By on May 7, 2018

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFrom 1938 through 2003, Volkswagen Type 1s rolled off assembly lines on five continents, and they sold very well in the United States well into the 1970s. I see many of them in my junkyard travels, but many more have gone unphotographed to The Crusher.

Now that I see only a few discarded air-cooled Beetles each year, I’m making more of an effort to document them. Here’s a ’73 Super Beetle in a Denver yard.

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, McPherson strut - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Super Beetle was a stopgap attempt at modernization by Volkswagen; an effort to update the car’s 1930s design while the company got its new water-cooled cars ready for production. The main difference between a regular Beetle and a Super Beetle may be seen in the Super Beetle’s front suspension, which uses McPherson struts instead of the old-timey torsion-bar suspension.

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn back, a 1600cc air-cooled flat-four engine rated at 60 horsepower. These cars were quite slow and the handling was funky, even by 1972 standards, but they got the job done well enough.

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, data connector - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsVolkswagen introduced the Computer Diagnostic System in 1972, installing a data plug in each Beetle’s engine compartment.

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, Sapphire XI radio - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
This car still has its Sapphire XI factory AM radio, just the thing for listening to 1972’s greatest hits over the clattery engine noise.

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, Denver Board of Water Commissioners decal - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe well-faded Denver Board of Water Commissioners decal on the smoker’s vent window suggests that this car spent most of its life in Colorado.

1972 VW Super Beetle in Colorado wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAir-cooled VWs rust quickly, even in dry/salt-free areas, but this one appears to be very solid.


More than 20,000,000 Type I Beetles were made by the time Mexican production halted in 2003. Here’s the celebration for #18,000,000.

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle...”


  • avatar
    gear-dog

    For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s; cant you just close your eyes and smell the interior? (the car, not what the driver was smoking wise guy) I was thinking about that old air-cooled VW smell. Someone told me once that it was mostly something the seats were made with, but whatever it was it unique to VW. My childhood best friend is 6’4″ tall now, but I can remember the two of us riding to pre-school with both of us sitting in the storage cubbie under the rear window, behind the back seat.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Are you my brother? We both sat in that spot (I recall it being exceptionally scratchy material), in my Dad’s 62 Beetle. And yes, they did have a unique smell to the interior.

    • 0 avatar
      nlinesk8s

      horsehair seat padding. My 2002 smelled similar.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      Funny you mention this. I drove a 2nd Gen Primus (ugh, work fleet car) and the interior stink was just like my memory of my dads 1976(?) Chevy Luv. Bizarre I could remember that.

    • 0 avatar
      Dilrod

      It just came back to me. Dad bought a new ’66 & drove it until ’74. Spent my first 4 or 5 years in that car.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Even more than the smell I can hear the unmistakable sound of the engine, that high pitched tinny whine. So many Beetles donated frame and engine to cool-looking fiberglass bodied kit cars, cars that lost all coolness as soon as the engine started up.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        When my kids still lived at home way back when, we converted four old ones into dune buggies, over a period of four years.

        With the skinny tires they were just barely OK in the sand and dirt. But with some fat oversized rear tires it was amazing where they could go, with only rear-wheel drive.

        The guy who owned Continental Motors at the time had acres of VW of all types parked out in the desert, and all the parts we ever needed. Great guy. Wonderful source of parts.

        Best thing was, they were aircooled and had no oil filter to worry about. Just change the oil often.

        Even better was a retrofit of an old Porsche six cylinder into a dune buggy frame. Downright dangerous!

      • 0 avatar
        gear-dog

        It’s less noticeable on new Subarus now, but when Subie’s started to proliferate I knew they were flat fours because I could hear the valvetrain -sounded a lot like an old VW.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As an owner/driver/rider of multiple air cooled VW’s I can also concur that they did have a particular scent. Among their many quirks.

    You could tell other air cooled VW owners in Canada because they always carried a very small ice scraper to clear the inside windshield of their cars. And drove hunched over. A larger and near sighted friend of mine often left nose prints on the inside of his Bug while driving. But in the days of rear wheel drive, with bias ply tires, the rear engined VW’s were among if not the best vehicles for winter, bad weather driving.

    My parents used to place my younger brothers, separately, while they were very young, in the cubby over the engine in the back of the Beetle. The engine drone/vibration would put them to sleep. I am guessing that would now be a criminal offense?

    After perusing the link, I noticed that Murilee has pictured/written on some Type III’s but I can’t find any Type IV’s. Are there any still extant?

    I had a Type III Squareback, all the good attributes of the Beetle with greater space efficiency and driving characteristics.

    However the Type IV Squareback that replaced did not have the ‘bullet proof’ reliability of the Beetles and Type III.

    • 0 avatar
      Dilrod

      My Dad mentioned the winter driving abilities of this car. He lived in Duluth and could pass larger cars that were spinning their wheels trying to get up Miller Hill.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Super Beetles came in two variants, like this one with the flat windshield and the classic dash and the curved-windscreen variety which had a fully padded dash with a binnacle for the speedo.

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      It think it had to do with model year–my first car was a used 1971 Super Beetle, and it had the flat windshield, which carried over into the ’72s. From 73 onwards I seem to recall is when the curved windshields came out on the Supers. In ’73 I think all the Type 1s also had more cutouts in the engine cover for cooling purposes as the emissions controls began taking their toll on the engine.

      But even in the 71/72 models, the Supers had a slightly more rounded/bulbous hood/trunk (as seen in the first photo), a ventilation fan as standard, and some other upgrades. The big change of course was the Mac struts.

      The link below to an earlier Junkyard Find of a modded ’73 SuperBeetle is worth a re-read.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        I remember my sister proudly brought one of these home as her first new car. I immediately had a conniption fit and told her that if she’d just asked me, I’d have told her why the rising Japanese compacts Toyota and Datsun were far better choices for her money.

        I got to drive the car several times subsequently and, well, it was awful. The transmission was the popular “Automatic Stickshift,” a two-speed clutchless manual. I sometimes tried moving out from rest in first gear in search of some punch, but in truth it worked just as well to simply leave it in second all the time. The thing was so gutless that it couldn’t maintain a constant speed on the highway, and would surge and then fall back regularly so you were passing and being passed by the same fellow motorists over and over. The steering was quick, and the car tippy enough to make that not feel like a good thing. Its bathtub-like body made you paranoid of every other car on the road. The awareness that the car’s configuration put the gas tank in your lap didn’t add an extra layer of reassurance, either. In time she admitted it wasn’t a good choice. I think a flood ultimately trashed it.

        • 0 avatar
          Ermel

          The Autostick was a three-speed, with the gears somewhat confusingly labeled L, 1, and 2.

          • 0 avatar
            tonycd

            Thanks for the correction, Ermel. It’s been a while. Obviously the experimental shifting I’m recalling was in “L.” I think the owner’s manual said “L” was not for normal use, only inclines and the like. Of course, neither “L” nor “1” resulted in timely movement.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    One maddening characteristic of the classic VW radio was it was just the slightest bit shorter than the aftermarket radio/tape decks of the day meaning that if you tried to jam one in the opening, it would interfere with the windshield wipers. On the other hand, it was easy to fit a set of 6×0 Jensen coaxials (quaxals, as a friend of mine called them) in a trapezoidal plywood panel cut to fit the opening over the rear luggage compartment. I had a cassette deck on a slide mount under the dask that. when parked, would go under said plywood panel. That worked really well in my ’70 Beetle.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    Any Beetle in this condition, not running, or needing other work, would quickly sell in the retail market. It’s crazy that it ends up in the junk yard to be crushed. I can imagine a sale of $1200-$1800 as opposed to the $120 plus the few parts they sell in the yard.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Yeah in the salt belt someone would snap that up for the rust free shell (for good money) and easily and cheaply drop in a motor or transmission or whatever caused its demise.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        A quick and easy way to tell if a Beetle was suffering from ‘rot’ was to open and close the doors. Once that were past their best before date would have to have the door lifted slightly before they would close.

        And if not locked the would have a tendency to ‘fly’ open during sharp turns.

  • avatar
    jberger

    WOW, I can’t believe how clean that car is given the age.
    I bought a 73′ in the early 80’s for about $300 that had much more rust than this one.
    Those photos brought back a ton of memories. My friends and I had so much fun working on that car and just cruising around.
    Oooh that smell. . .
    I always thought it was unburnt hydrocarbons that stuck to the foam in the seats. Probably due to a pinhole in the heater.

  • avatar
    John Scott

    My 69 Beetle was a better car than my 73 Super – the quirks that VW seemed to think “modernized” the Bug’s design just didn’t provide any advantages – maybe the slightly larger trunk was about it. My 69 had an aftermarket 12v blower fan that worked better than the factory fan on the Super, the new front suspension didn’t really work much better than the old one and made front alignments harder, the diagnostic system added what looked like 20 lbs of additional wiring (and pretty much useless complexity for the home mechanic). And the curved windshield plus longer nose really didn’t improve the Beetle’s looks – though the styling (such as it was) is an acquired taste. My 69 Bug is the only car from my past I wish I’d never sold. The 73 Super? Eh, it was ok…

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      This. I like to summarize that until ’69 Bugs got better each year, whereas from ’70 they only got cheaper (if I may ignore the ’92 1600i with fuel injection and catalytic converter for the sake of the argument).

  • avatar
    redgolf

    my sister had a 57 bug, orange color, in the early 60’s, she let me drive it in a parking lot, my first time driving a stick (since I didn’t have my license yet) she got rear ended buy a dude in a Cadillac while stopped to make a left hand turn, end of the bug! my buddy had a 66 that was custom painted and it turned many heads, one day he asked me to trade my 67 Honda 305 scrambler motorcycle for his ride, yes I said, it was a lot of fun and very cheap on gas!!!

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    I had the euro-spec ’72 which was basically a ’73 in the USA. I liked the better trunk design of the super. VW chose to lay the spare tire flat under the trunk mat. The dash was more modern as well.

    Having owned a Super, a kingpin front end ’65 and later a ’69 balljoint front end, I think the Super drove the best but only slightly better than the balljoint front end Beetle. The kingpin car also had swing axles and better the two, it was a mess at higher speeds. The front end was too stiff and the ever changing camber did the car no favors.

    I sold the Super and kept the ’65 which rides on top of a ’69 chassis with balljoint front end and IRS rear.

    Everyone complains about the heaters but they were great when they were new. Then about an oil change or two later something would go out out of adjustment, something might leak or a rusty heater box would cut efficiency in really cold temps. I’m exaggerating of course. The were fragile in the hands of a DIY mechanic who didn’t see the importance of all the system’s details.

    And rust of course.

    The heaters really depended on all the pieces of the whole cooling system to be in good condition and intact. The first sloppy mechanic that didn’t put some piece of tin or some rubber part back would ruin the heater or allow exhaust to get into the engine fan intake which would push some odor (and carbon monoxide) into the vehicle cabin.

    I have a friend in the 80s who drove a ’67 that needed new heater boxes and a half dozen rubber parts that would poison you b/c the fumes were so strong in that car. We drove everywhere with the windows half open regardless of the weather.

    • 0 avatar
      John Scott

      When they were right the heaters worked fairly well though I always kept a mini-ice scraper in the glove box for the inside of the windshield and a wool blanket for my lap. Fairly well until the temperature went below 20-ish degrees F – then it was less than adequate no matter how well maintained the system was.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’ve never owned a air cooled VW but I’ve been a driver/mechanic rider of multiple ones. The smell of the vinyl interior and woven seats never escaped ones conscious. As well as memories of the all or not much heat from the ducts.
    This one looks in decent shape, too nice even to be chopped into a Baja Bug, far better than some of the ones I’ve fixed and driven back in the 70’s and 80’s.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    From what I’ve heard, the Super Beetles were unloved, as Beetles go. The McPherson struts really didn’t improve handling that much, and also made the platform useless for a dune buggy or kit car swap, as the struts were separate from the rest of the chassis (so you couldn’t just drop another body on it), unlike the transverse torsion bar setup.

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    Wow – I never knew beetles had a diagnostic port in 1972. I can’t remember if fuel injection or an automatic transmission was introduced in 1979.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      US Bugs got fuel injection sometime in the ’70s, European ones never, and Mexican ones in ’92. Autostick appeared in ’68, and fully automatic gearboxes never.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        The Type III Fastback and Squareback offered a fully automatic gearbox starting in ’69.

        • 0 avatar
          Ermel

          They did. Unfortunately, they changed the rear frame to accommodate the auto box, so it isn’t retrofittable into Bugs.

          The Type 3 also got fuel injection in the ’60s even on its home market, albeit as an option — reognizable from the LE/TLE inscription where carburated versions hat just the L/TL (if that: of course, there were L-less standard models too, but no “T” standard fastbacks). If memory serves, that was the first electronic fuel injection in a production vehicle, ever.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            It’s interesting that VW at that time as a low end automaker offered fuel injection on its cars while the domestics lagged behind.
            Apparently these units on the Type III became problematic and owners replaced them with dual carbs.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Growing up, we had a 68 Beetle, euro-spec, for 6 years.

    That’s the first car I remember.

    Like others, I also sat in the area under the window, behind the seat.

    I remember the sound the shift lever would make when my dad changed gears, something like “duck-oh”. I had totally forgotten it until finally, 3 years ago, I drove a Beetle for the first time. It was a US-spec 68, but it made the same sound when I changed gears and I remembered it.

    The ‘chugga-chugga’ distinct engine sound. The nonexistent heater in winter (in Athens, Greece, where it snowed twice in 8 years…)

    As a little kid, I must say, I didn’t care for it. It was slow (speedo only showed 140 kph, most cars has 160 or 180), noisy, and cramped.

    My dad re-upholstered it 2x during the 6 years we had it (the vinyl seats tore, you could see the foam).

    But it was (I am sure) reliable and economical. And tough enough for my family–and we survived being knocked off on overpass onto a dry creek, about a 10 foot drop, the car landed on all fours wheels–it bounced, but stayed up right till it hit a tree. I remember thinking, “wow, front crushed like an egg”. I should’ve thought, “wow, we are lucky to be alive”. And yes, the car was repaired…my dad sold it about a year later. We really had outgrown the car by then…

    My dad liked VWs because they were reliable and didn’t depreciate. He bought four Beetles in his life, our 68 was his last one.

  • avatar
    vehic1

    My dad said “C’mon with me, son – I’m going down to buy a Volkswagen.” in 1962. Only about 7 years old at the time, I had visions of the HUGE microbus as a playground on wheels – and was a bit disappointed when he said “No, this Volkswagen over here (a Beetle). Not the same funhouse, but it did run like a top, and I learned to drive in that car (and crunked the front end in the ’70s, so it was sold, still running). Never had a SuperBeetle, but I did get a watercooled ’74 Dasher (much faster than the Beetle).

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I too was raised in one of these. A 71 or 72?I wasn’t old enough to know the year but it had an off white interior that had that unique smell, I think it was equal parts Castrol /pleather/exhaust fumes .
    I don’t ever remember putting my seat belt on in the car ,ever.I do remember holding my hands near the heater ducts underneath the rear seat, which only had warm air output by the time we reached school.
    It was near and dear to my dad who learned how to drive in the car. As a native Italian,then New Yorker, had never learned to drive until almost 30, when he was accepted to Grad school at Indiana.
    He sold in ’81 for a brand new Corolla station wagon -red w/ vinly wood panel
    My wife thinks I’m nuts every time we go to Mexico and I see one in that same purplish/blue hue.
    Me thinks a Metropolitan Blue 911 would be sufficient homage.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    That’s a clean ’72! I have a ’72 Super in same color and it needs a driver’s door after a small accident I had in SF. Wish it was closer so could grab the door.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Many not so fond memories of the 1970s Super Beetles. As others have mentioned the Macpherson front suspension’s only real advantage was a bigger trunk. If it was working as new the ride was a little better except on really bumpy, (dirt) roads. Problem is that they were very prone to vibration and there were at least 10 things that could wear out to cause it. Just when you thought you had it fixed it would start to shake again. Most common was hitting curbs and bending wheels and brake drums. After that it could be worn struts, steering damper, tie rod ends, and on almost forever.
    I was told that the seat “padding” was jute. A mat of fibers held together with a little glue. It would dry out over time and leave a pile of brown hair like fibers under the seats. And yes it had a very distinct smell. I put together a few seats from new parts when the original ones were stolen. The “High-back” seats. 68-72, were a hot item back then as they would fit most earlier Bugs.
    I recall the “Computer” diagnostic port. I worked at a VW dealer in the mid 1970s and saw it first hand. Notice that only about half the holes in that socket have electrical pins in them. The “computer” only checked about 10-15 things, if all of it was working and connected.
    The tech doing the diagnosis would enter at least 20-30 other “results” by pushing buttons on a handheld box. Some of the “computer” checked items were; charging system (it would almost always say the voltage was low), battery electrolyte level (there was a sensor in the original battery which seldom worked and no one bought the OEM battery as a replacement, never even saw one), ignition timing and dwell (yep points! the sensor and pins in the flywheel for checking timing often failed in some way. We just used a regular strobe timing light). It went on like that, but there was a fancy looking printout on a form (with ‘carbon-less’ copies!) noting that things like a tailight did not work. It would also check the front end alignment after the tech attached a mirror to each front wheel and, wait for it,
    the “computer” almost always said the wheel alignment was incorrect.
    After the Diagnostic tech got done, a mechanic would get the car the car along with a work order and a copy of the “Computer” diagnosis which was set aside as useless. Most of the time the points would get replaced, the oil changed, the valve clearance checked/adjusted, and the brakes would be adjusted. The Diagnostician would replace the spark plugs while doing a compression test and check the tire pressure.
    No CHECK ENGINE light!

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I just bought my first air-cooled Beetle last year, a 1972 Super Convertible. It was a spur of the moment buy, I saw it parked on the side of the road with a for-sale sign for $4k. It’s yellow just like this one. It’s always been a Michigan car but was always the previous owner’s summer ride and is amazingly rust free. The seats and top appear to be original (car probably has about 122k miles on it). That interior smell is still there, probably compounded in my case because the thickly padded top has a layer of that same “horsehair” padding. My girlfriend hates the smell but it brings back memories to me having ridden in a few back when I was a kid in the early 1970s.

    From a modern performance standpoint, these are pretty horrible, but the car attracts positive comments from people unlike any other classic cars I’ve ever owned. They make people smile, little kids hit their brothers, and it seems everyone over 60 was at Woodstock based on what they tell me at gas stations. :-)

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