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Rare Air-Cooled: 1974 Volkswagen Brasilia

This 1974 Volkswagen Brasilia is a rare sight in the U.S.A, as this rear-engined model was never sold stateside. Like so many other vehicles from the company’s South American operations, they do appear here on occasion and offer a compelling alternative from the classic Beetle for air-cooled enthusiasts. The listing for this Brasilia listed here on OldBug.com describes it as a restored example that is a one-owner car, having remained with the same owner that brought it into the country years ago. While restored cars aren’t usually our bag, this one appears to have been kept to its original specs wherever possible with some sensible upgrades, with an asking price of $16,750 OBO. Thanks go to Kyle K for the tip!

Based on the description, the Brasilia has been repainted in its original colors – and what a great color it is. It retains originals badges and sharp chrome bumpers, and while not exactly sporting, there’s something charming about the rear hatch that opens up to reveal both a storage area and an engine compartment. These were not high-powered machines, and while it was in some ways considered an evolutionary model past the classic Beetle, it still prioritized fuel economy and cheap upkeep over performance and road-holding abilities. Obviously, it hasn’t phased the longtime owner who has clearly stuck with the Brasilia and invested a fair amount of money in its continued preservation.

The interior seems to be a mixture of old and new, with the incredibly nice seating surfaces and door panels seemingly restored. The seller notes the door panels feature “…stitched design in the factory style,” which reads to me as having been redone. The seats are described as having “…nicely done cloth inserts,” which is another way of saying the Brasilia has benefitted from some time in the upholstery shop. Conversely, the rubber floor mat and headliner are both described as original, and it would appear the painted surfaces haven’t been altered either, unless the paint job encompassed the cabin as well.

The engine isn’t rebuilt, listed as a 16oo replacement mill over the original 1300. This isn’t a huge gain, but every little bit helps when it comes to air-cooled VWs. As I learned the hard way, cars like these from outside of the U.S. market will always have their fans, but at the end of the day, most people want a car that doesn’t raise more questions than it answers, or give the impression of being difficult to find parts for. Buyers like their project cars to be a cause of great extra burden, so I can see this Brasilia encountering some resistance among buyers who just want a Beetle. But for a buyer looking for the best Brasilia they can that’s already stateside? Look no further.


  1. Avatar photo Big_Fun Member

    Somebody in our town drove something simular in the mid ’70s – I remember those unique quarter vents. I believe it was a Dasher? Maroon with those shiny hubcaps. Four headlamps?

    Like 0
    • Avatar photo Corey_Harris

      Your neighbor most likely drove a VW Type 4 – 411 or 412 which was indeed sold in the US. Similar but overall a larger car. I believe the Watercooled Dasher replaced the Type 4 but I could be mistaken. I would love to have this Brasilia.

      Like 2
  2. Avatar photo local_sheriff

    Übercool, rare find and such a lovely period color combo! So what excactly is it based on, is it some cross-breed between a Beetle and 412…? Doubt VW do Brasil would walk the extra mile and re-invent the wheel with all new technicals for a Brazil-only model – I’d expect under the skin there will be all a tried and true VW construction.

    I find cars available in limited regions to be super-exciting reading, there are just so many variants made with tweaks to the more commonly known models and I enjoy expanding my automotive scope. My personal Brazilian favorite got to be the Chev Opala SS. Anyone here on BF have any personal experience with how Brazilian car build quality stands up against that of more ‘sophisticated’ countries…?

    Like 2
  3. Avatar photo Car Nut Tacoma

    Nice looking car. I’ve heard of the Volkswagen Brasilia, but for some reason it was never offered in the USA. I wish I knew why. While the old Beetle may have still been popular, even that needed to be replaced with something more up to date. It’s a shame that this never replaced the Beetle. There’s nothing wrong with the Golf (Rabbit). But it’s not rear engined. It would’ve been awesome if the Beetle was replaced with a more updated rear engine, possibly water-cooled engine.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo That AMC Guy

      Probably it would not have met U.S. emissions or safety standards of the time, and the cost to ‘federalize’ it likely would have been prohibitive.

      Like 1
      • Avatar photo GeorgeL

        I’m not sure that was the barrier. Volkswagen was able to make the Beetle meet the new 1973 bumper standard, so it wouldn’t have been that difficult. This car’s platform is shared with the Karmann Ghia, which was sold here through ’74 and also had the large, post ’73 impact bumpers.

        I think the bigger issue was that, by this time, VW was planning to move away from the rear-engine cars as the Golf/Rabbit was only a couple of years away from launch. Plus, with the Type 3/Type 4 already in the lineup, where would this fit in?

        The Brasilia was actually developed as a replacement for the Beetle. I think even VW underestimated how much people loved the Beetle. It outlasted the Brasilia in Brazil!

        Like 0
  4. Avatar photo steve

    The Brazilian, and to some extent, the Mexican built VW’s are not all that much different mechanically than the German cars. You WILL, however, find that a 1980-something Brazilian car will have parts that were designed for a 1960’s German VW. So where not exactly like the German model, things like a transmission will bolt right up and likely be superior to the existing unit.
    Yes, there are some odd parts. The buses sometimes came with the old link pin front suspension from the 50’s and early 60’s but have late model disc brakes which the older cars never had. The air cooled cars make have the switches and knobs from the later water cooled cars and so on. I like the car (I’ve owned VW 412’s) and I love the color..The price? And…no….

    Like 3
  5. Avatar photo Martin Horrocks

    These were popular when I lived in Mexico in the 70-80s. As well as Brasil, they built these in Puebla, Mex and they were a step between Beetle and Golf, so I suspect this car came from Mexico, rather than Brasil.

    Looked good then, make even more sense today. The Brasiliua customises really nicely. Don´t know if this is good value or not, but if you want it, not a lot of money, really!

    Like 1
  6. Avatar photo RLO

    “…when it comes to air-cooled VWs. As I learned the hard way, cars like these from outside of the U.S. market will always have their fans…”

    Well, hopefully they’ll have not only their fans, but also their cooling shrouds :)

    Like 6
  7. Avatar photo Jim Adney

    I’m not sure where these were made, Mexico or Brazil, but they seem to have been sold thruout South America. I saw a couple in Argentina in 1985. The only one I ever got close to was in Madison, WI where I followed it into a parking lot but didn’t manage to catch the owner.

    It appears that they were made over a number of years, involving a mix-mash of designs from other VWs. I think they were all air cooled. The one I saw in Madison was an early Rabbit body on a Beetle pan: rear engine and king pin front end. (No front grill, engine stuck up into what had been the storage space behind the back seat, but that space was now sealed off.

    Most of them seem to have been, like this one, 411 or 412 bodies, with an assortment of engines. I suspect this body is full size Type 4. The Beetle engine on this one is especially odd for the squarish fan housing. I have no idea where that came from, or why. Most commonly the Brazilia 411 bodies came with a Type 3 engine, but with a factory installed alternator.

    Like 0
  8. Avatar photo wardww

    I’ve lived here in Brazil for nearly 30 years and you can still find these in the same condition as this one for around US$5k. They are so unloved here now that nearly all of those on the road belong to low quality, “no receipt provided” tradies because they are dirt cheap here because they hold a lot of tools and you can put a rack on them and carry ladders etc. You can get a “Tradie” condition Brasilia here for US$1k. The only decent ones around are in air cooled clubs.

    Like 0
  9. Avatar photo Phlathead Phil

    VW prolly designed a body to use up the worldwide supply factory parts.

    While Air-Cooled engines are ‘kewl’ they just could no longer keep up with all the regs.

    Tesla has destroyed the air cooler forever!

    Like 0

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