Removing the entire back half of the Beetle’s body opens up options for rear lighting — license plate illumination, reverse, running, brake, and turn signal lights — as well as tailgate and truck bed embellishments. See also Owner’s Manual modified reference guide.
Vintage pickups, like the Ford F-100, handled the back end with simple economy.
The tailgate skin displayed logo lettering of the manufacturer while lighting, placed outside the busy work area of the tailgate itself, favored small round tail lamps fixed to the rear fender/end pillar or suspended out from the rear of the body.
Logo treatment remained subdued — a small script in the middle indented F-100 panel for example — until the late 1950s when embossed lettering splashed across the entire width of the tailgate.
By the 1960s, back end designs evolved with less curves that suggested a utilitarian work use, adding more robust rear lighting that was embedded into sheet metal end pillars. Since then, the American pickup hasn’t changed much.
Pickups today are typically fitted with large rectangular rear lamp assemblies with integrated reverse, turn signal, running, and brake lights. An additional brake/running light is common above the rear cab window. Embossed logo lettering remains on the tailgate for many models.
Rather than mimic modern truck designs, the curvy Beetle suggests a more vintage 1950s-1960s back end treatment.
1940s simple round
The pointed end of the Beetle Ute rear body shell is well adapted to a small circular tail light. Round tail lights are included in the Smyth Performance kit. Small LED running markers can also be added on the fender side.
1960s Beetle classic
An alternative approach links back to the iconic “old” Beetle. The 1962-67 lamp assembly could be adapted to fit on the Ute’s fender creating a sort of New/Old Beetle hybrid.
Empi 98-2023 (left) and Empi 98-2024 (right) includes Euro style lens (the turn signal is amber colored) with a chrome trim ring.
When mounted at the end of the fender slope, the old Beetle lamp assembly positions lights much like they were on classic trucks. One advantage of the Beetle assembly is better visibility than the smaller round lamp in the Smyth kit. The Smyth round lamp is an LED; converting the old Beetle assembly to an LED is also possible.
If we choose to stay with Volkswagen DNA, the vintage Porsche 356 teardrop taillight would fit easily on the slanted rear Ute fender. Many other teardrop designs would work as well, including the 1938-39 Ford/Lincoln teardrop popular with many hot rod builders.
Large round lamps can be fitted directly into the lower bumper area on the fiberglass panel under the tailgate. The light shines down slightly due to the curve of the bumper and the low position on the body.
A good use of the fender light position would be for backup or auxiliary rear fog lights.
LED rear strip
The gap between the bottom of the tailgate and the rear bumper could house a long vertical LED strip programmed as a running or reverse light.
For a design perspective, placing LEDs in this location significantly departs from a classic appearance.
The fiberglass skin, left “raw” as part of the Smyth kit, can be customized in a number of ways including:
Emblems and logos
The vintage 1964-79 VW hood emblem can be affixed to the tailgate in a manner similar to the way Ford brands many pickups now (using a small oval Ford logo).
A decklid VW script emblem from the 1950-64 Beetle might also work as well as any number of other VW logos from the 1960-80 era.
If you wish to re-use a Turbo S, Turbo or other model insignia on the back lid, carefully remove it with a thin plastic knife edge. These can be re-applied with plastic glue after the final coat of paint is on.
In the late 1970s, Volkswagen experimented with Mk1 Golf derivatives and introduced a coupe utility (that is, a ute!) without a coherent marketing approach.
Known as “Caddy” in Europe, the small truck became the Rabbit Pickup in the United States. One of its more distinctive features was raised VOLKSWAGEN lettering on the tailgate so it seems very appropriate (and period-correct) to emulate this on our Beetle Ute.
Instead of pressed steel letters, we need to create raising lettering on the fiberglass itself that when painted appears much like the vintage truck embossed tailgates of the 1960s.
A mold of the original lettering can be made (assuming you can find an old 1970s tailgate). An alternative method glues 1/8″ plastic cutout letters directly on the fiberglass surface and then sculpts their profile to match the look of pressed in steel. The raised lettering can be then be highlighted with stick-on Oracal cast vinyl (2.5mil) for a very professional look.
The OE wiring harness can be left virtually intact by the maximum re-purposing of lighting components: backup lights, side markers, and the third brake light.
The ciricular backup lights can be fit into the bottom bumper below the tailgate. Side markers can be embedded into the exterior rear fenders, and the third brake light (if the model has one) can be relocated above the rear window where the slight bow shape fits the roof line bend.
The only lighting component substitutions in this approach are the rear brake/turn signal lights and the license plate lights. In this illustration, the brake/turn choice is the vintage 1962-67 lamp along with hidden LEDs for the license plate. The wiring harness, even with these substitutions, stays original (there are some wire length fitment changes, but these are minor).