QOTD: Bittersweet Beetle?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd bittersweet beetle

As you no doubt already know, we lost a big name this week. The Volkswagen Beetle ⁠— formerly the Volkswagen New Beetle, Volkswagen Beetle, Volkswagen Type 1, Volkswagen, KdF-Wagen, etc — finally bit the dust in Puebla, Mexico on Wednesday.

A mariachi band was on hand to provide the last production Beetle with an up-tempo swan song, Deutsche Welle reports. While it’s the end of the line for the historic, Hitler-tainted nameplate, memories remain. Do you have a personal encounter with this model you’d like to share?

Sad to say, your always humble author has no tales of cramped lewdness to recount for the class (fun fact: the plot of the Academy Award-winning 1960 film The Apartment begins when a VW Bug proves insufficiently spacious for the extramarital affairs of a middle-aged exec). Still, a Bug does show up in my cast of car characters.

The first manual transmission I ever rowed belonged to a ’72 Super Beetle owned by a co-worker, now father to my godsons. He’d park the yellow, 1600cc classic on the uphill side of the grocery store where we toiled away at night, allowing for an easy push start the following morning. Eventually, that VW boasted velvet-draped captain’s chairs and a fully wood paneled backseat/storage area.

While time has a way of watering down memories, there’s no erasing the feeling of vulnerability I experienced behind the wheel of that car. I have no idea how people motored around postwar America in those rolling deathtraps. (As I’ve stated before, the Bug’s unfamiliar handling characteristics propelled my father — following a near-disastrous 1968 test drive — into the nearest Ford dealership in search of a base Falcon. Now there’s a car you could set your watch to…).

As for the New Beetle and its slightly manlier successor, I never drove one. Never even got a lift from an owner. Never filled the flower vase or installed aftermarket eyelashes. Sad!

Of course, your tales might prove far more entertaining than this writer’s limited recollections. Is there a memorable Beetle experience in your past?

[Images: Murilee Martin/TTAC]

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  • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Jul 14, 2019

    The Type 1 Beetles to avoid back in the days of my youth were the '68 through '70 models. VW engineering modified the alloy in the crankcase halves which "softened" the metal which, in turn, allowed the studs holding the heads on to loosen which cause head gasket leaks. The problem reared its ugly head around 40k miles or so. Helicoil made a killing on these. Late '70 on returned to a harder alloy. Also the valve heads for #3 cylinder tended to separate from the stems due to inadequate cooling (the air flow was poorer for this cylinder due to the ducting/fan layout) on many of these vehicles up until the latter '70s. But pulling the engine to fix these things was ridiculously easy (except for a couple of firewall nuts) and added to the owner experience.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Jul 16, 2019

    You guys are pushing my nostalgia button. I had a 67 Beetle for about a year. Bought from a junkyard due to some of the interior being damaged by fire caused by the rear seat contacting the battery. VW had installed a cover, plastic on the 12V cars and tar paper lined metal on the 6V ones. These were often left off or improperly installed leading to short to ground for the battery + terminal and likely fire. Traded the 67 for a 68 VW van. Later got a wrecked 1970 Beetle that I made into a Baja bug. That went many thousands of miles across the deserts of the SW USA. Sold it in the early 80s. Around that time a customer offered his 1971 Beetle to me. At over ten years old it still looked like new. I rebuilt the motor that had been partially 'hot rodded'. It made 90 HP on an engine dyno. Does not sound like much, but a good running stock motor made 45 HP on the same dyno. A year or so after that a guy gave me a 1964 Beetle as he was moving to Hawaii. I completely rebuilt/restored that one. By the end of the 1980s I had sold both of them, but at one time I had 4 air cooled VWs. The '64 and '71 Beetle, a 1978 VW Campmobile, and a 1964 VW van. BTW the alloy of the engine case did not change for the '68 model year. What happened was the emission (smog) regulations. To meet the requirements the carburetor was changed and the engine ran leaner and hotter leading to the cylinder studs pulling out of the case. This happened on the earlier years also. Just took a little longer. For the 1971 Beetles (and vans) the engine got cooling system improvements. A larger fan and a better oil cooler. Also changes were made to the oil passages so more of the oil circulated through the cooler. Finally the 1972 models got better head studs that expanded more at the rate of the cylinders and heads.

    • -Nate -Nate on Jul 17, 2019

      All true . The 10MM head studs were replaced by wasp waisted 8MM studs with 10MM threaded ends, this was an American fix that like many many others was adapted by VW & Porsche . The slightly off set "Dog House" oil cooler adapted in the 1971 model year along with the better breathing dual intake port engine, was easily adaptable to engines dating back to the 1961 1200 CC 40hp one . Interestingly, early VW's had a *much* more efficient fan but it often whistled loudly and so was re designed in 1959 to be quieter by pushing less air volume, considered acceptable in the lower power 1192CC 36HP engines . Love 'em or hate 'em, they were an important milestone in automotive history and America . -Nate

  • FreedMike I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with the two best German luxury sedans of the time - a manual '81 733i, and a '75 Mercedes 450SE. The BMW was a joy on back roads, and the Benz was a superb highway car. Good times. And both were dramatically better than the junkheap American luxury cars Dad had before.
  • Wjtinfwb A Celebrity Diesel... that is a unicorn. Those early A-bodies were much maligned and I'm sure the diesel didn't help that, but they developed into very decent and reliable transportation. Hopefully this oil-burner Chevy can do the same, it's worth keeping.
  • Wjtinfwb After S-classes crested the 40k mark in the early '80s, my dad moved from M-B to a BMW 733i Automatic. Anthracite gray over red leather, it was a spectacular driving car and insanely comfortable and reassuring on long interstate hauls. My mom, not really a car person, used the BMW to shuttle her elderly Mom back home to Pennsylvania from Miami. Mom and grandma both gushed with praise for the big BMW, stating she could have driven straight through the car was so comfortable and confidence inspiring. A truly great car that improved through the E38 generation, at which point the drugs apparently took hold of BMW styling and engineering and they went completely off the rails. The newest 7 series is a 100k abomination.
  • Vatchy If you want to talk about global warming, you might start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darvaza_gas_crater
  • 28-Cars-Later $55,218 for a new GR Corolla: https://www.reddit.com/r/COROLLA/comments/zcw10i/toyota_needs_to_know_the_demand_is_there_but_this/"But if OTD prices get beyond 50k there are better options"That's what people were arguing in that thread.