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!