By on March 5, 2010

TTAC Commentator Robstar writes:

Hello Mr. Mehta, I am currently in Brazil visiting my in-laws. I am more and more falling in love with the 1974 1.5L Fusca (what the Beetle is called here) my brother-in-law owns. I can’t imagine they go for much in the US, and I thought it might be another fun car to stick in the garage. I’m not much of a do-it-yourself’er, so I have the following questions…

1) Is it going to be impossible to find a vintage “Fusca” that is not rusted out? (I’m in the Chicagoland area)

2) How hard is it to find parts for these? Considering the production run, I’d imagine it should be pretty easy.

3) What should I be cautious of when purchasing? (Also, I only want the 4MT. Not sure if they were made in an AT form)

4) Any idea what price range these go for? How about insurance for a married male in his mid 30s.

I’d be appreciative of any discussion & insight TTAC readers can give. I’m including (scaled down) pictures of the Fusca, the car that brought about this question…thanks!

Sajeev answers:

Best and Brightest, remember we are talking non-DIY ownership of an old vehicle this time. I know Beetles are easy to work on and parts are cheap, but no project cars this time!

Regarding rust: I am by no means a VW expert, but paying to ship a rust-free car is never a bad idea. But not the only way: restored Midwestern cars can pass muster to a savvy classic car guy with access to a lift. So get a VW expert to do a PPI, a Pre Purchase Inspection. Start posting on VW message boards, read their “newbie” archives, and make new friends. My brother recently explored his passion for Porsche 928s in this manner, his new local friends (via RENNLIST) made the “new” 928 S4 much less of a nightmare to repair. And boy, does it ever need repairs!

Regarding Parts: even a restored Beetle needs upkeep. Most stores can order any greasy bit, and anything else (trim, fabric, upgrades, etc) is available through multiple vendors I found via Google and local craigslist searches. This is stupid easy.

Regarding Inspection-Before-Purchase: again, make friends with smart people on VW message boards. Ask them to do a PPI for you, maybe for $50-100. Attend local VW meetings, shake hands and smile a lot: this worked quite well for my brother and his new 928. And if it works for newbies seeking German Camaros, just imagine how quickly you can find smart people who love a REAL German car!

Regarding Price: Classic Car insurance is insanely cheap. I pay less than $250 a year for my Mercury Cougar, which is less than half the non-classic car policy price on the same vehicle. And many states offer classic car plates with cheap registration fees to go with them. So don’t worry about this part.

A quick scan of online classifieds shows a nice “driver” of a VW Beetle is around $5000. And I see $10,000 Beetles that look almost fully restored. Wow: 401K’s are dull and boring…right?

Remember, you don’t want a project car. You need something with a modicum of reliability, curb appeal, and months of labor pre-built into the asking price. Always survey the market and have a VW specialist find “problems” with the car to help in negotiation. Most importantly: figure out what year of Beetle you truly want. You’ll pay more for certain years and topless versions (obviously). If you buy one that’s just good enough, it’ll be back in the classifieds and you’ll take a bath on resale.

You aren’t Steve Lang: buy for love, not money. Good luck, and enjoy the thrill of classic car ownership.

(Send your queries to [email protected])

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34 Comments on “Piston Slap: Classic Fusca Mania, Baby!...”


  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Beetles are a terrific classic car to own, show, drive, go to club meets and tours in.

    They’re not hugely expensive; the Hagerty’s Cars That Matter Price Guide lists a “good” (#3) (#1 being best) condition 1974 Bug sedan at $6900. As long as you own regular use vehicles and don’t use the collector car for daily driving, and garage your collector, classic auto insurance from companies such as Hagerty are very affordable. Perhaps a hundred to two a year, depending upon the state you live in, for a car of this value.

    I would definitely join the Volkswagen Club of America and maybe even a local club. Here’s a link: http://www.yesterdays-cars.com/VW_clubs.htm

    Parts for VW’s are not quite as easy to locate as they were when I was a teenager in the 1970’s, but they are still pretty good.

    Look for a car as free from rust as possible. Park it in the winter (Chicago winters suck, I know, I’ve lived there myself).

    You might even want to enjoy tooling up to the Volo Museum in the VW and take in other cars some weekend after you get it, and maybe come up to Michigan – there is a terrific museum in southwestern Michigan called the Gilmore which is pretty close to Chicago.

    http://www.gilmorecarmuseum.org/html/events.php

    Likewise, there are some great auto museums in northern Indiana, too, such as the Elkhart Museum, the Studebaker Museum in South Bend and several in the Auburn area, including the ACD, the NATMUS and Kruse.

    Enjoy the hobby!

  • avatar
    brazuca

    Wow, what a surprise to see a “Fusca” on TTAC, brought back several memories of my first car when I was 18 years old in Brazil, growing in a city near Sao Paulo, having my driver’s license and owning a ’76 VW Fusca 1.3L engine (I believe), I bought it used of course. Wish I have not sold it, was maintenance free and had it for a few years driving to college and working part time….fun manual transmissionn driving experience, heck, my first car, I bet anything that I would be driving it would have been really fun. Anyway, I met my wife when I had that car and drove it with several friends. I eventually see some old VW bugs here in Indiana, therefore, I bet there are mechanics and VW fans that can work on those cars. Keep in mind as well that you can get parts from Mexico that still has a quite large fleet of these VW bugs….just don’t call it “Fusca” in other latin american countries besides Brazil, it has a whole different meaning….Good luck and enjoy your trip to Brazil.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    it’s the first car I’m planning to buy when i finally migrate down to Brazil… My Brazilian wife always gives me grief when i tell her i want one. I threatened her with a VW Comby Van to customize if she keeps at it.

    I imagine a Combi van (which you can buy new in Brazil..still) would be perfect to retro fit and bring up to speed, especially in terms of interior to make it road trip friendly… with a kick of nostalgia

  • avatar
    mdensch

    I can understand the fascination with an older Beetle but, trust me, you need to sit down with three fingers of a good whiskey, take a deep breath and hope the feeling passes.

    • 0 avatar
      criminalenterprise

      I agree. Everyone I know who owned one and loved it was a DIYer. Everyone who decidedly wasn’t a DIYer hated the things.

      We may never again see an automobile anywhere close to being as owner-serviceable as the VW Beetle. The flipside is that the owner had to service it to stay solvent and/or sane.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      Of course, it would be a good vehicle on which to start one’s DIY car hobby.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      DIY was there sole good side. They were nasty to drive. Sure a modern Porsche can be hammered, but Bugs didn’t have the sophisticated suspension bits. Fortunately they didn’t have enough power to go more than 67 mph. A passing truck would blow you over two lanes. Of course in Brazil, the lack of heat was not a problem.

      Can you import one from Brazil? They probably have a lot more rust free samples. Would it make a difference if you imported it without the drive train?

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    A couple of comments:

    Robstar: Do be careful and mindful that you’ll be buying an intensive maintenance car. Every week something minor will break and with a bit of luck, you’ll be on the roadside at least once every 2 months.

    Case in point, a friend of mine had a bit of a rough financial spot recently. He had to sell his restaurant, move back to his parents city, wife pregnant…Well, his father-in-law in hopes of helping him gave him his old (a 75 I believe) lovingly-kept Sunday-driven Fusca. Now this Fusca has to live the daily grind. He’s had it for 2 months and it’s left him stranded 5 times. Each time though it was just get a mechanic who messed with something or other and in 30 min the old thing was back on the road. Don’t know how easy it would be to get a Fusca mechanic in the US. In Brazil most still see this car fairly often so know what to do. Up there might be a different story.

    As to the commercial: It’s great! 60s, 70s and even 80s era VW propaganda wad always fun and youthful. Even tongue-in-cheek. Now they’re all about being “Das Auto” and other arrogant messages. Wish they’d go back to the old formula.

    • 0 avatar
      Vega

      Don’t know what you’re talking about. Ive had a ’66 since 1993, always maintained, left me stranded exactly once in 17 years (dead 6V battery). Conclusion:

      Er läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft und läuft…..

  • avatar
    nikita

    thesamba.com is the website you need to find cars, parts and advice. Parts in the USA are more plentiful than you can imagine. There are many on-line vendors but the storefront ones are mostly on the West Coast. VW’s do rust, but are easy to inspect because of the simple construction. The only area that is difficult to inspect are the heater channels that run under the doors and are covered with carpet.

    The comments that they break down often relate to neglected or worn out cars. Anything without modern electronics always needed normal tuneups, lube and adjustments once or twice a year.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    True, nikita. We’re talking about a car which was fundamentally engineered in the mid-1930’s, literally, and which didn’t alter except in detail since that time. Put another way, it was engineered only 30 years after the Ford Model T, give or take. Yet it, unlike the Model T, can be driven in modern traffic… with care, anyway.

    With that said, the simplicity of the car means that once it is sorted, and if it is looked after, it does not have to continually break down and should not.

    Frankly, not to be funny about it, but when we’re having folks tell tales about experiences in South America with these cars, this is referring to daily drivers with presumably high Km on their odometers. “Lots of miles” so to speak. Plus the usual problems of having been passed down from somewhat affluent to not so affluent buyers as the car passes down the used car chain… and frankly, because of the lower than North American standard of living (for now) that South American nations enjoy, it also means that the older used cars have to be fixed in the same manner as old well used cars did when I was a boy 40-45 years ago; with duct tape, bailing wire and a pliers, sometimes. This doesn’t lend itself to exemplary ongoing reliability….

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    Sajeev

    As I recall, your brother is a Corvette guy, who has bashed Porsches in the past. Am I mistaken, or has he seen the light?

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Hey Sajeev, thanks for posting my question!

    I plan to keep this garaged during the 4 winter months here & would like to take an occasional weekend drive. I expect to put less than 1000 miles per year on it. I’m hoping at that mileage and with say 2 oil changes + 4 inspections per year it should do ok as far as reliability. I have a winter (sti/neon) & summer (motorcycle) daily driver already.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      I drive my ’69 Karmann Ghia as a weekend car and also only about 1500 miles a year. One service every 3000 miles is all that is required. I keep the battery on a tender and try not to let the gasoline get stale, but even if sitting for several months it starts right up.

      They are very simple machines, but today’s professional mechanics don’t have a clue. You have to learn to work on it yourself, not difficult, or find a specialist which may be hard east of the Rockies. Adjusting valves and setting points is not rocket science.

  • avatar

    Come out to the west coast and buy one. Here in Washington (the OTHER Washington) I still see them on the road as daily drivers. In fact in the early 90s I had one (a 1973 1303) as a daily driver! In fact there is a shop in Lynnwood, WA that sells restored Beetles with a 12 month warranty. (I have no affiliation with these guys, just bought parts from him when I had one.)

    I imagine you can find much of the same in Oregon & California (though maybe not the latter due to smog regs?)

    Some others are right in that these are maintenance-intensive cars. Frequent oil changes and valve adjustments are needed, though both operations are VERY simple. I found it quite therapeutic to work on my air-cooled VW once a month.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    I live in Southern California, and there are still a lot of these around here on the road. If I were in your shoes, I would get on the message boards, and start trolling Craigslist. Find one in either the Central Valley, or southern California, as those regions are the driest. One of the nice things about the message boards is the fact that you can sometimes get someone from the board to check a car out for you. Once you find a car, get a truck and a trailer, and make the trip out west to pick it up.

    If you get a pre-1975 VW, then smog equipment is not a problem. That is the current cut-off for smog inspections in California.

    One other fun option would be to try to get out to the Pomona swap meet in southern California. It happens 7 times a year, and is a great place to try to find classic VW’s cars and parts.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    All the parts you will ever need:

    http://www.partsplaceinc.com/

    http://partsplaceinc.com/ipaper.htm

    I was born in Brazil too but left when I was 11 years old … had a 1981 VW Rabbit and put 170,000 miles in 7 years on a gas engine. I would guess that was my “Fusca” here in the USA.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      ^That looks a bit like spam.

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      Since you are the “Contrarian” what may look like spam to you actually is not spam because you see the opposite view prevalent in the majority :)

      This VW parts place can be seen when driving along I-75 a few miles north of the Chrysler HQ/Tech Center.

      Question No. 2: How hard is it to find parts for these? No at all, and that is why I posted a link to it. I never used it myself but it has been there for 32 years.

  • avatar

    My old beetle review in ttac:
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/review-used-car-classic-vw-beetle/

  • avatar
    George B

    A neighbor bought a 1973 VW Beetle off of CraigsList in North Texas. Body looked good and it ran well enough to drive home. May be able to expand geographic search to areas that get rain and some snow, but don’t use road salt. The neighbor spent a fair amount of time doing minor DIY part replacement. OK if the Beetle is a hobby car, but potentially annoying if you’re using it to get to work.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I thought half (or maybe most) of the fun of owning a beetle was working on it yourself. They are very easy to work on with an engine you can lift with your own two hands. But if that’s not your thing… I don’t know, you may want to pass. I think that’s pretty much true of any older car, unless you have the means to pay a mechanic on a semi-regular basis.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      +1 that should be the point of buying an “older” car. WHEN I buy a vehicle for fun and weekend drives, I’m going to make sure it’s bone simple and/or has an active on line enthusiast community. I’m not afraid of wrenching on my own stuff as long as there’s someone to turn to for help and the vehicle in question is not my primary means of transportation.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Unless you’re willing to learn the intricacies of VW carburetor maintenance (Google “VW boil-out”), to carry a scraper for the inside of the windshield during winter, and to go backwards down slippery hills, I’d find something else with which to fall in love.

    This is second-hand advice from my father, who owned two of the beasts back in the sixties and early seventies. My only memory of either car is slamming my thumb in the door as a youngster. The only good thing I can say about the Beetle is that it had good panel fit.

  • avatar
    A is A

    “I’d be appreciative of any discussion & insight TTAC readers can give”

    My piece of advice: Do not buy a Beetle for daily usage.

    The Beetle is a 1930s car. It provides dismal active and passive safety.

    The HIC (Head Injury Criteria) for the Beetle was unacceptable even in the 1970s, and even compared with known deathtraps like the Citröen 2CV or the Renault 4. Please read:

    http://www.cats-citroen.net/citroen_2cv/2cv_crashtest.html

    The Beetle is about the unsafest car you can buy apart from a Ford T.

    Personally, I would only drive a Beetle very cautiously for a short ride for historic purposes, in a clear day with very little traffic and wearing a helmet.

    A Beetle (even one of the last ones manufactured in Mexico in the 21st century) is a historic vehicle. For safety reasons historic vehicles should not be used as daily drivers. Period.

    • 0 avatar
      Vega

      @A is A:

      Oh please, cut the drama. Read the test your linking to. They fitted the beetle in question with a seat belt that didn’t work, that’s why the HIC was far higher than on the other cars. The dummy hit the windscreen without any restraint.

      “Personally, I would only drive a Beetle very cautiously for a short ride for historic purposes, in a clear day with very little traffic and wearing a helmet.” I’d love to see that picture. Maybe you could place a cushion on the steering wheel for added protection. And wear depends, just in case all the other cars scare you too much.

      I can’t understand all this hate and vitriol here. To paint the beetle, still the world car production record holder (Corolla and Golf changed too much to really count) as some death machine is absolutely ridiculous. The beetle put large parts of the world on wheels. If it was really that dangerous, we wouldn’t have overpopulation in the world.

      Of course driving a classic car is inherently less safe than driving a modern one. But so is riding a motorbike. That’s why you drive it differently. And that truck driver that t-bones you without your own fault (a favourite line of argumentation in these kinds of discussions)? Well guess what. That can also hit you while crossing the street on foot.

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “They fitted the beetle in question with a seat belt that didn’t work, that’s why the HIC was far higher than on the other cars”

      Please watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRbwTutw-Hk

      Crumple zones and collapsible steering wheel shafts were just a glimpse on the eye of Béla Barényi when the Beetle was designed.

      http://www.google.es/search?hl=es&source=hp&q=B%C3%A9la+Bar%C3%A9nyi&btnG=Buscar+con+Google&meta=&aq=&oq=

      “I’d love to see that picture. Maybe you could place a cushion on the steering wheel for added protection”

      I did. My previous car had no airbag, so I drove it wearing a light open-faced ski helmet. I also added a polyestyrene block on the steering wheel hub.

      Ridiculous?. Maybe. Just as “ridiculuos” as those strange people who started using seatbelts in the 1950s.

      “I can’t understand all this hate and vitriol here”.

      I do not “hate” the Beetle. In fact I enjoy spotting and beholding old VWs. I am just stating and sourcing the fact that its passive (and active!) safety was atrocious even by 1970s standards. A Beetle is a highly interesting piece of history, but it is not a proper daily driver.

      (BTW, the Beetle had the same rear suspension layout -Swing axle- that the infamous Chevrolet Corvair).

      “To paint the beetle, still the world car production record holder (Corolla and Golf changed too much to really count) as some death machine is absolutely ridiculous. The beetle put large parts of the world on wheels.”

      Non sequitur.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_sequitur_(logic)

      Number of cars produced is totally unrelated with safety.

      “Of course driving a classic car is inherently less safe than driving a modern one. But so is riding a motorbike.”

      Sure. A bike is more dangerous even than the Beetle. I will never ride one. Not even the cautious short ride I would take with a Beetle.

      Oh, and I do not “fear” cars. I am just aware of the risks involved in driving. Once I am restrained to my 1300kg ESC fitted 5 stars EuroNCAP Avensis I enjoy enormously the pleasures of motoring. “REASONABLE risk” is the name of my game. Driving my Avensis is a “reasonable” risk. Driving everyday a cheap car designed when Hitler was in office is not.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      If you had read my post in this thread before you wrote your post, you’d have seen that this is NOT going to be my daily driver. I think you kind of missed the point of my question…

      Btw, if you really want to be safe you shouldn’t drive at all. Driving is one of (if not) the most dangerous activities people do day-to-day.

    • 0 avatar
      Vega

      Later beetles were not the same:

      Collapsible steering column introduced in 1967.

      Double-joint rear suspensions in 68. The cheaper models retained the swing axle, but were fitted with a Z-bar that prevented the rear wheel from tucking under. If you want to achieve the same thing with an earlier beetle, add a cheap camber compensator.

      Mcpherson struts in front from 71 (super beetles), by that time the suspension was fit to handle far more power than the engine provided.

      I’m just interested, is your sense of safety fixed or does it move with technology? Would you have driven with your funny little helmet in earlier years too, before airbags had been widely available? Or as a slightly more current expample: Do you still wear your helmet in cars that have no side airbags? Cause if you don’t, there’s a huge hole in your argumentation buddy.

      Let’s face it. Driving is more dangerous than walking, however most crashes are fender benders. You’re wasting all these thoughts and energy (and your dignity, because your sitting in a car with a bike helmet on facing a block of styrofoam) on the very low probability of being in a crash scenario that is a) too severe to survive unscathed in a car without airbag and b) not severe enough to kill you even in your japanese rubber cell on wheels.

      “Once I am restrained to my 1300kg ESC fitted 5 stars EuroNCAP Avensis I enjoy enormously the pleasures of motoring…” Enjoying the pleasures of motoring in a Toyota? Sure.

      You must be fun at parties…

      Btw, I know what a non-sequitur is, smartypants. If you had quoted the following sentence, you would have seen that my remark made sense, albeit in a not too serious, hyperbolic way.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      The double-jointed rear suspension was added to avoid the infamous Corvair-rear-swing-axle problem that the eminent auto engineer Ralph Nader “discovered”. The Corvette had it too.

  • avatar
    A is A

    “Driving is one of (if not) the most dangerous activities people do day-to-day”

    Unless you are deployed in Iraq, you do SCUBA or bikes it is the most dangerous activity a person does.

    As I said, I take a calculated risk driving. Once I am behind the wheel I have no qualms whatsoever: I accepted the risk.

    “Collapsible steering column introduced in 1967.

    Double-joint rear suspensions in 68. The cheaper models retained the swing axle”

    I did not know. Thank you for these useful pieces of information for the eventual Fusca shopper. I did not know that a 1980 Kafer is a far less outlandish proposition than a 1960.

    “Would you have driven with your funny little helmet in earlier years too, before airbags had been widely available? Or as a slightly more current expample: Do you still wear your helmet in cars that have no side airbags?”

    * I knew about the “CASR Headband” (google it) and the research behind the device in 2006. I knew then that I had to wear a helmet in my non-airbagged Renault 25 (a hand me down), and I did.

    * I bought my second hand Avensis in 2008. I have qualms about using the helmet in that car. I am not sure about the helmet being dangerous, because the airbags need space to deploy. Therefore, no helmet in the Avensis.

    * I still use my helmet in the occasional ride in a car with no airbags. I have never had to drive a car with frontal airbag but not lateral airbags.

    “You’re wasting all these thoughts and energy (and your dignity, because your sitting in a car with a bike helmet on facing a block of styrofoam) on the very low probability of being in a crash scenario that is a) too severe to survive unscathed in a car without airbag and b) not severe enough to kill you even in your japanese rubber cell on wheels.”

    Back in the 1960s, some people expressed this same “thoughts” about… seat belts.

    * I do not know what is “undignified” in protecting yourself.

    * I do not know where is the “dignity” in AVOIDABLE Traumatic Brain Injury. It is very, very sad to be a TBI patient. Losing the hability to think, plan for the future, remember and love is terrible. The “ridiculuos” helmet can save your mind in a crash. If what other (uninformed) people think about your appearance is more important for you than protecting yourself, that´s your choice. Not a very good choice, IMO.

    * Number of people suffering TBI >Number of people dying in a crash. If you wear a light helmet, the chances of suffering TBI in a car with no airbag drop like a stone.

    Besides, the Helmet looks more or less like the black helmets used in “Starship Troopers”. IMO the thing looks COOL. If someone thinks I look ridiculous G*d bless him/her: I do not give a da*n.

    “Btw, I know what a non-sequitur is, smartypants”

    You were extremely skillful concealing your knowledge. You fooled me :-P

    “You must be fun at parties”

    Great fun. People laughs a lot with my my idiosincrasies (automotive or otherwise): “Hey, tell us again about the helmet you used in our Renault…tell us about that Peugeot 205 you had running on vegetable oil…tell us about the blind spot mirror on your car”

    But at the end of the day they become serious, and tell me “But -know?- you are rigt”. I am.

    Have a nice day.

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