Could this be the Ultimate Prepper Vehicle?
I was never much of a mechanic, but I did have one brother who was particularly good at repairing vehicles of all sorts. Everything from bicycles to heavy equipment to cars and trucks and tractors was a constant source of seeming joy to him. Growing up as we did, however, in the very poorest section of the Appalachian Mountains, not everyone could afford to pay him. Thus it came to pass that someone gave him a very strange looking vehicle that not only refused to run but had a standard transmission and no clutch. Initially, he thought to pawn it off on me, an idea which I openly scoffed about at the time. Unbeknownst to us in those first few days, that 1971 Volkswagen “Super Beetle” would forever change the way that we looked at off-road vehicles and later prepper vehicles.
A Vehicle for Beginners
The very first thing we had to do was to get the car running if it was to be of any value whatsoever. This is when we encountered the first amazing feature of the Volkswagen beetles. My brother, seeking only to hack on me about my lack of such relevant and marketable skills as those he possessed, instructed me to remove the engine so we could rebuild it. Please bear in mind, the last time I worked on my own truck, I ended up with a size eleven hole in my grill that oddly enough, matched up almost exactly to my boots. To say I hate working on vehicles would be a great kindness and profound understatement. Despite that fact, however, within a couple of hours, I had managed to entirely disconnect the engine.
I was originally very confused by the lack of a radiator, never before having experienced air-cooled engines. If the truth were to be told, I assumed at the time that these were merely more missing parts that would have to be replaced before we could sell this awful contraption. Thinking as I did, that the entire task had been way too easy, I figured to move the engine around a little so as to see what I had missed, only to have the engine move completely. And with a little bit of adjusting, I picked it up and carried it into the kitchen table. Well, that worked out fine until our Ma got home. But that is a different story.
Ease of Repair
The relatively small, Air Cooled Engine was both easy to manage and relatively easy to repair. The bottom line here is that one of the major benefits of the VW Beetle is that you can literally remove the engine in an hour or two, carry it in to your kitchen table or your workshop if you have one, conduct the necessary repairs and then carry it back out and put it back in place to remount. This alone would be enough to make it a vehicle of some merit and consideration, but it would not be enough to classify the VW Beetle as one of the best prepper vehicles ever made.
The VW Super Beetle is the only VW Beetle (or VW Bug) that had the automatic standard transmission. While that was a challenge at first, it is not a common problem and one that can be disregarded for the average VW Beetle. Everything we got on the 71 Super Beetle that my brother had received as payment was stock, including the skinny little tires. Being the way we were, and not knowing any more than we did, we decided to take it out and “dog it a little” after we were done repairing it. While the car would certainly not fare well in drag races, we decided to take it on a little off-road venture to try to get it stuck. For our particular selection of courses, we finally decided on a local route by the name of Mud Fork.
Putting It To The Test
Mud Fork, as the name may imply, is little more than a mountain pass, coated not only with mud, but red clay and the most treacherous of all surfaces, the dreaded blue clay. Blue clay is clay that has mixed with oil and gas deposits throughout the region, and many an unwary or even unlucky driver, has ended up getting stuck on the top of this clay, unable to gain any traction and only managing to spin tires until they can get their winch hooked up or get a pull out of the larger pockets of blue clay. Since we were entering springtime, it was exceptionally muddy at the time. Calling a friend who had a good four wheel drive truck, we asked him to follow us so that we could get a pull when we got stuck, as we knew we would. As it turned out, he got stuck about three times and we had to go back and help him with his winching to get him through Mud Fork, the little VW Beetle making the journey back and forth a total of three times as we kept driving through to the paved road to wait for him, only to have to journey back in to assist him in getting his 4×4 through the mud time after time.
So Far, So Good
By this time, my brother and I were both quite interested in seeing just how much this little dream car would handle. Still, on stock tires, we decided to take it to a favorite haunt on top of a mountain pass where crowds of bored mountain youth would gather on the weekends. This particular homestead had been abandoned for decades even back when we were kids, and the route in was like any mud run, though essentially vertical in nature, sloping upwards maybe twenty degrees in pitch, a very steep and muddy incline.
Better than 4×4’s
Such was the nature of the run, that one of the frequent wagers for us kids, was betting on which truck would be able to get closest to the old homestead before the occupants would have to get out and walk. I got into four separate fights that night, so I remember it well. My brother was running that little Beetle up and down the slope with the greatest of ease, stopping to give the gals a lift and leaving their boyfriends behind. Now since virtually everyone loved my brother, despite his sometimes wild and wicked ways, their boyfriends all decided to confront me instead of him, while he was busy with their girlfriends. But again, that is a different story. The point is that the little VW Beetle made numerous trips up and down a very muddy and steep slope that bogged down even the best four-wheel drive trucks.
Even Snow Is No Match
Along about the time of what we referred to locally as the “Easter Squall,” a late springtime storm front that generally signals the time to start planting in earnest, we had a late and exceptionally heavy snow. Traveling through the snow, the VW Beetle plowed through or over top of even the worst that storm had to offer. I have since learned, however, that the regular VW Beetle can actually be steered by playing the clutch and the steering wheel, allowing for the driver to quickly regain both traction and control, even during an uncontrolled slide on snowy roads.
Feeling wholly and utterly frustrated, and not just a little bit inadequate about our inability to get that VW Beetle stuck, we took it out to a local farm that used to have great big concerts, mud pulls and other events from time to time, thinking that we would take it through holes that were deeper than it was tall. We were bound and determined to get that Beetle stuck now. Except for that little Beetle just literally floated right over top of the water, slowly plodding along until the tires found enough ground to gain traction, where it would just pull itself up right over top no matter what consistency the mud was.
Click over to the video and read the comments! These guys didn’t push it enough!
Add-ons and Parting Ways
My brother eventually got offered what was, for us at least, a substantial amount of money for that car, and sold it long before he would give it to me. In fact, I had rarely been privileged to even drive it as a matter of course, as he had enjoyed driving it as much or more than I had. Add on a minor conversion, put a set of thirty-three-inch tires with an aggressive tread pattern on an old standard VW Bettle, and you do indeed have the ultimate prepper vehicle that will get you in and out all but the most vertical locations. Add in some custom work, and even then, the VW Beetle will always get you where you want to go, no matter what the conditions may be.
There is a reason that the VW Beetle is so popular for making dune buggies. However, there are also a number of additional options for custom work that will allow for it to be maintained as a more proper and enclosed vehicle, necessary for preppers in colder climates. The VW Beetle can be fully customized in many different ways, limited only by the imagination. However, for the proverbial prepper, it would be wise to bear in mind the advantages of being able to pick up the engine and carry it inside to repair, in addition to the relatively light weight of the stock vehicle that allows it to float over so many obstacles. Today, if you could make it up to my house, you would see a 1958 Chevy Apache pickup truck and a VW Beetle, truly the perfect prepper vehicle.
MWC Tipton is a former Homesteading and Prepper Consultant, and former Hunting and Fishing Guide and presently working as a Freelance Writer from the American West. These days his time is largely consumed by writing and publishing books, articles and Reports and Analysis for NGOs. For author or article inquiries, please feel free to firstname.lastname@example.org
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