In nature, there’s a phenomenon known as “convergent evolution” – the way different creatures in different places evolve the same traits to solve common problems. It also describes what happened in the early 1960s when people worldwide realized the Volkswagen Beetle could transform into an off-roader with only slight modifications.
In the United States, that process led to vehicles like the Meyers Manx. In Europe, Volkswagen itself adopted the basic Beetle chassis and parts into the Type 181, or as it was later known in the United States, “The Thing.” And, at almost the exact same time, Volkswagen in Australia had a similar thought about how a Beetle-based vehicle could tackle that country’s beach scene. The result: the Country Buggy.
Conceived first as a potential military vehicle, the Country Buggy was designed and engineered in Australia using Type 1 and Type 2 Volkswagen components. Designed with short overhangs to increase its approach and departure angles off-road, the Country Buggy’s exhausts fed through its bumper to raise ground clearance. Power from the stock Beetle flat-four cylinder engine went to the rear wheels via portal axles from the early Type 2 buses. In keeping with its utilitarian approach, the Buggy had no doors, only high side sills that could be closed off with vinyl curtains, and a folding windshield and either hard or soft-top roof. The bodywork was flat-stamped steel, with Beetle headlamps pushed into the fenders.
Though the project had promised when it began for Volkswagen Australia in the early 1960s, by the time the first Country Buggy models left the factory in 1968, conditions warranting its build had changed. The final model wasn’t suited for military applications, and with the Type 181 launching globally, few customers in Australia saw the appeal. After a brief run of just 1,952 vehicles, Country Buggy production ended in Australia.
And yet, it lived on. Partially assembled Country Buggy kits later shipped to the Philippines, where they were generally well received. When the Type 181 went into production, the chassis was sold in the Philippines with locally built Country Buggy bodies. And in 1972, Volkswagen invested with other firms in local production in the Philippines of a lightly modified Country Buggy called “Sakbayan” – a Filipino portmanteau that translates to “people’s car,” which remained in production for several years.
Today, Country Buggy and Sakbayan fans have preserved their vehicles as collector’s items. The Country Buggy was a rare model from a specific era, but thanks to those who cherish them, they will never go completely extinct.