We think of Volkswagen as 100% German cars, but did you know that Australia once made Volkswagens here on our own shores? This week, the Volks Affair team talk you through the forgotten history of the Australian Volkswagen.
The First Volkswagens in Australia
Australia’s first Volkswagens were imported by the military. The very first, a Kubelwagen, is in on display in the Australian War Memorial. During WWII, desert-stationed ANZACs captured Kubelwagens from the enemy. Effective in the North African desert, local military minds wanted to test the VW on Australian soil. Later, in 1949, the military would sell two of these Beetles at auction to the public. They were sold for £580 ($31,428 today), and £470 ($25,476).
In 1951, a German migrant, Therese Hanael, bought a VW, a black right-hand drive, from a British officer just before she left Antwerp. It is believed that Therese Hanael’s VW was the first VW to be imported personally to Australia.
As we’ve talked about before, Volkswagen was designed to be the people’s car. But in Australia, Volkswagen was never a low-cost, economic model for the average worker. It has always been a status symbol. Two years after Therese Hanael had hers imported, South Melbourne’s Regent Motors secured the import and distribution rights for Volkswagen. They were sold for £900 (equivalent to $30,000 today). Like Therese’s before them, these were imported VWs, but they started the journey towards Australia’s first locally-built VW.
Towards the end of the 1950s, to boost the local car manufacturing industry, tax concessions were given to companies the cars of which were assembled locally. In June 1954, Regent Motors hired Martin & King Pty Ltd, railway carriage manufacturers, to assemble “completely knocked down” (CKD) VWs shipped in from overseas. Shipping them in in parts rather than whole meant that shipments could contain more VWs and Regent Motors could get the local concessions. The CKD Beetles had a single oval rear window, a single tailpipe, push-button start and 1,131 CC engine.
The Australian Volkswagen
By 1957, Australia was making 51% of the components of the flatpacked Beetles. The Australian VW Beetle of 1957 had a large rear window, a large windscreen, smaller panels, a smaller rear-intake grille, flat accelerator pedal and a larger glovebox.
Making 51% of the parts ourselves meant that VW Australia could better control for quality, making sure the parts fitted together properly. This improved the accuracy and quality of the builds. Two years later, VW body panels were being stamped in Clayton. For the next twenty years, Australia was making its own VWs.
End of the Line
In 1976, Nissan owned Volkswagen Australia. They decided that the under-selling 1975 Beetle was not worth continuing. New emissions-capping legislation was brought in, so modifications were made to the Passat and Golf. For the Beetle, these modifications would be too costly for too little gain and so the production line was ended. In March 1977, the costs of building the other VWs in Australia at the level of quality VW drivers expected was too great and Nissan decided to stop producing the Golf and Passat as well. The production of the Australian Volkswagen had come to an end.
Are you an Australian VW Driver?
Volks Affair are experts in all things Volkswagen. Why not book yours in for a service, quote or repair? And while you’re here, why not check out our other VW posts, on their electric camper, their uber-ability, upcoming VW events, and more.