One of the things I like best about old-school, air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles is that so many of the damn things were built that they were accessible to people who did all kinds of things to them. That’s how we ended up with Baja Bugs, all kinds of bonkers fibreglass kit cars, weird motorcycle-centaur trikes and other wild creations. I’ve seen so, so many things done to Beetles that I thought nothing could surprise me.
I was wrong, because I now know there exists at least one professionally bulletproofed VW Beetle in the world. And it’s up for auction.
In some ways, I suppose I should have suspected this could be something that existed, since at least two heads of state drove air-cooled Beetles as their normal transportation. But this bulletproofed one was not one of theirs.
No, the bulletproof Beetle is actually from Italy and wasn’t owned by a political leader. Instead it was owned and used by a wealthy Italian family that didn’t really want to get kidnapped. As the auction description tells it:
“Imagine you live in Italy in the late ’70s and belong to the upper class. The first owner of this Beetle was one of these people being an Industrialist in Bologna. Since 1974 Kidnapping formed a new money source for the Italian Mafia, the “Brigate Rosse” and the Terror Group “Anonima Sarda”. Especially in northern Italy, Kidnapping was on the rise and happened almost on a daily basis with its peak in ‘77. Usually, the kidnappings took place on the way to work or school.
As the first Owner wanted to have a life as normal as possible for him and his family and be free to move around the city for shopping and eating, he decided to buy a Beetle and have it converted to a Highjacking safe and Bulletproof Tank, with the look of a normal Beetle. He sends the Car to a specialist shop in Italy where the windows are changed with Bullet-Proof Glass.
Doors, Hoods and Luggage Compartment are updated with 3 cm Steel to protect from Gun shoots and Explosions. The Doors are updated with safety bolts, to make it impossible to open the doors from outside.”
What makes this even more incredible is that this 1978 Beetle is actually the absolute base model, the 1200 version, with the smallest possible engine (the old 1200cc single-port, making only 25 kW). This was the most austere Beetle, the kind used for fleets like the German post office, and it lacked all kinds of amenities found on higher-spec Beetles like chrome, reverse lamps, a padded dash and even a glovebox door.
Other interesting small details are an unusual centre-roof antenna location and some possibly Italy-only-spec indicator repeater lamps.
I’m guessing that’s part of why this low-spec VW was chosen: deception. Absolutely nobody would think of this car as what a rich industrialist would drive, so probably a kidnapper wouldn’t even look at it twice.
If he did look twice, and then maybe a third time to decide that the people inside were worth kidnapping, he’d have a hell of a time pulling it off, because this little Bug has been turned into an absolute fortress.
The doors and trunk interior had 3cm thick steel panels added to them along with the bulletproof glass. Inside the trunk, you can see the steel panels behind the dashboard, so any bullets that get through the hood won’t get into the passenger compartment.
These extra door safety bolts look really beefy, too, and I think the two added green lights on the dash probably indicated that the doors are extra-bolted shut.
It’s a good thing the Beetle is essentially a mobile panic room, because with an extra 300 or so kilograms of armour added, I can’t imagine it’s going to be able to run away from anything. I’m surprised they didn’t at least spring for sticking in the 1600cc dual-port engine for a whopping 37 kW or so to compensate a bit for the extra weight. I guess this was good enough?
It looks as though it didn’t make the auction reserve, and to be honest I have no idea how to value such a car. It’s incredibly rare and in very original shape, but I don’t know how big the population of air-cooled VW enthusiasts who also are constantly getting shot at is.
Personally, I think it’s amazing. Perhaps if I keep pissing of Tesla-stans, it may be a smart car to consider.
Besides, I love that houndstooth upholstery. And who needs a glovebox door?