Remembering the Busse, an amphibious ATV powered by Volkswagen

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Remembering the Busse, an amphibious ATV powered by Volkswagen

The ‘70s were an era defined by bell-bottoms, disco music, revolutionary movements, and a craze for small vehicles that could go anywhere over land – and sometimes water too.

The first “all-terrain vehicle” was dreamed up by a Canadian inventor in 1959, using two chainsaw engines for power. To conquer every type of terrain, the ATV used six wheels with low-pressure balloon tires that provided floatation as well as traction. Though unprofitable, the design proved quite popular, and sparked decades of ATV innovation and enthusiasm.

During the ‘60s and early ‘70s, builders and inventors from across the country began to follow suit and build their own 6×6 ATVs and companies. The U.S. saw the creation of its first ATV racetrack known as Pine Lake Raceway, while ATVs grew in popularity for racing and recreational use alike. In August of 1970, one magazine counted more than 60 models either for sale or under development – including one with a unique Volkswagen connection.

The Busse All-Terrain Wagon, an aluminum 6×6 ATV designed by Busse SJI Corp., stood apart from other ATVs of the time. Where many used small two-stroke engines, the Busse was powered by the hearty 1.6 liter, 55-hp air-cooled, flat-four engine used in the then current era Beetle. Volkswagen’s 3-speed, semi-automatic gearbox and torque converter were also responsible for putting the power to the ground.

By ATV standards, the Busse was a tank among toys, with an aluminum body instead of typical fiberglass and a payload rating of 1,500 lbs. At 126 inches long, 65 inches wide, and 1,700 pounds, the Busse came equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, 26×12-inch tires, maximum speeds of 28 mph on land and 10 mph on water, with the ability to climb slopes of 45 degrees. If needed, owners could also opt for snow tracks.

With all its capability, the Busse listed at a whopping price of $4,875, far more than other ATVs at the time. Built in Randolph, Wisconsin, the Busse was shopped overseas as a potential military vehicle, but a contract never materialized, and its expense made its existence brief with minimal production. Today, there are only a few known Volkswagen-powered Busse ATWs still in existence, though its spirit lives on in six-wheel ATVs and side-by-side models for those still venturing to go anywhere.

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