Visions and concepts
The original concept for the Country Buggy was developed at the plant complex at Clayton Victoria in the early 1960's at a time when VW was achieving excellent sales and acceptance on a global basis.
The Australian Army had been in discussion with Volkswagen Australia re the possibility of producing a small robust four wheel drive vehicle to suit local conditions. The Army considered VW would be a top contender to provide additional vehicles suitable for the Army as they had experience with the Type 2 Kombis from 1959 onwards.
VW Australia saw other uses for a similar vehicle but was not keen on a 4WD unit which would put them head to head with existing 4WD manufacturers.
Under the control of the Engineering manager, Cyril Harcourt and Quality Control Director, Rudi Herzmer a draft plan and preliminary sketches were put together in 1964. The initial internal name for the proposed vehicle was the �Kuriewagen� but this name was later abandoned.
In the 1966 Business Report by Volkswagen Australasia Ltd included the following comments with regard to the Country Buggy. In order to meet a number of demands, the Country Buggy (a jeep type vehicle) was engineered. The prototype vehicle was completely built in the Engineering Experimental section, and was tested over some 50000 kilometers embracing all types of road conditions including those found in the central and north west parts of Australia. As a result of these experiences, some redesign had to be carried out to further simplify the construction, and to incorporate Type 2 front and rear axles, resulting in additional ground clearance. This installation has been based on a layout received from� Technical Evaluation (T.E) in Wolfsburg
In the late months of 1965 the first prototype vehicle was started to be hand built at the Clayton factory. When the first was completed a further two prototypes were also constructed by hand. These prototypes underwent almost two years of development work and were subjected to over 50000 kms of brutal field testing through the mud, dust, slush, sand, rugged desert and mountain conditions in the dead heart and far north of Australia. The prototype vehicles travelled around Australia on three separate occasions.
A specially built box trailer was designed for use on these trips either being towed by one of the prototypes or a Beetle support vehicle. Like the prototypes, this trailer was designed with large side sills and was filled with foam material. The foam assisted all vehicles with creek and river crossings but did not provide 100% flotation as was expected by some of the people involved in the design. The trailer was hand built at the Clayton factory and was the exact same width of the Country Buggy One special feature was the torsion bar suspension, a real oddity when compared with vehicles at the time. Surprisingly, this trailer still remains registered in Victoria today although is have been through a couple of re sprays, replacement of the tray and removal of rust from the side walls.
Evaluation of these prototypes was conducted from late 1965 to mid 1967 and both 1300cc and 1500cc motors were used at different times. Log books were maintained for each major journey and they include all dates, places, times, fuel consumption, travelling distances, vehicle problems and other related information. The original evaluation log books are still retained by the former Test Evaluation Manager together with original photographs. A photo of a prototype vehicle follows;
In early 1967 the vehicles were introduced to the media and put through their paces at a special promotional event on the Mornington Peninsula, close to Melbourne, Victoria to test the versatility and usefulness of the car.
During 1966 work continued on completing the business proposal to Head Office and to seek their approval for the funding to allow production of the Country Buggy. It was mid 1966 when the proposal was finally put Head Office in Wolfsburg and the immediate response was not at all favourable. Head Office insisted that two of the prototype vehicles be immediately air freighted to Wolfsburg for evaluation in Germany. At great expense to VW Australia, a Qantas plane was chartered to fly the cars to Germany for track and mechanical testing. Unbeknown to VW Australia, Head office had commenced development of a secret design project on behalf of the German Army.� On arrival at Wolfsburg the Australian factory employee who traveled with the car was ushered into special project design area of the building. This project turned out to be the Type 181.
On arrival of the two cars at Wolfsburg, one was immediately handed over to the German Army to conduct their own evaluation and the other was evaluated at VW facilities.
The present location of the two prototypes flown to Germany is unknown. They have never been on view at the Volkswagen Museum. Only a small drawing of one of the vehicles was painted on a partition when I visited the Museum in both 1995 and 1999. Officials of the Museum have advised the cars had never been in their possession.
As a result of these evaluations some modifications were stipulated by Head Office and these included;-
a. Side panels to be ribbed for added strength.
b. All foam to be removed and additional cross members welded into side panels. Vehicle design was not to consider flotation capabilities
c. Improved spring plates to be added.
Subject to these changes Head office provided tacit approval for vehicle production using the following strict conditions;-
a. Maximum usage was to be made of existing Australian components (use what was surplus parts)
b. Investment in plant and machinery equipment for the production line was limited.
c. Production be maximum 1800 units per annum.
d. Production could not impede existing vehicle production capacity.
e. Use of maximum Australian content to satisfy Government requirements for taxation benefits.
The vehicle was first shown to VW Dealers at a National Dealer Convention in February 1967 in the prototype form. Former factory employees recall the dealers lining up to take turns driving around the Clayton factory. There was some consternation when the prototype went missing for several hours only to turn up hiding in a very large packing crate at the factory complex. Clearly, one of the Dealers was having a bit of fun.
The prototype vehicle was officially shown to the public at the Melbourne Motor Show in March 1967 together with other models in the Volkswagen range.
An extensive article appeared in the April 1967 Modern Motor magazine together with photos of the prototype and the vehicle received good press. The article indicated this prototype vehicle would float, had 16 inch wheels and was expected to be released to the public in September 1967.The article indicated the vehicle was a �cross country type vehicle�, and apologetically, had not even been named by VW. It was further described as a cross between a Jeep and a Moke or, as someone unkindly put it, a �Joke�.
Accordingly to official VW documentation the first Country Buggy to come of the production line was in December 1967. Records indicate that no Country Buggies were included in the final 1967 production numbers although there were an unknown number of unfinished vehicles on the production line at 31/12/67.
Following return from Christmas holidays in January 1968 the Country Buggy production increased in larger numbers and through put on the production line grew. There was only one jig on the production line where hand welding of the bodies took place. The rush was on to complete the vehicles and have then out with dealers for the public sales release on the 3rd April. 1968.
The many of body panels had already been pressed prior to the Christmas holiday break and this was the key enabler to have bodies ready for mating to the chassis on the production line. The chassis were predominately numbered based on the 118310XXX or 118315XXX series although some 1184XXXXX numbers exist. All these sequences were from the standard 118XXXXX sequences produced by VW Germany. All chassis would have been pressed and numbered during the 1967 calendar year.
All known engine numbers were locally produced and commenced F125XXX.
From early January extensive field tests carried out prior to public release resulted in several problem areas being identified including;-
a. Water leaking between windscreen/body and hood
b. Shrinkage of plastic in the side curtains make use of zippers possible.
c. Rear spring plates breaking at mount holes.
d. Spring plates buckling and snapping under intense stress
e. Fuse box sealing was inadequate
f. Body panels cracking at front of box sections under rough use
Working with the Test Evaluation Manager and the National Service Manager both Harcourt and Herzmer rectified these problems and the vehicles were ready for market.
The official release date for sales to the public in Australia was the 3rd April 1968. Sales expectations were 1800 units per annum and press releases claimed the Australian Army was expected to be a major customer. A number of production vehicles were provided to the Army for evaluation however the Army was disappointed with the results. They maintained the view the vehicles should have been 4WD despite being very versatile and good in undulating country.
Not one vehicle was ever sold to the Australian Army.
Local content of the Country Buggy was to meet the 95% Australian Government standard however official records indicate a maximum of just over 85% was ever achieved.
In the 1968 calendar year the retail sales in Australia was 627 units against production numbers of 842.
The demise of Volkswagen manufacturing in Australia
Volkswagen's share of the overall Australian car market had been decreasing from 1964 where it peaked with a 7.7% share. In 1965 this share reduced to 6.3% down to 4.8% for the year of 1966. The market share figure was 4.3% for 1967 and 3.8% for the first 9 months of 1968,
Figures for the small car market in which VW operated were even more alarming as below;
In an overall growing market, the loss of share caused considerable financial pressures. In 1965 the company managed a profit of $500000 but for 1966 there was a loss of $3.72M. This was the first year the company had ever recorded a loss on trading.
It required some significant changes to the overall way of doing business.
In December 1967 plans were developed to implement a major re structure across Volkswagen Australasia Limited at its subsidiaries.
In accordance with this study far reaching steps were taken to reduce the manufacturing depth in Australia and to effect reductions in personnel and fixed assets used by the company.
Initially,a new company, Motor Producers Ltd was formed. They applied to the Australian Government for permission to assemble their vehicles under an amended local content plan. The former plan called for 95% content and Motor Producers now sought a reduction to 50% for Type 1, 45% for Type 3 and 45% for the Country Buggy. Government approval was forthcoming.
There was no local content requirements attached to the Type 2 and those vehicles continued to be assembled in the factory from CKD units.
Further savings were made during the year through total closure of the Press Shop (body panels) and discontinuation of Engine reconditioning operations. These changes were in place on 1st October 1968.
At the same time a major re-organisation of company structure was underway. The former company, Volkswagen Australasia Limited transferred the Sales, Service and Parts Merchandising to LNC Industries P.L, By means of this LNC acquired all shares previously held by Volkswagen Australasia Limited in Volkswagen Distribution Pty Limited as well as the major shares in Volkswagen (Services) Pty Limited. At year end Motor Producers Limited- the successor to Volkswagen Australasia Limited held 40% of shares in Volkswagen (Services) Pty Ltd� however steps were put in place to sell the remaining share capital to LNC.
The appointment of LNC Industries as a sales company to handle all merchandising improved the liquidity of Motor Producers Limited due mainly to the fact that all spare parts, vehicles and other merchandise were sold to LNC for which Motor Producers Limited received liquid funds. Motor Producers Ltd was able to substantially reduce their borrowings and to liquidate loans held in Deutshe Marks with the parent company.
In reality, Motor Producers were moving to a role as vehicle assemblers, responsible for assembly of imported CKD units and when completed the vehicles were sold to LNC who then marketed, sold and serviced the vehicles.
LNC provided vehicle warranties under agreement with Motor Traders who paid LNC for warranty costs.
A further major re alignment of 1968 related to the progressive reduction of fixed assets. This involved substantial transfers of marketing and press shop equipment between Motor Producers and the parent company in Germany, VW de Mexico, VW Brazil and VW South Africa. In addition machine tools and equipment not required by any of the associated companies were sold locally either by private sale or through auction. The net effect of these sales saw some A$5M reduced from total fixed assets.
At the beginning of 1968 there was 1653 employees but by December this had reduced to only 971 employees. At the beginning of 1966 there were over 2000 employees.
Things had certainly changed during 1968 at the Clayton manufacturing plant.
Demise of the Country Buggy
In the official Motor Producers Ltd 1968 Business Report under the title "Estimated Future Developments" was a note stating "progressive deletion of Country Buggy production"
This confirms that by the end of 1968 a decision to wind down and eventually delete the production of the Country Buggy had already been taken.
The timing of this decision was only 8 months after the official release date.
No specific reasons were stated for this decision but as Volkswagen was getting out of manufacturing vehicles, had sold off presses, closed the press shop and disposed of tooling and equipment there was no likelihood that Country Buggy production could continue. With all body panels for the Country Buggy pressed at Clayton and the press shop closed by the end of 1968, there was no alternative than for production of the Country Buggy to cease.
There have been many unsubstantiated rumours about the demise of the County Buggy including;-
1. There were major design faults which could not be remedied.
2. LNC would not cover vehicles under warranty.
3. The 1500 Beetle was arriving and they needed space on the production line
4. They did not sell well enough to support cost investment
5. Head office pulled the pin as they were not in favour of a competitor to the future 181.
Based on all the information available I now take the position that the reason for the demise of the Country Buggy is a simple one of timing.
Unlike Types 1,2, and 3 , where imported CKD kits could be brought into Australia and assembled, there was no CKD kits for the Country Buggy which could be imported for assembly. Availability of vehicle bodies is a critical part of any vehicle production .
The Country Buggy was developed and commenced production at a time where there were major upheavals in the Volkswagen organisation in Australia and the Buggy was caught up in the ramifications of all these changes.
It was not the vehicle itself but the overall circumstances at the time that lead to the demise of the Country Buggy.
Country Buggy Components
The vehicle was based on a Beetle floor pan (no heater control knob opening ) which was pressed at the Clayton factory with Transporter trailing arms on the front and Transporter reduction hubs at the rear .Early model Type 1 spring plates were used to provide additional strengthening.
This combination provided excellent ground clearance (230mm), and with a low gear ratio the vehicle had excellent climbing ability. With a 51 degree angle of approach at the front and 32 degrees at the back, body clearance into culverts and gullies was great.
The vehicle was fitted with a 1300cc Beetle engine as standard but you could order a 1200CC ( !!! ) as an option . Engines were all "F" series and were identical to the Beetle with the following exceptions;-
a. Air cleaner set up was from the Transporter
b. Oil pressure sender unit was mounted in the top of the case and not on the side as with Beetle motors.( all engine cases were pressed at the Clayton factory.
c. Dual muffler system with twin exhaust pipes emerging through two holes in the rear body panel. Ground clearance of the exhaust pipes was exceptional at 600mm. This also prevented any mud or grass buildup or water entry to the exhaust system.
All the electricals were 6 volt with standard Beetle gearbox and housing.
The body was locally designed and constructed from folded flat steel for ease of manufacture and ruggedness. There were no doors and the very high sills on the side prevented water entry when fording through creeks. The tops of the sills were 740mm from the ground. Body panels were all flat or folded and there was no curves or contours on the body apart from the strengthening ribs added to the production vehicles at the insistence of VW Head Office.
The front windscreen was able to be folded forward and rested on well placed rubber holders screwed into the body. The only glass in the car was the front windscreen that was rectangular and flat.
The rear tray area, which was removable, had an area of 13.2 square feet and provided ample storage or load area.
Front seats were very basic and constructed using Beetle lower sections. The uprights were Beetle frames which were cut off and a small curved bar inserted and welded to the frame.. From June 1968 a rear seat was made available as an accessory.
The Country Buggy was basically an open two seater with a large rear tray area.
To satisfy Head Office criteria to ensure maximum use of existing VW parts, the Country Buggy shared the following components with other VWs of the time or earlier;-
Type 1 (Beetle ) Chassis frame, front axle beam, 50 hp engine with 30 pcit carburetor, 200mm diameter clutch, rear torsion bars and spring plates, transmission with Type 2 ring gear/pinion, steering wheel from Standard split window Beetle, speedometer, fuel tank with reserve tank level and front headlight lenses (rims were black)
Type 2 (Transporter) Steering knuckle, king pins, air cleaner with elbow, rear axle tube, axle shaft, reduction hubs, reduction gearing, brake drum mechanism, road wheels and brake components.
Type 3 Part of the pedal system, windscreen wiper arm connecting mechanism, steering box and other steering components.