Piston Slap: Classic Fusca Mania, Baby!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap classic fusca mania baby

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 mehta@ttac.com)

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7 of 34 comments
  • A is A A is A on Mar 06, 2010

    "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.

    • See 4 previous
    • Tced2 Tced2 on Mar 07, 2010

      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.

  • A is A A is A on Mar 08, 2010

    "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.

  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys for that money, it had better be built by people listening to ABBA
  • Abrar Very easy and understanding explanation about brake paint
  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?