By on July 11, 2019

Volkswagen’s Beetle has officially ended production. The last examples of the brand’s famous model rolled off the assembly line at VW’s Puebla plant in Mexico this week, with the company reserving the final one for display at Volkswagen’s local museum. The automaker said the car would live on as “a lasting tribute to the automobile’s rich and storied heritage.”

As one of the most recognizable and historically important cars ever made, the original Type 1 was manufactured between 1938 and 2003. The “New” Beetle hit the assembly line in 1997 before being replaced by the A5 version in 2011. Technically, that’s the car that’s getting the axe. However, with nothing in line to replace it, Beetle as a whole is going the way of the dodo. 

Originally formulated as cheap transportation for the masses taking advantage of Nazi Germany’s new road network, the Beetle was designed to be easily manufactured and run as economical as possible. A team of engineers, led by Ferdinand Porsche, finalized the design in 1938. However, Béla Barényi is often credited with coming up with the original concept. In truth, the car’s origins are subject to a massive amount of debate. But its success is not — VW sold roughly 21.5 million in total.

“It’s impossible to imagine where Volkswagen would be without the Beetle,” said Scott Keogh, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “From its first import in 1949 to today’s retro-inspired design, it has showcased our company’s ability to fit round pegs into square holes of the automotive industry. While its time has come, the role it has played in the evolution of our brand will be forever cherished.”

Nothing lasts forever. Despite achieving a ludicrous amount of success worldwide, the Type1 had been around for the better part of a century before its replacement surfaced — helping to launch the modern retro trend. Immediately popular, the New Beetle lacked the longevity of its forebear. But it did help get VW back on track in the United States, which was beginning to sour on the brand.

It’s replacement, the A5, still looked the part but fared comparatively poorly. Annual volume in the U.S. peaked at 43,134 deliveries in 2013. Last year, VW sold fewer than 15,000. The automaker announced it would be the Beetle’s last gasp in the fall.

Still, we can’t discount the car that spawned Herbie, the Meyers Manx, ludicrous sleeper builds, and served as an emblem of the hippie movement just because its FWD offspring weren’t superstars.

While this is supposed to be it for the Beetle, we’re not ruling out the possibility that the nameplate might someday return on an electric model. Volkswagen has already tapped the Type 2 (Mircobus) to serve as inspiration for the upcoming I.D. Buzz EV. The automaker could theoretically use the Type 1 in a similar manner. But the gas-powered bugs appeared to have had their — impressively long — day in the sun.

[Images: Peter Kniez/Shutterstock, Volkswagen]

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28 Comments on “The People’s Car: Bye Bye Beetle...”


  • avatar
    RedRocket

    The media coverage on this has really been quite misleading. All that is going away is the model name. which wasn’t ever officially applied to the original anyway. The media coverage of this focused almost exclusively on the history of the Type 1, which has been gone for a long time. I remember similar stories at the time when that occurred, which actually were justified. I don’t know of very many people that considered the current front-engine, water-cooled, FWD Golf variant to be anything other than a retro styling knockoff, and certainly not a vehicle that had much to do with the original.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      RedRocket nails this one. The New Beetle is no more closely related to the iconic Type 1 Beetle than the two-color all-electric minivan show car is related to the original VW Microbus. The New Beetle will live on exactly as it should: with the same mechanicals underpinning the vastly more rational Golf body style that supplanted tha actual Beetle over a quarter century ago.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Had many original Beetles and until they inevitably rotted out (you could tell because the doors would not close properly) they were indestructible little beasts.

    Far more reliable than most of the other vehicles available in the 50’s and 60’s. Perhaps due to their simplicity.

    They also were great to learn how to drive stick on.

    In retrospect they were however not ‘good’ cars. And you generally froze in one during the winter.

    And look, they came with an integrated roof gutter!!!!!!!!! :-)

  • avatar
    ajla

    I never cared much for the original or the ’97 versions, but I really liked the A5 generation.
    However, at 25 I wasn’t secure enough to drive around in a “girl car” (I’m probably still not, TBH) and shortly after I got RWD religion.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    The last “Beetle” was the air-cooled Type 1 (non-“Super Beetle”). My old yellow ’73 was, to me, the epitome of the original design. I was good as long as I had a book of matches (the matchbook cover was exactly the thickness required for resetting the ignition points road-side) and a rudimentary knowledge of 32 PICT Solex carburetors. All the others were poseurs riding a name.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    The last real Beetle rolled off the production line at Puebla in November 2003. By then it was obsolete even as the iconic Mexican taxicab it had become.

    There was a great outpouring of genuine VW PR fake grief then. This time they’re just attempting to milk the memories of people so genuinely uninformed they might think the overdressed Golf that was so unspectacularly unpopular for twenty-odd years had direct lineage to the original real air-cooled wheezer with rear engine and bad driving habits.

    Seems to have worked very well. Websites all over the world are full of the exact same VW PR guff as TTAC is proud to present. The news release rewriters of the world made it their cuddly story of the week. Aaah, there, there, wittwel Beetle.

    Barf-worthy nonsense.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    The thing they’ve mercifully stopped producing today was not a people’s car, but an overpriced Golf coupé. Aaand good riddance.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    VW slapped a name on a car that was nothing but misery. While the original Beetle offered simplicity, the new one offered a place to put a flower vase. The Beetle died years ago. That impersonator is no Beetle.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Most of you New Beetle haters here have probably never spent quality time at the wheel of one as I have. Sure, my GTIs were better cars by every objective measure. But the New Beetle just felt so different from any other car available. The views were panoramic, in three dimensions, with abroad and wide-open windshield view. Plus unlimited headroom. It was all circular motifs adding up to an egg shape that suggested security and serenity.

    If those things don’t appeal to you, then you don’t want any Beetle. Just hunker down in your jet-black Hellcats and sulk for a while. A long while. But know just this- the NB replicated the interior architecture of the old model, and that made it unique, fresh and fun. Remember when cars were fun?

    • 0 avatar
      northeaster

      Sorry, but the NB design was sports car impractical without a large fraction of the fun that comes from actually driving one.

      Taking one as a dealer loaner a few years back while my other VAG product was getting fixed (cynical responses in 3…2…1…) left a distinctly sour impression with me when trying to fit 4 people in for a short trip.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In 2002, I went to the VW dealer intent on buying a Beetle, but decided it was really not a kind vehicle for passengers. So I tried a Jetta, but ended up buying a Passat.

      The Passat turned out to be very unreliable, but I sometimes wonder if the Beetle would have been a better choice.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    The 2nd gen Beetle was a cynical marketing joke that backfired. Rear-engine bugs were slow, cold, and not much safer than wrapping your knees in tinfoil. They ended up in two ways: traded in for something better or modified in ways most of the B&B would approve of. Forgot: heater tubes, not replacing them meant scraping the INSIDE of your windshield.

  • avatar

    IMHO Trabant was a more iconic than Beetle ever was. It has so many interesting engineering solutions and quirks. I wish VW restarted Trabant brand in all its glory, I mean real Trabant – plastic-fantastic, simple and quirky, not over engineered West German monstrosity.

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    I had a couple of old Beetles- not ‘Super Beetles’- back when I needed real BASIC transportation. The ‘new’ Beetle was just a special model Golf. A very special model, sure, but nothing like a Beetle Type 1.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I thought this last version was a pretty sharp looking car, especially in darker colors. Sure a Golf has better space utilization, but the Beetle had a subtle early Porsche style to it. Sorry to see it go, if only because it added a little visual flavor to the roads without origami in-your-face screaming.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I’ve been a VW enthusiast since Pops by passed the waiting list and direct imported a base model Kombi (stripper van) in 1954 .

    Yes, they were deathtraps but cheap and cheerful, easy to work on and if you took any sort of care they really took a beating and were reliable out in the chop .

    My Son came home from being born in the #117 Beetle still in his backyard, he owned, built and raced more than a few Beetles before moving on, his wife had a first generation new beetle when first they met and I took a few rides in the back seat, I’m 6′ tall and fit okay , it was pleasant, nothing special nor bad .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Isn’t there a new movie out where every person except one woke up having forgotten the Beetles?

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    The aircooled Beetle was an early example of platform sharing. There was the Karmann Ghia which was a different body on a near identical chassis. The Typ II Bus which originally had Beetle components; engine, suspension, transaxle and a different frame/van body. Yes it had gear reduction portal axles.
    The Typ III Fastback, Squareback, Notchback, with the engine cooling system changed so it could have a flatter trunk floor.
    There were a few years in the 1970s where the Beetle was for sale along side the Golf/Polo, Rabbit in the USA. The first few model years of the Rabbit were awful. I recall more than a few owners that had been loyal VW customers wanting to trade the Rabbits for a Beetle or other aircooled VW. By then the only one left in the USA was the convertible Super Beetle with a high price.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Funny you mention the early A1 Rabbit ~

      Yesterday I drove my Foster boys to San Pedro to look at the boats and on Gaffey Street we came up on an early two door with no dents but bad paint, as I was musing on how long it’s been since seeing one, one of the boys exclaimed ” wow ! what an ugly car that is !” .

      The 1975 Rabbits had a poorly designed carby that was essentially two carbys in one instead of a decent progressive two barrel .

      Once the average DIY’er took it apart and mixed the jets & parts, it’d never run correctly again .

      Now, the early Rabbit Diesels are cult cars…..when new they dropped like flies after about 60,000 miles .

      IIRC the last Air Cooled Typ I rag tops were in 1979 and cost $10,000, an absurd price .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        pwrwrench

        The early VW diesels should have been supplied with several head gasket sets in the trunk.

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        I traded my ’72 Type 2 for a new ’75 Scirroco, the sporty Gen 1 Rabbit. The carbs on those early water-cooled VW’s were a nightmare – stuttering, uneven acceleration at anything less than full throttle, overly rich running at highway speeds which would give the cat convertor overtemp light and the cat itself would glow cherry red. I had it back to the dealer multiple times but it was never, ever a correctly running engine. Thankfully some kid rear-ended it and totalled it to end my misery.

        • 0 avatar
          pwrwrench

          I always was puzzled about why VW put carbs on those cars, Rabbit, Scirocco, Dasher. Probably to save a few $$$. And why they could only get maybe half of them to work some of the time.
          There were FI systems already in production.
          The 1977 models got FI and many other problems were fixed. We will probably never know why FI was not used from the beginning. That mistake cost them a lot of customers. It was the start of a slide downward that nearly had VW out of the USA by the early 1990s.

          • 0 avatar
            bullnuke

            pwrwrench – Agreed. Type 3’s had had D-Jetronic fuel injection for a number of years when these water-cooleds debuted in ’75. I purchased a ’78 Dasher with the K-Jetronic FI and it was bulletproof through 130k miles.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Just so ~

            The Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection was crude and low cost but it did work pretty well, even in sub zero temps, as long as no one fooled with it .

            The later AFC system used on Beetles etc. was also simple but vastly better .

            The only reason I can figure for those wretched Solex A1 platform carbys was co$t .

            Foolish bean counting mistakes that always cost the parent company customers and they never seem to learn .

            Best of all was how simple & easy it was to tweak the AFC’s air box to make the car run better, faster, more economically and still easily pass the smog test…

            -Nate

  • avatar
    geo

    Today’s Volkswagen is truly completely clueless about the Bug’s cultural significance.

    The Beetle became an icon because of its anti-car symbolism. It was about rebellion. It was about poking a finger in the eye of the establishment, rejecting the over-wrought styling of the day, and not complying to the wishes of the corporate overlords.

    VW tried to cash in on its history by aping styling cues on a regular, expensive car. It would be like today’s Capitol records today signing up four guys with mop-top haircuts, calling them “the Beatles”, and creating modern, dull pop songs.

    For years, there hasn’t been a vehicle that has truly captured the imagination of the public. The closest thing to a Bug in North America would likely be the Corolla. Well-built, relatively poor driving dynamics, and (perception-wise) sticks it to the man who wants you to buy American and drive a gas-guzzling, massive truck.

    Maybe Suzuki should make another go of it. Or Mahindra should try.

    /rant


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