While the Volkswagen GTI goes back to the 1970s, it is not the first performance-oriented VW. Before that, there was the VW Beetle 1303 S GSR…
When asked to name the first high-performance production Volkswagen, most would answer with the ‘GTI’. However, they would be incorrect. The Volkswagen GTI was first sold in Europe in 1976 and in the United States in 1983. Before the GTI, there was the Volkswagen Beetle GSR. No, not the Volkswagen Beetle GSR that was unveiled at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show. I am talking about the VW Beetle 1303 S GSR.
The first Volkswagen Beetle GSR was first introduced in 1972 as a limited-edition model for the German market. It was limited to only 3,500 units for Volkswagen’s home market, Germany, all of which were promptly snapped up.
The GSR, is the acronym for ‘gelb schwarzer renner’, which means ‘yellow and black racer’. Unlike the Volkswagen GTI that followed a few short years later, the modifications to the Beetle GSR were primarily cosmetic.
The history behind the VW Beetle 1303 S GSR
In the early 70s, German Volkswagen customers asked the factory to build a car that they could use at rally events. Volkswagen responded by taking a Beetle 1303 S, which was sold as the Super Beetle in the United States, with its 1.6-liter flat-four engine and gave it front disc brakes, long-ratio gearing, and a MacPherson independent front suspension.
From the outside, the GSR could be easily distinguished from the 1303 S by its bright yellow paint job accented by flat black paint on the hood, decklid, both bumpers and nearly every piece of the exterior trim. Differences also extended to the wheels with special silver 15-inch wheels that, while similar to stock wheels, were slightly wider for better handling and more aggressive looks.
Differences between the 1303 S and the GSR extended to the interior of the vehicle in the form of sports seats, a sport steering wheel, and a fire extinguisher. Keep in mind that the Beetle GSR was after all built to be driven on the rally circuits of Germany.
The “performance” Beetle
The limited-edition Beetle GSR retained the stock 1.6-liter engine from the 1303 S. As a result, it put out 50 horsepower and 78 pound-feet of torque, which was sufficient to propel the GSR from 0 to 62 miles per hour, in a rather leisurely 18.3 seconds.
You would think that the “stock” performance of the GSR would disappoint many buyers; wrong. Inspired by the ‘loud’ paint job and performance enhancements, many owners seized upon the opportunity to drive the vehicle on the streets, like a rally racer, according to former TTAC editor Bertel Schmidt, who worked in marketing at Volkswagen when the car launched:
“That car, and our campaign, got Volkswagen into trouble. 1973 was the year of the first oil crisis. Despite the puny 50 hp engine of the 1303, the campaign was understood as an invitation to hoonery. Huge discussions wafted back and forth, Volkswagen was denounced even in the German parliament.
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle GSR
As stated earlier, Volkswagen followed with a new GSR based upon the “new Beetle”. It retained the color scheme of the first-generation Beetle GSR and instead of 350 units sold only in Germany, the second generation “Beetle GSR” was limited to just 3,500 and sold worldwide. The second-gen Beetle GSR brought performance to 2013 levels coming equipped with a 210 horsepower engine, more than four times the output of the first-generation GSR.
What is a Volkswagen Beetle 1303 S GSR worth?
Old Volkswagen Beetles have gone up in value considerably over the years. I remember when I could buy one for less than $1,000 USD. In 2020, they routinely go for around $10,000.
As you would imagine, there are not many VW Beetle 1303 S GSR’s left in the wild. When they do come up for sale, they command a hefty premium. At the time of this writing, there is an original-looking 1972 VW Beetle 1303 S GSR for sale in Germany asking for almost $65,000, or 60,000 euro.
If you want to see some awesome cars, the dealer also has a beautiful bullet-proof 1977 VW Beetle for sale. Yes, you read that right, a bullet-proof Volkswagen Beetle.