The unknown Volkswagen – SP2, Puma, Iltis and Fridolin

Volkswagen Fridolin 2

The Volkswagen name is not just a brand, it is also a motto. The Beetle, the Bulli and later the Golf were designed to mobilize the masses and they clearly exceeded this goal. But there are also some rather unknown Volkswagen still to discover.

Volkswagen do Brasil

From Emden to Tierra del Fuego, everyone who has come into contact with cars has surely spent some time in a vehicle from Wolfsburg. Volkswagen is not only mainstream, there are numerous niche products and small series that are hardly known, but definitely deserve more attention.
There are many reasons why some Volkswagen models are hardly known in its native country of Germany. Certain types were not meant for the German market and therefore  just not on offer. VW AG was very quick to expand into foreign markets in terms of sales, but also production sites. The best known Volkswagen subsidiary is probably Volkswagen do Brasil. VW already decided in the early 50’s to produce the Beetle and the T1 in Brazil.


For VW and the general director Heinrich Nordhoff it was clear from the beginning that it should not only be a matter of producing cars cheaper in Brazil and shipping them back to their core markets. If you have already been able to get post-war Germany on the road, you can also tackle the next major project, to do missionary work in South America and grab a large piece of the market there.

THE unknown Volkwagen No. 1 – The VW SP2

As Volkswagen didn’t want their South American counterpart to see them as some sort of crusader pushing their own product on a foreign market, Brazilian influences in production were allowed.  The highest form of influence were models that were specially designed for the needs and wishes of the local customers. A good example was the VW SP2, which came on the market in 1972. Admittedly, one reason for the birth of the SP2 was also that the Brazilian military dictatorship was reluctant to see foreign cars on the “their” streets. But Volkswagen do Brasil really wanted to offer a sports car on their home market. So they took some existing VW parts such as the Beetle wheel suspension as well as the engine and floor assembly of the Type 3 and put a new body on top. Visually it sure hit the spot. The engine, which had been bored to 1.7 liters, wasn’t exactly a beast with its 64 HP. However, it was enough for a regular cruising in traffic and the cars’ visual appearance was sure to turn some heads. Actually, it still does. Few of the 10,000 units produced left Brazil and the ravages of time gnawed away at the ones that were produced, which is why not many vehicles are left today.

THE unknown Volkwagen No. 2 – THE VW PUMA

The Puma also falls into the sporty coupé category. Whereby it is not purely of VW origin. In the 1960s, lawyer and amateur racing driver Genaro “Rino” Malzoni built his own racing car based on the DKW 3 = 6, from which the GT Malzoni emerged. The project promised to be more than just a private racing car adventure, which is why the Puma brand was founded. Initially still based on the DKW. When the DKW brand got in financial problems it was bought by Volkswagen. This also had an impact on the Puma models, as VW supplied the components for the Puma Coupés and later Cabriolets from 1970 onward. The production figures were similar to the SP 2, but the Puma was also delivered as a kit car to the USA, Canada, Central America and Europe.

THE unknown Volkwagen No. 3 – THE VW ILTIS

In addition to the international models, there are also some original German Volkswagen that fly under the radar. Enter the Iltis, an all-terrain Kübelwagen that was produced from 1978 till 1988. The reason it is such a rarity on the street is that it was not designed for the civilian masses, but for a very small and specific group of customers: the Bundeswehr and the armies of friendly NATO countries. The Iltis was successor to the ” Mehrzweck-Universal- Geländewagens mit Allradantrieb” from DKW, better known under its nickname Munga. In a 1953 tender, the Munga had surpassed the Goliath Type 31 and the Porsche Type 597. As criticism of the Munga grew and its technology was getting outdated, a successor was sought in the late 1960s. Audi in Ingolstadt developed the type Type 183 for Volkswagen as a replacement and partially produced it. From then on, it was to be used as a command and telecommunications vehicle, for the general transport of people, as a carrier vehicle for anti-tank weapons and for the transport of wounded personal. As a medical vehicle, the Iltis grew by about half a meter. The drive with permanent rear and selectable front-wheel drive and either a 1.7 liter petrol engine or 1.6 liter diesel engine remained the same. A small number of civilian vehicles were also manufactured, but the market response was quite low due to the very high price.

THE unknown Volkwagen No. 4 – VW FRIDOLIN

Another vehicle that Volkswagen tailor-made for a special customer was the Type 147. In addition to the rather technical type description, the vehicle was given a name that could hardly be more appropriate: Fridolin. Deutsche Post ordered a delivery vehicle from VW in 1962. It should be able to take up to two cubic meters and 400 kilograms of payload, and its loading area should be accessible directly from the driver’s cab as well as sliding side doors. For VW, developing something new did not automatically mean creating a new car on a blank sheet of paper; it rather meant creating something new from existing material.

And as strange as Fridolin appears at first glance, there is also a lot that looks familiar depending on your perspective. The tailgate was borrowed from the T1 and only made a bit shorter, the headlights are from the VW Type 3 and the engine flap and other parts from the VW van. The chassis is actually from the Karmann Ghia and the engine, transmission and axles were taken from the Beetle. In addition to Deutsche Post, Swiss Post, Dutch PTT and other companies ordered the Fridolin. However, as they were primarily workhorses, they weren’t really looked after and cared for, so the current population is estimated at only around 200 survivors, of which around 40 are currently permitted in Germany.

The unknown Volkswagen – Automotive Treasure

So Volkswagen is not just a manufacturer producing for the masses. And exclusivity does not necessarily mean having to drive an Italian sports car or an English roadster. On the contrary, if interested observers first have to walk around the car in order to see the trademark and even after seeing  it remain at a loss, that means they are looking at a real undiscovered automotive treasure. And that makes these unknown Volkswagen the real gems.

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

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