Paul Knight recalls a visit to our friends at Kieft en Klok in Holland when we had the opportunity to check out one rare and most unusual vehicle the Gurgel X-15. Off-road VW fans will love this thing!
Kit car and off-road fans may have heard of Gurgel before but it’s more likely to be the fibreglass-bodied VW Beetle-based Buggies (X10) and Jeep-styled off-roaders (ie, later X10 models, or X11 and X12) but this the X-15 is quite a rare beast especially here in Europe! Based in Brazil Gurgel Motores was founded in 1969 by João do Amaral Gurgel and produced a whole range of vehicles (including the funky BR800 urban transportation project) for almost 25 years. Sadly bankruptcy sank the business in ’93/’94 but thanks to the sturdy construction of the Gurgel off-road range of vehicles there are still a few examples around today. But this the X-15 is quite a rarity these days.
Gurgel launched the X-15 in 1979 and it was quite obviously marketed at military off-road and commercial specialist-use customers. The X15 wasn’t a great success although a number were sold on the Brazilian home-market. The only notable customer in the European market was the Belgian army which purchased a number of military-spec vehicles in the early 1980s. This particular vehicle was one of a pair delivered to the Swiss army in 1979 for testing and evaluation. Sadly the Swiss team decided not to proceed with the X-15 as a military vehicle. The other military-spec Swiss example was destroyed but this one survived and somehow ended up in civilian hands.
Whilst many X-15s were producd with van-like bodywork (designed to carry seven passengers, or two passengers plus 500kg of load) there were various other body styles offered including a pick-up and this an open-top variant which we assume may once have featured a basic canvas top of some sort. Incidentally there was one further variation on the X-15 theme – a longer wheelbase extra-load model which was sold as the G-15L. Neither model sold particularly well and Gurgel eventually dropped the VW air-cooled mechanicals and the off-roaders were soon replaced with urban vehicles.
Looking around Kieft en Klok’s X-15 the first thing that hits you is the sheer scale of the thing… it’s BIG! Peering underneath the VW parts were easy to see. Up front we spotted what appeared to be a king- and link-pin front beam from a pre-’69 Type 2. Out back were more Split Bus parts including a 181-style reduction box-equipped transmission albeit with coil-springs in place of the usual torsion bars. The engine is a 1500cc unit with dual exhaust boxes similar to those used on military-spec Type 181s. There’s also a ‘snorkel’ – essentially a raised air filter unit mounted on the rear of the vehicle which draws air in through a tall inlet pipe. The idea behind the snorkel is exactly as you might imagine: to keep water from entering the engine when crossing a deep river!
Inside this four-door open-top body things are as you might imagine quite Spartan. There is however an impressive petrol-heater system which is essentially just a metal gas-burner pipe running across the top of the dashboard which vents through a series of small pilot holes aimed at the windscreens. And speaking of those quirky dual-screens did you notice the heavy-duty dual-spindle wipers?
The only obvious external clues to the X-15’s VW-based origins are the late Bay-window rear light units which are mounted horizontally and the wide-five steel wheels.
Words: Paul Knight Photos: Ultra VW archives