You know that jerk at your local vinatge VW club? Here’s how to get him: ask what the first FWD air-cooled VW was. If he answers at all, it’ll probably be “VW Gol.”
The real answer is the VW EA489 Basistransporter, also known in Mexico as the Hormiga, and in Finland as the Teijo (well, that one’s a close variant), and in Indonesia as the Mitra. That’s a lot of names for something that VW never sold in the developed world (well, and Finland), and that they made only a bit over 6,000 copies of from 1975-1979, which is minuscule in normal VW numbers.
The Basistransporter was a VW experiment in making the most basic utility vehicle possible. And boy did they succeed. The chassis was a simple ladder-frame that mounted a normal 1600cc Type I VW flat-four up front, in a new location and orientation for that engine, with torsion bars up front and a solid, mideval era-cutting-edge beam axle at the rear.
The body was designed to be built, much like other projects like Citroën’s FAF, with no fancy presses, just flat, corrugated steel panels. The end result resembled a potting shed with headlights, but it did the job. Other variants, like Turkish-built ES489s and that Indonesian Mitra used modified VW Type II front panels and custom doors.
The Mexican Hormiga variant was probably the most successful of the bunch, with 3,600 copies sold, and you can still find them in use in Mexico today. They’re pretty slow and incredibly crude, but that’s exactly why these things are capable of living with vast amounts of neglect and abuse and living forever. Body damage can be fixed with plywood, mechanical parts are available all over, and you can even replace the glass with flat sheets you get at Home Depot.