Juiced Beetle

The forgotten, super rare six-pot Super Bug

BY SCOTT NEWMAN

AT THE TURN of the century, the automotive trend du jour was retro. BMW brought back the Mini, Holden revived the Monaro and VW introduced the New Beetle. Unlike the ground-breaking original, Beetle 2.0 was utterly conventional, based on the engines and chassis of a humble Golf.

Nonetheless, it worked, buyers lining up for a literal dose of flower power (there was a flower on the dash – yes, really!). Still, with its cutesy, Noddy-like proportions, the New Beetle was about as masculine as a Twilight movie marathon. In an effort to butch up the Bug’ image, VW created the RSi.

Just what RSi stood for is unclear; and despite the whaletail wing, 18-inch multispoke wheels, flared guards and front air dam, it wasn’ that good looking, the end result being a bit Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. Left-hand drive only, just 251 were built, a 250-unit production run plus the initial concept, all in silver except No. 002 which was blue and built for VW overlord Ferdinand Piech.

Under the bonnet sat VW’ narrow-angle 3.2-litre V6, feeding 165kW/317Nm to all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. This drivetrain would reappear following the RSi’ demise in the form of the Golf R32. Giving the Bug the bark to match its bite was a Remus exhaust, while the suspension received an overhaul in an effort to sharpen the standard Beetle’ soggy handling.

It worked, to a point. Despite the RSi’ LHD-only status, VW Australia was so smitten it imported two Ultra Bugs for “promotional purposes”. One was entered into Targa Tasmania (and crashed into a bus stop) while the other was converted to RHD, made appearances at motor shows and in various motoring media, including this magazine.

The drivetrain was great, with a torquey, snarling six and sweet manual box, while the Recaros cuddled you tighter than a new parent. Shame, then, about the brittle ride and insistent understeer. Oh, and the AUD$125K price tag!