50 Years of Country Buggy

Volkswagen_Country_BuggyIn 1967, Volkswagen Australasia Ltd. started with a project vehicle designed for Australia‘s rough conditions. This vehicle, designa
ted Country Buggy or Type 197, was designed by project head Volkswagen Australasia’s Managing irector Rudi Herzmer and VW Engineer Cyril Harcourt in VW Australia’s Clayton factory.
The Country Buggy was based on an Australian-made Type 1 platform with engine, gearbox and front axle from the Type 1. The rear swing axles had reduction gears from a 1st generation Volkswagen Transporter (1950–1967).
Originally, the idea was to make the Country Buggy an amphibious vehicle, however directives from VW Germany curtailed this vision.

The Country Buggy started production in July 1967, with exports to the PhilippinesSingaporeNew Zealand and some small Pacific nations.

The Country Buggies in the Philippines were marketed as theSakbayan, a portmanteau of the Tagalog words “sasakyán” (“vehicle”) and “bayan” (“country”, “people”, or “town”). The name is a calque of the German Volkswagen, which means “people’s car”. In the Pam Grier film Black Mama, White Mama, several Country Buggies were seen as police vehicles; these were in fact Sakbayans, as the film was shot in the Philippines.

Volkswagen_Country_Buggy_sideVW Australasia’s Country Buggy also caught the attention of the chief heads in Wolfsburg, and one or two were sent to Wolfsburg for evaluation. In reality, VW was developing their own Country Buggy competitor, the Volkswagen 181.

A Country Buggy with a canvas awning style roof can be seen very clearly in an Australian Coca-Cola commercial from 1969 featuring an Australian band called “The Executives.”

The Country Buggy was not a big success. It had some early reliability problems which doomed it, as well as it being ahead of the market trend of the day.

Production ended in 1969 with only one thousand, nine-hundred fifty-six units built. Very few Country Buggies survive in the roads today, but Sakbayans are being restored in the Philippines following increasing interest in the original Volkswagen Beetle.

Volkswagen_Country_Buggy_rearDuring the 1970s, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) bought fleets of Sakbayan from DMG Volkswagen Philippines which were used for the servicemen and other maintenance purposes. These Sakbayan VWs were being used until the mid-eighties. Thereafter, their use was discontinued and other vehicles were bought to replace them.

Currently, in the Philippines, the Volkswagen Sakbayans which are seen, appear to be restored vehicles with these type of car bodies:

  • a two-door coupe with windows and doors
  • a roofed version of the coupé without doors, much like a jeep

Productions of these Sakbayans are referred in the commercials as a car which mixes the stamina of a truck and the affordability of a small car, in short, this is an all-around small car that can go off-road.