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Two Beetles or not two Beetles: With this pair, only you (and maybe some Brazilians) will know

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On: Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 3:00PM | By: Andrew W Davis


Two Beetles or not two Beetles: With this pair, only you (and maybe some Brazilians) will know

My parent's first cars—and second (I think)—were both VW Beetles. This should come as a shock to no one, seeing as how ubiquitous the car was for decades—right up to the 1990s, it would seem, as my high school girlfriend had one right up until her father made her get a more “practical” car (a Geo Metro!).

This—the enduring Beetle in general, not my relationship with her—was in no small part due to the (half) joke that all you needed to fix one was either a new rubber band or replacement wheel-running hamster. But what if you wanted the cheap, bulletproof guts of a Beetle but not the cheapskate rep that came with it? Well...

No offense, but if you say you know what a Bianco S or Puma GT are I am going to call you the least offensive term for liar (unless, of course, if you're involved in some way with the two cars I'm about to cover).

My first book was Richard Scarry's “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” and, as my groaning book shelves—and full basement—will tell you, I've obsessively moved up the automotive publication ladder since then. So if I've never heard of these cars' manufacturers/models, chances are near certain that nearly no one else has either.

Except maybe some Brazilians who were around in the '60s and '70s.

That's right, kids, this pair of decidedly NOT-Beetle-looking machines that sold at Auctions America's Fort Lauderdale sale last weekend are, in the auction company's own words, “Volkswagen-based specialty sports car[s]” produced because “high import tariffs effectively closed Brazil during much of this period to foreign-built cars.”

[A VERY common practice—worldwide—even today here in 'Murrica. Why do you think, for instance, there are so many foreign-make manufacturing facilities here in the U.S. of A.?]

Anyhoo, Auctions America sold a LOT (pun intended) of cars—$20M worth, for a respectable 70 percent sell-through rate—but only two of them were “mystery” offerings to me. And as I'm OCD about that kind of stuff, you just know I had to research the hell out of them.

WAIT! Don't leave! What follows are the “Cliff's Notes” on these cars—I promise—as I want to save you from the forehead injuries that would result from your passing out due to boredom should I explain their minutiae in entirety.

[Even I started to get cross-eyed after a few hours of research, and I've devoted my life to the automotive minutiae...]

Stick with me and I promise you'll at least get a few nuggets of automotive trivia you can use to stump your “car guy” buddies with next time you get together and play that awesome party game, “What the Hell is That?!?

[Copyright me, just now.]

[Cars are in order of their lot number as assigned by Auctions America, and—conveniently—in the order of my narrative. If you care.]

Lot 195 — 1972 Puma GT Coupe [Sale price:$19,250]

That's right, kids, somebody made a Puma-brand thing other than terrible sneakers. From 1966 to 1995, some crazy dudes way, WAY south of the border built various vehicles powered—and parts-binned—from a variety of foreign sources, ranging from DKW to GM.

Or, as is the case of this '72 model, VW. But to back-track a bit, the Puma (née DKW-Malzoni GT, after its engine and designer/racer/benefactor) first appeared—as a race car(!)—in 1964, built around a 1.1-liter, straight-3 DKW two-stroke powerplant that put its 101 (ha!) horses down via its front wheels.

[Why build a sports car around a corn-popper DKW motor? 'Cause Damph-Kraft-Wagen paid for production of the thing in the first place, silly. Can you think of a single other reason that makes sense? No. No you can't.]

Despite its leaf-blower motor, production of the fiberglass flyer was surprisingly brisk, with a total of 170 DKW-powered “racers” sold during its five years of existence.

But because the Illuminati or aliens or competing car makers conspired to keep the almighty DKW motor out of circulation (actually, it was because VW bought the company 1967), the powertrain got reoriented and moved rearward so that the aforementioned Beetle's 1.5-liter flat-four's air-cooled clatter emanated from—and “powered”—the rear wheels.

Rest of the story short: VW put its 1.6-liter motor into later cars like the '72 sold here, which—according to the auction company—was one of “just” 484 total cars built in 1972, with 330 being coupes. That's the lowest annual production figure of the car's approximately 2,838 total run, counting 1972-1974 and the car's one-year resurrection in 1982.

[Did I forget to tell you that they made a ragtop version, too? And a kit car. Oh, and that they're more Karmann Ghia than Beetle? My bad. Feel free to fact-check me on any other details—or just to get more info—on either Auctions America’s site or Wikipedia. Just know that's where I got all my fascinating factoids, so…]

Speaking of which, while we're on the subject of Auctions America, let's get—quickly—to the pumpkin-colored model Auctions America just sold.

Here are their bullet points (the rest of which—again—you can view on Auctions America's website):

“1,600-cc flat four-cylinder VW engine; Four-speed manual transmission; Optional dual Solex Kadron carbs; Brazilian built GT car; Limited production; One of 484 total cars in 1972; One of 330 coupes in 1972; Fully restored to factory specs; Rare alloy wheels; Headlight covers; [unspecified] Award winner; Rebuilt chassis with new floor pans; and Rebuilt electrical system”.

And that's the story of the Puma GT (or at least THIS one). Oh, except for one thing (and I swear to God Wikipedia really says this): “The design, inspired by the Lamborghini Miura, was to remain unchanged in for two decades.”

[I can see more than a little Mazda Cosmo it, plus a tiny dash of Dino 206 if you squint really hard, but are you BS-ing me? NO part, from ANY angle, looks the slightest bit like God's own automotive supermodel, the Miura. They're not even equipped the same. By a LOT. And the fact that Auctions America has sold more than one Miura makes you think they'd know better.]

Maybe they'll do better with Brazil's next VW-powered sports car...

Lot 577 — 1979 Bianco S Coupe [Sale price:$24,750]

Nope.

Sure, this is another fiberglass custom Beetle created in Brazil, and yes, it's powered by VeeDub's 1.6-liter flat-four. But this one has an air of mystery surrounding it, as not only is there NOT a Wikipedia page on it—at least in English—but every website I Googled that's not tied to this particular car (or just a regurgitated version of Auction America's website), leads to an assortment of pizza places, electronic stores, and a gym.

[I am not kidding. Does this look like my kidding face? Look it up yourself!]

So, contrary to the freedoms granted online “writers” by the 1995 “Go Ahead and Write Whatever the Hell You Want, it's Just the Internet, Stupid” accord, I am going to tell you that I'm not only using a single source for this description (ouch), but that my source is the auction company's description itself (metaphorically disemboweling myself due to dishonoring my TRUE journalistic ancestors).

Right.

In order to save whatever metaphorical face I have left, I'll start with the last bit of the Puma's description (the Auctions America-sold-car-specific stuff):

“1,600-cc VW flat four-cylinder engine; Manual transmission; Three owner original example; Brazilian built; Model introduced at international shows; Period European styling inspiration; Produced by hand; From important Brazilian collection.”

Named after Ottorino (Toni) Bianco—an actual race car designer—it's hard to understand why they went from a debut in 1976 to shuttering the concern in 1979, but all the text says is it was “due to a disagreement among the principal members”.

Regardless, it's too bad they closed, because they were damn close to cloning DeTomaso's Mangusta (minus the status, performance and panache, of course).

I want to copy-and-paste the entire description here but my editor knows where I live and probably doesn't give two...anythings about these machines [actually I dont give even one. Ed.], so I'll just quote the most salient—and by that I mean pathetic—bits:

“Using bold European period inspiration and guidelines for the design and ended up being produced at the rate of approximately 20 units per month.”

“The Bianco S is acknowledged to be the most recognized model of Bianco and is regarded as the flagship of the company.”

“At its launch in 1976 at the Salon International of the New York Auto Show, it is reported that over 180 units were sold for their strongest sales performance.”

[Interestingly (at least to me), DeTomaso sold over 400 Mangustas between 1967 and 1971, or over roughly the life-span of Bianco the company. Oh, and as if designed to prove the axiom “Not everything rare is expensive”, this Bianco went for under 25 grand at auction, while the average auction price for a Mangusta is sixteen times that.

So I guess the lesson to be learned here is that if you're going to put an engine in the ass-end of your ripoff (I mean “VERY Italian-ish”) sports car—regardless of where you build it—the way to fortune(-ish) and fame(-ish) is to use an American V8, not a sub-70hp VW flat-four that VOLKSWAGEN only used because they couldn't afford a better motor (as it would raise their MSRP).

[See “Every engine Porsche used during the Beetle's run” for proof of that.]

Nowadays, of course, every crank is creating electrically-powered “vehicles” instead of Beetle-powered ones, but when you think to consult Wikipedia in 2030, I'm betting that amongst the roughly ten billion hits beamed directly into your brain you'll find no more than 50 truly successful car companies—none of which will exist then, of course, after the “You-All-Failed-to-Read-the-Apple-User-Agreement-So-You-Just-Surrendered-All-Your-Personal-and-Corporate-Freedoms” War of 2020 (which lasted all of 15 minutes because it happened on the day they introduced the new iBrain 33 S implant)—and none of them (other than VW, naturally) built their empire on installing a 1940s-era putt-putt motor in ANY car, let alone a “sports” car.

[BTW, does that implant come in Rose Gold? My daughter REALLY wants one...]


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