By on July 7, 2009

Curbside Classics takes you back to 1971 for a virtual comparison test of six small cars, based (and partly borrowed) from a C/D test.

If you were going to a speed-dating event, and were thirty-three years older than all the “competition”, you might be forgiven for wanting some quick cosmetic surgery. But if the result was a reverse Michael Jackson, you’d damn well better hope that your “experience” and “build,” and other timeless qualities are still in demand. Otherwise, your days finding willing partners/buyers are numbered, like this 1971 VW Super Beetle.

By 1970 or so, the Beetle was in terminal decline in Europe and the US. In the Old Country, modern FWD cars like the Fiat 128, the Simca 1100, and the Austin 1100 were light years ahead of the VW in terms of space efficiency, driving dynamics, visibility, and fuel economy.

In the US, the Corolla, Datsun 1200, and the Opel Kadett were nipping at the Beetle’s heels, despite their conventional RWD.  But Americans always placed more emphasis on reliability than innovation; the Austin 1100/America had already struck out, and the Simca and Fiat 128 were as yet unproven but highly suspect in that department.

In addition to the new FWD competition in Europe, GM and Ford were known to be developing all-new “killer” small cars for 1971. VW was under the gun. But this was during Wolfsburg’s long performance anxiety period. They’d known for years, even decades that eventually they’d have to replace the Beetle. And despite endless home-brew and Porsche-designed prototypes, all they could come up with was this 1971 Super Beetle, sporting a new front end. Well, Viagra hadn’t been invented yet.

A new front end, period. I guess you could call it one-third of a new car, but then it looks so much like the old one, most people can’t tell the difference. Why bother?

The new MacPherson front suspension and bulbous hood doubled the size of the front luggage compartment from ridiculously small to only somewhat ridiculously small. But hey, the turning circle got a hair smaller. That’s about the extent of it. But for VW purists, the timeless balance and symmetry of Edwin Kommenda’s timeless 1938 design was ruined by the collagen-injected nose. Fortunately, the big noses were only a temporary fad; after 1975, the old one came back until the Beetle’s ultimate if protracted demise.

In terms of dynamic qualities, the Beetle reached a zenith in 1971. Power was up to sixty (gross) horsepower from the 1600cc air cooled boxer thanks to new dual port heads. Zero to sixty now came in sixteen seconds, almost unheard of for a Beetle. That still made it the slowest in this comparison, but only just slightly so, against most of the competition. Economy was down to a disappointing 24 mpg.

The first time I drove one of these and got on the freeway, I was almost a mile down the road before I realized I was still in third gear! The gearing was so much lower with the larger engines; my 40hp Beetle topped out at about forty-five in third gear. Made for quieter cruising too, but the drop in mileage was unacceptable. The 40hp Beetle was the Prius of its time, and a 25% drop in efficiency was a stain on the Beetle’s economy car rep.

The rear suspension had lost its swing axles a couple years earlier. In fact, the Super Beetle now had the same suspension design front and rear as the Porsche 911. As per C/D: “the transients are very quick and the tail wags like a loaded station wagon, but the Beetle no longer feels like it will roll over and play dead if you corner a bit too hard…”

Europeans even got the front disc treatment. But even with the US-spec drum brakes, it had the second best 70-0 panic stop, at 200 feet, one of the benefits of the rear engine. Not to mention the unparalleled traction.

But the interior was as narrow and cramped as 1938, and the heater . . . oh wait, it now had a two-speed electric fan to push the tepid air somewhat faster. Why did you think VW got away with making the Beetle for thirty more years only in balmy Brazil and Mexico?

The Beetle’s decline started earlier and was more rapid in Europe. In the US, VW still moved some 350k units in 1970. The Beetle was (still barely) riding the momentum of its major assets: tank-like build quality, reliability, excellent dealer network and service, and popular sentiment. It was the flower Bug, an icon of a whole generation. But like for lots of sacred cows in 1971, change was in the air, blowing straight-on from the (far) east. Volkswagens don’t like headwinds.

Unsurprisingly, the VW’s build quality is what most impressed the C/D editors too: “The whole car feels as solid as a Supreme Court decision, first-rate materials are used throughout and it is all fastened together as if it was meant to stay that way for several dozen years”. How about three dozen and two, and still going strong?

It didn’t take an oracle to come up with that prophecy. But the outcome is all too obvious to me in the hunt for photographic stand-ins for our six competitors. While I was lucky to find one example of most of them, there are more old Beetles in Eugene than I can shake a camera at. In fact, I’m well on my way to having a complete year-by-year collection, starting with about 1959 or so.

This Super Beetle caught my eye with its fetching red rims and dull-black re-spray. When I think 1971, all I can see in my mind’s eye are bright yellow, green and orange VW’s, and those are not just flashbacks. This oxidized black almost looks like primer, and I like it, in a grudging sort of way. That’s because I’m a purist when it comes to VW’s. Give me an oval-window ’57 with a vintage Oskra twin-carb set up, Porsche slotted wheels, and a little negative camber dialed into the rear wheels, and I’m good to go. And hold the cosmetic surgery.

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55 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1971 Small Cars Comparison: Number 5 — VW Super Beetle...”

  • avatar

    After reading the article, the punched-in-the-nose shot of the Super Beetle seems appropriate.

    This series is great, anxiously awaiting the next installments.

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    When my sister bought her first car, it was 71 Super Bug. Bright green. She bought it because my mother had a 66 and loved it. Both were horrible transportation contraptions.

    In 1972 the floor fell out of my mothers 66 and she bought a 72 Fiat 124. Talk about light years ahead, whole galaxies were between the two cars. A real trunk. Inside space so your face wasn’t pressed up against the windshield. And heat! The 124 felt like a space ship.

    Sadly after 8 mostly trouble free years (water pump at about 40k) the Fiat succumbed to the tin worm. Relaced by a 80 X-Car. Gad!

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Good honest assessment, even though I don’t agree with all of it. The 71 Super was my first car (bought in 75), and it served me well through undergraduate college years. I found the extra space under the front hood useful, as well as the ventilation fan. The front drum brakes left something to be desired in my car, though–they tended to bind up when they got overused and overheated.

    BTW, I don’t believe in ’71 VW had the really bright yellow and orange colors. That started with the next restyle, in 73 perhaps? My car had the nice, more subdued pastel yellow–a color similar to which has been resurrected in the New Beetle palette.

  • avatar

    A decent small car for it`s time.Where are all the great Fiat 124`s,127`s,128`s, `71 Simca`s and `71 Toyota`s today?
    I remember the Fiat`s startet to rust from the top!And had absolutely no resale value.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Bill h.:

    “BTW, I don’t believe in ‘71 VW had the really bright yellow and orange colors. That started with the next restyle, in 73 perhaps? My car had the nice, more subdued pastel yellow–a color similar to which has been resurrected in the New Beetle palette.”

    Yeah, they did. I had the bright sunflower yellow color on my 1971 Super Cabriolet….with the black top.

    I suppose as driving hardware, purists apparently find the car lacking. But I remember as fun to drive, tossable, but not especially dangerous. A great car in which to pack up a lunch and a date and head to the beach….and it was a great car on which to learn auto mechanics….my brother and I, Catholic school boys with nary a shop class between us, followed a Chilton’s manual and swapped out the Bug’s engine on his driveway in about 3 hours. Parts were plentiful and cheap, and the engineering was logical and simple. Remember the oil changes where you cleaned or replaced the screen mesh filters? No paper filters or swearing at a filter canister that had been over-torqued by a zealous grease-monkey….

    I had that car during college in the early 1980’s….Chicks universally dug it, they wanted to drive it; something about it attracted unbelievably beautiful women the way a cute puppy does….that car got me laid, ALOT…something I HIGHLY doubt Vega, Pinto, and Gremlin owners from the same era can claim.

    So, by that criterion, it was a truly AWESOME vehicle…..5 stars!

  • avatar

    I believe the bettle in the photos is a standard beetle, not a super.

  • avatar

    I thought the bug with the aero windshield was the super. Goes to show. I drove a super with a clutch-less stick on a learners permit. It wasn’t until 200K miles later in a falcon that I knew what I was doing. Lots of these bugs in my neighborhood for some reason. Old hippies or Jesus chicks like em.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Mark MacInnis: Message received, thanks for the correction.

    Fritz: the aero windshields on the Supers didn’t arrive until the redo ca. 73-74. They also got the more massive bumpers as well (and the even more horrific emissions controls).

  • avatar

    There is something about a classic Beetle that just screams adorable, I believe that is why girls love ’em. I agree that the redesign certainly does detract from the Beetle’s cuteness, its main attribute. While they may be easy to work on, that is a very good thing because they need almost constant attention, in my experience. Did the superbeetle have a dual reservoir master cylinder to go with those drum brakes? In other words how bad of a death trap was it, 58 Chevy truck (single master cylinder with the gas tank in the cab behind the seat) or simply 69 Mustang (nothing seperating the gas tank in the trunk from the car interior but dual reservoir master cylinder)? I also think that the flat black paint fits the car perfectly.

    C/D: “the transients are very quick and the tail wags like a loaded station wagon, but the Beetle no longer feels like it will roll over and play dead if you corner a bit too hard…” Love that quote. Keep the articles coming.

  • avatar

    I owned a 73 Superbeetle in 1984. It wasn’t indestructible, or even completely reliable, but it was completely repairable, and any repair could be done (professionally) for about $100.

    It just kept chugging along.

    It was a great car for a poor man to own…

  • avatar

    In 1980, my college roommate had a 71. Relative to most everything else from that year, or for most of the decade that followed, it remained a great car.

    I chuckle when I remember the news about Detroit’s “killer” small cars that would take the Beetle head on. And those “killer” cars were the Maverick (of which we owned), the Vega and the Gremlin. Yup, “killer” cars all although not in the way Detroit intended them to be.

    And not much Detroit metal that followed for much of the decade was any better than a Beetle.

    Okay, the HVAC but that’s been covered already.

  • avatar


    The “curved windshield” came out on the `72 as a`73 model after VW`s summer shut down and still had the original small bumpers.The larger impact (shock absorbing)bumpers were released for the `74 MY.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a gas heater in my ’62 Canadian Custom Beetle which apparently puts out fantastic amounts of heat. I just haven’t been brave enough to turn mine on yet.

  • avatar

    The Beetle’s sales declined much more quickly in Europe than in America. For a couple of years in the late sixties (’68-’69, particularly), VW sold around half a million units a year in the U.S., which was more than quite a few American brands. European buyers looked at it differently and bought it for different reasons than Americans did. Here, it wasn’t just an economy car, it was a sort of anti-fashion statement.

    The idiocy of a lot of early American small cars, particularly the Pinto and Vega, is that Detroit looked at the sales success of the VW and made that their design and engineering target, which was just as ridiculous then as it sounds now.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    So….does the Gremlin’s sixth rating and the Beetle’s fifth mean that the Vega and the Pinto are lurking somewhere above these two?

  • avatar

    Did the superbeetle have a dual reservoir master cylinder to go with those drum brakes? In other words how bad of a death trap was it, 58 Chevy truck (single master cylinder with the gas tank in the cab behind the seat) or simply 69 Mustang (nothing seperating the gas tank in the trunk from the car interior but dual reservoir master cylinder)?

    It had a dual master cylinder — all Beetles got dual-circuit brakes in 1967.

    In European VW parlance, the ’71 SB was the 1302S (“S” designating the 1600cc rather than 1300cc engine); the later curved-windshield SB was the 1303S. And, yes, the “S” models had front disc brakes outside of North America, too.

  • avatar

    So….does the Gremlin’s sixth rating and the Beetle’s fifth mean that the Vega and the Pinto are lurking somewhere above these two?

    By all that is holy, one should hope so.

    I guess this means the Maverick won’t be included since it came out a year earlier. Too bad, it deserves to be included in this grouping.

    Ah, the Celica should be included, right year, right size.

  • avatar

    I know my brother in law (Brazillian) just bought (less than a year ago) a late 60’s beetle. I’m not sure how the model year corresponds to US years with the beetle, however the thing is really fun. 4 on the floor, no power at all, and you actually need some strength to turn the tiny steering wheel.

    1.3L of pure power. I wonder if it’s even 50 horse…?

  • avatar

    In the 1970’s I owned Fiat 128s, Datsun 210s and Opel Kadetts BECAUSE they were RWD. Never liked FWD, never will. Also, water-cooled engine up front, manual transmission thank you very much.


  • avatar

    I owned a ’66 Beetle, and ’75 and ’81 microbuses. And while they were all fun, the lack of a good heating system just killed them. Of course I bought all of them after they were all 8+ years old. I remember dating my soon to be wife and she would always carry a wool blanket with her if we were driving my ’81 microbus in the winter. And she still married me! That’s true love.

    I do think that my dad’s ’72 Maverick and my ’74 Gremlin were better vehicles though.

  • avatar

    I never liked these, except when converted to Baja bugs or dune buggies, but I have to give the Teutons credit for building durable engines. There was a drag racing Beetle, 450hp with turbos, and a 150 shot of nitrous. The guy totalled it against the wall, but the engine held up.

    At the cruise nights I used to attend there was a street legal Beetle that did the 1/4 in 10.63 which is pretty damn fast.

  • avatar

    The Maverick was considered a step above these cars. It was eventually offered with a V-8 (Ford’s excellent 302 V-8). It competed with the Nova, Hornet and Valiant/Dart, not these cars.

    Interestingly, Germans were relatively uninterested in the New Beetle. For them, the original Beetle is a reminder of post-World War II austerity. They don’t view it with the fondness that Americans do.

  • avatar

    I had a 1973 1303 (aka Super Beetle) in Sumatra Green as a commuter car in the late 80s/early 90s. I was the second owner, the first being a VW wrench at my local dealer. That car was damn near bullet-proof. The heater even worked well – mind you, in the pacific northwest it never gets Montana/Minnesota cold either.

    I loved working on that car… it was therapeutic. Parts were dirt cheap. I rebuilt the entire exhaust system for $12.50. A lady hit me and a new fender and bumper cost me less than half of the insurance check (who hoo!) Little kids punched each other when I drove by. Chicks waved and said “cute car!” What more can you ask for? Sure, it was slow and cramped, but it always worked and got me to work every day.

    I sold it when I took a job overseas. I will always regret selling that car.


  • avatar

    My grandmother-in-law drove a 4-speed ’71 from then until 1995, when she quit driving at the age of 86. It was truly owned and driven by a little old lady.

    The most remarkable thing about the car is that it had never been washed in 24 years of ownership, until she gave it to her grandson. All she did was wipe it off when it got wet (it was garage-kept). The manilla-colored paint still looks brand-new. She would get new tires and a battery every few years because the tires would dry-rot from age and underuse. It accumulated only 44k miles in 24 years, and strangers would routinely offer to buy it on the spot for handsome prices.

    I’m glad it’s still in the family.

  • avatar

    The Maverick was considered a step above these cars.

    By anyone who didn’t drive both extensively like me.

    I can’t comment on the V8 Maverick, just the first year 6cyl. If forced to choose between that and this Veedub, the Bug wins every time.

    Unless you lived where it got cold, then the question would be whether heat was more important than the car actually running on any given day.

  • avatar

    The Maverick was a reliable car. The I-6 and later V-8 may have been old by the early 1970s, but they were bulletproof. The basic platform was the one used on the Falcon, so the bugs had long been worked out of it.

    The problem was build quality. The VW was better in that regard.

    Once you got passed the superior build quality and charm of the VW, the Maverick (along with the Nova, Dart and Valiant) was easier to live with on a day-to-day basis. At least, that was my experience.

  • avatar

    I had two of them – a green ’62 and a tan ’68.

    The ’62 only had 40 hp. Its top speed was supposed to be 72 mph, but it would do 80 all day long. Unless, of course, I came to a hill. Then, I often had to downshift and crawl up the hill at 40 mph. Handling was squirrely. If I really hauled ass around a corner, the outside rear wheel would tuck under. Instant oversteer that could be useful once you learned how to control it.

    The ’68 had a “whopping” 53 hp. It was good for 90 mph and I no longer had to downshift for any but the steepest hills. I spent some money upgrading the handling. It had Michelin XAS tires (130 mph tires on a 90 mph car), an Empi camber comensator (a leaf spring connecting the swing axles to the bottom of the engine) to keep the outside rear wheel from tucking under, heavier shocks and front sway bar, a shift shortener, “bundle of snakes” exhaust and a pair of Hella driving lights on the front bumper. With the engine weight at the rear, it was easy to do bootleg turns on roads no wider than the car was long.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My father bought his first bug in ’54, he had one bug after another until the early 90s. I had bugs for nearly 20 yrs myself. I never found the drum brakes to be an issue. The car couldnt go fast enough for fade to be a problem, and the swept area off the shoes was plenty fine considering a bug only weighed about 2200 pounds.
    Bugs could go just about anywhere. My wife, was one of the last people who got off Rt 128 under their own power during the blizzard of 78. She was driving our 66 1300 equipped with 560×15 bias ply snow tires

  • avatar

    I had both a 66 1300cc, Type 1 and a later a 74 Super, Type 113. The Porsche designed front torsion beams on the original Type 1 was much more rigid and durable than the MacPherson strut set-up on the 113. The front end flexed on rough roads with the MacPhersons.

    The Super Beetle in the photos has in place of its original pea shooter silencers, a zoom tube aimed towards the passenger side to awaken car alarms. The zoom tube doesn’t make for much, if any performance increase. It does make noise, just like the modern fart cans on Hondas.

    A bit of trivia – 1966 was the first year for camshaft bearings. Until 1971, VWs had hand sanded, thrice baked enamel paint.

    I had a Maverick as second car during the same years that I had the 74 Super Beetle. It wasn’t much of a snow car – but it made better time hauling butt through the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico. A bit floaty, but it would hold a solid 95 mph – just don’t hit the brakes or turn the steering wheel at that speed.

  • avatar

    Iacocca did market the Maverick straight at the Beetle. I distinctly remember a Maverick sales brochure that used the line “That’s all, Volks!”

    If that wasn’t painful enough, they gave the colors clever “youth market” names. For one agonizing example, the bright green metallic was dubbed “Anti-Establish Mint.” I am not making this up.

  • avatar

    ’70 was the last good year of VW Bugs.
    Smog hampered crap followed in the USA.
    The Bug shown is rather pathetic and abused version of the late 60’s.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    They were great to drive on secondary roads. They had a nice feel to them when they were in good shape. VAG products still do.

  • avatar

    I’m going to guess that the demographics of Eugene and the popularity of the Beetle in ’71 relative to the Japanese and Euro competition account for the fact taht the Beetles are much easier to find there than Corollas, Datsuns, Fiats, or Simcas. (I haven’t seen a Simca anywhere in probably decades.) Of course, VWs were always easy to repair, but were they really better than Corollas? My ’77 Corolla was a little tank, and if it hadn’t been for car cancer, and the fact that Bryant’s brother ran it into a tree after I sold it to Bryant in ’94, that thing–whose first owner was David Albright, who later became one of the Iraq weapons inspectors–might still be going.

    Regarding the style, what bothers me more than the shnoz is the vents behind the rear windows, which I think were introduced in ’68. They did a number on the artistic integrity.

  • avatar

    The Beetles’ engine was truly a Fab Four.


  • avatar
    Aloysius Vampa

    Why is there grass in the car?

  • avatar

    My very first car was a ’58 Beetle. Imagine my excitement when at our Golden Jubilee (yes, 50 years after graduation) high school reunion last year, I discovered that my classmate had two of the very last Beetles that had rolled off the production lines in Brazil. He lent one of them to me for a week.

    It wasn’t like the old ones. It had factory air, for one thing. But I must admit driving the thing was like meeting that girl you were crazy about in high school who married someone else. You wonder what you were thinking then.

    Yes, it was cramped, etc. etc. What put me off most of all was the way it drove. No power, awful handling, not bad ride. But what WAS I thinking? I knew all that.

  • avatar

    Why is there grass in the car?

    My first guess is that picture is the author’s best shot an honest representation of what so many Bug interiors look like — grass growing right through the floorboards. The Bug I bought off of eBay sure suffered from this (despite anything the seller claimed).

    Those floors (along with the battery trays and heater channels) did a disappearing act at the first sight of salt covered roads. Just add salt, and there went the floors and the heat…

    Otherwise, I found the bug to be one of the most fun cars I have ever owned. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the simplicity of it all. The Bug is about essentials, and nothing else. Too cool.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Why is there grass in the car?

    There isn’t; it’s a reflection of the grass outside.

  • avatar

    @Paul Niedermayer, The body of the Kdf-Wagen (later VW) was designed by Erwin Komenda, and not Edwin Kommenda!
    As for the Super-Beetle, being familiar with VWs, the first car I bought upon moving to North America from Europe was a 1974 Super-Beetle. What a POS it was compared to the VW 1200. I could not wait to get rid of it!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer


    Thanks for the correction. I agree with you; I liked my 1200 better too, even if it was slower. It felt more organic.

  • avatar

    Paul, excellent choice of words, the 1200 felt more organic. AS for the lack of power, it was a blessing in disguise, as the suspect handling would have been more exposed at higher speeds. Keeping in mind that the original suspension was the handiwork of Ferdinand Porsche, who never in his 45-year-long career designed a car with exemplary roadholding, power in the 34 to 40 HP range is just about right for that car.

  • avatar

    it was 1980 I bought a 69 bug from a friend.
    Another friend cut a piece of plywood and bolted it under the front bumper. That was the best piece of front spoiler we had done to the car. Gone were the front end light when going on any highway speed.
    I drove her across Canada from van to Toronto.
    Never had any bad vacuuming experience before.
    I ran like a top, until 2 yrs later I bought a Civic.
    VeeDub were definitely something else. The poor man’s porsche.
    Wish they still make them.
    probably not going to be long, as lots of 356 replicas been made.

  • avatar

    “Zero to sixty now came in sixteen seconds, almost unheard of for a Beetle. That still made it the slowest in this comparison, but only just slightly so, against most of the competition.”

    I remember the Toyota Corona ad claiming the same acceleration number. It had a 1900cc engine as I recall. Where are all those Corona’s now? Never see one, nor Opels or Fiats. Working on “furrin” cars to pay my college expenses, there are good reasons why old VW’s are still around and virtually no Austin-MG, Fiat, Opel, Renault or Simca sedans still on the road. An electric-shifted semi-automatic Simca is still the strangest one I ever repaired.

    Just like you, print car mags back then heaped praise on cars that may have performed better than VW’s when new, but didnt last. C&D at least panned the Kadette, and paid dearly for it in lost GM ad revenue.

  • avatar

    grog and geeber:

    I owned both a ’70 Maverick and a ’71 Super Beetle (at different times). Even though Ford marketed the Mav as a VW alternative, really they are such different cars it is hard to rank them one against the other. The Ford had a real trunk (a pretty decent sized one actually), a real heater, a real automatic trans and could seat 5 in a pinch. Mine also had a carburetor that resolutely refused to idle no matter what, and I eventually burned out said auto trans due to having to rev the engine in neutral at stop lights to keep from stalling, then dropping it suddenly into gear on green. My Beetle had the semi-auto setup which, contrary to reputation is very reliable once it is set up properly. Various other things broke on the Bug but of the two, it is the one I would like to have back. There is something refreshingly honest, straightforward and, dammit, MECHANICAL about a Bug.

  • avatar

    Europeans even got the front disc treatmen.
    Needs the ‘t’

    Europeans even got the front disc treatment.

    Nice piece. I think everyone’s got some kind of memory of driving/owning/being in a VW beetle, super or not.

    These comparos of older economy cars are super cool. I’d love to see more of these for other generations of cars ’70’s muscle cars, or something. But, maybe you’d have to stick to older cars found in the Eugene area ;-)

  • avatar

    Two memories of bugs –

    My friend’s younger brother, working underneath his Beetle, had the rear end slip off jackstands and land on top of him. He screamed and whined, but just ended up being bruised and sore (and embarrassed).

    Also, as a young teenager, as I perused through the JC Whitney catalogs, it appeared as though you could buy all the parts to assemble an entirely new Beetle. Doors, body panels, rebuilt motors, you name it.

  • avatar

    Andy D: I never found the drum brakes to be an issue. The car couldnt go fast enough for fade to be a problem, and the swept area off the shoes was plenty fine considering a bug only weighed about 2200 pounds.

    The brakes generally don’t get hot but if you drive hard and do repeated hard stops they will overheat and fade away. I had this problem in Naples, Italy with my 1972 Super. That car was the same as a ’73 in the USA. Curved windshield, first year. However it only had a 1200cc 40HP engine and the lower gears. Didn’t have the big bumpers either.

    Anyhow in Naples we would run ~100 kph and then have to stand on the brakes because around the next blind tunnel curve traffic would be stopped. With 2-3 people inside the Beetle the brakes would overheat after 3-4 hard stops.

    Under the ’65 Beetle I brought back I put the ’69 IRS chassis and four wheel disc brakes for this reason. Also because on three different swing-axle vehicles I drove there that tried to tuck under hard maneuvering. I wanted the old looks but the newer suspension.

    twotone: In the 1970’s I owned Fiat 128s, Datsun 210s and Opel Kadetts BECAUSE they were RWD.

    Weren’t ALL of the Fiat 128 cars FWD? I thought it was the Fiat 131 cars that were RWD. Just asking…

    moedaman: I owned a ‘66 Beetle, and ‘75 and ‘81 microbuses. And while they were all fun, the lack of a good heating system just killed them. Of course I bought all of them after they were all 8+ years old.

    The heat REALLY does work. Well. Until the weather gets below 25 degrees or so. However for all it’s simplicity it is easy for the system to fail to function. All it takes is a loose ventilation hose or a rusty heater channel (rocker panel) or broken cable or missing thermostat. I have a friend with a ’78 VW camper like my Corvair powered Westfalia. It also made good heat down to below freezing when she first bought the van but once the van was in TN for a winter or two a double walled exhaust pipe had the outer layer rust off and the heat diminished considerably. Went from hot heat to warm heat.

    RogerB34: ‘70 was the last good year of VW Bugs.The Bug shown is rather pathetic and abused version of the late 60’s.

    No, that is definitely a flat windshield Super Beetle with MacPherson struts. That makes it a ’70-’72 in the USA. Might be a ’69 overseas somewhere. The US models were generally one year behind on styling and we usually didn’t get any of the go fast goodies like disc brakes or dual carbs. Still getting short changed today with the Euro vs US versions I think by many car makers.

    I have owned about 5 Beetles over the years – standard and Super. My current (and likely last) Beetle is a ’65 I bought in Italy while stationed there. It is a ’65 Beetle originally sold in the western part of my state! I three real gripes about the Beetles. They were noisy inside. Being addressed during my resto. They were slow on the hills. Don’t want to drag race or cruise at 100 mph. Just don’t want to climb hills in 3rd gear. To address this I have installed and run for several thousand miles a Type IV 2.0L engine. A solid 25 mpg no matter what I haul or tow behind me. It definitely doubles the original power.

    This engine was found in the Porsche 914 tuned for about 95 HP with different cam, heads and exhaust. In the bus it came with different lower compression heads, small valves and really mild cam. That version made 67 HP but alot more torque. I’m aiming at about 80-90HP.

    If I can match the performance of my 90HP mid-80s VW GTI ‘vert I would be happy. Also going to build up a Gene Berg 5-speed for the Beetle as well.

    Lastly was the brakes. Didn’t like them fading when hot or working poorly when they were wet. Also addressed by upgrading to disc brakes all the way around with a dual master cylinder. Car also got the ’69 chassis with better suspension and will get swaybars to boot and has been lowered in the front until it sits flat with the rear. Dropped spindles. The goal is to look stock but function much, much better.

    All of my Beetles were reliable as anything I ever owned but they did need more adjustments and maintenance (frequent oil changes, adjust the brakes and valves among others). I love working on them. They are “alive” and respond to an experienced mechanic well. I have fixed them in all sorts of odd places when I tried to get the very last miles out of worn parts. If I addressed wear problems when I first noticed the problem with new QUALITY parts (i.e. not just any new part from a catalog selling low quality junk – retailers you know who you are!) then the car was like new again and reliable.

    I still really like the look of a factory stock Beetle with good chrome and paint if none of the pieces are missing or damaged. A beat up Beetle can get really ugly fast to me. Must be something about the awkward shape.

    The cars (any brand) from this era are very desirable to me b/c they can be fixed easily and cheaply and still deliver good service and reasonable comfort with minor updates (a/c, noise control, suspension updates). The real challenge is finding parts for some brands and keeping the steel termites away.

    I’d happily drive cars like this if I could buy one new with a/c and with rust proofing and some minor safety upgrades.

    Have several ideas that I am pondering that might lead me to buy another project Beetle after this one is complete. Perhaps a Hebmueller replica. Perhaps a full length ragtop sunroof (I added a shorty ’57 sunroof to mine). Perhaps some sort of hatchback Beetle with a suitcase VW motor. Stock from the outside, big hatchback ala new Beetle. Or perhaps stretching a Beetle about 6 inches in the wheelbase and slanting the windshield back and with a longer slope on the rear end and the front hood. Put the added length into the rear leg room and the front trunk.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1967 Euro-model 1500 Deluxe sunroof sedan, gray-market imported by a soldier. It had front disc brakes, but oddly was behind the US models in one important area. It was six volt.

  • avatar

    This is one of very few inexpensive cars that transcends all class boundaries. It was as comfortable in a driveway in Greenwich, CT as it was in the Bronx.

    I owned several serially in the late 80’s along with a Karmann Ghia. With some minor modifications, they were great fun to drive.

  • avatar

    @ Twotone

    The Fiat 128 is FWD.

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    I have fixed them in all sorts of odd places when I tried to get the very last miles out of worn parts.

    In Mexico, you literally see Beetles being fixed EVERYWHERE.

    Myself, I’d love a Thing. Or even better, a Schwimmwagen, LOL.

  • avatar

    I wanted a Thing until after tuning up a friend’s I drove it for a few miles… No thanks… Did not feel like a safe vehicle at all. Perhaps more miles would lead to a more confident feeling… VBG! I think it was the height and the ergonomics. My Beetle feels much more well planted.

  • avatar

    Is this the best example of one the most loved cars you could find? One with dandelions and the remains of a meadow coming through the floorboards? To me, it screams everything I always hated about a Beetle; rust, wind noise, and a heater that never quite worked.

  • avatar
    jose carlos

    Great article, as this series is. And many memories that go over a quarter of a century. I had a ’61 as my first set of wheels, bought cheaply in 1981 during college. At the time they were still abundant and used to be “the first car” for many of us with a fresh driving license. Great time with it, though minor issues were coming: brakes, electrical, carburetor, you name. But the car had been abused and was holding together by wires. But any problem was easily traced and most of times solved on the spot. A set of pliers, wire, can of gas, tape. And also a blanket for heating. At the time the heating system was a simple heat exchanger with the exhaust gases and a couple of cable operated butterfly valves. When rusty (a certain thing) fumes would go straight into the passenger area. Also very recommendable were a couple of holes on the platform in order to keep water level inside at the lowest possible level. And always short on gasoline. But the sense of freedom of going anywhere was unmatched. A decade later I bought a ’65 1200cc which I still keep. It is restored up to a very good standard and turns heads around. From time to time, while driving, I feel I am back in my twenties. Like a pair of 501’s they are timeless.

  • avatar
    Marky S.

    Very informative article here! Minor spelling correction here: mentioned in paragraph 5 here, the man’s name is Erwin Komenda. He worked in Ferdinand Porsche’s design team, which also included Karl Rabe. Komenda was essentially Porsche’s chief engineer in charge of body structure design. Fun read and wonderful photos!

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