Despite Volkswagen’s 30-odd-year-old Beetle still sitting at the sharp end of the South African car sales charts in the mid-1970s, the firm’s leadership pushed forward with a number of changes and limited editions to keep the bug alive and kicking until the 1980s. In the limited edition department, we saw the likes of the Lux and Fun Bugs but the real show of commitment to Beetle longevity came in the form of a R1 million investment into the production facility for a changed and modernised Beetle species – the 1600-S Super Bug.
To the layman, a Beetle is a Beetle is a Beetle, but take a closer look at the 1600-S and you’ll notice the windscreen on a Super Bug is curved. This addition meant more perceived interior space and allowed the addition of ‘modern’ niceties like a padded dashboard but also required extensive engineering work to make it happen. Although announced in June 1975, the idea stemmed back to 1973 when, in order to stay in line with the rapidly improving sophistication of its competitors, VWSA’s Technical Director Tucker Lockhead led a study into the possible modernisation of the Beetle, which included the building of prototypes, hours of testing and the all-important task of calculating the costs of setting up new tooling. Of course Germany needed to rubber-stamp all this and once a prototype design had been settled on this was made up and sent to the Volkswagenwerk engineers in Wolfsburg.
For the sake of simplicity, the Super Bug (officially launched in May 1975) is essentially a hybrid of South Africa’s 1600-L and Europe’s 1303. The 1600-S went for the curved screen and padded dash option slotted into a 1600-L shell. This meant the pre-1303 front and rear wings were carried across (with the front indicator moved to the bumper) and the torsion beam front-end remained. The curved front windscreen gave a 6% increase in glass area while the rear too saw some enlargement. To accommodate these changes, the boot lid was revised (an SA 1600-S bonnet will not fit a 1303), which being slightly higher in profile gave more room for luggage. At the back the 1600-S kept the old-style rear arches but followed international trend with the large ‘elephant foot’ tail light cluster, which meant a bulky body-coloured spacer had to be added between light and fender.
Inside the airier cabin the new soft-touch dash and single-gauge binnacle dominated but the addition of wood grain veneer inserts and three-compartment cubby hole didn’t go unnoticed by those looking for a more up-to-date Bug. Neither did the plush and fashionable ʼ70s corduroy seat inserts, adjustable front headrests, anti-dazzle rearview mirror, hinge-opening rear side windows or improved ventilation system.
Although at the top end of the VW Beetle’s price ladder, the more refined 1600-S sold well with a total of just over 5 000 units hitting over a four-year span.