The Beetle as Speedster

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VW has changed New Beetle back to just “Beetle” again. I think both names are the wrong names for this car. A much better name would be Speedster.speedster 1

Perhaps New Speedster.

Just not Beetle – “new” or otherwise.

This is no slam of the current car. Just an etymological clarification.

It occurred to me as I was contemplating the Turbo Beetle S Line that VW sent me to drive around for a week (see here for the review). Base price for this model is $24,995. With a few options, the out-the-door price can approach $30,000. A convertible will cost more than $30,000.

This car has a 200 hp turbocharged, direct-injected and water-cooled in-line four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. It is very quick: Zero to 60 in just over six seconds.

And, very fast. Fully capable of cruising all day at 100-plus MPH. Cops may be a problem, but the car won’t cause you any problems.'14 Beetle slick 1

This is all very good.  Excellent, in fact. But what’s it got in common with the Beetle? The volks (people’s) wagen (car)?

It’s a distant – and tenuous – kinship at best.

The original Beetle was above all else a simple, basic means of getting from A to B. It was far from speedy, but it was cheap – both to buy and keep. Base price in 1970 was $1,980 – equivalent to just over $12,000 in today’s inflated Fed Funny Money – and about half the price of the 2014 Beetle turbo.

The original Beetle’s trunk-mounted, air-cooled engine sat on top of (and drove) the rear wheels. It had one “accessory” – the generator, driven by a single belt. No power steering. It wasn’t needed because the front end was so light. Heck, the whole car was light – just over 1,600 lbs.'70 Beetle in red

The 2014 Beetle weighs twice as much – and needs power steering. Power brakes, too. It also has climate control AC. A few of the old Beetles had add-on (dealer installed) AC. But it was contrary to the car’s purpose and just a bad idea all around.

Ditto automatic transmission (semi-automatic, in the case of the original Beetle).  Most old Beetles had manual transmissions – without hydraulic-assist clutches, either. It wasn’t necessary. A simple cable did the trick.

The classic Beetle’s air-cooled engine could be maintained (and fixed) by almost anyone with a set of screwdrivers, a crescent wrench and some patience.'70 Beetle engine

The classic Beetle was “cute,” too of course. But that was peripheral – and accidental. The shape of the car was a classic case of form following function. The designers meant to maximize the interior space of a very small-on-the-outside car.

In this, they at least partially succeeded – as anyone who has owned an original Beetle will tell you.

There is, for instance, plenty of headroom . . .

Now, this new Beetle (or rather, just “Beetle” once more) is a much larger, much more expensive, far more complex car whose cuteness – and sportiness – are its primary appeals. That makes it a very different car – conceptually as well as functionally – from the original.

Which brings me back to the Speedster thing.James Dean Speedster

This early Porsche was low-slung, with a “chopped” roofline and built for – well, speed. It looked sexy, too. James Dean’s death would have been less glamorous had he been driving a Beetle rather than his 356, named the Little Bastard. Probably, he would not have died at all – because had he been driving a Beetle, he never could have gotten the car going fast enough to do serious harm.  Original Beetles took about 30 seconds to reach 60 – and topped out around 80, if you had a tailwind.

Take a look at the 2014 Beetle and compare it with the iconic 356 Porsche. Now look at an original Beetle. You tell me – who’s your daddy?

VW ought to consider the possibilities. . .new Porsche

Current Porsches are rich men’s toys. The early Porsches were not. In fact, back in the day (“the day” being the ’50s and ’60s and even into the ’70s)  there was overlap between Porsche and VW – much as Porsche prefers not to discuss it today. An average guy who could afford a Beetle could also afford a Porsche – if he saved up a little. They were different cars, made for different purposes – the Porsche for fast driving, the VW for cheap driving.

Today’s Beetle is fast, but isn’t cheap.

It is, however, orders of magnitude cheaper than even the cheapest Porsche (that car being a base model Boxster, which starts at $51,400).

But imagine a VW Speedster Turbo. Sticker price still within the orbit of Eddie Everyman. Work the performance angle, the sex appeal. Undercut Porsche. Or put another way, pull Porsche back to its roots.

Just don’t call it a Porsche. '14 Beetle final

Forget this business of trying to tie in the current car with the original car. It doesn’t make sense – and it doesn’t work. VW has tacitly conceded the point by butching up the Beetle –  which is much more masculine-looking now and which looks nothing like the harmless-looking, innocuous Beetles of yore.

But it does look a lot like a classic 356. And drives more like one, too.

Why not make it official?

Throw it in the Woods?  

Spread it via Twitter: LibertarianCarG (they would not let me have “guy”).


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  1. Does anyone remember that Ferdinand Porsche, “the professor”, invented the original Beetle for Adolf Hitler !?!?!


  2. Good article.
    I had a white 1969, which was great.
    I don’t think that it was meant to be cute, though. I think that in the late 1930’s the first Beetle must have had almost a concept-car, futuristic look. Ferdinand Porsche didn’t do cute. (But I guess that in the U.S., thirty years later, it looked cute).
    I don’t know if people know that the original FIAT 500 “Topolino” was also a dictator-inspired-collective-motorization-program. In 1930, Benito Mussolini approached Senator Agnelli (who was the head of FIAT) and emphasized to him the “mandatory necessity” of producing a low-cost car for the masses; and the first volkswagen was born. Hitler adopted the concept from his friend a few years later, when he got to power.

  3. The classic Beetle was “cute,” too of course. But that was peripheral – and accidental. The shape of the car was a classic case of form following function. The designers meant to maximize the interior space of a very small-on-the-outside car.

    And they wanted to reduce air resistance. The overall shape was a compromise between the two requirements, and probably with the cost of compound curves too (did you ever notice that only the later models had curved windscreens?).

  4. My very first car I bought in 1973 for 350.00 was a 67 Beetle. 36 HP, slow as molasses on acceleration but would sit sit on 70 mph all day. Handled like a sports car! most american made sedans just couldn’t keep up with me on anything but an interstate.
    Quirky, lousy heat and next to no defrosters. Gawd I miss that thing!

    • Me, too!

      I had a ’73. Easily one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. Among other things, it reduced my transportation costs to nearly nil at a time in my life (just after college) when I was dead broke. It helped me save money to an extent that is much harder to do today, with a modern car. It was also just fun. An enjoyable, if sometimes irascible little car that had more personality than a room full of pro wrestlers.

      I’d like to own another someday.

  5. Yep, this car has a lot of potential. If WV could (or rather,”would”) give the engine five to ten percent more power….and the suspension an equal improvement in handling, the Turbo Beetle S would be worthy of the Speedster name. And they’d probably sell a lot of them. I’d be very tempted.

    Just like you couldn’t call it a Porsche, it probably can’t be called a Speedster, either. Would be very surprised if Porsche doesn’t have a trademark, or other proprietary rights to that name.

    But so what? Clever advertisers can find a legal way to allude to the ancestry. And from there, the car itself will shout out the message.

  6. I like your idea, Eric, and well-reasoned arguments always resonate.
    Learned to drive stick in a ’65 Beetle convertible – could there be a more beginner friendly car? But VW still seems stuck in this weird paradigm -it’s cute but it’s also a GTI. Had an old GTI, and those were serious fun, especially on mountain roads, while getting around 40mpg hwy. I guess that taking the beetle down that road would make it more of a Karman Ghia. A whole article waiting to be written about that piece of history. =)

  7. I love it. I’m a (male) owner of a diesel Beetle that I bought new about a year ago. The car’s look is a far cry from the New Beetle. The car looks good, looks quite masculine and is evocative of the Speedster and the Karmann Ghia. I believe that the car’s association with the New Beetle must be killing sales, and I wonder if the buying public will ultimately catch on to what VW has created with this thing.

    My prior car was a black, more traditionally masculine-looking one, and I have noticed that people give me less space in my white Beetle than they would in my old ride. Other drivers are now more likely to turn on to my road ahead of me or try and pass me. I imagine that cops must be slapping the sides of their radar guns as I drive by, unable to register that the thing gave an accurate read as I went by them at 80 in a Beetle. I has the satisfaction of blowing past a cruising Audi S4 the other day.

    By the way, your original review of the car was the most accurate one I have seen and it’s what turned me on to your website.

      • Fingers crossed, but after 15 months no mechanical problems whatsoever. I drive “like I mean it” and easily hit high 40s to 50 mpg on the highway, near to 38-40 mpg in blended driving, assuming onboard computer is accurate. This is a very fun car to drive. The car also rides nice and high, particularly for a small car, so you don’t have front visibility issues (seeing over stuff) or issues getting in and out the way you might on a lower riding car. Of course that’s a bit relative when your competitors in traffic all have SUVs. Rear visibility is not great, though you get used to it. Countervailing that last point a bit, the car has probably the smallest blind spots of any car I have ever driven.

        The only issue with this thing is that the iPod hook up is VERY balky. After trading in a 12 year old car with a cassette player, I was all excited about having a modern ipod experience in the car. No more FM transmitter to beam a static laced ipod feed to my radio! For whatever reason, VW’s integration software simply ceases to recognize the iPod every so often, quite randomly and often at the very beginning of a long drive. This occurs maybe 5% of the time, but it’s highly annoying, and I begin any drive in apprehension of the system kicking out the iPod. Took it to VW once to look at it, but they couldn’t figure anything out. Some commenters on the VW forums have encountered a similar issue. VW: If you read this blog, FIX THIS defect! Also, VW uses a proprietary ipod connection and not a generic HDMI or other cable, which I have found useful in other cars. The car does come with HD radio, which provides access to shadow stations beyond the usual FM suspects.


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