the “Black is Beautiful” Edition …
Several interesting points arise. The Dealer installed side strips of the “Sports Bug’ were also available from VWoA dealerships in the after-market accessory range and very similar stripes turned up in South Africa on the 1973 “Fun Bug”.
So successful was the “Sports Bug” that, in terms of Volkswagen production history” a very interesting twist came about. VWoA made direct contact with Wilhelm Karmann GmbH to order a shipment of Karmann Ghias in Saturngelb to match the “Sports Bug”. An arrangement apparently made without the sanction of Volkswagen AG . These “Sports” Karmann Ghias were produced in both Sedan and Convertible version with package (M002) (US market) and Options M261 (dual outside mirrors on Convertible) and M976 (Lemmerz GT Sports wheels). Documentation provenance and VWoA press photographs exist to authenticate this very rare Special Edition. In retrospect it is so sad that the initiative was frowned upon in Wolfsburg otherwise we might have also had some very interesting Karmann Ghia specials being turned out during the end of production ahead of the it’s replacement by the Scirocco. Just imagine a Jeans KG!
Perhaps the last words on the full size black trim 1303 SEBs ought to go to two particular GSRs. Firstly one carrying the registration plate WOB-VE 82 which turns up in the original, canal-side, press photo and the dramatic, head on all-wheel-of-the-ground photo that is so well known. The pair of bumper mounted auxiliary lights are very clearly visible in both photos as is a three line side stripe on the canal-side photograph. These prompt the tentative question: Where Volkswagen perhaps, originally, intending to include additional lighting in the GSR package? As for the side stripe; that appears to have been set aside and reintroduced in revised form the following year with the evolution of the City and Big Beetles.
Secondly, the last word has to go to the GSR featured in contemporary KAMEI advertising display of accessories that inspired a generation of Beetle owners. KAMEI had previously used, first, a Weltmeister/Marathon Beetle as their Decor Set demonstration vehicle. Then they used a yellow 1302 followed in turn, finally, by the GSR. What a stunning factory extra the KAMEI decor set would have been on the GSR! If the trick was missed in Wolfsburg it certainly wasn’t missed in Uitenhage when the SP1600 was put together …. but that is another story.
The GSR inspired quite a few contemporary toy and scale model Beetles finished in varying degrees of yellow and black authenticity in the 1970’s but current scale model versions are scarce. The best and still quite sought after being the now obsolete 1/43 version from Minichamps under catalogue number 430055107. A new, larger, 1/18 version has been announced for release by Solido during 2016 with a pre-production example being shown at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in January this year. We will have to wait until it’s release onto the market to see what the production version turns out to be like. Disappointingly, especially for enthusiasts in North America no scale model exist of the “Sports Bug” even though it would make a stunning model in 1/43 or 1/18 scale – if portrayed accurately.
If the history of the black trim 1303 SEBs raises still unanswered questions then these are perhaps minor questions compared to some of the question to be raised in the next Retrospectively Speaking column about the black trimmed flat windscreen SEBs ….
Appreciation: My grateful thanks to fellow SEB enthusiast Jan Walter for his encouragement and help with research and information underpinning this article.
Copyright Stephen Paul Hardy,
Dorset, England. 9th April 2016
(Amended 13th June 2016 with correction of erroneous previous references to the “Sportkäfer” as being black trimmed)
Further reading on this website:
The individual profiles for each of the SEBs mentioned in this month’s Retrospectively Speaking column.
“Articles” sections E1.0, E1.1, E1.2, E1.3, E1.4 E1.5, E1.6, Type1 M Codes List and Type1 S Codes.