The Bucket Seats, 82nd Variety

Bellicose bug.

Image: redrkracing

The Volkswagen Beetle was never intentionally designed with conflict in mind, but that didn’t stop the military taking an interest. Early 1938 saw the bellicose German Chancellor commission Ferdinand Porsche to produce a Beetle for the battlefield, with results appearing within a month. Given the Type 62 moniker[1], this version was essentially a Beetle chassis with rudimentary body, along with 19” wheels for improved ground clearance.

The German army stipulated a vehicle weighing no more than 950 Kg, laden with four infantrymen. Unladen, the vehicle was required to weigh 550 Kg and with its practically flat floor was intended to slide easily over almost any surface. Porsche sub-contracted the bodywork to Trutz, a long established coachbuilder, based in Coburg.

These hastily prepared vehicles were pressed into action with creditable results but such urgency soon exposed the inevitable shortcomings — the most serious being of all things, too much speed. Seen as a ubiquitous support vehicle, devoid of armour or weapons, the four speed manual Type 62 was deemed too fast for supporting infantry. Porsche returned to the workshop to carry out some additional fettling. The enhancements included 16” wheels and revised dampers, a stiffer frame and bodywork by American owned company, Ambi-Budd[2]. Along with hub-reducing portal axles, slowing the vehicle to an infantry-friendly 2.5 mph, the vehicle sported a self locking differential[3], helping immensely in traversing difficult terrain. 

Intended for both reasonably comfortable travel along with fast entry and exit, the vehicle now carried a new Type number — 82, along with a new name, Kübelspitzwagen, German for bucket seats. With its high metal doors and canvas roof providing a modicum of weather protection, even fully laden it could barrel along at 50 mph (81 Kmh) for almost 300 miles (480 Km). Dimensions were a wheelbase of 2.4 m, length of 3.74 m, 1.6 m wide and 1.65 m high. Unladen weight was 750 Kg.

Kübelwagen in the theatre. Image: uniquecarsandparts

Now established, the Kübelwagen as it became known led to a variety of themes, some more successful than others. Beloved of an extended numeric, the German military produced the Type 82/1, a three seater radio car. The 82/2 was another three seater, this time with one rear seat removed to allow a Siemens motor powered siren to fit. Types /3 and /4 don’t appear to exist but 82/5 was something of a hybrid, if only in looks. A Kübelwagen chassis dressed with a Type 60 LO Lieferwagen body — all this to make a humble pickup. Type 82/6 was a box van, followed by 82/7, another three seater used as a mobile command post. 

The Beetle too saw active service when 688 type 82/E’s were produced; slightly modified Beetle bodywork covering the Kübelwagen chassis. Higher ranking officers could also sample the Type 87 Kommandeurwagen. In essence, a 4WD Beetle with running boards and chunkier rubber. Other variants include the Type 107 with a turbocharged engine, while the Type 177 employed a five speed gearbox. Type 179 was fuel injected. We’ll return to the water crossing 179-F momentarily. 

Gas generator Kübelwagen. Image: dieselpunks

Kübelwagens with alternative power sources had different type numbers. The 235 would have been electrified, the 240 used bottled gas. Type 309 became diesel operated, with the barely believable 332 using coal. The Bizarre Medal must however be pinned to the front of the Type 239 along with its wood burning/gas generator. 

Wartime changes to the 82 were few and far between. Initially using the 985 cc air cooled engine, 1943 saw not only a dashboard change but also the fitting of the 1,131 cc unit for a marginal increase in power to 25bhp. Eastern Front and later Central European front vehicles made do with standard 5.25×16 tyres. Kübelwagens serving in desert theatres were found to drive better once equipped with 690×200 aircraft balloon tyres.

Ace fighter pilot Hans Joachim Marseille, having shot down eight allied planes in one day (a figure he later exceeded) was gifted a Kübelwagen flamboyantly painted by his Italian ground crew members. Paint finishes began with Feldgrau (Field Grey) or Dunkel Gelb (Dirty Yellow). Camouflage varied wildly from whitewash applied by hand to ornate, spray painted patterns.

For all its landmass crossing abilities, the Kübelwagen proved hopelessly ineffective when faced with deep water crossings. The 179-F ended up abandoned for the all-new prototype 128 which became the production Type 166 Schwimmwagen (literally, swimming car) in 1941. Erwin Komenda, Porsche’s body specialist created a more boat-like hull to fit over a combination of the Type 87 whilst implementing the Type 86 AWD running gear and engine.

Only first and reverse gear were AWD. Paddles were standard equipment but fitted to the vehicle’s rear was a neat propeller. Once water-borne, a simple extension connection to the driveshaft provided the Schwimmwagen with a 6mph (10Kmh) top speed. It remains the world’s most produced amphibious vehicle with over 15,000 made between the VW factory at Fallersleben and Porsche’s workshops over a three year production run.

Schwimmwagen. Image:

Examples of Kübelwagens captured by the Allies were subjected to exhaustive testing and evaluation, with conflicting results. An American report from a desert captured vehicle in 1943 suggested the Kübelwagen was “simpler to manufacture, easier to maintain, faster and more comfortable than the Jeep.” A detailed English technical handbook for “The German Jeep” was distributed to some troops the night before D-Day — liberated Kübelwagens viewed as a prize.

At the war’s end, another US report suggested the Kübelwagen was inferior of the Jeep in all but comfort. Another report was penned by the Rootes Group condemning the Kübelwagen as failing to “fulfil the technical requirements of a motor vehicle and would be uneconomic to produce.” Comparisons still rage amongst enthusiasts today. While soldiers sat on the Jeep and were often subjected to wild rides[4], the Kübelwagen’s lower centre of gravity meant they were at least in the vehicle[5].

Image: Iconic Historical Photos

Kübelwagen output ended with around 50,000 units produced, remarkable considering factory bombing, material shortages, deliberate sabotage and slow working policies of forced labour. Wartime examples are now highly regarded and expensive.

And of course, the Kübelwagen lived on for a while as the Type 181 Thing in, of all theatres, the USA. Many a GI came back from Europe with either grudging respect or a bucketful of memories over this angular transport, meaning that reproductions, along with scale models remain inordinately popular today.

Data Sources:,, 


[1] Yet in overall VW terms, Type 2

[2] Arthur Müller Bauten und Industriewerk, founded by Edward Gowen Budd. The German based company produced bodies for BMW and Ford, also making fuel jerrycans along with aircraft parts as well as the Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen. The US division designed and produced the Bazooka and rifle grenade. In more automotive terms, Budd supplied bodies for early Dodge cars.

[3] Derived from the Audi Grand Prix racing cars, no less.

[4] The accident rate of Jeep drivers and passengers being rather too high to admit to.

[5] The Willys Jeep had 4WD, 60 horsepower and an incomparable 600,000+ examples built.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

24 thoughts on “The Bucket Seats, 82nd Variety”

  1. Kübelspitzwagen would mean bucket peak car, a bucket seat car would be Kübelsitzwagen, even if I never have heard somebody use this designation.
    The Kübelwagen was the reason for the absurd love for air cooled engines many Germans had. Many classmates’ fathers were sure they’d never buy a water cooled car because they had seen them freeze up in Stalingrad when the Kübelwagen didn’t have such problems.

    A couple of years ago someone I know started a re-manufacturing project for Kübelwagen wheels. The plan was to make them the same way as the original parts but then they would not have been able to get type approved due to their unacceptably bad quality. The original parts were coarsely riveted together from two parts with very approximate tolerances and were running very wobbly and the rivets alone would have been reason enough to deny them any type approval. In the end the new parts were welded to much better standards with fake rivets for an original look.
    The reason for the bad quality of the original parts was that the Kübelwagen was designed for a life of 5,000 kilometres after which it was meant to either be abandoned on victorius retreat or be useless after a victory.

  2. Good morning, Andrew, and thank you for an interesting and nicely illustrated history of the Kübelwagen. The idea of a coal-powered version is mad! How on earth did that work in practice?

    Incidentally, regarding Rootes Group’s potential involvement in restarting production at Wolfsburg after the war had ended, I understand that the quote above, attributed elsewhere to Sir William Rootes, related to the Type 1 (Beetle) rather than the Kübelwagen per se.

    1. I looked up wood-burning vehicles and it’s an interesting, but surprisingly complex topic. Having reviewed a number of videos, it’s amazing how many people struggle to explain how it works. I also now recall reading that these devices are prone to exploding, if you aren’t careful.

      I’ve found two films which I think are useful. One explains the chemistry of the reaction to produce gas:

      The other shows a gasifier in action, via a Norwegian gentleman and his old Chevrolet truck:

    1. I notice that the exhausts exit through the rear wings, to avoid them scraping along the ground, too.

      The Beetle must have been the last car in production to have started out with semaphore indicators, by some margin.

    2. The car in these pictures is not a pure Typ 87 Kommandeurswagen.
      It looks like a Beetle body put over and modified to fit a Kübelwagen or Schwimmwagen chassis.
      The 87 did not have high set exhaust tailpipes but the standard Beetle exhaust with the silencer sitting transversely behind the engine. The Kübel had twin silencers at the sides of the gearbox for better ground clearance and a greater rear attack angle. The genuine 87 bodywork also looks like a standard Beetle with bumpers and without the modified wings the car in the picures has.
      During 1945 and 46 VW built car from parts lying around as fun runabouts for British Army members.
      In March 1964 they built their 1,000th Beetle, followed in October 1946 ty the 10,000th example.

      Typ 87 rear

      Typ 87 front

    3. Kübelwagen rear end. You can see the high set exhaust tailpipe next to the bumper.

    4. Great, thanks Dave, that also explains the year on the number plate. It’s probably one of the 1946 examples, which might explain the differences.

  3. Owning a Schwimmwagen is one of my wet dreams 😉
    Along with owning a stainless stell bodied replica!
    I would be a better man 🙂

  4. I thought the main purpose of the portal hubs was to increase ground clearance. They were used on some versions of the type 2 as well I think. Portal hubs on swing axles are not a marriage made in heaven.

    1. VW Typ 2 T1 (early Bus) used portal axles as did early examples of the Kubelwagen spiritual successor Typ 181 ‘Kurierwagen’

    1. The manual is great.
      “Driving under ordinary conditions
      Placing Vehicle in Motion.
      Release parking brake lever.
      With the engine warmed up and running smoothly, depress clutch pedal and shift into first gear. Depress accelerator pedal slightly, and slowly, and smoothly, release the clutch pedal.
      As soon as the speed of the vehicle reaches approximately ten miles per hour (17 kilometers per hour), depress clutch pedal, release the accelerator pedal, and shift into second gear. Continue this procedure until the highest possible gear is reached which will enable the vehicle to move smoothly at the desired speed.”

      “Many vehicles will be found from which the tools and equipment have been removed, lost, or damaged. These may be replaced by cannibalization or by requisition of comparable American equipment through usual channels. ”
      I like the thought of ‘usual channels’…

    2. I like the ‘Trouble Lamp Socket’ (for plugging a portable lamp in to so you can investigate trouble – the cigar lighter socket, in modern parlance).

      The manual covers absolutely everything in the minutest detail, as it would be (correctly) assumed that levels of user knowledge would be variable.

      The manual also seems to have an oddly ‘civilian’ air to it. You almost expect it to start with the words “Congratulations on taking delivery of your Kübelwagen – we hope it provides you with many miles of enjoyable motoring”.

    3. True – nothing was interchangeable (including ammunition, etc). Various standardization committees were set up after the war to deal with this. They just muddled through in the meantime.

    4. The manual states that open end and socket spanners had to be in 1/64″ calibration to fit the metric nuts and bolts.
      Seems the US Army had such equipment.
      I don’t possess such tools and I have a lot of imperial tools in AF, Whitworth and BS sizes, at least enough for any job on an old British motorcycle.

  5. Good Morning Andrew What an interesting piece. I have to admit to making a number of Kübelwagen’s as part of military “dioramas” some years ago but my history search only scratched the surface I realise now. Excellent work!

  6. Call me cynical if you like, but I think that when Adolf and his friend Ferdinand put their heads together they had more than the Beetle in mind.

    1. That’s a fair point – they did. The Kübelwagen was discussed as early as April 1934.

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