At least one VW Beetle was brought to Australia in late 1945 by the Australian military. It was auctioned as war surplus in 1946, and is known to survive (as little more than a rusty hulk) in the hands of a Sydney VW parts dealer.
A 1946 Beetle is also on display in a car museum in Western Australia. This car arrived in 1951 in the possession of a German migrant.
The first official imports of Volkswagens were made by the Melbourne firm, Regent Motors, in October, 1953. 31 cars were known to have been imported by the end of the year. By June 1954, the same company began to assemble Volkswagens from CKD kits. 1954 production totalled 1385 cars, and an additional 360 Beetles and 300 Transporters were imported.
The Lanock Motors company, a division of LNC, were appointed distributors for the State of New South Wales in 1954, and by 1957, this company, along with Regent Motors and other Australian shareholders, formed Volkswagen Australia in a 49% - 51% partnership with the Wolfsburg parent. The aim was full local manufacture. The first locally made panels were used in 1960, and full local manufacture was achieved by 1962. Australian made VW parts can be identified by a kangaroo marking next to the VW symbol stamped on the part.
The 100,000th Australian delivered Volkswagen was produced in 1961. By 1962, Volkswagen was the 3rd largest producer of cars in Australia behind only GM and Ford, and the 10th largest VW market in the world.
Volkswagen purchased all Australian held shares in the local subsidiary in 1963, and Australia became a base for the export of cars to the rest of the South Pacific.
In 1968, Volkswagen ceased full manufacture in Australia and reverted to CKD assembly. The plant and property were written off or sold, the body jigs ending up in Brazil and the exchange engine equipment in Malaysia! Later in the year, Volkswagen Australasia disbanded, and formed another company, Motor Producers Ltd., to control the assembly plant, while LNC Industries were appointed distributors. The Country Buggy was also discontinued at this time.
The Beetle in Australia 1954-1968
The many Redex, Ampol and Mobilgas trials around Australia during this period cemented the Beetle's reputation as a rugged and reliable car.
Model and body style changes in this period generally occurred within a few months of those in Germany.
The 1954 Australian Beetle was powered by the 30hp 1131cc engine with single tail-pipe exhaust, changing to the 36hp 1192cc engine in mid 1955. These cars did not have turn indicator lights, but semaphores in th B pillar.
From March, 1956, twin exhausts were used, the tail-lights raised, luggage space increased by a fuel tank re-design, adjusters added to the front seats, and the heater knob moved forward. Detail changes made in 1957 were adjustable striker plates for the door locks, taller diff, and modified heater outlets. These were the last Oval window models.
Late 1957 saw the introduction of the larger rear window and dash changes, larger brake drums, and the flat accelerator pedal.
In 1959, straight-lined headliner trim was used and the strengthening ribs in the floor changed slightly. The end of the year saw the steering wheel changed to the dished style. Mid 1960 changes included push-button door handles, a front anti-sway bar and a steering damper. Clear-lensed fender-mounted flashing turn indicators replaced semaphores in November, with the rear lenses being of a design used only in Australia and Italy. They were small, oval-shaped and half red, half amber. Other changes made at this time were the 40-horse engine, all-synchro gearbox, altered gear ratios, padded sunvisors, passenger grab handle and a suction-pump operated windscreen washer operated by repeated pulling of the wiper switch.
When a fuel guage became standard on the Beetle in late 1961, it was electric rather than mechanical. At the same time, the US-style "towel-rail" bumper bars became standard. A handful of Karmann Cabriolets were imported during this year, but sales proved to be less than impressive. This was probably due to the high price, and the fact that the cars in question were marketed in Melbourne during winter! This is the only time that the Cabrio was officially sold in Australia. The Australian Cabrio population, including recent private imports, is probably less than 150-200. They are so rare that the general public thinks they are just another butchered sedan!
The last changes to the Beetle during this period were in mid 1962. These were larger taillights, seat belt anchorage points, spring loaded bonnet, door check rods, modified heater and vents, changes to the seat adjusters, sealed tie-rod ends and a re-designed steering box. It was an example of this model that became "Antarctica 1" made famous by VW advertising.
In August, 1962, a "Standard" Volkswagen was introduced. Mechanically it was identical to the De-luxe except for the lack of a steering damper. Externally, there was no chrome trim, the single-blade bumpers painted silver. Who invented the Cal Look? Inside, there was no glovebox lid, fuel guage, or windscreen washers, and only a driver's side sunvisor was fitted.
1963 cars lacked the Wolfsburg crest on the bonnet, and 1964 cars had a wider number plate light, wider front blinkers, with the horn ring remaining on the steering wheel. The interior trim was the same as it was in 1962. - usually two tone, such as tan and off white.
In 1965, when German cars got bigger windows, better wipers, lever operated heater, and better brakes, Aussie cars kept the older body, but gained the rounded topped front seats and the folding rear seat. The decision to keep the old body style was due to the large cost of re-tooling for the new body - the Australian market and its export customer base being too small to justify the expense. By 1967, this began to tell on the volume of sales of Beetles in Australia.
1966 Beetles received the 1300 engine and improved gearbox and brakes, but kept the link-pin front end. Perforated vinyl was used for the interior roof lining. These cars had a diagonal "1300" badge on the engine lid.
1967 cars featured whitewall tyres, sash seat belts, and new paint and trim colours. The badge on the engine lid now read "1300 De luxe" on the (guess what!) deluxe car, and "1300 Custom" on the austerity model. The Rear suspension was still swing-axle and the wheels 5-stud.
The Australian Deluxe Beetle was discontinued in march, 1968. The Custom continued on for a while to use up local parts. CKD assembly kits were not yet available, so the decision was made to fully import German built manual and semi-auto Beetles until CKD assembly of the manual car began in September. Semi-autos remained fully imported. All cars were therefore 12 volt. Manual cars were swing axle, like those in all other markets except the US, where double-joint trailing arm rear suspension was introduced in this year. Cars of this era had wheels with cream rims and black, 4 stud slotted centres and all the up-to-date European features; bigger, flat bottomed tail lights, 1500cc engine, 12-volt electrics, bigger windows, dual-circuit brakes with discs on the front, collapsible steering column, stronger bumpers of the later style, external fuel filler, etc. After many years of being "Australianised", however, the imported/assembled Beetle now had wipers that parked to the left and the bonnet release was on the left side of the car.
1970 cars, now locally assembled, were largely unchanged, but featured the two rows of five louvres in the engine lid. These cars had silver painted wheels.
The Super Bug S, known in Europe as the 1302, was introduced in February, 1971 in manual and semi-auto form. The 1600 twin-port engine was the only one available, (1200 and 1300 engines were available in Europe!). This car featured Macpherson strut front suspension, double-jointed or "IRS" rear suspension, and crescent shaped ventilation ports behind the rear quarter windows. A special-edition "Formula Vee" beetle was marketed, featuring strange hub-caps, striping along the bottom of the doors and on top of the tail light binnacles, dress-up chrome on the engine louvres, clear plastic air-scoop on the bonnet and radial tyres. A 1300 regular Beetle was also available, now with twin port cylinder heads, but with swing axle rear end.
1972 Super Beetles had a slightly larger rear window, larger twin-pin front brake calipers, and four rows of louvres on the engine lid, the outer 2 having seven louvres and the inner two having six. The tail lights were the same shape, but now incoporated reversing lights. The front seats were changed to the high-backed style, and the steering wheel to the four-spoked design. A socket for the VW Dealer Diagnosis was fitted inside the engine compartment. A special edition was sold in this year to commemorate the Beetle's breaking of the Model T Ford's production record of 15, 007, 033 vehicles, featuring carpet and a medallion on the glove box lid.
The curved-windscreen or 1303 Super Beetle was known as the "L" Bug or Superbug L in Australia, and was introduced in 1973. A padded dashboard, 2-speed heater fan, higher rear mudguards and the large "elephant's foot" tail lights were features. The 1300 continued, featuring a padded dash cover. Detail changes for 1974 were metric 160kmh speedos, black wiper arms instead of silver, and optional radial tyres. The 1300 received the previous year's rear end styling changes.
1975 L Bugs had rack and pinion steering, and a more bulbous rear tail panel below the engine lid. Later in the year, the front blinkers were moved into the bumper bars.
In 1976, the Superbug and 1300 were discontinued and replaced with a single model; a standard shaped Beetle with 1600 engine, IRS rear suspension, front disc brakes, blinkers in the front bumpers, elephant's foot tail lights and rubber inserts in the bumper bars. These cars are curious in one respect; there is not a VW badge or name anywhere on the body of the car, only on the hub-caps!
The Beetle was discontinued in in July, 1976 but was sold well into 1977 as large batches had been imported prior to the introduction of the stricter emission control rules which finally made its sale in Australia impossible.
The total sales figure for Australia 1953-1977 is 260,055.
Condensed from: "Knowing Australian Volkswagens" by Phil Matthews and Dave Long. Published and available from Bookworks Pty Ltd, Ph (02) 9740 6766.
Thanks also to John Moore, of Coffs Harbour, NSW, who worked for the House of David Volkswagen dealership at North Ryde in Sydney during the period covered by this history for his interest and input.