Rare VW-engined Denzel up for grabs

VW-engined two-seater specials don’t get any more ‘special’ than this 1954 Denzel, currently advertised on the www.carandclassic.co.uk website here. One of just 65 made, this retro air-cooled beauty could have given the Porsche 356 and Speedster a run for its money at the time…

The Austrian Wolfgang Denzel started making cars after WW2 by fitting glass-fibre bodies on VW Kübelwagen chassis. He went on to produce steel and aluminium sports car bodies based initially on VW Beetle floorpans, and on his own bespoke box-section chassis from around 1952. They were sold under the name ‘WD’ before the nomenclature ‘Denzel’ was adopted in 1957. Engines were Beetle derived but usually highly modified with Mahle crankshafts, pistons and cylinders as well as twin carb setups, allowing him to extract as much as 86bhp from a humble 1.5-lire unit. The majority of the tinware on the engine was unique to Denzel.


Denzel was also recognised for its engine upgrades which added more poke to the original 36bhp Beetle engine, the kits being sold during the late ‘50s and ‘60s through a limited number of outlets in Southern California.

bare engine 2upblack and white engine

With top drawer build, sporty designs and Teutonic engineering throughout, the Denzel was possibly the closest anyone got to the Porsche Speedster and 356 – but alas, it was never able to fully shake off its VW underpinnings. Despite many owners later fitting Porsche engines, it was (wrongly) criticised for its flaccid performance and the car building enterprise folded in 1960, with Denzel himself concentrating on the garage and car import side of his business instead.


This example, for sale in Belgium, is a rare 1954 competition car and belonged originally to a Portuguese aristocrat and Denzel importer called Don Antonio Guedes Heredia who campaigned it in various national motorsport events. Recorded in the production listing as DK32, this particular model is a WD1300 Super Sport, although the nephew and grandson of the first owner have confirmed that it was originally imported new into Portugal with a 1500cc racing engine.


Having established a good relationship with Denzel himself, its original owner was afforded the luxury of being able to treat the car to a complete overhaul at Denzel’s Vienna workshops in 1959. At the same time it was fitted with the latest bodywork, given a hard top and updated mechanically – the original problematic 1500cc engine being replaced by a 1300cc unit. The work was documented in a 2008 book on the company.

The first owner eventually sold it in 1981 and it passed through the hands of two subsequent owners before its current custodian took possession in 2012. Having been off the road for two decades, the rare two seater was then restored from the ground up – not that it was all that bad in the first place, having survived in remarkably original condition.

interior 2upboot 2up

It’s incredibly rare (only around 30 are thought to still exist) and because it has such a comprehensive history, it’s obviously a highly desirable item. Arguably, it’s more sought after than a similar period Speedster or 356 – and this is reflected to an extent in the asking price of 475,000 Euros (£340,000)…


The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage.

9 responses to: Rare VW-engined Denzel up for grabs

  1. The car shown certainly appears to have had a beautiful restoration. It has the rare body of what is known as the Denzel Sport International, the competition version of Denzel’s standard production car. In contrast to standard Denzels, these have radiused out rear wheel openings, and all four openings have a slight lip around the openings. They are also slightly narrower than standard Denzels by several inches. As a result they have two individual seats instead of the typical semi-bench Denzel seat. In addition, the front and rear bumpers are both “split”, rather than being the one-piece bumpers on a standard Denzel. This car does not have the large low front body opening that Sport Internationals typically have, which is for a front oil cooler. (Perhaps the front oil cooler was only needed for the Sport Internationals with the larger 1500 cc engine.)

    Sixty five Denzels were originally built. There are ten known Denzels in the U.S., and approximately 15 in Europe. Only one of the ten U.S. Denzels is a Sport International, and it is still being vintage raced by Tommy Trabue.

    Jim Perrin
    Editor, The Denzel Bulletin
    Historian, Porsche 356 Registry Club

    1. When you write that sixty-five Denzels were originally built do you mean 65 of this model or configuration? Because Malcolm Bobbitt the author of Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet (ISBN 9781845840747) claims that there were 350 Denzel VW based vehicles built.

      1. Jim Perrin’s estimate of 65 total of all types of Denzels produced is probably closest to the truth. I was told by the founder’s son, Peter Denzel, in 1985 that no company production records still existed, During the 1950s and 60s small race car builders had to comply with various different European country homologation rules, which forced small companies fighting to get their cars in competition to create “non-sequential” VINs. My split-windshield, steel-bodied 1953 Denzel, VIN 23 competed in the 1954 Portugal Grand Prix with the Portuguese race/rally hero, Fernando Stock, at the wheel. It was not the 23rd Denzel built. Bob Stringham, Denzel Fan

    2. Hi Jim
      You may remember our connection when Tom Trabue obtained#155, the rare 1500 cc car that I bought from Tim Ritter and I photographed in turn 9 at Laguna Seca, Scotty Bliss driving. I sold the car to Tom Sherwood who had steered me to Mr Ritter. I had a valve job done on those special heads before I sold the car and have wondered if the original stuff is still being used (doubtful)or if VW or Porsche units are being used. I think I know what I would do. I have since learned that #155 had been raced by Hudson, Parsons, Gurney, possibly Wester, Louise Cano and Ms Bliss !

  2. The quoted total of 65 Denzel produced is likely to be closest to the truth, but Peter Denzel confirms that no exact production records exist. Even though many of the existing Denzel’s have VIN numbers over #100, it was common in the 1950s for race car builders to create non-consecutive VINs to comply with various European countries’ homologation racing regulations. This was the only way a small manufacturer could race internationally. I have a photo of my 1953 split-windshield, steel-bodied Denzel, VIN #23 competing in the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1954 with the Portuguese race/rally hero, Fernando Stock, at the wheel.
    Bob Stringham

  3. Does anyone have any extra Denzel heads or rocker assemblies they would sell? I am scouting to buy some.
    Please let me know.

  4. As a Denzel owner since 1981, there were ~65 Denzels built. The last one built in 1960…
    The “300” plus estimate of total production is incorrect and has long been a bit of propaganda.

    Regarding Denzel engines and configurations, there are many. My Denzel was delivered to a dealership in No. Hollywood with Weber 40 DCM carbs for “sport competition”. I have helped remanufacture some Denzel engine parts to help restore some of the correctness to these engines and to help get a few more Denzel powered vehicles back on the road.

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