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Tobruk to Kaap in a Kubelwagen

2013-05-13 08:46

BLITZKRIEG! Barry Gasson’s highly original Kubelwagen dates back to the height of the Second World War, one of only two believed to have survived here in South Africa. Image: DAVE FALL

DAVE FALL

I seem to spend quite a bit of time at my local garage in Muizenberg, Cape Town, these days and spot many an interesting car or motorcycle on the forecourt. There was a Morgan Plus 8 with German number plates but more recently a Cape Town-registered Kubelwagen (translated from German, it's "tub truck").

A what? I hear you ask...

Proud owner of this 1942 Kubelwagen is Barry Gasson, a car enthusiast and resident of St James. When asked why he owned a German Second World War military-style vehicle he told me he had "nothing but admiration for this VW-made four-door desert machine".

GENUINE VEHICLE

"It's strongly built and made to last - besides which it's fun to drive.

"This particular example of Kubelwagen is not to be confused with something similar – albeit in two-door style – put out by Volkswagen Germany in the mid-1970's - this is a genuine war-time production vehicle for the military might of one Adolf Hitler."

Famous Austrian car designer Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to come up with a vehicle of this type as early as 1934 but was only pressured in 1938 to oversee full-time production for both the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS (Germany's military war machine).

The vehicle had to be cheap, lightweight transport that could cover endless kilometres over good or bad roads. Porsche's idea of just a strengthened version of the 'People's Car' simply wasn't good enough – there were distinct similarities to be found in the chassis and suspension that was finally used but all the main parts had to be 'over-engineered' in the Kubelwagen derivative.

Instructions (orders!) stressed that the Type 82 Kubelwagen, as it became known, had to acccommodate four officers in battledress in a vehicle that shouldn't weigh more than 550kg – that with a one-litre engine, nogal!

SKID PLATES

Amazingly, despite lacking all-wheel drive, Porsche managed to deliver a vehicle that proved very accomplished over rough terrain. The weight limitation allowed the vehicle to simply 'skip' its way over the rough stuff due to underbody skid plates – well, that and the self-locking ZF differential that compensated for the lack of 4x4.

Porsche's penchant for lightness meant that the wagen was actually 300kg lighter than the American forces' Willys Jeep.

Full-scale production of the Kubelwagen took place in 1940 – surprisingly, very few changes were deemed necessary to the vehicle in its five-year production life, the factory churning out just over 50 000 of them.

Gasson believes his car, along with just one other up on the Reef, are the only two running examples left in the country. Spares, nevertheless, are fairly easily sourced from other VW products; finding a suitable set of 16" tyres has been the biggest headache to date.

Perhaps the final word should come from the Americans on capturing a couple of Kubelwagens in North African desert, who admitted the German 'counterpart' vehicle was simpler, easier to manufacture and maintain, faster and more comfortable for four passengers than their own Jeep.

Makes you wonder how exactly the Jerries lost the war!
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