Return of the Beetle – Mark I

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I’ve begun to notice a fair number of old (Mark I) Beetles on the road. The original ones.  Last sold here (new) in the late ’70s. Not at car shows (or on their way to/from one). But in traffic, being used as everyday drivers. My survey is  far from scientific, but my eyes are telling me that there are more and more people who are turning their backs on federally-approved, late model “government mandated” cars with all their costs and complexities and returning to cars that (mostly) did what the people who bought them (as opposed to the government) wanted them to.

The Mark I Bug is such a car. A simple car – but a brilliantly engineered one.

It weighs less than 2,000 pounds, in part because it does not have a separate frame onto which body panels are bolted (the common practice when it was designed back in the 1930s and for decades afterward). But also because when it was conceived, the designers did not have to add heavy structural elements (or air bags) in order to meet government “safety” requirements. There is nothing wrong with “safety,” of course. But back then, it was not the government’s role to define it – or prioritize it. If a buyer thought the Beetle insubstantial, he was free to choose a more substantial (if less economical) alternative. But the buyer who liked the idea of superior fuel economy – a Bug can get 30 MPG, despite 1930s’-era technology – even if it meant he might fare less well in an accident, was free to judge the relative risks vs. the advantages and decide for himself.

And because there were no “mandates” the Bug could get by with a very small four cylinder engine that was also a gem of functional engineering. It was made entirely of alloy (another rare thing, both in the 1930s and for decades thereafter) and was itself so light that a man could remove it from the car all by himself with a floor jack and a couple of 2x4s. The alloy material also warmed up much faster than cast iron, which improved cold-weather driveability and also gave the passengers near -instantaneous heat – which was cleverly supplied by tin ductwork fitted over the engine to capture and make use of its heat. The air-cooled engine did not require a radiator and all the other bits and pieces that are part and parcel of water-cooled engines.

The engine was – as is well-known – also mounted in the rear, right on top of the drive wheels. This gave excellent traction  – which was made even better in deep snow by VW’s use of skinny (but tall) wheels and tires, which cut right down to the pavement instead of compacting the snow underneath them. Mark I Beetles are tenacious and will go almost anywhere. They are superior to most modern FWD cars in the snow – and will give many modern AWD cars a run for the money, in part because most modern AWD cars are fitted with ludicrous (for the snow) “performance” tires that are 3-4 times the width of the Beetle’s 15 inchers.

Fuel was metered to the engine via a single Solex 1-barrel carburetor, once again the essence of simple – but functional – engineering. The transmission and axle were melded together into a single, compact transaxle unit that bolted to the back of the engine – another design innovation that did not become common until the 1980s, almost 50 years after the Beetle’s conception.

Basic maintenance consists of changing out the 3-4 quarts of oil (no filter to deal with, just a screen to clean), maybe a new set of plugs, adjust the points and carburetor, set the timing. Maybe run some grease along a few cables. All easily done by the home mechanic with the most basic tools – and for less than $50 for everything.

At today’s prices.

There is no “check engine” light, no ECM – and no computer hook-up is necessary to determine how much oil’s in the crankcase (as in current BMW models – no kidding). There is, in brief, not much to do – except drive the thing.

Yes, occasionally a problem crops up. But the difference vs. a modern (government-mandated) car is that the problem will be three things:

* Simple.

*Cheap to fix.

* Fixable by you.

We have lost – been deprived of – all three of these things by government-mandated cars, which though more reliable on a day-to-day basis also are not simple when they do have a problem, rarely inexpensive to fix – and almost never fixable by you.

And so, there is a peaceful rebellion of sorts developing. Government can force the automakers to build ever-more-complex, ever-more-expensive new cars that increasingly require 5-6 year mini-mortgages to buy and the ability to pay a $70-per-hour “technician”  to service. But government can’t force people to buy these marvels of technology – and tyranny.

We can just say no.

And instead, we can buy cars built in the pre-government era (roughly, before the early 1970s) that are free of  the encumbrances – and expense – that has been layered on over the past 40-something years.

The Beetle Mark I’s resurgent popularity tells me that at least some people have figured out that while you can’t fight city hall, you can do an end run around city hall.

At least, for now. Until the Clovers begin to notice people evading their “safe” government-issued cars and trucks. Then we’ll hear calls to ban cars like the Mark I that don’t have everything the Clovers desire – and demand. Even though, of course, the Clovers are just as free to buy what they want as we are (for the present) free to buy what we want. But that’s never sufficient. Clovers can’t abide people doing anything different – let alone doing what they want to do, especially when it is not what the Clovers want them to do.

Wait and see. New cars are going to become much more expensive to buy in the next few years, both as a result of inflation but also as a result of the latest slew of edicts from Washington – especially the just-passed 56 MPG “fleet average” fuel economy requirement. That is going to drive more and more people away from new cars – and toward sane cars like the Beetle Mark I.

And that will drive the Clovers into conniptions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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83 COMMENTS

  1. i have owned a ’63, a ’64, and ’69 bugs, a ’64 van and my fav, kharman ghia, forgot the year. international orange. I had an extractor system on it and ran it like a bat out of hell. the only car i never got a ticket in, despite its shout out color. sold it to my brother, he ran for 6 more years then sold it to someone who turned it into a dune buggy. i rebuilt the engine in the van using john muirs’ book how to keep your vw alive, manual…idiot. It worked!

  2. Read the article on Lew Rockwell.
    I loved my bug that I use to have until the floor rotted away and they said a new one could not be “attached” (bolted) back on. The motor (those were airplane motors) was still going strong. Of course I called it “Herbie”. I’ve owned two of them in my 66 years, and loved them. Wish I could afford to buy another one.
    I miss my bug. IT was also my farm vehicle ! You’d be surprised how much feed I could get into that little thing, besides my two sons. Toughest little car I’ve ever known !

    I’m on low Soc Sec now so I’d never be able to get one, I have to stick with my 35 year old Ford Van. I use to always have my Van for the huge stuff like lumber, hay, etc. But I used my bug for all the other stuff. Since I could only drive one vehicle at a time, when I moved to Florida, I had to drive my Van and leave Herbie behind and go back for him later. My brother in the meantime pushed Herbie off to the side out of the way but pushed him so his floor was directly on the hilly ground, when over 3 winters rotted the floor out.
    When I went back to get him 3 years later, I had no floor but Herbie started right up for me after sitting in those harsh northern NY winters all that time ! What a car !

    I could see the road under my feet as I drove , but Herbie started right up for me after 3 years of sitting and I drove it all the way back to Florida with no trouble ! But they could not put on a new floor – darn. Or I’d STILL have him ! Those cars just didn’t die. Very faithful !
    It’s been 32 years now. I still miss him.
    Those Beetles had personality ! Nothing has had a personality since !
    They still make them new in Mexico but you can’t get them sent here because of govt restrictions on them. You know how govt forces everything to have THEIR “requirements” and any cars imported have to have, so getting a new one from Mexico for those who can afford it, is not possible.
    Oh Herbie I miss you !

    • Hi CSA!

      Glad you found us… and, I share your fond memories of the Beetle. Even Porsche could not continue to manufacture an air-cooled engine because of federal emissions rigmarole. That (and “safety” rigmarole) was what killed the Beetle in the US. VW continued to make them in Mexico until quite recently (2002) and I have no doubt they’d still be in production if VW could legally build them….

    • Nice username, fellow Citizen! I’m here in occupied Virginia. I never had a Herbie, but I wish I did. No garage to keep him in, and I dont want to store him outdoors.

  3. Great article, Eric. One of my favorite subjects! I have driven about a million miles among 3 VW’s I still own. The ’63 and ’65 1200’s get 38 MPG. The ’68 1500 gets 33 MPG. Reliability? I used to have trouble with clutch cables breaking about every 150K miles until I found out that a gob of grease on the end of the transaxle arm prevented flexing at the cable end. I have not had 1200 heads last more than 180K miles. The ’68 has about 250K miles since the last engine overhaul, still strong. I never had cylinders wear out, but piston grooves do. Pistons and cylinders come in matched sets anyway. I paid $75 for my last set, they are $110 now. I have had a total of 3 ignition coils go bad since 1971, so I installed a new coil and condenser next to the originals that can be put in service in seconds by moving 3 wires. Just think, if there is an EMP event, breaker point cars may be the only ones running!

    Michelins last an average of 100K miles. The oil screen is so coarse it will stay clean with modern oils, (Castrol 20W50) so there is no need for routine cleaning. Mechanical wear is surprisingly low for an engine with no oil filter. I check the valves every 3K miles, but almost never need to readjust any. There are no engine mounts because the engine is supported by the transaxle and its mounts, with 4 bolt attachment. This feature is great for electric motor conversions. See rebirthauto.com. If you are in Florida in November, you can see about 500 VW show cars at our annual Pasco Bug Jam, and lots more in the parking area!

    • Thanks, Pat – and welcome!

      I have many fond memories of my ’73 and my ’69. I’d probably still have the ’73 if the floor pan hadn’t literally fallen out while I was driving. That was fun! It still ran fine, of course.

  4. Hi from Canada!

    I had a VW bug when I was a teenager. One thing to consider is that they have a tendencay of being very cold in the winter time since they have no radiator. Of course, being from Canada, I’m talking -30 Celcius. Other people I know of who had VW bugs also said the same thing. However, I do know that there was a later model that had a gas heater (it burned gas to make heat). Just something to keep in mind if you live in the north.

  5. Nice article, brings back memories of my old three-fender 1966 beetle.

    Under maintenance chores I noted that adjusting the valve lash was not listed. That was the most obnoxious (for me, anyway) part of the maintenance, and it seems to me it had to be done very frequently, like every oil change, and the engine had to be cold.

    • Yup – had to do that with my old Corvair too. Once you get the hang (or do it a lot) it’s a snap. I have several vehicles – motorcycles – that need periodic valve clearance checks and I’ve gotten to the point, through sheer repetition, that I can do it without about the same brain sweat as a spark plug change.

  6. If one desires a newer car with mod cons and yet relatively affordable government-mandated upkeep, I’d recommend choosing a car from model years 1993 through 1995, for two reasons:
    1. Factory AC with easily obtainable R134a refrigerant (or you could go for an older car that has been retrofitted).
    2. No OBD-II and its potentially exorbitant Check Engine Light (CEL) -related repairs. Many counties/states require that no CEL be lit for successful inspection stickers for OBD-II, ’96 and newer cars. In these counties, for ’95 and older cars, it’s a simple tailpipe sniffer; much easier to pass if your car is in good tune.

    • But the downside to pre-OBD II (but still computer controlled) cars from that period is that it can be harder to trace faults and more expensive to fix them. I have a buddy who owns a shop (car repair business) and he has told me some tales about early ’90s-era Fords, for example. At least with OBD you can get a cheap scanner that will give you the codes and which can be easily re-set with the same $140 or so scan tool. The big downside, as you’ve pointed out, is that the CEL must be out in order to pass smog check. Also, the system stores info that can be read by the government (smog check) machines. I still prefer pre-1981 (and thus, pre-computer, period) cars and, ideally, pre-1975 (pre-catalyst) vehicles.

      • OBD2 doesn’t store much. Essentially there are three things the government can get out of OBD2.
        1) Codes that have commanded the MIL to light.
        2) Pending codes that if they repeat will command the MIL to light.
        3) That the computer has been disconnected and maybe that codes were cleared and the car not driven more than a few minutes since.

        I know for a fact that in IL intermittent faults are not detected or do not cause test failures if the code is cleared and the car driven around a little before the test.

        OBD2 is way better than OBD1. One of the very helpful things I found from Ford is that in an obscure corner of the motorcraft website there are PDFs that explain the logic behind many of the codes for particular models and years. That simple text really helps figure out what has gone wrong. It’s not so obscure any longer goto:
        http://www.motorcraftservice.com/ click on OBDII Theory & Operation

  7. I’ve owned a ’65 and a ’70 Super Beetle. I lived in Colorado at the time and enjoyed snow traction that was superior to almost anything else on the road. They also tracked beautifully on slippery road surfaces at highway speed. But man was it a struggle to make it to the top of the mountain passes. A 36 hp naturally aspirated engine makes about 24 hp at 11,000 ft. I’d usually crest at the Eisenhower tunnel doing about 20mph flat out, but did it over and over again without mishap. I was maybe the third owner of the ’65 and I knew of two after me before I lost track.

    Now I own the Volkswagen of pickup trucks, a mid-eighties Toyota 4×4 with the venerable 22RE engine. They run forever, parts are abundant and super cheap, and it’s a snap for do-it-yourselfers to make repairs. I have two or three of them on hand at all times (pickups and 4runners, which by the genius of Toyota share 95% of parts). Take that you wretched Clovers!

      • Awwwww!

        It’s a nightmare for them, Eric; have some empathy. Imagine being surrounded with scary logic, arguments that make sense, and all of it in support of that most terrible of things in all the world: people doing what they want, no-one getting hurt, and no-one in control! It’s awful!

  8. OK Eric,
    Your Mission, if you chose to accept it, is to list (or better produce a forum where people can opine, because who believes in central planning?) as to what DIYable cars are available and why.

  9. Hi,
    I loved your article about the early Bug. Another marvel you should check out is the Fiat 600; the first, the one designed by Dante Giacosa, and its derivative, the 600 Multipla. Strokes of genius which unfortunately we wouldn’t be allowed to drive today. Thank you. I always look forward to your pieces on Lew Rockwell’s.
    L. Pavese

  10. When I married my wife in ’83 she had a VW bug. We sold it when we started having kids. We bought a VW Van…and it turned out to have a Bug engine and couldn’t be smogged or registered. We had to go to small claims court to get our money back!

    Now we own 3 early ’80’s Mercedes Diesels. Safe, good mileage, solid as a rock…and I can work on them. No computers.

    This article makes me want to get a VW van.

  11. I’m another who meddled with those old VeeDubs. Beetles and buses. Saved a bunch of money, made a fair amount in resales. I turned a flat-fan into a 2-liter with Webers; 95 mph is a bit spooky. 🙂 I re-jetted for better economy, reducing it to only 85.

    Q: Why does a bus get one mpg better with a canoe on top?

    I never worried about longevity. R&R and rebuild was so darned quick. A buddy of mine and I did an extra-fast effort on a Beetle, and from start to on-the-bench was twelve minutes.

    Formula Vee was a good learning experience, too.

    Vignette: In the spring of 1945, my father was a forward observer for an artillery outfit working into Germany. His position overlooked a twisty stretch of mountain road. He had it timed where he could call in and shells would intersect German supply trucks. But this funny little staff car cornered too fast for his timing to work. Kubelwagen; later, with mods, Thing.

  12. Real VW drivers/enthusiasts use the correct term of “Type I” please!

    Type I – Beetle, Karmann Ghia
    Type II – Vans, Busses, Transporters
    Type III- Notchback, Squareback, Fastback, Thing
    Type IV – 411, Variant 412, and the engine was later put in vans and in several Porsches like the 914

  13. I owned a beetle for a while in the early ’80’s and have a dissenting opinion of it. With no rear hatch, no rear doors, and front seats that barely folded forward, it was impossible to get much of anything into the car other than people. In contrast, my tiny 1972 Honda Civic with its rear hatch would accept HUGE boxes; it always amazed me how much I could get into it.

    I appreciate the appeal of an automobile that can be maintained with hand tools, but would never consider driving a beetle again.

    • I hear you – I’ve owned two. But one of the neat things about the car is that it came in more than one wrapping. The same basic guts were underneath the Thing; also the MicroBus and the Karmann Ghia. The Bus was notoriously slow, but it did have a remarkable amount of space for stuff/people. There’s also the the Beetle-based Fastback/Squareback (wagon), which has the same basic engine, albeit fuel-injected. I owned one, a ’69. Fold the seats flat and you had a lot of cargo room; probably comparable to a current Jetta wagon!

      • We actually had a MicroBus when I was a kid (late 1950’s; I forget exactly which year we got it). “The allowable top speed of this vehicle is 50 mph” said a little decal on the dash. But my dad never heeded that limit. You’re right, it did have lots of space; our family of six fit in easily. As I recall it was easy enough to unbolt the seats for some serious cargo hauling. I’d consider such a vehicle again (with more power).

        • They’re cool, too! Ingenious use of space. Have you seen one fully equipped with sink/stove/bunk bed, etc? You literally could live in one of those. Maybe not the Ritz, but certainly doable and definitely cozy and a lot cheaper than a big RV!

          • I had a friend way back when who put a Corvair engine in his. No more power problem. You could buy the kit.

            The newer iteration of the bus (late 90s) came as a complete mini-motorhome. A friend of ours had one. Actually towed a 13′ travel trailer with it. Of course the new ones were V-6 AT.
            Kinda apples and oranges.

            • I’ve had both! A ’64 Corvair and several Beetles…. The Corvair six could be made to produce decent power and was adequate in stock form. IIRC, my ’64 Monza’s was rated at 110 hp. That was SAE “gross” of course so by today’s SAE net measure, probably closer to 90, but still. The Beetle four could be improved, too. There were performance kits, including performance cams, higher compression pistons and so on. I never did any of that, so I can’t make comment. But I did drive a ’73 Beetle in DC/Northern Va. traffic – commuting on I-66 (for those who know the area) – and it was definitely doable. I may not have been the quickest thing on the road, but it got there and – even better – one day a guy in a near-new S-Class wandered across the lane and up against my Beetle. We pulled over and looked at the damage. My Beetle had a new “who gives a crap?” scrape that didn’t cost me a penny. His Benz probably had $5,000 worth of body/paint damage.

  14. I had VW’s and loved them. But quite a bit of this article is stupid nonsense just to make political points. The most hilarious comment was about the heating system, The heating system warmed up to it’s highest heat nearly instantaneously because you could still see your breath after it was all warmed up. There is a reason for all the aftermarket gas heaters which were sold. The rear engine rear wheel drive did help keep from getting stuck in the snow but it was not superior to front wheel drive cars. The weight in the back acted like a pendulum causing it to do donuts, spinning full circles on slippery roads if you were not careful. Or if as a teenager you wanted to.

    The reliability and life of all the cars at that time was far less than today. At 100 thousand miles they were pretty much done. There were no 200,000 mile cars let alone 300,000. My current Chevy has 167,000, is rust free and runs fine. The VW was easy to work on but needed more work. The points and condenser needed replacement and timing. Boys who thought they were mechanics would play with the carburetor not realizing timing and dwell were off and points worn making a mess that they had to take to a garage anyway to straighten it out. Electronic systems run 100,000 miles or more till something burns out, which is then more expensive, but they do not wear or require adjustment. The VW had an unfortunate tendency to pull head bolts out of those marvelous alloy castings you rave about especially in the larger engines. Then the engine was junk often after 60,000 or 70,000 miles. They could be helicoiled which might work or might pull right back out.

    The rider and cab comfort would not be acceptable to todays spoiled Yuppies who are nostalgic for the Beetle. It was a tight little boxy compartment; if there was a radio, it was AM only; the defrost barely worked so you had to scrape inside of windows as you drove; no AC; no power windows; no rear defrost.

    With the number of stupid and hilariously obviouly wrong statements you made on plain fact about Volkswagon automobiles I would imagine your politics is just plain idiotic. No reason to listen to anything you have to say except to laugh at it.

    • “Stupid nonsense”? In your opinion.

      I, too, have owned older VWs – including two Beetles, a Thing and Fastback. I commuted into DC and back every day for several years in one of them. So I’ve got some direct, personal experience with these vehicles in real-world, everyday use.

      Let me give you my opinion:

      On the heater: If the system was in good operating shape (including the integrity of the tinwork/fan shroud as well as the ducts) then it warmed up nicely. The problem was that the system did require more attention than a modern (water-based) system. If the tinwork/fan shroud was not sealed tightly; if the ducts (and cables that controlled them) were frozen – then yes, the heat was poor. Is failure to maintain the system in proper condition the car’s fault? Would you fault a modern, water-cooled car for its poor design if the owner drove it around with a busted heater core or seized fan clutch?

      On snow-weather traction: I drive new cars every week and have for 20 years now. I have extensive experience with FWD cars in the snow. Some are good, some are terrible. But an old Beetle with good tires – and a competent driver – is excellent in the snow. The only thing that will usually stop one (other than an inept driver) is riding up on top of the snow. The flat belly pans ad low ground clearance did make that an issue if the snow was several inches deep….

      Reliability: Yes, agreed. But I said so in the article. The point was that you can rebuild (or replace) the entire drivetrain for relative peanuts – and it’s a fairly easy job to do it, too. No Mad Skills necessary. While the typical modern car will run longer, trouble-free – when it requires major work it will usually be expensive, often enough to make it not worth doing. You throw the car away. Old Beetles can be recycled almost indefinitely – economically.

      Crude? Simple? A bit rough by modern standards? Certainly. And I agree that most Yuppies would not be interested. But it’s not to them (or about them) that the article was addressed. It was addressed to people with common sense who are sick of Cloverism!

      • The problem is there is cold and then there is cold and the same goes with snow. Both of you could be correct in that the car has limitations. It’s good before crossing a threshold. A good winter car in VA might be horrible in Chicago, Buffalo, or MN.

        On having the correct tires, that’s the same argument I make for driving a mustang in the snow. It’s absolutely true of any car.

        To me, the idea of maintaining a vent system seems absurd. If I designed a product that required effort to maintain something like that I’d be told to redesign it before it even got off the screen. Back in the 1930s people accepted putting in a lot more work maintaining stuff than they do now, but today a car that requires the magnitude of attention that I am seeing in this thread would be a niche market product for certain. Few people would be willing to put up with it. It’s like those folks who learned the ins and outs of Yugos and are quite happy with them to this day.

        What I am reading here is that some things went wrong so often in VW beetles that people got really good at fixing them. I’d rather not rebuild an engine every 65K no matter how cheap and fast it was to do so. But then again we’re all different and used to different things. I am in the minority here in that I don’t fear sensors and OBD2. Easier for me to deal with than fighting wear and environmental decay on multiple systems often.

        There are so many cars of the past that with modern materials and (select) upgrades would be cheap, clean, and reliable, the bug would be somewhere behind the Chevy Vega for me. (most of the vega’s problems were due to poor materials/manufacturing rather than design)

        • These cars (old VWs) do require more owner/driver involvement. No question that is something that many people today find unappealing. On the other hand, I think we’ve lost something in the bargain; the sense of being able to handle things that comes from being able to fix things. It’s not just that the old VW (and cars like it) is an inexpensive alternative to a modern car. It’s that it’s a car that the average person can take care of on his own, with just a few tools and without having the high-order skills/knowledge to properly service a modern car. That’s worth something all by itself!

      • Ahh yes. Flat belly pans. My ’64 Corvair would go great in the snow, UNTIL… I still remember one time when the rear wheels were completely off the ground. Thats what happens when you play around. I did get it going without digging, though. Engine heat melts snow, doncha know.

  15. Whats interesting is that many cars today can go 40-45 mpg, only they are not sold in the US. The technology is there. Quick search turned up this http://editorial.autos.msn.com/listarticle.aspx?cp-documentid=745437

    But the story is deeper than that. How many of you have heard about 6-stroke engines just to take one? There is LOTS of technology already made that could improve fuel economy but the auto-industry just do not pick it up. The VW Lupo was a very fuel efficient car – the spiritual succesor I would say.

    • Heck, it’s worse than that! Back in the mid-’80s, you could buy several cars that got 50 MPG or better, such as the Renault LeCar. And that was without benefit of overdrive transmissions and, in many cases, fuel injection.

  16. Back in the day (60’s 70’s) I must have owned 100 VW, I made a little business about it. Buy a 68vw that needed a clutch, fix in a morning and sell it in the afternoon for a small profit.

    I would love to have a old 1500cc VW, however I never seen to find anything worth buying ( the prices of them have gone trough the roof) .

    Love the old bugs

    http://www.placeofrefuge2012.com

  17. I owned a 73 super for a couple years.
    It had a lot of “30-year-old car” problems. Constant smell of gasoline from some rotted hose. Some synchro problem that made it really hard to shift from 1st to 2nd. Let it sit a week, and you’re breaking out the starting fluid.
    When the floor pan rotted out and it flunked inspection, I ditched it – even though I have welders and shears and this gigantic job actually was “fixable by me”.

    I spent $3k on the car, found out the hard way that Brazilian “chrome” parts are crap to the tune of a couple hundred, spent a couple more hundred on some tweaks, and was looking at a four-digit fix just for the floor pans, plus another four-digit bill for the other problems, and we’re not even talking paint or trim yet. Bye, and good riddance. I can do better for ~$8k.

    Now I drive a 1991 Saturn SL. Got it for $1500. It is great in the snow. Has standard stereo bay and speakers, AC, hydraulic clutch, power steering, power brakes, it does over 60 without complaining, gets the same mileage as a beetle, and parts are cheap. And as far as reliability – it’s literally the last great American car.

    Sure, I have to replace the engine in it, but that’s another $1500 and puts me right at the sale price of that beetle.
    Later models of Saturn have airbags, and you can’t go past 1995 because they redesigned in 96 and ruined everything, but I think my car is totally within the spirit of the article too. The only difference is I don’t get hipster points.

    • Nah.. the Saturn doesn’t even come close to what the article means or intends. As soon as you need a computer to fix it, and the Saturn NEEDS it, you’re well out of reach of DIY.

      No, spark plugs, carbuerators, timing belts/chains… THAT’S what this article is talking about.

      I dream of a big EMP wiping out auto electronics, so I can just go out, start the Nova Coupe, and drive around siphoning gasoline and diesel out of bricks on the side of the road. When I get home, I’ll use that fuel to power an old generator and fire up either the Fender Bassman or the Marshall Plexi, and be the King Of Rock!

      • “As soon as you need a computer to fix it, and the Saturn NEEDS it, you’re well out of reach of DIY.”

        As soon as you need a MIG welder and a drained gas tank to fix it, and the Beetle NEEDS it, you’re well out of reach of DIY….
        I heard Click and Clack say once that if the body is in good shape, it’s always cost effective to fix a car rather than buy a new one. The Beetle is the logical reverse of that maxim. The one I wrote about is the second Beetle I owned: the first was already rusted out and I didn’t even get it on the road.

  18. Not to be a spoilsport, but Volkswagon was founded by the NAZI’s(the German government in 1937), and was always state-sponsored. The beetle itself was the 100% result of government mandated design-from no less than Hitler himself-and not only that was built in a flat out state owned factory(in direct competition with privately owned companies.)

    I agree with the sentiment expressed here, but the beetle is likely the best case for functional socialism that exists.

    • The Nazi’s we’re also big into organic food and smoking cessation but doesn’t make either idea nazilike. To paraphrase Jonah Goldbergs “liberal Facism” That line get crossed when the government believes that the people have a DUTY to quit smoking and eat healthy, and that said duty is not to ones own health but to the benifit of the government.
      K-

    • Adolph Hitler summoned Dr Ferdinand Porsche, from his tractor works in Gmund, to Berlin and told him what he wanted. Porsche had already designed the Beetle in the 1920s, but hadn’t the funds to produce it. Hitler looked at the plans, loved it and provided the start up production money for a car that all Germans could afford. The rest is history.

    • Mike, Are you so sure that “the factory” was really state owned and in competition with private industry? Fascism or in this case the National Socialist German Workers’ Party was more than likely owned and operated by the wealthy elite industrialists and bankers themselves. Hence Prescott Bush, W’s grandaddy doing a little money laundering for the Nazis, the Dulles brothers defending Standard Oil (Exxon) trading with the enemy, I.G. Farben, etc., etc., etc.

      This type of system is called Mercantilism and masquerades as government control of industry for “the benefit of the people”, when in fact it is the elite using government and banking, at “we the people”‘s expense, for their own benefit. Look around you. See any similarities with the Homeland Security / War on Drugs / surveillance state presently going on here in Amerika? There is nothing new under the sun.

      • I’m pretty sure VW was not in competition with anyone. Mercedes built cars for the Nazi elite; VW for “das Volk” (in theory) and the Wehrmacht in practice – but neither had any free market competitors, There may have been some “competition” between airplane manufacturers such as Messerschmitt, Junkers, Dornier and so on – but only for government contracts!

        Per your comments: What’s really interesting is that the major German corporatist cartels such as Thyssen, DeutscheBank, AG Farben, Bayer and so on survived intact and operate happily to this day….

        • Not only was the Volkswagen originally a Nazi project, with a Nazi-sponsored savings book rip off scheme to take money for them in advance without delivering many – so sales weren’t very free market after all – its post-war success was down to its becoming sponsored by the British occupation authorities. Its original technical features also included an engine chosen by a Nazi design competition (Hitler himself is supposed to have named it a “boxer”), no glassed rear window but a louvre, no fuel gauge but a reserve tank like some motorcycles, suicide doors, and a windscreen spray that drew down the spare tyre pressure (the ones you’ve been seeing are not to the original design but to the post-war one). The Nazis also insisted on shortening and raising Porsche’s preferred shape to make it cheaper and a better people carrier at the expense of drag and fuel economy. All through, its rear heaviness affected its handling for the worse.

          • In thinking about it, paying “up front” might not have been such a bad idea! Seriously. It means you don;t get the item until you have paid for the item. Borrowing on “credit” (and at interest) has proved itself to be disastrous. We have the appearance of greater affluence but it’s just that – appearance. I’d rather have a paid-for modest vehicle than be a debt slave for the next 5-6 years in order to drive something “nicer.”

      • @Boothe: well said.
        Fascism–privatizing profits and socializing losses since 1932.
        Or as Mussolini said (paraphrasing), fascism should be called corporatism because it is the merger of the corporation and government.

  19. Isn’t this similar to why Cubans hand down their American-made autos from the 50s?

    I would also recommend other autos with similar traits, such as the Volvo 240. Parts are cheap, they’re easy to repair, and they will drive FOREVER.

  20. Hi Eric,

    Nice to meet another person on the internet who has a principled belief in individual freedom applied to real life situations. And having a life long love of cars and trucks, I’ve enjoyed many of your essays.

    Happy to know the old Beetle is making a comeback. It made no sense to me why such
    a popular, well-made, economical car would stop production, though I imagine Big Brother cast his evil eye on it.

    I had two used ones(and a van). The second I drove over 300,000 miles and was lovingly cared for by a dear friend who was the volkswagon guru/mechanic of Barboursville,Va. who twice rebuilt the engine -every 100,000 miles- for $500 each installed. A brilliant and honest man who added so much joy to my life.

    • Hi Art,

      Welcome – and, thanks!

      The only reason the Beetle was no longer sold in the US after the late 1970s was because the original design could not comply with increasingly complex/stringent federal crashworthiness and emissions regulations. VW continued to build the car in Mexico and export markets until 2002.

      It’s such a shame, because with a few minor technological updates such as an overdrive transmission and perhaps a simple fuel injection system, the car would probably be capable of 40-plus MPGs – and could still be sold for around $9,000 brand new.

  21. My first set of wheels was a 1967 Buick Skylark. That car was built like a brick shithouse. You could damn near sit on the fender with your feet inside the engine compartment and work on it. This was in the late 90s when you didn’t care about getting 10 mpg because gas was 95 cents a gallon.

    Unfortunately this is no longer practical because of a plethora of government-created artificial demands on gasoline that have driven the price way up. Maybe I need to look for a Nova or a Corvair because I just can’t stand emissions tests and being asked for a computer code when I try to describe a problem at the auto parts store, not to mention these newfangled contraptions that let the police shut your engine off or pipe some stranger’s voice into your car to ask you how you are doing if you sit idle too long.

    • Great car!

      I once owned a ’64 Corvair (Monza coupe) by the way. It was a kind of super VW. Similar layout (rear-engined, air-cooled) but six cylinders instead of four and a genuinely roomy interior. The ’64s had the transverse leaf spring to deal with the rear suspension’s early Porsche 911-like tendency to lift-throttle oversteer in a corner. If you get an earlier car, get the leaf and retrofit it! Other than that – and making sure you maintain correct air pressure, front to rear, these are neat little cars and still very affordable, too.

      • Just watch for rust out. Beyond a certain point, they are not worth repairing.
        I had a ’64 Monza 110 auto. It would run the highway comfortably at 80-85.
        Some %$#^$#&& totaled it. WHILE IT WAS PARKED. Hit-n-run, no less.

        • Yep. I had the same car (’64 Monza, only mine was a 4-speed). The unibody was both rust-prone and expensive to fix. I had new floorpans put into mine before I sold it. I wish I still had it because it was almost perfect just before I did…. but I’d run out of garage space and needed the cash to pay a #$@!! tax bill.

  22. My ex had a 1972 VW 411. The one with the fuel injection. The rubber hoses deteriorated within seven years and would seep and leak gas. It seems that they turned into torches quite readily, and the magnesium engine could combust as well. I replaced 21 feet of hose. After that, it was not a bad car. Roomy. 30 mpg. VW Repair for the Compleate Idiot was a good source of help.

    The same FI was installed in Volvos in the early 1970s. It was a resistance based system. As they aged, so did corrosion and resistance. DYI repair was the only economical solution. Oh I can recall the many hours, or days, spent on electrical mysteries. I liked the extra power, but I would have preffered a carburetor.

    By now, DYI car repair is almost a lost art. I had a friend who drove his GFs 65 type 1. He was a doctors son. He came across hard times.Someone had changed out the starter, but left out a bolt. The flywheel and starter were ruined. The repair bill would have been extreme. My friend was absolutly clueless. He did assist with removing the engine, using a floor jack and a block of wood. I used a Dremel grinder to do “dentistry” on the flywheel teeth. A new Bendix drive on the old starter, and he was back on the road.

    I am 57. I started DYI repair at 17. VWs mystify me these days. So do many other cars.

    I plan to retire soon in South America. VW sold type 1 beetles there until 2003. I might want to buy one of them, so that I can have a functional car that blends in well, and is cheap to keep.

    • Similar experiences here! (I had the ’69 with the same basic FI system – and I too preferred the carbureted set-up).

      Interesting on South America; I have had several people mention this option to me lately…. what made you decide to go that route?

      • It used to be that the USA was a nice place to live.
        Jobs paid fairly well, and were reasonably available. The cost of living was fairly reasonable, the average guy could have a fairly good life.

        We could live our lives as we pleased, within reason.We would not be hassled by te powers that be.

        Other countries were less desirable by comparision.

        By now, the USA is not as nice to live in. The jobs do not pay as well, and are harder to get. The cost of living has risen a lot, life is not as good for the average guy.We get hassled a lot more by the powers that be.

        Now our country resembles the other countries we used to look down on. But we pay an arm and a leg for every thing.

        So the thought occurred to me….. Some of the countries we used to look down on have improved the standard of living for their citizens. There is now LESS OF A GAP between those counties and OUR OWN. BUT THEY COST LESS to live in. That could mean more relative ECONOMIC FREEDOM. The catch of course, is still having the means to retire. But it can be done at much ower cost, and perhaps sooner.

        • I would add:
          In theory the US has the best legal protections of your rights–the Bill of Rights. In fact it’s “just a goddamned piece of paper” as The Chimp said. Plus, US gov agencies still have the resources, infrastructure, and still-loyal thug-squads to enforce tyranny good and proper.

          OTOH what we formerly viewed as “third-world” nations in the Central/South America don’t have the Bill of Rights. What they DO have is a societal milieu of “live and let live”, “manana”, “laissez-faire”. And their governments do not have the infrastructure or money to pay loyal goon-squads to do their evil bidding.

          I’d rather live a little poorer and free than “prosperous” and enslaved…and the clock’s ticking for “prosperous”. There will be a very nasty span of time in the future where Amurrikans are visited with all the poverty and deprivation of third-world countries, with a first-world police force keeping them in their cages.

    • @JvG:
      Likewise on S America–not retiring, just GOOD–getting out of Dodge.

      Which country, if I may ask? Care to share experiences on hunting for real estate, etc.?

      • My reasoning is that the cost of living is lower in the other countries. This means retirement is possible sooner, or is at least possible. Health care costs much less, (but no help from Medicare, if it will still exist in the future.) I am considering Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, possibly more prosperous areas of Bolivia.

        I can post specific websites if you guys want. for now, start with http://www.expat-blogger.com (blogs from expats about what is like to live in a foreign country) http://www.inmobiliaria.com(kind of similar to realtor.com)(cambiar pais changes which country you want to look at)
        http://www.portalinmobliario.com(Chile) http://www.numbeo.com (this compares cost of living between cities in foreign countries with a city close to you in your own country.
        Currency exchange websites can help you determine how many dollars, Euros, or Pounds it takes to purchase foreign currences.

        Since a lot of the real estate websites I mentioned are in Spanish, it helps to know that MN Bing has a translation feature available with a right-button mouse click.

        • Thanks JvG!
          Funny–your list of countries echoes mine right down to order of priority…great minds etc.
          I did include Panama, though it’s more of a US satrapy than its own country at this point and prices are rising.

  23. I understand and completely agree with your premise. Lighter and simpler cars from the past can be more economical and easy to maintain. But the VW Beetle was a cramped, boring penalty box….the ultimate opposite of “fun to drive.” It made driving a tedious experience.
    If we’re going back to the past for simple, reliable and economical…..make mine a 1991 Honda CRX Si!

    • Absolutely!

      But the reality is most people just need to get from A to B. Every day I see people piddling around at just barely the speed limit in cars capable of 150-plus. Slowing to less than the posted limit to take corners in cars with ultra-performance W-rated tires on 19 inch light alloy rims… It’s ridiculous. They’re more passengers than drivers, fiddling with dey sail fawns and so forth. The typical American driver doesn’t need a car more capable – in performance terms – than something along the lines of a mid-1980s Taurus. I love performance cars – and interesting cars. But for clunking along in traffic and schlepping to the office every day, cheap and simple and effective is the ticket. Keep the “fun” car safe in the garage for days and times when you can actually use it!

  24. Sometimes I just a bunch of the same old cars close together and then not for years again.

    I haven’t seen a Bug dune buggy on the road since the 1980s. But then again most everything around here from that era dissolved back into nature. Some slower than others.

  25. Or they’ll buy/build a motorcycle, without gummint-mandated crap. I’m looking for a reasonably nice, straight-body Kharman Ghia myself. Maybe a convertible? Used to be a guy here in town that did 411s and 412s, buses, etc. as well as beetles, I wonder if he would be interested in a “new” Kharman Ghia build?

    • Those Karmann Ghias are neat! It’s just about the only Beetle-based VW I’ve not yet owned, too. (I’ve had a ’69 Fastback – with the Bosch fuel injection – also a ’74 Super Beetle and a ’73 Thing.)

      The big issue with them all, as you know, is rust. But the upside is replacement panels are available and the “guts” are all very similar and getting parts is simple and cheap.

      At some point I plan to get another one. I can honestly say they were among the best cars I’ve ever owned.

      • I had a 1960 VW camper with a 36 hp engine. A 1964 Karmann Ghia with 40 hp. The Karmann Ghia was a lot of fun. I also had a Beetle. I can’t remember the year. Probably 1962. I got it for $100 used, and it was running. Never really used it. Sold it for $100 to a friend.

        The biggest problem with the VW was blown engines. If you looked at newspaper ads for used ones back then, chances are it would say “rebuilt engine.” The big problem was the oil cooler partially blocked air flow to the number 3 cylinder, and heated the air that did get through. So sucking the number 3 valve was not all that rare. But they were not expensive to rebuild.

        • Yup! Total teardown and rebuild, a couple hundred bucks.

          I was at my friend’s shop recently. He has magazines in the office, including trade publications. There was one from a major manufacturer listing the dealer cost prices for replacement engines, $4,000 and up. Not counting mark-up. Or install labor….

          • I remember some people said you could get around the #3 cylinder problem by setting the valves on that cylinder a little looser. I don’t remember the exact figure.
            The problem now, at least in the rust-belt areas, is finding one that the seller doesn’t want a fortune for. The $500 bug is a thing of the past. There is one around here on C/L and the last bid I saw was over $4500.

            • Looser (in my experience) is always better than tighter… worst case, you have some clatter and lose a little performance. Too tight, though, and you can end up with big problems real quick. I always adjust the valves on my bikes a little on the loose side for just that reason. Plus, keep in mind that clearances decrease as the engine heats up, so if it’s slightly loose cold, it will likely be “just right” when the engine is warmed up.

        • Amen to that. I’m a professional auto mechanic and the only car I own is a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. It will last for the rest of my life if I take care of it. Too many people are working jobs they hate so they can buy stuff they don’t need. Recycle, Reuse, Repair.

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