While I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a particularly religious man, I am starting to believe in some sort of demigod that conjures up strange and obscure air-cooled Volkswagens for me to learn about during times of crisis, to, you know, make the pain go away. I suspect the current coronavirus lockdown is the crisis, and the Volkswagen Vemp and its derivative, the Dacuna Jeg, are the air-cooled VWs produced by this demigod to make everything a little better. So, let’s not anger Aetherattle, the demigod of obscure air-cooled VWs, and explore these things.
These vehicles are both Brazilian, and are Jeep-like machines originally designed for possible military use. That’s a really remarkable thing about the Beetle, with all of its Love Bug and ‘60s flower-power, peacenik cultural connotations, it has been transformed into wartime vehicles a shocking number of times.
Let’s just count (chronologically) how many separate projects were undertaken with the goal of building a military Beetle variant: first and perhaps most notably is the Kubelwagen, the German WWII workhorse, and the Schwimmwagen, the amphibious 4×4 variant; then came Australia’s Country Buggy, originally designed for the Australian military but ended up being more of a farm worker; then we have the famous Volkswagen Type 181/Thing, which is still in use in some militaries; and now we have this fella, the VW of Brazil Vemp, originally built to be considered for use by the Brazilian Army. Oh, and there’s also the Chenowth Scorpion DPV, the VW sandrail-derived fast attack vehicle used extensively during Operation Desert Storm.
That’s six entirely separately-designed military vehicles, all based on the old VW Beetle basic mechanicals. Sure, the Chenowth deviates the most, I suppose, but it’s still very much a VW-derived machine.
Back to the Vemp; in 1976, it seems the Brazilian Army put out a call for a new general-purpose light military vehicle, and for some reason I’m still not clear about, VW Brazil decided to develop an all-new design, instead of starting with something like the Type 181 and tweaking it to fit their needs.
The result looks like a pretty clever and capable little brute, with simple, flat body panels and good packaging, having all the usual traits you’d expect in a vehicle like this: canvas top and doors, fold-down windshield, good ground clearance, rugged undercarriage protection, tow hooks and tow hitches, beefy bumpers, all slathered in flat olive-drab paint.
Both two- and a four-wheel drive versions were built. The 2WD one used the portal axles/reduction gears from the Type 2 bus and Thing, getting extra ride height and torque the same way VW did way back in the 1940s with the Kubelwagen.
The 4×4 variant had a full differential up front, driven by a driveshaft from the rear engine.
Eventually, the Brazilian Army selected the safest choice, an actual Willys Jeep, which in Brazil was actually owned by Ford do Brazil. So, VW didn’t get the contract, and the history of the Vemp could have ended there. The fact I’m writing this sentence at all should tell you that’s not the case.
During the bidding process of the Vemp, VW do Brazil reached out to the Dacunha Transportes company to get bids on sheet metal bodies for the Vemp. After VW lost the army contract, Dacunha dusted off their blueprints and began to build a Vemp clone called the Jeg.
The Jeg was built on a standard VW Fusca (what Brazilians called the Beetle) chassis starting in 1977, and used the 2WD Vamp design, though at least one 4×4 was produced.
There were some minor detail tweaks, but the Jeg was pretty much just the civilian version of the Vemp.
It seems about 500 Jegs were built between 1976 and 1985, enough that there’s a number of YouTube videos of Jegs and their proud owners out there:
That one is really appealing with its light green paint and tan canvas top. It looks like the civilian Jeg had an opening front trunk that the original Vamp, with its hood-inset spare tire, lacked, but that seems to be the biggest actual change.
Here’s another video of that Jeg:
This a good walkaround of one, including some US-jeep standard Box Taillights:
Here’s a video of a bunch of fun-looking little Jegs, showing some with twin-carb engines:
That should give you plenty of Jeg content, at least for a while.
I can’t wait to see what the next obscure air-cooled VW Aetherattle brings for me! I better sacrifice some 20W-50 on his altar tonight.