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This blog covers the transformation of a Volkswagen New Beetle two-door coupe, manufactured between 1998 and 2010, into a ute — a compact pickup truck.

Transformation is the term for the targeted functional change of a relatively recent car (less than 25 years old) that retains its underlying technology but re-engineers various components to create a vehicle that never existed before.

2010 New Beetle with ute transformation cut line

This approach is less intensive than a restomod or restoration of a classic vehicle because the OEM mechanical systems are left untouched (unless repairs are necessary). Additionally, an transformation project seeks to end up with a vehicle that is frequently used, handles everyday driving conditions at least as well as the OEM engineered platform, and provides the safety, convenience, and comfort associated with the original models.

Transformation concept for the New Beetle

Undertaking a thoughtful transformation project requires a substantial amount of research to determine which new components make sense — both in functional and aesthetic terms — and how (or whether!) they will fit into the existing body and chassis without unintended consequences.

This transformation project continues an evolution from Jaguar Mk2 Restoration, a frame-up restoration of a 1961 Mk2 saloon, and XJ6 Restomod, an extensive recombination using a 1972 XJ6 “shell” bundled with all new technology, including a high performance engine transplant, bespoke interior, and push button shifting.

Completed (but not yet painted) Beetle Ute at the 2021 Larz Anderson German Car Day show

What is a “ute”?

A ute — pronouced “yoot” — combines a hardtop passenger cabin with an open cargo bed rear formatted to fit into a typical passenger car footprint (see footprint comparisons). Popular in Australia and New Zealand, the ute parks easily on the street or in residential garages, features the creature comforts and efficiency of a daily driver, and yet can handle heavy or dirty loads when necessary.

Restored 1959 General Motors El Camino

The most popular American ute was GM’s El Camino that survived nearly thirty years (1959-87). Aside from the now-defunct General Motors Holden Ute designed for the Australian market (production ended in 2017), no major automobile manufacturer has offered a ute vehicle for at least a decade, although Hyundai debuted a “Santa Cruz” ute concept in 2015 and may actually manufacture it during the 2022 model year.

Residual popularity of the ute since the late 1980s has been filled by various custom transformations of late model sedans, including the Dodge Charger, Audi A4, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf/Jetta models. A humorous YouTube video by Ed’s Auto Reviews in the Netherlands summarizes the ute’s backwater history.

Why a compact ute?

While a ute conversion can be undertaken on many vehicles both large and small (including SUVs), the logic of a very small ute rests on its utility as an everyday passenger vehicle suitable for urban settings that can “double duty” as a highly useful mini truck. Odd shaped or heavy items are difficult to load and carry in a passenger car trunk and dirty items can ruin the interior upholstery.

Furthermore, a ute conversion eliminates the major complaint of a compact car, namely the practical uselessness of its rear seat!

Smyth kit

Mark Smith introducing the New Beetle Ute in 2019

Our ute transformation is based on the Smyth New Beetle Ute kit designed and manufactured by Mark Smith (although Mark spells his surname with an “i”, his Smyth Performance company has adopted the “y” variant). The kit, launched in 2019, is specifically tailored to the 1998-2010 Volkswagen New Beetle.

A Facebook technical support group covers the New Beetle Ute as well as other Smyth kits developed for larger 4-door vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Charger, Volkwagen’s Golf/Jetta/Audi, and the Subaru Impreza/WRX.

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