By on July 19, 2012

I see many air-cooled Beetles in self-service wrecking yards these days. In fact, I have always seen many VW Type 1s in self-service wrecking yards, going back to my first junkyard adventures in early-80s Oakland. Like any car freak who came of age in that era, I’ve owned some old Beetles, and I can say from experience that there was nothing super about the Super Beetle. In fact, it’s possible that this ’73 is the Super Beetle that I sold in 1983.
I got my bright yellow Super Beetle for free after one of my mom’s coworkers got it stuck between a couple of concrete traffic barriers while driving drunk in Berkeley, tearing off the front fenders and losing her driver’s license in the process. I’d always assumed that the McPherson strut front suspension on the Super Beetle would transform the handling from scary to just bad, but in fact there wasn’t much improvement over the old torsion-bar setup (other than increased cargo space under the hood). I put junkyard fenders on it and drove it a bit, but ended up selling it for $250 to a couple of drunken sailors from the USS Coral Sea.
This car used to be yellow, too, but since my Super Beetle ended up shot full of holes and on fire in an irrigation ditch near Benicia (according to the cops who found it and called me to come deal with “my” car, the Drunken Sailors not having bothered to register the car in their names) I’m guessing this is a different yellow ’73.
This one has all the standard bolt-on upgrades that readers of Hot VWs Magazine, circa 1982, would have installed 30 years back: nerf bars, crankshaft degree wheel, Bosch 009 distributor, and so on.
It’s impressive that so many of these cars have hung on for 30 to 50 years before getting scrapped, and I’ll need to start shooting more of them in junkyards. The air-cooled Beetle was built for 65 years, which makes it the all-time production-run champion… but the Hindustan Motors Ambassador will pass it in 2020 (unless you count the 1948 Morris Oxford instead of the ’54 as the same car as the Amby, in which case it will pass the Beetle next year).

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44 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle...”


  • avatar
    RedSC94

    I had a red 1965 Beetle with a mildly upgraded engine. It was a lot of fun to drive. At the time, I thought it was kind of a “poor man’s Porche”. A few years later, I bought a used 1971 Super Beetle. It wasn’t the same. I sold it after two months.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    The Crusher is going to love the top quality German steel…

  • avatar
    skor

    “This car used to be yellow, too, but since my Super Beetle ended up shot full of holes and on fire in an irrigation ditch near Benicia (according to the cops who found it and called me to come deal with “my” car, the Drunken Sailors not having bothered to register the car in their names)”

    Similar thing happened to a friend. He sold the car to some people who didn’t bother to register it. They were involved in a hit-and-run, and the police came looking for my friend. It turned out to be a nightmare that was solved only after paying a very big lawyer bill. If you sell a car, you should immediately turn in the plates, and file notice with the DMV that the car no longer belongs to you.

    BTW, I’m surprised that no one has grabbed the wheels off this thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Pinzgauer

      This is why you get a signed bill of sale from the new oweners and keep a copy for yourself.

      • 0 avatar

        What saved me from fines and impound fees was that I had mailed in the DMV form with the buyer’s (no doubt fake) info on it. Once the bureaucratic wheels had ground for a while (the car was trashed within days of purchase), the paperwork showed up and I was off the hook.

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        This procedure varies in different states, partly depending on whether the plates stay with you or go with the car. In WA there’s a form for the seller to submit to the dmv – this is basically notice to them that you’ve sold the car.

  • avatar
    volksman

    Now let the comments begin about how terribly slow and unreliable aircooled VWs are and how no one in his right mind would drive on today’s roads……(I roll my eyes)

    Well, I’m off to hop in my ’63 VW Bus and head to work.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      They’re fine if you can shift well and if you can deal with fires, oversteer, bad electronics, bad fuel injecting, breathing gas fumes, no power, running only premium gas, bad heater, and a weak body.

      signed, an ex type 3 and type 1 owner who’s driven many VWs.

      • 0 avatar
        volksman

        Fuel injection? Most VWs had carburetors, very simple carburetors at that. You either owned a 1968+ Type 3 or 75+ Type1 or 2 to have fuel injection (which is actually a decent system, but mechanics had no idea what to do with it back then)

        Bad electronics? What electronics are in a 1960s or 70s VW?

        Ok, weak body? Maybe after years of driving on salted roads or something? It might intrest you that Ford did a study on structural rigidity and quietly tabbed the Beetle as top of the list.

        If you are breathing gas fumes, something is wrong. They are so simple to fix little things like that. I had a bad gas smell in my Beetle so I spent the whopping $3.00 for a new gas cap seal and fixed that.

        No power, fine, but I never hold up traffic in mine. In fact I’m surprised at how many cars I pass in city traffic.

        And I happen to prefer manuals. I have to drive an automatic Ford transit connect at work and despise the trans. I know it has to be faster than my VWs but damn it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

        For the record, I really drive mine. This year my Bus has been to Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida. My only problem thus far? Seeping valve cover gasket.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Wait, gas-powered cars can catch fires? I thought only the Volt did that!

    • 0 avatar

      My ’58 Beetle with its hot-rodded 1776cc engine was fast as hell, until it ran out of gears at about 50 MPH.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      It seemed like everyone had one back in the day, or new someone who had one. They were bog slow, cheap, and easy to work on *cough* heat tubes *cough*. Lots of high school and college shenanigans went on in bugs; that’s why they’re loved by so many.

      • 0 avatar
        volksman

        And then there are those of us who do actually enjoy driving them…..

        For the record, I wasn’t born until the 1980s, so I wasn’t around for said shenanigans.
        I have had some of my own in them though ;)

        However, I really shouldn’t try to rationalize my love for these cars, there’s no rational explanation. Just like there’s no rational explanation why any body has a passion for a certain type of car.
        I just love them, nothing puts a smile on my face like a VW, so there.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I had a ’75 Beetle and a ’69 Fastback (but with later rear fenders on it for some reason), the Beetle was okay after a few kinks were fixed but it was too risky to drive around after several fires, the fastback was just a mess that belonged in the scrapyard (no brakes, barely any steering, running on 3 cylinders, smelled like gas inside, ignition didn’t work, engine smoked).

      Bad electronics? Try the fuel injection that everyone hated, try the tape players that would catch fire, try the heater that never works, try the weak head and tailights, all thats electric.

      These cars had weak bodys for a fact, I drove my VW fastback into a few trash cans (thanks to the lack of brakes) and the front bumper was gashed inward pretty badly. The car wasn’t even that badly rusted. In rollovers these cars were okay, but in anything else they wrinkled.

      As for your cheap part, well that surprises me considering that most used VW parts tended to be pricey for me regaurdless if I went to a VW specialty scrapyard or the Samba.

      For the record I did enjoy driving them, but I got tired of things breaking or catching ablaze.

      If I had to have another VW it’d be a stock ’68 Beetle, it seemed like the 60′s models were built a bit better.

      If you want to rationalize owning an old VW, there are the facts that they’re easy to fix (except the cramped engines in type 3s) and cheap to insure.

      • 0 avatar
        volksman

        I don’t need to rationalize it. Passions don’t need to be rationalized because they typically aren’t rational.

        As far as the cheap part, I used to think VWs were expensive. Then I bought a BMW, which was a mess. An expensive mess. It was very fun to drive when it ran and every part had me choking.
        When I was driving my 50 year old Beetle more because I was less afraid of it leaving me stranded, it was time for the Bimmer to go. I do miss it though, damn was it fun on curves. There’s that passion thing again…..

        Both fuel injection systems (what was used on the Type3 and 4s was a different system than on the later Type1s and 2s) had two problems. One, it was in a time when few cars had injection and few understood how it worked and how to repair and maintain it. Two, it was in a Volkswagen, a cheap car that many were not willing to put the money into proper maintence.
        You are the first I’ve heard of having multiple fires with an injected car. Usually VW fires are the result of bad fuel lines or the fitting coming out of the carb or fuel pump. Neither of that can happen with an FI car.
        Maybe it was less a representation of the car itself and more of the mechanic.

        Are they safe, well hell no! Compare them to their contemporary subcompact competiton. They weren’t safe cars either.

      • 0 avatar
        volksman

        Tape player? That would be 8 track I assume?

        The heater in fact works well if it’s all hooked up. The defost does suck and you have to have the enging revving in order to keep it blowing (that has always annoyed me) but you can’t tell me that the heat does put out, I had a box of cereal left by the rear floor vent that had the plastic bag melted to it once. Primitive and crude, but it works.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Well that car had many little problems that I won’t mention due to age, but the radio was a factory unit.

        A fire extinguisher is actually a good idea, especially in the days of even exotics burning up.

        When I was talking about parts I meant the re-pro stuff too.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The beetle was injected but carbed by an original owner, one fire was actually caused by sitting on the very well placed battery in the back (under the rear seat, nothing to stop the coils from touching it).

      The tape player did actually play tapes, until it was killed by my Moody Blues tape.

      Compared to a Bimmer VWs are cheap to fix, but their parts should be cheaper for such basic cars.

      • 0 avatar
        volksman

        Simple, yes, but now not on every street corner so parts are harder to find. I thought that increasing prices are normal as something becomes more scarce?

        I check my fuel lines every few months and have them safety wired to the carb. I also carry a fire extinguisher. I had a friend tell me that was ridiculous to feel I have to carry a fire extinguisher. Then I pointed out that while working at a business on a busy street I had seen two modern cars go up in flames at the intersection, a Taurus and a Camry. Everyone should carry one.

        So you had a car that was modified by a previous owner, maybe not well, and blame it on the car itself? Also, unless it was an 8 track, VW didn’t offer cassette decks so that was added afterwards as well. I had a Jetta that shorted out wires because I wired an aftermarket radio up wrong, but that wasn’t the car’s fault.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    I too had a 73′ Yellow Super with a 1641cc enging with degree wheel crank pulley (those 1641′s love to crack jugs). It had everything you could want in a super including front end shimmy, a cracked dash, and the beginings of rot under the half moon vents by the rear window. It also smelled like fuel, and the Weber carb iced constatnly if the temp was under 60. I put in dual kadrons and it still ran crappy. Ended up selling it to a kid out of Ohio.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Had a new 74 S.B. also in yellow. Gutless, but well made. Learned to drive stick on it, as my sister did when it was passed on to her.

    Once I was on the interstate and a gust of wind blew me into the other lane causing my rear fender to hit the bumper of a pickup truck.
    The pickup truck had no damage, and I had a fist size dimple in the fender.

    While Super Beetles aren’t real popular, I’m surprised no one hasn’t taken more parts off of it.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    When my dad and I fixed VWs we started out with a ’73 superbeetle semi-automatic, it was a fun cruiser but too slow for the highway due to the tranny and the cars weight. We sold it later due to the heater channels being shot.

    It wasn’t that good of a car, but it sure brings back memories.

    This superbeetle is essentially every VW on craigslist, “Runs and drives”, then only when you see it you learn that it dosen’t and the floors are shot.

  • avatar
    jtk

    This is in a junkyard?? My first car was a 72 Super that was in way worse shape than this when I bought it, and I drove it for 5 years.

    Paid $800, and when I was done with it, sold it for $800. It broke a lot, but I could always fix it using the “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” book from the library.

    I loved that car.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    a couple of drunken sailors from the USS Coral Sea.
    Hey, I resemble that!!

    • 0 avatar

      They were drunk when they bought the car. Growing up in a Navy town that was home to three aircraft carriers, I have a fair amount of experience with car-buying/selling transactions involving drunken and/or stoned sailors.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Sold my 69 Dodge to a sailor who got drunk and wrecked it with my tags still on it. Took a long time and over two years to rectify. One of life’s lessons. Tuition payments are very high.

  • avatar
    Ex Radio Operator

    I traded in a 1985 Eldo on a new 1990 Seville. Three months later I get a call from the Sheriff’s department about why my Eldo is in a ditch on a remote back road on fire. I told them I had traded the car in and the dealers name. Never heard from them again.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    A buddy in the air force bought a brand-new, orange 1973 Super Beetle with the “automatic” 2-speed stick shift. Three months before I got out, he went to Okinawa for three months and left his car with me.

    I began driving it because it was so good on gas and my car wasn’t. I eventually sold my car, as it needed work and driving cross-country from California to Missouri alone scared me to death, plus by that time I had spent enough money on the thing for over three years.

    A week before I got out of the service, I was taking a Sunday drive and when I stopped, I noticed the engine was running quite rough. I checked everything and finally took it to town to the VW dealer in Yuba City. I received the bad news: No. 3 piston was burnt throuh. The good news? It was still covered under warranty!

    I got the car back on Friday, running like new. I spent the weekend driving it and left a lengthy letter explaining the whole thing. After I got home, several days later, I received a kind reply, thanking me for taking care of his stuff!

    Why did the no. 3 piston/cylinder burn out in the first place?

    NOBODY EVER TOLD ME THAT AIR-COOLED VW’S NEED TO BE KEPT REVVED! Duh…I just lugged the thing, lumbering along like I did in my ’64 Chevy. The 100° temperatures didn’t help, either, I’m sure!

    VW’s are fun to drive, just don’t have a wreck…

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      wouldn’t that have been a three speed? I believe they just used a 4-speed transaxle with first gear blanked off, a torque converter added to smooth things out, and a vacuum operated clutch controlled by a microswitch that engaged whenever you started to move the gearshift. First gear being replaced by the slippage of the torque converter made the cars quite slow. The same design was used by Porsche in the 911 under the ‘Sportomatic’ name.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Two speeds according to my memory, but research says three. I burnt the engine because while I should have stayed in first up to around 50-55 mph, I was shifting at 30 in stop-and-go thru town driving. Wasn’t used to the noise…

      • 0 avatar
        volksman

        The autostick was technically a 3 speed. It had a Low and then a 1.and 2. You could take off in any gear.but to try to get out of anyone’s way you used all three.
        Those transmissions are not popular these days and many autostick cars have been converted to manuals

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        Volksman is right. It had three gears. The owner’s manual encouraged you to use only the top two and in fact suggested you could use second for any speed under 50 or so — thus giving you the “automatic” experience. If you used all three gears (I did on my ’71), you got better performance and had more fun.

        Given the continuing demand for Beetles it’s hard to understand why one would get junked absent structural rust or a wreck. Parts are available and they are pretty easy to work on.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      On my dads old ’73 Superbeetle it was a 2-speed automatic, you had to switch the gears yourself but it had an automatic clutch.

      The original owner told us to “shift into 30 in town, 40 on the highway”, somehow under his ownership that car never never lost its third cylinder.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan Roth

      #3 burns up because it’s directly under the oil cooler. If you look at the distributor cap, you’ll see that the tower for #3 is slightly off from the rest of the cylinders, this retards the timing to #3 just a little bit.

  • avatar
    nerdowell

    Had an orange ’72, bought new for $2250, sold almost 4 yrs later w/60k miles for $1750. Valve job (always #3) at 50k miles that took me and a buddy a day and 1/2 to do – $35 bucks (in ’75) at shop and back on the road. Got to where I could adjust all the valves in about 15 minutes. Fun car and had it gussied up with Empi’s, and Monza type exhaust. My first new car and loved it.

  • avatar
    nikita

    I never understood the Super. I guess it was VW’s last gasp at modernizing it for first world markets. Ive had real (rear engine) VW’s most of my life. Currently there is a ’69 Karmann Ghia and ’74 Thing in the garage. Yes, they are loud and crude by today’s standards, but simple and fun. Compare a ’73 Beetle with a Datsun 1200. How many of those have survived this long?

    • 0 avatar
      volksman

      It was a last ditch effort to try to bring the Beetle up to it’s at the time growing competition from Detroit and Japan. It was in vain, since even with updated suspension the Beetle was hopelessly out of date for the Western world.
      I think it was partially to just keep some interest in the Beetle for a few years until the watercooled replacement was ready.

      I’ve never cared much for how the Super drives. Feels too light in the front end to me. Give me the tough as nails torsion bars any day.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Nice find. Like those wheels. I drive a restored 71 SB a couple of times a week for my local trips. Very solid car nice handling for a 41- year-old car. Very cheap to run and full insurance is only $100.00 a year.
    For the record if everything is correctly adjusted with the heating system the heater works great in the coldest weather. I keep getting offers to sell it but I still have fun driving it around it around Queens NY. In good tune they are not as slow as you think. Very dependable as long as you keep it in shape.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    My wife had two ’73 Super Beetles , one in an ugly tomato red , another one baby blue she inherited after my father-in-law ( who used it as a “fun” second car as an alternative to his Town Car ) died . Can’t quite remember what happened and the wife also is deceased but I think the red one got totalled by a taxicab and I remember once I was in the blue one in the passenger seat when the seat fell thru the floor . Turned out it was totally rusted out with a new paint job slapped on . Later it caught on fire . I owned a 1970 Squareback -really the fuel injection worked quite well , though other elements of the car not so great . The floors of all the aircooled VWs tended to rot out under the battery . Another GF had a ’71 bug with the automatic stickshift I drove and also drove another bug as a loaner with the autostick while my Squareback ‘s engine was being rebuilt . They weren’t as slow as might have been expected , kind of an interesting alternative to the manual trans the wife’s cars and mine were equipped with but a lot of VW purists sneered at them back in the day and often they were replaced with manuals . As someone here says the heaters weren’t as bad as their rep , but often the accordian type ducts would become disconnected and I remember ” fixing” them with duct tape . Also back in the day , one advantage over the Japanese cars , at least in the seventies , was the much greater number of VWs of all types in junkyards with used parts readily available . I rebuilt a 1970 bug and my Squareback after wrecks with junkyard fenders , etc. Even back then the new parts at the dealer were pricey .

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    There is an old beetle graveyard about 60 miles from here in southern Ohio near Cambridge. If you are going down 77 north it’s on the right hand side where 77 intersects with route 70. It’s visible from the interstate, there are at least about 100 beetles sitting there and a few Volkswagen vans. They have been there since at least the early 90′s, that was when I first noticed them and they are still there.

  • avatar
    TooManyCars

    Had a baby blue super beetle with the gas heater option back in college in 1980. Felt quite superior to the folks that had to carry an ice scraper on their laps to keep the windshields clear on their regular-heater beetles. Heater output was instant and scary hot, and the clouds of exhaust exiting from the right front fender on cold days was amusing.

    Car in the article had the small tail lights. SB’s in Canada had the large tail lights from 73 until cancelled in 74, IIRC.

    Most memorable time was having the throttle return spring break while going down a winding river valley hill in our city. Undoubtedly shortened the life of the poor engine speed shifting it the rest of the way home.

    Dog easy to work on, non-existent brakes, shaky steering, but the doors fit like a Mercedes.

  • avatar
    burnbomber

    One of my neighbors had a beautiful restored Karmann Ghia convertible that whet my appetite, a lot. I did some searching, found some Ghias and Beetles (and other older convertibles), test drove them, and wisely graduated to a 1st generation Miata.

    Which I still have and love. Speedy quick with modern amenities (including AC), and no antique design.

    I’ll always remember a return trip from Austin in an ice storm. I was literally the only car on I-35, in a 68 Beetle. I had to stop atop the hills & scrape the windshield ice. The standard defroster (didn’t even know about gas heaters then) would only clear the lower windshield corners.


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