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Thread: VW Beetle (the old one!)

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    VW Beetle (the old one!)



    Like Elvis Presley and Coca Cola, the Volkswagen Beetle is an immediately recognizable icon that transcends cultures and nationalities -- even generations. A study has it that almost every living adult in the Western hemisphere has either owned a Beetle at some point -- or had a relative who owned one.

    Few, if any, other cars can make such a claim.

    The Beetle's simplicity, hard-to-kill ruggedness and low cost to keep running gave it the mass appeal of the Model T Ford -- precisely as its German designers intended. But its quirky charm endowed it with more than just a utilitarian appeal. Everyone who has owned one has a story -- usually, several -- and fond memories of road trips, as well as quickie by-the-side of-the road fixes.

    The Beetle's single-barrel carburetor had a plug in it that sometimes came loose, creating a horrendous vacuum leak -- but it just happened that this plug was about the size of a dime -- and if you had one in you pocket (and some RTV in the govebox) you could be back on the road in a jiffy. The cable-actuated clutch for the 4-speed gearbox would sometimes snap or pop off its perch -- but you could always get the car home anyway, shifting without the clutch by blipping the throttle just right.

    And even though it needed nearly 30 seconds to reach 60 mph -- and had a heater/defroster system that sometimes funneled as much carbon monoxide into the cabin as BTUs -- a Beetle would almost always get you where you needed to go, come Hell or high water. Cash-strapped college kids and Hippies came to love their Bugs as much as by drivers who could have chosen something else -- but who found themselves taken in by the car's unprepossessing spirit.

    It all began in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II -- when the government of Nazi Germany, as part of its economic revitalization program, commissioned the building of a "People's Car" that the average German worker could afford.

    Adolf Hitler himself is said to have been closely involved in the car's conceptualization -- reportedly sketching out the car's famous upended bathtub shape in the early 1930s. Hitler also insisted upon an air-cooled, rear-mounted engine capable of carrying two adults and three children at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) on the system of Autobahns then being built. The car was to cost no more to purchase than a motorcycle with a sidecar -- approximately 1,000 Reichsmarks. And German workers would be able to buy coupons to be credited toward the purchase of their car -- which was initially to be called the KdF- Wagen, an acronym that translates (roughly) as "strength through joy car," a reference to the worker leisure/recreation program of the same name.

    (It's interesting to remember that the car was not officially a "Beetle" until the 1967-68 season, when for the first time VW literature referred to the car as "Der Kafer" -- German for "Beetle." For the previous 20-25 years, the car had simply been known as the Type I.)

    Ferdinand Porsche is usually credited with much of the engineering work on the prototype -- which featured a unitized steel body, torsion bar independent suspension system and a compact, air-cooled horizontally-opposed aluminum four cylinder engine and transaxle mounted over the rear wheels. However, Czech designer Hans Ledwinka, whose rear-engined, air-cooled Tatras -- especially the T97 -- were among the most advanced cars of the 1930s may have helped jump-start Porsche's creative process.

    In any case, it was an ingenious design -- and one that would far outlast its creators, as well as the regime that gave it birth.

    Mass production was supposed to have begun in 1940, but the start of World War II in 1939 put civilian production on hold indefinitely; fewer than 1,000 cars were actually assembled before the end of the war in May of 1945. However, military derivatives such as the Kubelwagen and Schwimmwagen shared the Beetle's basic chassis and drivetrain -- and proved the sturdiness of the car's fundamental engineering -- in particular, the toughness of the air-cooled boxer engine.

    With the Reich -- and the VW/KdF factory -- in ruins, the future did not look bright for the Beetle. But limited production resumed in subsequent months -- part of the Allied effort to get the Germany back on its feet. By 1946, some 1,000 cars per month were coming off the line in Wolfsburg. Though Detroit bigwigs mocked the little car and announced that no one in his right mind would buy one, events quickly proved otherwise. By 1954-'55, more than 1 million had been sold -- and the Beetle would soon become a fixture even in the affluent United States, where it served as a counter-culture totem and four-wheeled repudiation of the lunky two-ton dreadnoughts that were then the norm in the Motor City.

    By 1972, Beetle production had topped 15 million units -- surpassing the previous record-holder, Ford's Model T. The car's popularity continued to surge -- despite the fact that its basic design was by that time already more than 30 years old. As the first OPEC oil shocks hit the United States, however, fuel-efficient compacts quickly replaced V-8 road titans as the car of choice for many Americans.

    And many Americans were choosing VWs.

    Barely a year later, the 16 millionth Beetle was sold -- with many more yet to come.

    Within the basic parameters laid down in 1938, VW continued to update the car both cosmetically and functionally -- eventually punching out the engine to 1600 CCs, adding a Macpherson strut front end (which helped to create more trunk space as well as improved handling), curved front glass and cushier interior appointments -- including available air conditioning, semi-automatic transmission and innovative hand-cranked roll-back sunroof. Later cars even got fuel injection.

    These updates kept the car serviceable well into the modern era -- remarkable for a vehicle that dated to the mid-1930s.

    Though still a solid seller, by the mid-70s, competition from newer, more technologically sophisticated Japanese small cars had begun to eat away at the Beetle's formerly dominant position. That and newly enacted emissions and crashworthiness requirements -- which a design conceived in 1938 could not easily meet -- caused VW to begin work on a successor. The front-drive, water-cooled Rabbit made its appearance in 1974 -- and VW production was gradually shifted away from Wolfsburg to other assembly lines -- first within Germany, then to plants in Central and South America (Mexico and Brazil). VW continued to sell Beetles in the U.S. for several years more but the '79-80 season would be the last time American buyers could pick up a new Super Beetle convertible at their local dealer.

    Nonetheless, the Beetle soldiered on in Mexico and other counties -- outlasting the Rabbit (which became the Golf) -- before the line at Puebla was finally closed in 2003. At that time, it was still selling for about $7,000 U.S. -- as true to the "People's Car" concept as ever.

    A continuous production run spanning almost six decades -- with more than 21 million examples ( 21,529,464 to be precise) built for every major automobile market in the world -- is an achievement not likely to be eclipsed. The Beetle's run
    is even more impressive given that there really wasn't much difference between a '46 Beetle and a '76 Super Beetle. Tweaked and improved, sure -- but obviously, clearly -- and fundamentally -- still the same Beetle.

    Other cars have been faster, more modern -- more glamorous. But none have had longer legs -- or more influence on generations of drivers -- than the unassuming but much-loved little "Kafer."

    END

  2. #2
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    Eric

    My first experience of the Beetle was riding in one of '50s vintage. It had the narrow oval rear window.
    I was fascinated by it.
    My next experience was to drive one not long after I got my licence. It was a '66 1300 with only 600miles on the odo. It belonged to a vet who wanted a good reliable car.
    When I worked for Hertz in NZ we bought a large number of VW 1500s in 1970/71. Much improved especially in the suspension. Earlier models had a tendency to roll.
    I was so impressed that i recommend my Mother buy one...she did. Also my Father bought two...a 1500 and and earlier model for his wife. A complete change of style for him.

    Hertz NZ bought the 1302 Super beetle which had a bigger trunk in the front. When I worked for Hertz in South Africa they had a sort of generic Beetle. not a super beetle but it had all the features.

    Whilst living in South Africa I bought a 411L Variant.. but thats another story

    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    I've owned several old VWs, including a '69 fastback, '74 Thing and '73 Super Beetle. All were great little vehicles that served me well. Yes, they were crude - but incredibly interesting/fun vehicles as well!

  4. #4
    Matt
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    Nice looking digs you have here!

    My first new car was a 1966 Beetle. Retail price: $1,545.00 plus $19.00 for vinyl seats & $7.00 for an outside rr mirror. That was less than the SALES TAX on my last car!

    -- Matt


  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    Hi Matt,

    Welcome, first of all! (And thanks for the kind words re the site; we're working hard to make it both interesting and user-friendly.)

    I've owned several old VWs myself - including a '69 Fastback and '73 Super Beetle. I want to acquire a Thing at some point as a "usable antique" (something I can get dirty/rained on without having a panic attack).

    THey are all great and will always have a fond spot in my heart...

    -Eric


  6. #6
    TC
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    I once helped my friend remove the engine from his Beetle and we two just lifted the rear end onto supports and dropped the engine.
    Another good thing about the Beetle was that it was able to cruise at its top speed. Ok, the top speed was only about 70-72 mph but that was sufficient for most people.

  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    Hi Trevor,

    Yep - this is another aspect of the VW's greatness. I well remember pulling (and then later re-installing) the engine in my '73 without any special hoists or lifts - just me and my buddy. Try that with a small block V-8!

    -Eric

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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    Just added this article to the main page with pictures:




    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...9&Itemid=10854

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    Senior Member grouch's Avatar
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)



    I've currently got a tube frame dune buggy that uses a 1968-69 standard Beetle engine and transmission. The tranny is modified a bit for durability and lower top end (but more grunt off the line). A couple of years ago, I bought a '68 Beetle from a co-worker. It ran terrible but after I drained the oil (fuel had seeped past the float and diluted the oil in the engine) and put new plugs in it, it ran great. I eventually sold it on E-bay as while I intended to use it for parts, the only parts I could use were the drivetrain since I have an older king pin front end on the buggy. After some minor work cleaning out mouse nests (from the air cleaner) and lubricating stuff that stuck over the years of parking, it ran great. I had it up to a little over 70 once and it drove just fine. I didn't do it again as the tires were rather dry rotted. My buggy gets to be a handful over 50 and at 70, if you don't have the fear of God, you'll get it.
    Honk if you love Jesus.

    Text if you want to meet him.

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: VW Beetle (the old one!)

    Quote Originally Posted by grouch


    I've currently got a tube frame dune buggy that uses a 1968-69 standard Beetle engine and transmission. The tranny is modified a bit for durability and lower top end (but more grunt off the line). A couple of years ago, I bought a '68 Beetle from a co-worker. It ran terrible but after I drained the oil (fuel had seeped past the float and diluted the oil in the engine) and put new plugs in it, it ran great. I eventually sold it on E-bay as while I intended to use it for parts, the only parts I could use were the drivetrain since I have an older king pin front end on the buggy. After some minor work cleaning out mouse nests (from the air cleaner) and lubricating stuff that stuck over the years of parking, it ran great. I had it up to a little over 70 once and it drove just fine. I didn't do it again as the tires were rather dry rotted. My buggy gets to be a handful over 50 and at 70, if you don't have the fear of God, you'll get it.
    Sounds fun!

    I continue on my lonely quest to find a decent driver Thing within 200 miles of Roanoke.... which is no easy "thing"!

    Seems most of the nice ones are out West (for obvious reasons) ....

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