Recently, Jalopnik reported that Volkswagen was either toying with the idea of a new, rear-wheel-drive electric four door Volkswagen Beetle, or our emotions, or both. Interestingly, the most interesting part of that is the four-door aspect, because there has never been an official four-door Beetle. There have been some sort-of close attempts, which you now have to sit down and learn about because it’s mandatory.
The most important thing to realise is that, for whatever reason, Volkswagen in the air-cooled era was just not that into four-door cars.
The first four-door car Volkswagen built was actually built before they were really Volkswagen as we know the company, and was the second car they ever designed: The wartime Kubelwagen, based on the KdF Wagen (you know, the Beetle) chassis.
If we don’t count VW’s commercial vehicles and the passenger vehicles based on them, the Type 2 vans and microbuses, Volkswagen wouldn’t sell a four-door car until 1968, when they sort of went four-door crazy, in a very, very limited way: They introduced the Type 4 line, which included just one four-door option for what was supposed to be their large, upscale family car, and somehow they couldn’t even bring themselves to make the station wagon version four-door.
The other four-door was the Type 181, which we knew here as the Thing, an update to the old wartime Kubelwagen design. In Brazil, also in 1968, they got a couple of other four-door options, based on the Type 3.
Keep in mind VW had been selling cars since around 1946 or so. It took them at least 20 years to decide that maybe, just maybe, people may want to get into the back seat of a car without performing contortions that are usually associated with spelunking.
So, with that mentality, it isn't shocking there weren’t four-door Beetles. Still, it isn't as though people didn’t think about it, and there was one sort-of official four-door Beetle and some third-party four-door Beetles that were actually produced, but all were for pretty specialised markets.
The first four-door Beetle was an actual Volkswagen product, and was made in 1949 specifically for the police market in Germany and Austria.
This was the Type 18A, and production of the body was farmed out to Hebmüller, who is most famous for making early two-seater VW convertibles, though later they were also built by Karmann (who made most of VW’s convertibles for decades) and Austro-Tatra.
About 482 of these police cars were made, some with canvas doors, some fitted with metal doors, all convertibles. These, I think, were the only four-door Beetles Volkswagen officially sold.
There was one other four-door Beetle actually sold, built by the coachbuilding company Rometsch, and targeted at the taxi market. Rometsch built a prototype in 1950 based on a scrap Beetle, and started selling them soon afterwards, since the Beetle was already a popular cab choice in Germany.
They stretched the wheelbase by about 28cm and added a rear suicide door, which made rear seat access quite good. The interiors and upholstery looked nice in these, like big comfy couches. It’s reported that 38 of these taxis were built.
In 1970, Volkswagen was at least investigating the idea of a four-door Beetle, as I’ve written about before, in this design study of a four-door Super Beetle:
While this never got past the sub-scale design model stage, it’s at least worth noting that Volkswagen at least understood that there could be a demand for a four-door Beetle.
That’s really all there is, officially, for four-door Beetles. There’s some other interesting almost-four-door-Beetle developments, though. VW Mexico produced some taxi prototypes in 1996 that had very elongated passenger doors to provide better rear-seat access, and, of course, skilled and clever customisers have been building four-door one-off Beetles for years.
Oh, and at least one Chinese company has made an electric four-door New Beetle knockoff, for what that’s worth, beating a potential electric four-door VW Beetle to the punch by years.
So, there is some four-door Beetle history VW can tap into. Even if it mostly is cabs and cop cars, like a much smaller, rounder, Germaner and cuter Crown Vic.