Think of all the cars whose looks are so distinctive and so iconic, that they're instantly recognizable even to people who know nothing about cars. The Mini Cooper, the Jeep Wrangler, the Hummer, and many more fit this description, but I'd argue that the king of iconic cars is the Volkswagen Beetle. Introduced in 1938 as "the people's car" in Germany (volks translates literally as "people's"), the original was designed as a cheap and simple vehicle that the masses could afford. If you know your history, you know exactly which World War II-era German leader more or less formulated the idea for the Beetle, but despite the rather suboptimal circumstances of its birth, the Beetle has gone on to become one of the most beloved cars in the world (so proven by the fact that it's basically been in production in one form or another for the past 80 years).
The original Beetle certainly lived up to its cheap, simple calling with a whopping 25 bhp and a top speed of 62 mph, but perhaps, those were blindingly fast numbers in the 1930s. Compare that to the 2018 Beetle's 174 bhp, 2.0L turbo-four engine, and 6.3" touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability. My, how times have changed.
One thing hasn't changed, however: the Beetle is still a super fun car. It's hard to look at that cheerful body design and not smile even a little. But if you really want to see something cool, check out these insane Beetle mods.
20 Vrbanus Beetle
Why did a Croatian gate and fence company decide to mod this Beetle and enter it into the 2012 Essen Motor Show? According to the Vrbanus website, "Because we have more than 30 years experience in making metal products, so we wanted to show what we can do."
This stunning mod began with a 1970 Beetle.
Handmade wrought iron was "heated, bent, hammered, and welded onto the original chassis," while details such as the mirrors, the windshield, and the wheel caps were preserved. The design was finished with gold plating and over 5,000 Swarovski crystals. All the original bodywork was removed, so the car is actually see-through. From start to finish, it took 3,500 hours (which equates to six months) to complete. The Beetle is completely operational, although Vrbanus says, "We don't advise it to be driven."
19 EAA Jeeple
If a Jeep and a Beetle had a love child, it would look like this. This particular mod lives in Wisconsin, and it actually does have a job and a purpose. It provides ground support for the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show, which is held annually for a week each summer, usually at the end of July. Considering the show is attended by over half a million visitors from 69 different countries, this little Jeeple (Jeep + Beetle. Genius, right? I just made that up.) has a pretty huge audience watching as it fulfills its ground support duties. A lot of normal cars would get nervous, but not the Jeeple. It's just working hard to make its mom (Ms. Jeep) and dad (Mr. Beetle) as proud as can be.
18 Hot Wheels Baja
Hot Wheels were more than likely the first "car" that all of us actually owned. In case you're not familiar with the toys, they're tiny scale models of cars produced from the actual vehicles' original blueprints. Introduced in 1968, they've been entertaining gearheads, both young and old, for the last 50 years.
There are Hot Wheels models of Beetles available with just about any mod you can imagine—including Baja Bugs, which are Beetles that have been modified to go off-road.
The concept was born in California in the 1960s as an affordable alternative to expensive dune buggies. So, in a weird way, melding Hot Wheels toys with a Baja Bug makes perfect sense—but not that little car-show doll. Those things are creepy as heck.
17 VWvortex Beetle
Which came first: the chicken or the egg? A timeless conundrum, but since this is a car site, the better question to ask might be who owns who: Porsche or Volkswagen? Actually, it's both. Let me explain. Porsche AG is owned by Volkswagen AG, which is owned by Porsche Automobil Holding SE. Everybody clear? Not really, but regardless, tuning firm VWvortex was inspired by the Porsche 911 GT3 RS when modding this 2012 Beetle, so they're really just keeping it all in the family. VWvortex decked out this little bug with low-profile Continental ExtremeContact DW 245-35ZR20 tires mounted on VMR710 20-inch alloy orange wheels and a Brembo Stage II brake kit. Slap on a few logos, and this slug bug is ready to walk in the Porsche fashion show any day.
16 Beetle Pickup Truck Conversion
The joke about owning a truck is that all your friends call you when they need help moving to a new apartment. So, if you own a slug bug but still want to get in on that sweet deal lugging furniture across town, look no further than this Beetle truck conversion.
Toss out the back seat, fold down the roof, and voila—you've got a truck too tiny to be of any real use, but neither can you take your kids to school anymore.
It's the worst of both worlds (unless, of course, you hate the school drop-off routine). Sure, the guys driving full-size diesel duallys might laugh at you. But you hold your head high, little Beetle truck. Because odds are that nobody's seen anything quite like you before.
15 ABT Speedie
American tuning house ABT makes their living modding vehicles produced by the Volkswagon brand, so you know they'd come prepared with something special for the iconic Beetle. To start, this 2012 Beetle received ABT's lowered sport suspension and some 19" alloy wheels. Throw in a full body kit with eyelids on the headlights and twin tailpipes (all the better to hear the 140 bhp engine 2.0L TSI engine upgrade). Shake it all together, garnish with stripes and orange accents, and you've no longer got a Beetle. No, you're now the proud owner of what ABT has dubbed the "Speedie." The 2012 Beetles were the first of VW's redesign efforts to make the cars appeal more to men. I don't know if VW succeeded, but when in doubt, an ABT tune job certainly can't hurt.
When I was a kid, I watched all the Herbie movies, and I'm not talking about the 2005 remake with Lindsey Lohan. In case you need a Herbie history lesson, Disney produced four movies from 1968-1980 starring the sentient, spunky little 1963 Beetle. There was also a 1997 made-for-TV movie starring the king of cool, Bruce Campbell. But through all his adventures, Herbie was the little bug that could, foiling bad guys as easily as he won victories on the race course.
This Beetle has been modded to showcase Herbie's classic, movie-star good looks—including, crucially, the red and blue stripes and the number 53 (though it's missing his license plate reading "OFP 857"). However, these tires and this lift job are a bit more than anything Herbie ever wore in the movies, so I'm betting this Beetle is here to do more than just cosplay.
Allow me to introduce you to Flip. Flip is a 1970 Beetle that lives in Cape Town South Africa with its owner Shaakir Dollie, who did all the mods himself with the help of family, friends, and the internet. Flip is fitted with adjustable front air suspension so it can rock a "how low can you go" vibe while still being fully drivable. Dollie also gave it tons of little touches to make sure Flip is the complete package, such as putting motorcycle mirrors on the turn signals, adding Porsche-style headlight grilles, and pop-out rear windows. But it's not all about looks. Flip also boasts an upgraded Bosch Variant coil, an EMPI GT 2 tip exhaust system, an SP gearbox, and a racing clutch. But don't forget the killer sound system and hidden 12” Star Sound subwoofers, because it's the 21st century after all.
12 Project Baja Bug
In 1967, the Baja 1000 (a 1,134-mile race from Ensenada to La Paz, Mexico) was still just a motorcycle race known as the Mexican 1000 Rally. But that year, Bruce Meyers drove a Meyers Manx (a dune buggy kit based on the Beetle) and beat the record previously set by bikes.
The popularity of the Baja Bug subsequently exploded, and today, the Baja 1000 offers a Class 11 for classic Beetles only in honor of this history.
This rugged little 1970 Beetle is the poster child of ProjectBaja.com, which received official backing from VW for the 2017 Baja 1000, the 50th anniversary of Meyer's race. The team DNF'd the 2014 Baja 1000, but this time, it overcame flat tires and mechanical troubles to roll all the way to the finish line in a big win for classic Beetles everywhere.
Because VW Beetles have a whimsical appearance, to begin with, it seems that, perhaps more than other cars, you can really let your inner child shine when modding them. Take this bug, for example. This looks like someone consulted their five-year-old about how he should mod his car, and the kid said, "Make it look like those spiky fish that get big when they hold their breath!" That would be a pufferfish, in case you were wondering, which is a member of the Tetraodontidae family and one of the most poisonous animals on earth. But that definitely fits the whole theme here because I can't think of a lot of other reasons to do this mod other than you wanting some space in the grocery store parking lot. I just shudder to think of what happens if you stumble and fall against it.
10 Mad Matt
If you want to drive a VW Beetle during the apocalypse, well okay... I guess that's your choice, and I hope you'll always do you. But if that's your decision, you might want to at least choose a Beetle that's dressed for the occasion. Behold the rat-rod creation (which resides in Los Angeles with its owner Matt) that graced the Orange County Cars & Coffee Meet in 2015.
The "Mad Matt" started life as a donated 1968 Beetle, but Matt and his friends scratch-built a custom chassis in their private shop.
It's also got an exposed small-block Chevy V8 engine, Fox shocks, and beadlock off-road rims. Can you still truly call it a Beetle? I think you can. Sure, it's been Frankensteined a little, but during the apocalypse, you gotta do what you gotta do.
9 Red Bull Beetle
If you don't follow the sport, you may not realize that VW dominates Red Bull Global Rallycross. Seriously, visit the race's website to check out the standings, and you'll notice that the current top two drivers (Scott Speed and Tanner Foust) are both rocking VW Beetles. So, if you initially scoffed at the idea of 1963 Herbie winning NASCAR races (and let's be honest—it's impossible), this fact at least puts a little racing cred back into the pockets of Team Beetle.
Considering this fact, it totally makes sense that Red Bull would mod some Beetles to help show off their massive energy drink/adventure sports empire. But I think the most important question is if Red Bull gives you wings, can these Beetles fly?
8 Rockstar Energy VARX Beetle
Speaking of Tanner Foust's rallycross Beetle, it's a thing of beauty to behold. Unveiled for the 2015 season, this beast boasts a straight-four engine with 560 bhp and 525 lb-ft, which rockets it from 0-60 in under two seconds. It's also got a sequential, transversely mounted six-speed racing gearbox, McPherson struts, and Yokohama competition tires. "The GRC Beetle is just a ridiculous car," says Foust. "Like any race car, it is purpose built, but its purpose is fairly chaotic."
This bundle of chaotic purpose helped propel Foust (a four-time X-Games gold medalist, two-time Formula Drift champion, and part-time stunt driver) to a third-place GRC overall finish in 2015 and second-place GRC overall finishes in 2016 and 2017. Perhaps 2018 will be the year of the Beetle?
7 The Orange
While we're on the subject of superfast Beetles, let's go back in time to the 2016 Jogja Volkswagen Festival in Indonesia. That's where this beauty (named Si Oren, which translates as "The Orange") gathered many adoring fans. Si Oren began life as a Super Beetle, which means it was built with a larger nose, better suspension, and a 1,600cc engine, among other improvements. But Tito, Si Oren's owner, had many more improvements in mind. He turned to Bandung-based tuning house Boscha Motorsport for enlarged stainless valves, cam gears, and upgraded cams. It's also got a Berg 5-speed transmission that's mated to a 1974 independent rear suspension. And as the cherry on top, Tito fitted a retro-styled NOS control for those occasions where slow is just not an option.
6 Black Current III
If you were to guess which electric-powered car holds the world record for the quickest quarter-mile drag time, you'd probably not say a VW Beetle. Don't feel bad; neither would I. And yet, it's true.
This Beetle belongs to UK-based Black Currant racing team.
It's the third version of their custom drag-racing door slammers. Fiberglass body panels, Acrylic windows, and an 8.50-certified chrome-moly roll cage help keep the weight down, while twin 9" electric inline motors powered by 450 individual Lithium Cobalt Oxide Cells keep the power high (1,200 bhp, to be precise). At the 2016 Big Bang VW Festival in England, the Beetle did four sub-10-second passes before setting the World Record at 9.31 seconds/144 mph. To be fair, I don't know if the record still stands, but it must be some kind of Beetle record regardless.
5 7-Up Andretti GRC Beetle
In case you were worried that Tanner Foust gets all the attention, have no fear. His Andretti Autosport teammate Scott Speed also has his own super special VW GRC Beetle. This one was unveiled for the 2014 Summer X Games in Austin, Texas. Like Foust's, this AWD bug has a straight-four turbocharged and direct-injection TSI engine that produces 560 bhp, which is more than double the next most powerful Beetle down the line (the Beetle GSR at 207 bhp). You'll also notice that the GRCs are wider than their slug-bug siblings. That's in order to fit larger rims with 17" wheels and Yokohama rally-spec tires. For $85,000, you can buy your own GRC bug (unless you, too, are lucky enough to be sponsored by 7-Up, in which case, you probably already have one), but be forewarned—these aren't street legal.
4 Squashed Bug
Since the last four entries have been about super high-performance Beetles, you might be ready for a change of pace. Well, here you go. I bet you've never seen anything like this before. Neither had the patrons of Utah's Wasatch Classic VW Show when this mod job showed up in 2010, and they began calling it the "squashed bug." I would suppose that this is the Beetle of choice for the urban classic-car enthusiast. You like the look of the classic bug, but you need something the size of a Smart Car. What to do, what to do? Well, the answer is (apparently) obvious: just cut out the middle of the car. That way you keep all the classic styling AND get to parallel park wherever you want. Genius.
3 Hippie Beetle
For many reasons, the VW Beetle (and VW busses) will always be inexorably linked with the hippie subculture of the 1960s. For starters, the liberally minded and often socialist hippies embraced the bug's origins as "the people's car." Because the design of the Beetle was simple and had changed little over the decades, parts were plentiful, and the cars were easy to maintain without having to pay a mechanic. Plus they were cheap, which is always a huge selling point.
It's a little ironic then that when VW introduced the New Beetle, they took everything that hippies had loved about the bug and tossed it out the window.
Gone was the simplicity, the cheap price, and the do-it-yourself repairs. But it's almost impossible to shed a reputation once it's earned, and so, this '60s-painted Beetle at the Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance still pays homage to a groovier time.
2 Flip-Top Beetle
Have you ever been working on your car and thought, "Ugh, I just need a little more room to maneuver"? Here's your solution. This custom flip-top Beetle was seen at the 2016 Mid America Street Rod Nationals. Owner Lowell Bruins calls it "a labor of love" that took about three years to build. It's got a 327 Chevy engine, but what makes it really special is that, unlike most other flip top cars, the seat and the interior of the car raise up with the body, which leaves the engine and the drivetrain open. Because of the mods, you have to sit in the back seat to drive this bug, which Bruins did when he drove it 300 miles from his home in Tennessee to the show and then again for the 300 miles home.
1 Monster Bug
Monster trucks have been around since the 1970s, but they've never looked like this before. Competition trucks must be 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide and are usually made with truck or SUV bodies. Then, these huge trucks, which bear crazy macho names like "Bigfoot" or "King Kong" drive over jumps and crush smaller, more unfortunate cars while an announcer screams at you to bring the whole family down on "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!"
But the crew at Upright 4x4 in Sarasota, Florida, wanted to think more outside the typical monster-truck box, and so, they created the Monster Bug. She rocks 70" wide aluminum wheels, which is good because each 66 tire weighs 950 lbs. Monster may look cute, but she tears up the course with the best of them.