By on January 13, 2020

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle was pretty well obsolete when North American sales took off during the late 1950s, and so this mid-1930s design had become shockingly obsolete by the 1970s. Still, Americans understood the Beetle as a comfortably known quantity by that time and the price tag was really cheap, so Beetles and Super Beetles still sold well in 1973.

In the parts of the continent where the Rust Monster remains meek, plenty of these cars still exist, enough for them to be fairly common sights in the big self-service junkyards. Here’s a ’73 Super Beetle in a San Francisco Bay Area yard.

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, RH rear view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe regular, not-so-super Beetles seem to have held their value better than the Supers, so nine out of ten air-cooled VWs I find in junkyards nowadays will be Super Beetles (the Type 3 and Type 4 VWs mostly got crushed decades ago). Before today’s Junkyard Find, I’d documented this ’71, this ’72, this ’73, this ’73, and this ’73.

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, 1988 rear glass - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHere we go, a genuine San Francisco Bay Area Vietnam War-era American-flag peace-symbol sticker in the back window.

Of course, the rust on this car looks bad, so maybe it came to California from a more oxidized sort of place. On the other hand, no Rust Belt car owner would have bothered to shoot spray foam into a rust hole, so we might be looking at your typical top-down California-style rust here.

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, 1988 Alameda Times-Star - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe East Bay newspapers from 1988 suggest that this car spent the last few decades slowly decaying in the great outdoors.

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, red tag - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAt some point, the Alameda County Sheriffs red-tagged this car, and the tow-truck man showed no mercy.

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIf this is the original 1600cc engine that came in the car when new, it had a 46-horsepower rating. After owners neglected to adjust the valves and do regular tune-ups, its real-world output dropped to about 22 horses. Air-cooled Volkswagens are very good at running badly for decades.

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, McPherson strut front suspension - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhat made the Super Beetle so super, you ask? Futuristic McPherson struts in the front, plus a few other changes that didn’t seem to make the Super drive much better than the regular Beetle. Note the front drum brakes, which worked well enough in a car that weighed a mere 1,911 pounds. The regular Beetle not only weighed 169 pounds less, it cost $2,299 instead of the Super’s $2,499 (that’s $15,088 versus $13,880, after adjusting for inflation,making these cars about the same cost in 1973 as a new Nissan Versa or Mitsubishi Mirage are today).

1973 VW Super Beetle in California junkyard, LH rear view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis car lived long enough to be parked near a New Beetle in the same junkyard.

Now with a big curved windshield and big padded dash!

If you like these Junkyard Finds, you’ll get links to more than 1,800 additional ones at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

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31 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle...”

  • avatar

    I find it ironic that the old Beetle still ran in some fashion up until 2018 contrasted to the much newer Beetle that only manage a fraction of it’s road time

    • 0 avatar

      VW made 1.2 million Beetles in 1973 – how many do you think were still running in 2018? How many were still on the road in 1983?

      • 0 avatar

        “How many were still on the road in 1983?“

        I can supply some anecdotal evidence. A LOT of them were still on the road and I owned one in 1984. I’d been out of the country for some years at that point when my company decided it was time to bring me back to the Big PX as I was showing signs of going native. POOF! On 60 days notice, San Antonio was to be my new home. I learned something the day after I got off the plane. If you have no credit activity for seven years, your credit history is wiped out. To banks, I was literally a non-person. I had plenty of savings in the country my wife and I had been living in, but to keep her family comfortable that I wasn’t dumping their daughter and running off with the cash, I’d only brought a few thousand dollars. My salary was to be a whopping $17,000 a year.

        The used car market in 1984 was a crazy, crazy place. According to the NYT

        “The average interest rate nationally for a 48-month new car loan early this year was 13.32 percent, compared with 14.18 percent for a similar loan from a finance company, according to the Federal Reserve Board.”

        I was paying cash, since I had no credit anyhow, but here was the problem:


        Interest rates had been crazy since 1978 and thus no one was buying new cars; Further since no one had bought new cars for five years, there were no used cars on the market. For example, I was shown a 1978 Pontiac (Upon lifting the hood, I noticed the cap was missing from the master cylinder) for $3500. The average new car was about $12,000. So…….

        I ended up buying a 73 Super Beetle with the pseudo-automatic from a Methodist Minister who parishioners had just given him a new car; a Frankensteined Cadillac with a salvage title they’d pieced together for him. He was an honest man; he told me that the car had about 240,000 miles on it when the odometer had locked up the year before.

        I still admire that car. It was essentially designed to be totally rebuildable. I used to say that

        “There’s nothing you can’t fix on an old VW for a hundred dollars but there is no end to the number of things which may require repair.”

        So, since I couldn’t afford anything else, I repaired a lot of stuff…. but never that transmission. It was bullet proof. I ended up owning that car for four years, and probably put 60,000 more miles on it in that time including moving to Virginia driving it. After that I sold it to a guy whose kid used it to deliver papers. They ended up driving back to Texas, where I finally lost track of it…but I know it got there just fine.

        Was it crude and noisy? Hell yes. Was it gutless? OMG yes. Was it reliable? You bet your butt. Do I want another one today? No; I’m not a masochist. The heater worked well enough to melt plastic in the back seat (don’t ask), but I had to wear leggings in the winter to keep my legs warm. And defrost the windshield? Ha, ha ha, hhha! Ain’t happenin’.

        Interestingly enough the only rust it ever showed was exactly where the one in the picture shows it – at the bottom sides of the rear window; it bubbles through on both sides.

  • avatar

    Heh – in Michigan that car would be considered project worthy.

  • avatar

    Yeah, the later ones, particularly the Super Beetles, don’t seem to be popular with old car enthusiasts.

    My sister had a ’71 Super, about the same shade of orange as this one. It had a sunroof and semiautomatic transmission, which made it both fun and slow(er). Still, we managed to get where we were going.

    I see there are lots of Beetles available on Hemmings. They have some counterculture cred, but they’re not really what I’d call fun to drive. Sometimes I think I’d like to get my hands on one, but then I realize I’d get tired of it in a month.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Agree 100% I’ve always wanted an air-cooled VW and a Jeep CJ-5…but then when I think of what it would be like to drive either of them in modern traffic, I forget about it and hang on to my old Miata.

  • avatar

    These were useless as starting points for things like dune buggies, because the McPherson strut front suspension was attached to the strut towers as well as the chassis, as opposed to the old transverse torsion bar setup,which came down complete when the chassis was unbolted from the body.

    A ’73 Super Beetle was one of my wife’s first cars, or so she tells me. Her first car was a ’59 Rambler, which cost her mom $25.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I had one of these. A ’73 Super Beetle in that very shade of orange. I was the second owner and lived in Florida at the time. It served me well. But that curved windshield, extended dashboard and updated front suspension changed the feel of the car compared with the original Beetle, which was more fun to drive. I suspect that’s why just plain ol’ Beetles of the same vintage are worth more.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    @Steve, I believe that you are correct. And although obsolete and really not ‘good’ cars, I and many other still have a soft spot for air cooled VW’s. As Murilee noted, I know of no other vehicle, even slant 6 darts or small block Chevs, that could run so long with so little maintenance.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Every few years I think about getting a Beetle as a project – either to do a Baja bug or a California look – but then I realize that you can buy complete, decently done and running examples for between $5 and $7K. It would be easy for me to get in over my head with one and end up putting more into it than it would ever be worth. I just can’t make the numbers work and if I am going to dump my heart and soul into something it won’t be a Beetle.

    I’ll say that they are fun to see but I hate getting trapped in traffic behind these nowadays. Most of the time their exhaust smells so rich I get a headache in just a minute or so. No thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      “It would be easy for me to get in over my head with one and end up putting more into it than it would ever be worth.”

      –This is pretty much what happens with any “project car.” I believe we are kidding ourselves if we think we can recover money spent to bring an old car back to life. There are exceptions of course–911’s, and some other collectibles, but generally speaking, money spent on project cars should be considered the same way we think of money spent to see a movie–as being from the “Entertainment Budget!”

  • avatar

    My sister owned a 1957 in Michigan, same color as shown, I think she paid $500 for it in 1964, it was my first time driving a manual shift, she took me to the local bowling ally parking lot on a non busy day and let me drive around, it was a blast to drive. One day while she stopped to make a left hand turn on a 2 lane road the guy behind her swerved to go around her in a big Cadillac and wound up rear ending her thus totaling it! Her next car was a Corvair that unfortunately caught on fire!

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Back in the late sixty’s, I would accompany dad to the independent garage he had used since getting his first car. The owner was known as “Doc”. I don’t remember his real name. One day dad mentioned to me that Doc’s daughter and son in law were killed in a head on collision while driving their beetle. The other car’s occupants suffered minor injuries.
    After that VWs were not welcome at either Docs garage or our house.

    • 0 avatar

      Felix H. – Back in 1966 a friend had borrowed his mother in laws new beetle with me riding shotgun and a third heavy friend in the back seat, traveling down I 75 in Monroe Michigan going over a hill the beetle started to fishtail and the driver over corrected, we went into a slide, left, right, left, right, then flipped on the side, my side, I was looking at the pavement through the window, no one was hurt, we climbed out, dazed a little and then pushed it back over upright and drove off to the nearest VW dealership where my friend got an exaggerated estimate!

  • avatar

    “making these cars about the same cost in 1973 as a new Nissan Versa or Mitsubishi Mirage are today”

    What wondrous times we live in that we can get what is, by nearly any measure, a far superior automobile for essentially the same cost. (Yes, the Beetle is certainly more repairable, which is good, ’cause it requires Care and Feeding way more often than would be acceptable in a modern ride.)

    This isn’t quite at the same level of improvement as, say, computers or electronics, but it’s still an impressive achievement.

  • avatar

    The spray foam inside the rear pillar probably came from the factory. VW put spray foam in those pillars to seal them off but it had the nasty side-effect of allowing water entering the pillar through the nearby eyebrow vents (’71 and newer Bugs only) to build-up in the pillar and rot them from the inside out. VW people call it “Death Foam”.

  • avatar

    That front strut design will never take off. /S

    True fact: Earle S. MacPherson (not to be confused with Elle Macpherson) worked at GM when he invented the MacPherson strut (1945-1946). When GM cancelled the small car project it would have been part of, he went to work for Ford.

    GM finally adopted its first MacPherson strut in 1980 – on the X-body Citation. (Yep – 34 years later.)

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “…no Rust Belt car owner would have bothered to shoot spray foam into a rust hole”

    Well, a friend in Ohio did that. I guess the temporary benefit of stopping ingress is worth it.

  • avatar

    In 1975, I was given a bright yellow Super Beetle as a loaner when my Audi 100LS got something or other under warranty. By comparison to the Audi, it had better finish after decades of practise, but a terrible drive in any way you’d care to compare. I laughed at it because I knew the Golf was already out in Europe. Compared to a ’64 Beetle I had driven a decade earlier, it had way more power and a synchro low, but 50% more than nothing is still nothing. It was terrible in crosswinds. And Beetles round here used to rust the panel under the rear windows so that you could see the rear wheelarches. Never did see the allure of these cars. About all you could say about them was that they were cockroaches mechanically as they otherwise fell apart – but at least they fell apart less rapidly in the body than Datsuns and Toyotas. Not saying much. My parents’ ’71 Pinto was scrapped in spring ’75 because the doors were literally rusting off and the overhead cam lobes were squashed flat (you could see the damage through the oil-filler hole) so nothing was much good then, but the VW was a vintage drive in feel to boot. Yuck.

    • 0 avatar

      conundrum – I bought a 75 Pinto wagon v6 auto from my sister in 1980 for $600 ( she was the original owner) it had door rust so bad on the lower drivers side ( Michigan salt) that I had to metal patch it and went over the whole body and then a friend of my painted it and put a used set of aluminum wheels on it, looked sharp for a Pinto wagon, drove it for 2 years then sold it to the first person who looked at it for $1600

  • avatar

    This one looks pretty used up .

    The ‘Automatic Stick Shift’ option was indeed close to bullet proof and when new and properly tuned, would run the 1/4 mile faster than the four speed with clutch .

    In all my decades of being a VW Mechanic/lover//owner I’ve only seen two of these wear out a clutch, one was my son’s # 117 after he put a Civic killing 1,610 C.C. engine in it .

    Very few air cooled VW’s were or are ever properly tuned .

    When they’re right they’re fun drivers, still not very fast but very quick indeed .

    I’d have loved to get my hands on this junker for the engine, the post 1972’s were lower compression and the timing marks changed to retard the ignition timing to run cleaner, easy-peasy to make them roar .


    • 0 avatar

      Used up? I was in a Mexican taxi that looked like this (on the outside). If they hadn’t stopped making VW Bugs in Brazil, most Mexican taxis would probably still be VW Bugs. Okay, not in the big cities, but they ran forever in the smaller towns big enough to have taxis.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep ;

        Used up .

        I was a VW Mechanic for decdes, there comes a point where they’re simply not worth fixing, this one has passed that point although in the 1980’s I had plenty of customers driving 1950’s & 1960’s Beetles that looked just like this .

        the C pillar rust was caused my VW using open cell foam plugs in it, an important thing to prevent engine noise, heat and fumes from coming up into the passenger compartment .

        Before they switched to injected foam they used triangular pillows made of scrap headliner materiel and cotton batting .

        As many have mentioned, the super beetles McPherson strut front suspension changed the driving dynamics greatly and most didn’t like it .

        In ’73 (IIRC, might be ’74) they changed the entire front suspension and you can bolt it into a ’71/’72 super to make it easier to adjust and ride better .

        I remember VW Beetle taxis in Mexico in the mid 1970’s, they’d remove the right front seat and replace it with duck boards and straps to hold luggage or packages .

        Those taxi drivers drove just like the average teenage American did : flat out all the time, didn’t slow for corners etc. .


  • avatar

    There were drivers of the ASS VWs who figured out to rev the engine, then let go of the stick, for a BURNOUT!, sort-of. Quite the PIA to put a clutch in one of those.

  • avatar

    My grandfather was a lumberjack in Finland, he owned several Beetles in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The rear-heavy VW was the only car available that could travel snowy forest tracks, front-engined cars got stuck in the snow and 4×4’s were strictly for military use.

    Funnily enough, a used VW cost more than a new one, because you needed a special permit to buy a new western car. Soviet vehicles were readily available, but a horse was preferable to a Pobeda or a Moskvitsh.

  • avatar

    “The rear-heavy VW was the only car available that could travel snowy forest tracks,” also fun to drive in the Michigan snow! another friend of mine had a mid 60’s that the local custom painter had put a beautiful full custom paint scheme on, talk about a head turner, that little Beetle took on the looks from wherever it went!

  • avatar

    Not looking so super now, are ‘ya? LOL!

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