Because he owned his own EMPI accessory company since 1954 and from 1966 a Riverside CA Volkswagen-Porsche Dealership, Joe Vittone had put himself in a unique position. European (later Engineered) Motor Products Inc. sourced improved aftermarket parts from Europe as well as new engineered products from the US. He had successfully raced Empi Beetle ‘Inch Pincher’ race cars driven by Dan Gurney, his son Darrell and Dean Lowry.
The Economotors Dealership offered new cars fitted with a range of EMPI kits but which were still covered by a full Volkswagen warranty. The cars were known as the EMPI GTVs – ‘sports cars in a box’ – and could be bought in one of four levels of specification.
The Mk I was a 1300 Beetle with the addition of a complete set of dress-up parts, E-Z-R gear shift, front anti-roll bar, camber compensator, sports exhaust system and a set of chrome wheels. GTV badges on the quarter panels completed the package. The Mk I kit cost $437.20 on top of the price of a stock 1300 Bug.
The Mk II added a number of other parts to the Mk I’s specification, including a rear parcel shelf complete with extra speakers, a lock on the engine lid and two reversing lights. The cost of this conversion kit was $568.85.
The Mk III added some extra instruments, more dress-up parts and, best of all, a set of BRM magnesium wheels. The cost of this conversion was just $755.05.
Finally, the Mk IV package included all of the above parts, plus a new ram-induction carburettor kit, brake servo, reclining seats and a set of Boge sports shock absorbers. The complete GTV Mk IV kit retailed for $1238.75.
The Empi company grew to be very big across America, with 28 official distributors and 489 agents spread across the country. Many of the agents also owned VW Dealerships and Volkswagen of America was not happy with the idea. It tried to stop many of these agencies selling EMPI parts, and even threatened to cut its deliveries of new cars when there was already a shortage of new Volkswagens. Vittone sold the EMPI products brand in 1971 to Filter Dynamics (Lee Eliminators) but continued to run Economotors. The EMPI name is now owned by Mr Bug. Vittone passed away in February 2010 – arguably the ‘founder’ of special edition Beetles.
Information courtesy Keith Seume. 1967 EMPI Catalogue courtesy oldspeed.net