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Unicorn Cars: VW Beetle RSI

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Every once in a while we’re going to take a look at unicorn cars.

Those vehicles which are rarer than a white peacock. And we’re not talking about hypercar exotica either. But rather the once attainable, yet briefly observed cars which didn’t necessarily break the bank at the time of their launch/popularity, yet which are now acknowledged as being of considerable worth.

Kicking-off our occasional series of blogs, is this debut piece focusing on the Volkswagen Beetle RSi.

As In ‘Repetitive Strain Injury?’

No. As in rapidly scurrying insect.

Yet of all the things the inimitable Volkswagen Beetle is revered the globe over for, alas a speedy forward-moving trajectory isn’t one of them. From the Wizard and Rat look, to the Baja Bug and Cal look, the erstwhile Veedub with the instantly recognizable face - and pretty much every other vista - has never really been known for its lightening turn of speed.

However, that sweeping generalisation wouldn't be entirely true.

As once upon a Beetle there was this particular production Bug that was more fleet of foot than Usain Bolt late for an important appointment. And it was identifiable by a certain three letters.

In Ford parlance, ‘RS’ denoted ‘Rallye Sport’. Obviously boasting connotations of quick movements. For VW’s part, RS nailed on the very 80’s ‘i’ for ‘injection’ after the RS. Which Renault did with the luke-warm Clio of a similar vintage, if you recall.

The thing is the Beetle RSi WAS fast. Very fast. Shockingly fast.

What’s The RSi’s Beef, Exactly?

Roughly 225bhp, derived from a somewhat animated 3.2-litre VR6 power plant. Which later went on to more great effect - and associated noise - in the now worshipped VW Golf R32.

Not only did the RSi deliver 225bhp to the driver’s right foot, but it also afforded them 320Nm’s of torque. Compare this if you will to its nearest Beetle competitor, the 2.3-litre V5 unit. With its meagre 170bhp and 220Nm.

The engine was mated to a six-speed transmission, while the car deployed four-wheel-drive courtesy of VW’s 4motion assemblage.


So, the RSi is brandishing a ‘beast’ engine. We’ve now established that. But you’re probably wondering what else makes a VW Beetle stand out at first glance?

Well, there’s the muscular stance of the ‘roided up’ RSi. The swollen wheel arches (which ensure that the Beetle has an 8cms wider stance). The front purposeful front air dam and rear diffuser. The oversized surfboard seemingly attached to the rear end and masquerading as a spoiler, along with a separate rear window wing. Those cool 18” OZ Superturismo Racing alloys. The raucous exhaust note thanks to Remus tailpipes.

Preceding launch, it was even rumoured that the suspension had been tweaked by Volkswagen’s friends in high places. Namely, Porsche. In the eventuality, it turns out Veedub undertook its own suspension work on the RSi, via its in-house VW Individual faculty.

Need We Go On?....

And then there was the interior.

Open the doors of the RSi and you are greeted by the visually arresting sight of bold orange Recaro racing seats. Contrasting with orange and aluminium trim inserts and accents. The triumvirate of additional dials found in the centre stack, meant that the radio had to be relocated elsewhere.

Accommodated in the ceiling, where else!?

Rarity Value of VW Beetle RSi. Yes, It’s Very Rare

Manufactured between 2001 and 2003, just 250 were made in total. Ensuring that the Beetle RSi was always destined to be seldom seen on UK roads from the very outset. Or any roads, globally, for that matter.

Hence its unicorn status.

Should an RSi appear on the open market, then you're talking serious money for ownership.

And if you’re talking about peak unicorn, then think on this.

There’s a Beetle RSi out there that neither love nor money can buy. Towards the end of its production run, VW built an RSi cabriolet. Sharing precisely the same power output as its hard-top sibling. When we say ‘out there’, we can be more geographically exact about this one’s whereabouts at least.

This remains in the Volkswagen Heritage Centre and only ever sees the cold light of day when it’s wheeled out for classic car shows in its native Germany. Like the Techno Classica in Essen, for example.

Did You Know?

Whilst we’re on the subject of interesting facts you may be unaware of regarding the Beetle RSi, here’s a couple more for you.

Did you know (probably not, if you weren’t previously aware of the existence of the Beetle RSi) that VW’s then head honcho - Ferdinand Piech - had an RSi specifically built for him and painted blue. For the simple reason that all Piech’s other cars were finished in the same exterior colour. Today, said Beetle belongs to the Volkswagen Classics collection, along with other historically significant Veedubs.

Did you also know that Beijing’s 8MM Club once had a VW Beetle RSi suspended above its entrance as, well, a publicity stunt, we’d imagine. Possibly around the same time that BMW Araldite'd a few Mini One’s to advertising hoardings. As if there was a surplus of RSi’s just hanging around waiting to be attached to buildings for marketing purposes.

And there you have it.

The Volkswagen Beetle RSi.

The Volkswagen you didn’t know existed. But wish you’d received the memo about at the time.

Experience Beetlemania at WCC Neston

Unsurprisingly - given the extremely low volume on the road - we’ve never had the pleasure of working on a VW Beetle RSi here at WCC Neston. But hold out for witnessing this unicorn car appearing on the ramps one day in the foreseeable.

That being said, our experienced VW technicians are well versed in working on Volkswagen Beetle’s of all other denominations on a regular basis. So are well qualified to perform a range of services on your Beetle - or VW per se - as and when required.

Get in touch today for a free quote and to book in with our professional independent Volkswagen team. And receive main dealer-standard customer service, prompt attention and affordable rates.

In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for this awesome unicorn car…..

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