Blog : Why I hate the Volkswagen Beetle

Ian Nicholls

Volkswagen Beetle (1)

I drive a classic Mini, two in fact, although not at the same time. The modern family car has two fathers, depending on your choice. If you prefer a capacious 4×4, then Spen King, the father of the Range Rover, is your man. If you prefer something like a Focus, Astra or Golf, then the inspiration behind your car is Sir Alec Arnold Constantine Issigonis, designer of the Mini and the 1100/1300 series.

The modern car owes nothing to the noisy, rear-engined, rear-drive, air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle. For all its sales success, it was an automotive cul de sac, a technical dead end as redundant as the steam locomotive.

I despise the Volkswagen Beetle and that motor caravan thing that people who know nothing about classic cars buy as a fashion accessory, with a loathing that mere words cannot express. Yes, it was well built, but I argue the Beetle only succeeded because of circumstance. The Volkswagen Beetle was developed pre-war and it mechanicals were developed and proven through the war years in the Kubelwagen staff car.

The reason why the Beetle was so reliable was that the Engineers had plenty of time to sort out the mechanicals before the car entered post-war mass production. An end of line 1982 Austin Allegro was probably a reliable car, but it was not a great car. Post-war Germany was awash with allied servicemen, many American, who discovered the Beetle as cheap reliable car and it was through this that the car gained it entry into the lucrative American market and cult status.

If France had been the defeated nation, the Americans would have cottoned on to the Citroen 2CV and, if it had been Britain, then it would have been the Morris Minor. As it was American airmen stationed in Britain discovered the MG sports car and that opened up the US market for that particular brand.

The MG, like the Beetle, happened to be the right car in the right place at the right time. The idea that the Beetle design and its production facilities could have been transplanted to Britain and it would have been equally successful is laughable.

The crudity of the design was apparent to all and no British firm attempted to copy it. To suggest they were wrong not to do so is to insult the intelligence of some highly-talented Engineers. Britain did eventually produce a people’s car in the form of the Mini, but it did not catch on in the American market, just as other European contemporaries did not, such as the Citroen 2CV, Fiat 500 and Renault 4.

The Volkswagen Beetle did not succeed because it was a work of engineering genius, it succeeded because of circumstance.

Volkswagen Beetle (3)

All AROnline blogs are the personal opinions of their contributors and not necessarily the editorial viewpoint of the website.

Ian Nicholls
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  1. When British Major Ivan Hirst dragged Wolsfburg out of the gutter, the head honcho’s of the British motor industry (The Roote’s Bros, Nuffield et all) laughed it off as an irrelavance. You may have noticed our motor industry is a historical footnote….

    I could argue that after the introduction of the ado16, the mini was meerly a novelty that lingered in production fat too long.

    Does the modern family car not hang off the FIAT 127/128?

  2. Wartime aside, the Beetle WAS cleverly engineered, and living with one demonstrates that – wayward handling in extremis aside – they are a good package for the simple purposes of getting about.

    Tough, strong and yes – reliable, in the most part – the cars were designed to be low-cost personal transport. And that is more important than any technical achievement. Compared to the 2CV they are substantial, cosseting.

    Dress a Fiat 128 in modern styling, call it a class below, and I doubt anyone would find it that unpleasant or dated. The little yellow ’78 saloon I had, compared to a Chevette, was incredible, a totally different experience. I had them as ‘old’ cars – I turned down an Uno to have the Chevette, I knew what I was getting, but when they were new? Wow. If only they hadn’t been so rust-prone.

  3. The Fiat 128 had a fairly long life as well, and ended its days as a Yugo/Zastava. I’ve never been a fan of the arse engined Nazi staff car, which is basically what it was designed for, and they rust like a swine, have a useless heater, and iffy handling, especially in the wet. They also sound like someone with severe flatulence. I believe they’ve finally killed it off in Mexico at last as well. I did see a Mexican bay window minibus (rhd with a Polo engine and front rad) on evilbay for £30k. WTF???

    • Yorkie, what a load of tosh you write. Mos if not all classic cars rust. Beetles no more than others and probably less. The heater in my 1966 Beetle is warm after 1/2 a mile and in full tilt will melt your feet, remember too that a heater was standard when in most other cars a heater was a cost extra option. I have driven Beetles for over 30 years and have never lost the rear end, wet or dry. The oversteer one hears so much about is lift off oveersteer, caused by driver error more than poor design. As for the sound? every car has an exhaust note unless its electric…..

      • Beetles rusted far slower than most contemporaries, but they are quite complicated structures to repair properly when they finally do! Lots of horror welded patches to get them through MOTs in their banger years.

  4. The Range Rover was an attempt at a Jeep Wagoneer, 7 years later.

    As other commenters have wisely pointed out, the FWD gearbox in sump layout was a technical dead end, and didn’t outlast the 1980s (the last ‘X’ engined PSA cars), apart from clinging on for life in the throwback Mini.

  5. Despite the popularity and breakthrough advertising of the Beetle and it’s rear engined companion models, i.e. Type 2 bus/van, in the NA market, it had serious flaws that were clearly made it obsolete by the mid-1960’s. The air-cooled engine meant an unsafe, near-useless and unreliable heating and defroster system. The location of the fuel tank in the front made it a bomb in a major front end accident. The trunk was too small and in the wrong place. They could easily overheat and burn up the engines (especially #3 Cyl.). Many became beach/brush on and off-road vehicles. It was too low powered and not practical to have Air-conditioning in them and automatic transmissions were not available (they did offer a semi-auto transmission that just made the cars slower that a sick snail) killing off. By the early 1970’s our pollution and safety rules meant VW had to heavily modify them, creating the ‘super beetle’ more like the 1st Gen ‘New’ Beetle.
    Yes they were reliable people carriers, they were easy and cheap to fix,

  6. The Beetle may well have been flawed, but then so are all of the other vehicles mentioned here as well. The 2CV was so underpowered that it could barely run the legal speed limit, let alone live on an American interstate highway. The Mini was clever, but couldn’t match the reliability of the Beetle as a problem with the gearbox or engine often killed the other. They also ate tyres and were unable to meet even the rudimentary US safety regulations of 1968, which is why they were pulled from the market. The Beetle rusted badly and handled poorly, but it was rugged and easily serviced by it’s owner due to the low parts content and logical design. This is also why they did so well around the world in developing countries and stayed in production long after they ceased to be relevant (or legally viable) to the US and European markets.

    I have nothing against the other “people’s cars” mentioned here. I get their significance. However, you have to see things outside of the perspective of someone who can trade in on a new model every few years and to whom a car is a fashion statement. There are people who just need something that is inexpensive to run and can get them from one place to another better than walking. Something that can do so for many years with little maintenance using simple tools and that can be continuously driven on unimproved roads. The Beetle is the best vehicle for that task. About the only car that managed to improve on the idea (if not execution) any was the Soviet/Ukrainian ZAZ, and it borrows heavily from the Beetle.

  7. The mini was surely as much of an “engineering cul-de-sac” as the beetle? Transmission in sump, rubber suspension. Where are they now?

    • The Mini had two major problems. it was too advanced and cost too much to make. The market didn’t trust front wheel drive cars, Mini’s ate CV joints and fleet managers much preferred Ford’s over BMC’s front wheeled drive cars.

      The other issue was cost, BMC either lost money or barely broke even on the Mini. Little better with the 1100. That is why it was in production for so long and also why it was stuck was obsolete design and technology.

      You’re right, a gearbox in the sump is daft. It didn’t have a hatch and rubber/fluid suspensions have all but disappeared.

  8. What a load of crap! 23 million folks must be wrong! yeah
    It did exactly what it said on the tin as a car no more no less.
    Very well engineered car and built. Yes the do rust and a mini does not? mmmmmmm

  9. @ Steve, post 9.

    Really? The Beetle existed over two decades before the Mini yet outlasted it. Sold well over four times the number of the Mini and has a much better survival rate. I saw three classic Beetles on the road over the course of the weekend, yet I haven’t seen an orignal Mini on local roads for at least a few weeks.

    Having had the dubious pleasure of welding up a Beetle and a Mini, I can say for certain that I’d much rather be in a Beetle in the even of an accident!

    Not sure what I think of the new design Beetle, but at least it is still made by the same manufacturer as the original!

    The Beetle was the first true ‘world car’ and provided honest cheap transport for tens of millions. The history of the motor car only goes back a little over a 100 years or so, the Beetle existed for over 60 of those years…

  10. How dissapointing to read that the Beetle is slagged off in this way.Like the Mini,Morris 1000 and countless other makes and models they are now history.Small groups of dedicated people keep them alive.
    I had quite a few Beetle and Mini’s in the 70’s.Both partial to the rustworm.On the whole the Beetle won out mainly on the quality of components and the fact that you did’nt need a can of WD40 on rainy days.
    Great cars both but of a different era.

  11. I have a book called ‘Bug’ which is a good read for the history of this.

    The Brits were offered the KDFWagen / VW plant, but turned it down as they didn’t see a market for these quirky rear-engined cars.

    The design itself is heavily borrowed from a Tatra design of the 30s.

    They’ve became rare enough that seeing one out and about is a rare treat (strangely enough I saw one parked up on the drive in today) just as seeing a 2CV is.

    If anything, it’s biggest sin was propagating the whole ‘german = reliable’ myth that they’re still trading off, which it could be argued sunk the British car industry, and has today’s pushy reps believing that their Teutonic barges are superior to the rest of the traffic on the roads.
    That, and because of it’s origins, I always find VWs slightly sinister.

    • Its surely wrong to compare a Mini to a Bug? The Bug was a much larger car. I do remember them being noisy. My Father had an Orange Variant and the vibrations felt in the back seat was sickening. Minis were a fun car to drive but they could be a lot of trouble.
      You are right about VW’s feeling sinister there is something just too functional or clinical about them. Skoda’s seem more human somehow. I need to replace my car soon and I need a diesel, a spend of around 3k. All are now very complex and about guaranteed engine trouble. So one mechanic told me the most reliable modern diesel is, VW? Nope. Peugeot. Not any more. Fiat, yes believe it or not some say the Fiat will run longer while costing you less on repairs. Hard to believe but the 2nd hand 5+ year old diesel to go for is Fiat. Doesen’t this somehow cheer you up?!

  12. I think the Beetle was carefully built from good quality parts and materials, it was however an evolutionary dead end with air cooling and the rear engine/swing axle suspension.

    The Beetle and VW were certainly dead in the UK water by the early seventies.

    The final versions sold in UK were the 1302 and 1303 cars with curved windscreensand Macpherson struts, even the special limited edition medallion cars marking the end stuck to the VW showroom floors.

    Another aspect is the cars effect on VW thinking, just like BMW push RWD, VW newspaper adverts pushed rear engine/air cooling as superior engineering and a unique selling point.

    Effectively all VW cars such as the fastback, 411 etc were had to be Beetles but in another shape, VW were trapped in a rut which almost finished the company off

    • the final UK market saloon Beetles were not 1302 or 1303 but the basic 1200 standard model, excluding the Cabriolet which was available until 1979 and was a 1303

  13. Yes the Beetle was a technological dead end but it did the job it was intended for. How many cars designed in the 1930s would be saleable up to the 1970s? It was all independent when British cars were mostly on cart springs and you could drive it flat out all day on the Autobahn. Its survival so long and in such huge numbers must have been a surprise even to its designers. And look how the Porsche 911 with similar characteristics is still sought after with all its faults. The Mini and ADO16 were great cars, so was the VW Beetle. And the Topolino and the 2CV and a lot of others. The customer is always right, even when he is wrong.

  14. Its interesting the the BINI, FIAT 500 and BEETLE are now basically the engineering of the cars that killed the originals off only with impractical retro styling

  15. The link is an article on VWs Beetle Monoculture, how it cost them their USA market, amrket which they have never recovered.

    There is a reference to the International Motor Study project of the late 80s, The book was called “The machine which chamged the world”

    VW were slated (in fact shot down in flames) in the above study for its inefficient method of building cars, the Japanese could assemble a near defect-free car with fewer man hours than the man hours VW were spending correcting (and introducing new faults) assembly/quality issues in the rectification areas.

  16. 10. Big H: “What a load of crap! 23 million folks must be wrong! yeah”

    You just have to listen to chart music on your wireless to realise that popular does not equal good.

  17. Mention is made of the 2CV, but not the Renault 4 was a superior car in many ways (the benefit of being launched later) and sold more that twice as many as the 2CV; 8 million. It was possibly the first hatchback. It has font wheel drive, independant suspension and a simple rugged engine. I had on efor 6 years and miss it greatly. If you go to Africa there are still many on the roads.
    The Peugeot 104 was the last gearbox in sump vehicle to be designed I believe and the 205 nearly had the same configuration.
    One must distinguish between engineering pramatism For example the R4 engine arrangement, basically a Daphane engine / transmission at te front. Od Audi’s arrangement which comes form its 2 stroke DKW roots and still exists today and by luck suits their 4 wheel drive system.
    The beetle has its faults and by the beginning of the 70s VW was on the brink bankrupcy. However a change in philosphy and German excellent practice of protecting and helping their businesses ensure that teh Golf etc got built.
    The Beetle was reliable, simple, well marketed in the US and became the youth choice in the 60s paving the way for later success when the youth had grown up and bought new cars.

  18. Having read all of the comments above, the good thing about this blog is that it is has sparked debate. Much as I have two classic Mini’s at home, I have succumbed to driving German everyday. Have I ever fancied have a Beetle, no, but as a car that mobilised post war Germany and probably made a handsome profit for VW across it’s production life, I do have to have a respect for it’s longevity.

  19. Meanwhile… the UK car industry is almost non-existing and the German car industry doing rather well…

    The irony is ofcourse that it was the Brittish army who saved the factory from (complete) demolition after the war. Brittish car manufacturers did not object to this because they thought it was inferior compared to their “modern technology”. In their arrogance those brittish manufacturers forgot one small detail, customers like reliability.

    When you bought a beetle you knew one thing for sure, it will run, and run, and run, and run, and run…

    And then in the early 70’s the Japanese arrived with even more reliable cars, During massive strikes… The horror…

    • I know I write this 4 years in the future – but even so the UK motor industry landscape in 2017 is not that much different to 2013 (if for the moment we can forget Brexit). How in the name of god can you trot off that the British car industry is dead. What the hell are you doing on a car enthusiasts website when you have such a breath-taking ignorance of reality – or where you an early adopter of fake news and alternative facts?

  20. I effing loath the Volkswagen Beetle, purely beacuse they are slow and crude in practice. I do however fully understand other peoples affections for the car and to prove I am far from anti – German I do own Krafwerks superb LP Autobahn on both vinyl and CD which features said rattling snail on the cover!

  21. @Mike Humble

    In that case I hope you got the chance to see one of Kraftwerks recent concerts either in Düsseldorf (the REAL THING) or Tate London (some fake translated to english version of the same concerts)

    I got the chance to see 4 of those concerts in Düsseldorf and those 3D animations during Autobahn starring a beige “Käfer” just blew me away… 😉

  22. @Antigoon
    More cars are made in the UK than ever before, so actually doing quite well. However the company ownership has completely changed.

  23. Have to agree I think this blog is a little unfair. If you don’t like the Beetle – fine. Don’t slag it off. It never claimed to be a game changer, but what it did do was appeal to the masses, a lot of masses! And it helped create one of the best car companies currently in the market. VW would never have been able to become what it is now if it was not for those 23 million Beetles pumping cash into the business. I muich prefer the Mini, and the Mini was a game changer in terms of modern car design (sure, as some have rather too victoriously pointed out, some it’s details were not taken forward – rubber suspension, gear in sump etc) but it did dictate the fundamental layout of all modern cars today and it was the Mini that first successfully deployed this template. However, the Mini was not as appealing as the Beetle, plain and simple, otherwise it would have sold 23 million examples rather than the mostly European and UK 5 million sales it did muster. Thankfully, the pastiche models today the shoe is most definitely on the other foot, the MINI is far more successful than the Beetle. No reason to slag either of them off though!

  24. The Model T Ford is another example of the Monoculture, Henry Ford would not sanction the replacement of ‘his’ car which left the door wide open for the competition to introduce more modern cars.

  25. Surely all modern cars are based on the wonderful Citroen Tractiion Avant which was launched in 1934.

    André Lefèbvre’s wonderful design, with front wheel drive, monocoque body, rack and pinion steering, independent front suspension with semi independent rear, four wheel hydraulic brakes, Michelin radial tyres set the template that we are still following.

    Indeed the Renault 4 as mentioned above had a close copy of that layout, albeit 25 years later. Even the engine layout is the same.

  26. James (26) the blog is not intended to be fair in those terms, its just a personal view that vents off some steam and provides a nice jovial touch of light and shade.

    Wait till I post my Freelander one!

  27. Mainstream VW cars of trace their heritage to the designs from the filing cabinets of Audi, Vw having taken over Audi NSU when they were on the rocks due to the Wankel Ro80.

    Do you recall the NSU Prinz cars? Same rwd/rear engine formulka as the Beetle.

    Also the VW K70 car? Probably the first VW with fwd and water cooling

    • The K70 was a reday-made NSU design that VW rebadged as a VW when they acquired the company.
      The rear engined NSUs were a much better design than the Beetle…. The engines were mounted transversely, almost above the rear axle, so had better weight distribution. They were also hemi-head OHC so quite powerful for the sizes.

  28. Ironically the rear engined air cooled platformed nearly killed VW finacially. Mercedes saved them buy selling thier shares in Auto Union to VW… with the sale came the Auto Union Audi. Audi soon provided the “50” and “80” that quickly got rebadged to be the Polo and Passat.

    The story is longer and more complicated than my sumamry above but it is the basic fact.

    Personally, I neither love or hate the Beetle, it was the right car at the right time, no more or less than that.

  29. I never “loved” the two beetles Ive owned. They never let me down though. I cant honestly remember the handling being THAT bad tyre choice was critical Michelin X being the best i seem to remember.
    If anyone’s interested an air cooled beetle is the cheapest car for a 17 Y/O to insure today by a long way! 🙂

  30. As the the prime stirrer I still maintain the VW Beetle was a crude rear engined abortion and that it sold not because it was a good car but because it was the right car in the right place at the right time.
    Millions of people can be wrong.
    Millions of people derive their world view from reading the ‘Sun’ newspaper.
    Millions of people watch TV programmes featuring Simon Cowell.
    Millions of people go to watch a Tom Cruise movie
    Millions of people read Jackie Collins books

    • The Mini was also right place / right time. I love Minis too but credit where it’s due to the unbreakable Beetle. Minis were easily broken. I was there in those years.

  31. What isn’t mentioned is the Beetle nearly bankrupted Volkswagen in the early seventies.
    By 1970 rising living standards in Germany meant increasing numbers of Germans could afford far more sophisticated and refined cars than the Beetle, and as Volkswagen’s car range consisted solely of the Beetle and a spin off estate car with an air cooled engine, sales were slumping in Germany and even in America emissions regulations and the end of the hippy era meant sales for the Beetle were falling. Except for the car’s dedicated following, most Germans saw the Beetle as crude, very old fashioned, dangerous in a crash and no fun on unrestricted autobahns. Had Volkswagen not launched the Golf and the Polo in the mid seventies, then they could have gone the same way as Rover.

  32. I don’t like the Beetle. In any shape or form. I just don’t get the adulation, or the ‘hey that’s so hip – right kids’ surfer-dood image. Then again I think Jack Johnson’s crap too. But, I love the Porsche 356, and the early (air-cooled iterations) of the 911 – right up until the 993. I understand that people think they’re cute, but then so is a Topolino, a Minor, the Cinquecento (the 50s one), and of course the Mini. It’s subjective of course. And simply hate them, and the blind worship that people bestow upon them. I prefer Italian cars. Which brings me to my 2nd point. Exhibit A. The template for the modern FWD hatchback. The Autobianchi Primula.


  33. Has anyone read The Chronicles Of The People’s Car?

    This is a very good 3 volume tracing the history of the Beetle. One very interesting section was on the marketing, with reprints of a lot of the American posters from the 1950s to the 70s.

  34. Volkswagen did make one stunning car and that was the one that replaced the Beetle, the Golf.
    It was everything the Allegro should have been, and made even the conservative GM and Ford produce FWD cars in response.

  35. How do I start? The Beetle (Coccinelle, that’s Ladybird in French)was the car I first ever drove, a blue one, sorry can’t remember engine size, but it was an 02/03, screen wasn’t flat, thanks to my apprentice Master taking me to the country lanes on Saturday after “les vidanges” lots of customers appreciated we were open 8-12am for oil changes. Then my dad allowed me to drive his GS, though built around the same time, with a lot in common, Flat4, air cooled, they were soooooooooooo different to drive,let alone the MASSIVE difference in power, ability to brake and the dashboard…
    My view is that it was a wonderful car in the 50/60’s, but as soon as Fiat got Autobianchi to launch the Primula, even the Austin 1100 looked not quite right, then the A112 in 1969 showed “HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE” one notch down, paving the way to its 128 and later 127-with the hatchback cost extra!!! still a mystery to me, but can be explained as the millions of Fiat 850 users had the engine in the (rear)boot…
    It’s true that the Beetle and 411/412 nearly killed VW, 25MPG at best was appalling with petrol price going up and given the turn of speed returned. The Golf is an “in between” 127/128, VW should thank Autobianchi/FIAT. Sales were brisk, lucky as the K70 and Passat didn’t set sales charts alight, but one has to remember that VW was charging extra for powered front disc brakes on the 1100cc models …Still grasping a few £££ as P4 did 30 yrs later, and a sad reminder that the 1100 aerodynamica was ahead of the GS in terms of looks, but that’s another story.
    To finish, I’ll never long for a beetle, not my thing, too slow to justify its appetite for juice even in Brazilian injection form.
    Bottom line, VW still has only one star in its portfolio, it was the Beetle then from the 70’s onward it’s been the Golf…

  36. 40 years ago who, apart from some hippy stuck in the sixties, or a miser too mean to buy anything else, would want a new Beetle. Even a Mini had the benefits of better performance, better driving abilities and lower running costs and even the Beetle’s rear engined British rival, the Hillman Imp, had come right by the seventies and was a far better drive and didn’t cost that much more.
    However, while the Beetle was probably right for a poor country, Europe didn’t want to know by the early seventies and buyers were deserting Volkswagen in droves. Yet by 1975 the Golf, the Passat and the Polo had taken off and Volkswagen has never looked back.

  37. I’ve seen a lot of street scenes from around the world, taken the 1950s to the 1970s where there’s a good chance one car is a Beetle.

    Like the 2CV they seemed to cope well on unmade roads.

    IIRC the K70 was basically a reworked NSU Ro80 with a conventional engine, which didn’t last long after the Passat came out.

  38. Using the old line that it was an engineering dead end is a ludicrous. It’s like saying the phonograph was a dead end, when in reality it did a sterling job until superceded.

    No, I’m not a fan of the thing, far from it. But the longevity of the thing was pretty darn good. In Aus, many cruddy examples were in daily use until 10 years ago, but I couldn’t say the same for Mini’s.

    On a more ARonline centric note, there are still a number of P6 Rovers in daily use, although the Triumph 2000 variants have fallen off the map.

  39. To Richard S @Post 11.

    Have you drove a Mini and a Beetle? A mini runs rings around the little dirty wheezy bug. I have seen more minis than old beetles on the road.

    • I’ve driven both lots. Horses for courses……
      Mini for good (amazing!) cornering ability, acceleration, stowage space compared to size…
      VW for comfy long-legged relaxed motorway cruising (in the front seats anyway!) , ability on rough roads or completely off the roads, reliability and general unbreakableness.
      Personally I’d rather have a 2CV which does most of the above quite well!

  40. If the rear-engined format was supposedly not carried forward into the modern day, how do you explain the Porsche 911 (still selling well in its sector) and the Smart Car?

    Of all the ‘Noddy cars’ of its era, (the Beetle itself, the Mini, the Minor, the 500, the 4 and the 2CV), the Renault comes closest to how modern cars are built (apart from not being a monocoque). The Beetle was highly successful for most of its time on the market in the developed world, and remained successful long after in South America. So what if the Smart Car and the 911 are it’s only modern proteges- that doesn’t take away from it’s towering achievements. You and I may not care for the Beetle, but it did influence it’s competitors, even if in response they used more conventional technology- which in turn influenced VW’s own replacement product, the Golf.

  41. Yorkie – March 4, 2013
    The Fiat 128 had a fairly long life as well, and ended its days as a Yugo/Zastava. I’ve never been a fan of the arse engined Nazi staff car, which is basically what it was designed for, and they rust like a swine, have a useless heater, and iffy handling, especially in the wet. They also sound like someone with severe flatulence. I believe they’ve finally killed it off in Mexico at last as well. I did see a Mexican bay window minibus (rhd with a Polo engine and front rad) on evilbay for £30k. WTF??

    My 66 beetle has never been welded, just sailed an MOT, the heater melts shoes in the front footwell, just ask the for iffy handling, Ive driven them for 28 years and have never had an iffy moment, they are family bog standard cars not sports cars and to treat them as a sports car will get you into all sorts of trouble as it would if you took a Mini or ADO16 or any other car beyond its design limits…

  42. Interestingly VW made nearly nothing at all from the original beetle. Tatra were not ingnorant of the VW’s simlarities, and sucessfully sued VW and were awared huge damages that took VW till the late 60’s early 70s to pay off, which was why the beetle was in production for so long and the ‘type 3’ was little more than a warmed over Beetle!

  43. @48.. would you care to illumnate us with the country your VW has lived its life? no chance in hell of a Type 1 managing that in the UK

  44. @43 it would have been an 1303 or 1603, the 1302/1602 had a flat windscreen, I think that and the dash is what differntiates and ’03 from and ’02

  45. @38..

    you forgot the best one..
    In 1450 the majority of the population belived the earth was flat.. did that make them right?

  46. The modern 21st Century Porsche, aren’t they to most intents mid-engined nowadays? Plus all the electronics to keep them on track. a friend had a new 1980s 911 Turbo, did not keep it very long, the car was simply treacherous, the devil in disguise, and he really knew how to drive.
    The Smart car, that really is a bad joke, even the key engineer from Swatch, the originator, walked away in despair as Daimler Benz took charge.

  47. @23 and @24 I also made the pilgrimage to Düsseldorf to see Kraftwerk live, having failed to secure tickets from the inept Tate Modern chocolate website. Due to the likely weather conditions and the need to buy beer at €0.75 a bottle, I took my Disco 4.
    Although you can’t fault the sales success of the Beetle, even Germans will admit the handling was iffy, the heater never worked and cold starting could be a nightmare. How was it that the Morris Minor never enjoyed similar success? Perhaps someone could write a piece on that missed opportunity.

    • “cold starting could be a nightmare”
      Do you mean hot starting? Cold starting, even well below zero, is something every Beetle was famously brilliant at. They used unmodified Beetles at the antarctic research stations in the 1960s.

  48. This car also became known as the vehicle of choice of Ted Bundy as most of them were so cheap and dispoable in America at the time if you wanted to go on a state to state killing spree. However, it was a Beetle that proved to be Bundy’s undoing when he posed as an undercover cop to try and murder yet another pretty co ed, the girl became suspicious as no American police officer would be seen dead in a Beetle.

  49. @51, Ford Prefect,

    I’ve never had a Beetle- I think you’ve got me confused with someone else…

  50. @25 (Merlin Milner) Sure, they PRODUCE more cars these days… But how many are developped and designed in the UK these days? And how succesfull are they?

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my Jag, but you must know what I maen…

    @55, so you were also “there” 😉 Cool, I was the one wearing the red shirt and black tie, that should narrow it down for ya (sort of LOL). Freezing cold btw, but thanks to German work ethics all the roads were perfectly clean. Gotta love the Germans for efficiency eh?

    As for all these “Nazi references” in this post… Sigh, get over it, the war has ended almost 75 years ago.

    You can (AND SHOULD!!!) remember all the horrible things the Nazi’s did, but this car wasn’t one of them when they developped for the ordinary german workman…

    Just ask yourself one thing. If you were living in Germany in the 30’s, what would you have really done without the knowledge we now all share, without all the information recources we have today. Heck, even in Italy today it’s hard to get the correct info on who to vote for.

    Even the Soviets (who actually defeated them instead of you know who) were shocked with what they found in Auswitz… How could a normal German citizen have known what was about to happen when they voted for him?

    Think again…

  51. About 30 years ago someone wrote a very good book about the history of the Morris Minor making more than a few comparisons with the VW Beetle.

    One thing it mentioned was that for many years the Beetle was VW’s sole model & received a lot more attention in terms of product development & marketing than Nuffield & BMC seemed to be able to do.

    It does quote a couple of head to head road tests from American motoring magazines, one mention was that a Minor could be (with a gentle clutch control) moved away in 3rd, when a Beetle couldn’t be shifted in 2nd.

  52. @59, Richard16378,

    The Beetle wasn’t VW’s sole model, although their other products were Beetle-derived. Not sure that the amount of development was a plus or a minus, as there is less commonality of parts amongst their air-cooled range.

    Ironic that in the early ’70s VW produced the all-new Golf, which was bang on the money, whereas in dear old Blighty, the Minor transmogrified into the Marina…

  53. Some of the comments are makeing my p*** boil!
    Sure it was crude, abortion NO It was designed as basic transport in the 1930’s after all.
    Lets get the VW water cooled time line correct folks
    1/ K70 (1970-75) Sales flop
    2/ Passat (1973)
    3/ Scirocco (late 1973)
    4/ Golf (June 1974)
    5/ Polo (1975)

  54. Antigoon. All Jaguar Land Rover products are designed and engineered in the UK. Some of the engines are joint enterprises with PSA and / or Ford. Honda, Nissan, BMW, GM, Ford, SAIC have R&D facilities here (I have probably missed some). Ford make a large % of their engines in the UK. Consultancies such as Ricardo develop engines, gearboxes and cars for most manufacturers.
    So the UK’s car industry is alive and well, but different. Please look at the facts.

  55. @Big H

    Maybe you should have said:

    1) NSU K70
    2) Audi 80
    3) Volkswagen Scirocco
    4) Volkswagen Golf
    5) Audi 50

    VW wouldn’t be where it is today without the assimilation of NSU, DKW, Wanderer, Audi etc…

    In the late-1960s, the company was on its knees, and heading towards a bleak future because of its over-dependence on the air-cooled rear-engined models. Had it not been for the Audi and NSU designs that were adopted by Wolfsburg, Volkswagen would be dead now.

    • Keith, no, the Golf/Scirocco was VW with Audi engines and some Karman input to the Scirocco.

      In a way VW until 1968 was caught in a “Nordhoff”-world, where every car needed to be air-cooled and rear engined. What would have happened if Nordhoff would not have died 1968? In a similar way BMC was living in a “Issigonis”-world full of Hydrolastic and FWD cars. Similarities did not end there: In the 60s both companies came into trouble due to developing cars not really suited for the market. VW could have had their 3litre too: A luxury car with aircooled flat 6 in the back was in development at one point.

      Is the Beetle crude? Seen by 1970s standards yes, but seen by 1930s standards? Is a Morris 8 crude?

      Comparing a Beetle to a Mini seems like comparing a RWD Ford Escort with a Ford Ka – designed in different times with different aims. The Beetle was aimed at the same market that was dominated by the Austin New 7 and Morris 8 in the UK pre WWII. Later the Morris Minor played the same role – with the advantage of being a clean sheet design of the late 40s resulting in a much more modern package than the Beetle.

      In the 1930s H. Ledwinka (Tatra) and F. Porsche moved towards the rear engined saloon cars for similar reasons Issigonis went transverse FWD: It was felt that these cars offered more interior space, better comfort and options for a more aerodynamic bodywork compared to the standard layout of the day. Looking at the cut-away picture of the Beetle in the blog shows very well how much of the overall space is dedicated to passengers and luggage compared to the drivetrain.

  56. As the Tatras didn’t have a need for a front grille, they came up with some interesting 3 and 4 headlight arrangements, as seen on the 603.

    Essentially lived on as the Tatra 700 until the mid 90s, looking like a cross between a mk1 Passat and an FSO. Big rear engined V8 saloon car.

  57. It is believed, those big fast RWD /rear engine Tatras were once banned for use by German Officers due to the dangerous roadholding characteristics and a number of accidents

    • It’s a fact, the order banning SS personnel from driving them is still in German archives. T77/87 killed more mid ranking to senior officers than the entire Czech underground – even with the fin.
      It was probably more to do with crappy tyres (crossplys), hitting potholes and losing grip than the engine hanging off the rear axle, although that didn’t help.

  58. While I can’t stand the Beetle, the camper derived from it proved to be a very durable people carrier in the era before people carriers and also as a cheap mobile caravan

  59. I am a Englishman living abroad. Living in Brasil to be accurate.

    In England I drove old Minis, Metros and Montegos. I loved them all.

    Now I am in Brasil I drive a 1986 Fusca (late 1960’s Beetle in terms of design and technology). I never wanted one, never had any interest in one before I came here.

    Is it better than a mini? No. Is it worse? No. Its just different.

    My Fusca is a 1600 with no history and more owners than I care to admit to. Its noisy, has no heater or cooling, swerves when braking and has several shades of white on the various panels. Each day it does over 100km in heats varying from 10 degrees to 40 degrees. It always starts, it always runs and it sits at between 66 and 75 mph all the time.

    Put simply it does what it was designed to do 70 or 80 years ago but in a modern environment. By modern standards its a terrible car. So is a Mini.

    For their time they were both great cars but are both massively out classed by even the cheapest imported cars that you buy today.

    Arguing over whether a Mini, 2CV or Beetle was the the best car makes no sense. They were all great cars at the time that they were introduced. Now they are are all outclassed and probably enjoyed more as memories than real experiences.

  60. I used to fly an aeroplane with a VW flat four engine ( Tipsy Nipper with Rollason Ardem engine ) . It was a fun machine with the best acceleration along the runway of all the types I flew ! It also had a stall speed of 32 MPH ( not knots) so in any decent breeze flying it backwards was possible !

  61. The writer of this blog is just plain jealous of the Vws because his Minis and French crap cars are not considered as classic or more iconic than the Beetle. Why I say this? Well, by the simple fact that he said, in few words: “If France or Britain would’ve lost the war, any of those countrie’s cars would’ve been as famous as the Beetle. The car is famous because of circumstance”. Well, my friend, you must learn to accept the things the way they happened. The combination of words “would have” clearly denote something that never existed and something that didn’t go as planned/expected.

    What I love about VW haters is the fact that the first statement they say against a VW Beetle is about the noisy engine and that the car is so rust-prone. All internal combustion engines in this world are noisy and all cars are rust-prone, the only difference is the load of crap that they install on exhaust systems to silence the exhaust noise on modern cars and not all cars undergo the same paint procedure.

    But let me tell you one thing: Beetles start and drive through the toughest climate conditions. Even in the 60’s, VW of Australia drove a Bug on the South Pole WITH NOT A SINGLE PROBLEM. I bet those hideous Citröens and those ridiculous Mr. Bean-mobiles would’ve got a frozen radiator in a matter of minutes.

    Beetles can be customized and transformed into vehicles for harder terrains or even race cars. Can those French Poodles or those English paperweights handle that? No way. Shoot, even Ferdinand Porsche’s son started off selling the Porsche 356 (the most beautiful Porshce ever) it was based off from the VW Beetle platform. Porsche is still by far a better car brand than Citröen or Cooper. I’m terribly sorry our VWs have the engineering of a Porsche car and yours don’t.

    Nowadays the Volkswagenism is just as popular as it’s always been, and it always will. Too bad that these haters will keep on hatin’ while we keep on lovin’ our Vee-Dubs.

    Long live the Air Cooled!!!!

    • Seems to be as much hate in this post as the OP! Beetles are great but so are the cars you’re hating! A 2CV is a Beetle’s equal off-road.. Better in some ways and worse in others.
      I do despair of ‘one-make enthusiasts’ sometimes! Mini and Beetle owners seem particularly prone to it!

      • PS. You do realise the Citroens are air cooled too? (juts spotted your reference to Antarctic and radiators!)

  62. @72 – well said Edward. After all, Fiat are still in the financial doldrums, as are Peugeot-Citroen, and the direct descendants of BMC are long gone. Whilst Volkswagen has its sights firmly on overtaking Toyota to become the largest car manufacturer in the world.

    VW must have done something right…..largely because they make cars that are largely well-engineered, work properly and last a long time. And the Beetle started that tradition.

  63. I am having hateful thoughts about the Volkswagen Basic Beetle and Super beetle with it’s vile looks, and it only have on instrument gage and it’s so austere, I could get killed on that piece of junk!

  64. @ Chris Ward, I’m surprised FSO didn’t buy up the tooling in the seventies as they plumbed the same depths of miserable, backward looking motoring only misers and so called anti establishment figures could enjoy. Also while this miserable looking car was being lapped up by hippies in America, everyone else was enjoying real, 100 per cent American cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and the Mustang GT. I notice as well that quintessentially car loving band from that era, the Beach Boys, always sung about V8s and Woodies over Beetles.

  65. I presume as the German tooling was withdrawn from use it was sent to Brazil & Mexico to keep Beetle production going.

    VW managed to sell 5 million in the USA alone, & it took until emission controls & Japanese entering the market to put a dent in sales.

  66. The Beetle was vital for Volkswagen in establishing the brand and establishing a market presence, but it was a technical dead end. The Golf owed more to the BMC ADO16 than the Beetle in its concept, even the 1100 and 1300 engine sizes.

  67. Not a fan of the Beetle, nonetheless it would have been interesting to see a post-war UK manufacturer such as BSA producing their own (albeit developed) version of the Beetle under a revived BSA Cars (beneath Lanchester and Daimler) akin to how the BSA Bantam motorcycle was based on the DKW RT125.

  68. my car is beetle 1300 1970 model the problem is i start and run it some distance no problem at all but i stop engine within 30 secants i can simply restart after 10 mints it can not be started then 1 hour late then normally can start this very irritating me to run this car and also right side on of the two plug missing lot of mechanic fine this nobody rectify this problem just now. please tell me how can this rectify.

    • Check where the fuel line is routed, sounds like it could be heat vaporising the fuel in the lines so once it gets hot it cuts out.

      • No, it is essentially a more radical modernized 2/4-door version of what became the 1971-onwards 1302/1302 Super Beetle that had Volkswagen’s higher-ups been willing to give it the go ahead, would have also likely replaced the Type 3 and lower-end Type 4 models (at minimum) due to their disappointing sales.

        Whereas the existing Beetle in terms of overall sales still had much left to give for a late-30s 2-door design given the bare minimum of updates that Volkswagen could get away with, almost reminiscent of BMC/BL’s lack of radical updates for the Mini and ADO16.

        Such a modernized Super Beetle would have likely needed a more potent engine then the existing air-cooled 1600cc Flat-4, so it is possible the car would receive the 1.7-2.0-litre Type 4 engines if not some version of the Wasserboxer units though admittingly am only speculating at this point.

        • It would have still struggled, in the same way British Leyland’s modest updates to its cars in the early eighties like the Ital couldn’t hide what were old designs. By 1971 Germany was booming, wages were high and German motorists wanted luxury and power, and in the Beetle’s part of the market, Opel was the most popular brand. Most motorists didn’t want crude, air cooled cars any more when the alternatives were so much better.

          • Agreed it might not work in the case of Germany though one can also make the same argument with other cult cars that remained in production longer then they should have (e.g. Land Rover, Renault 4, Citroen 2CV, etc).

            Yet places such as Mexico, Latin American, South Africa and other countries would have likely been well receptive to such a model. Especially as the original 2-door Beetle was a notorious robbery trap when used as a taxi in places such as Mexico, whereas a radically modernized 4-door Super Beetle would not have the same problem.

      • To put it another way, this radical Super Beetle proposal is to the original Beetle what the Minki or even the Barrel Car prototypes were the original Mini.

  69. While the Beetle was essential in re establishing the German economy in the fifties, by the seventies it was old hat and sales were tumbling. It would be the same if BMC decided to make the Morris Minor its principal car and only have variations like the Traveller and the van as alternatives. Same would happen here, by the late sixties buyers would have flocked to far superior and modern cars from Ford, Rootes, Vauxhall and Triumph and BMC would be in serious trouble. Indeed the Minor was only kept alive after 1962, when the ADO 16 was launched, as it was seen as a cheaper alternative and had a following among police forces who needed a simple, inexpensive panda car.

  70. The Beetle was a terrible car & so was the Fiat 127/128, the Morris Minor was far superior, handled like a sports car, it should have had a flat 4 water cooled engine instead of the antique side valve engine, but was dropped for economic reasons, there was also a prototype with a transverse engine & front wheel drive, light years ahead of the competition, but never produced. Issigonis undoubtedly the master, years ahead of his time.

  71. If German engineers are so good, how come it took them 60 years to build a Porsche that went round corners? How come they had to cheat to get a diesel engine emmisions pass? Why have they never built a car as good as the E type, if it wasn’t for the Trades Unions ruining the British car industry we would still be leading the world.

      • Oddly enough, ex-BL engineers are, and always have been, in high demand around the world. As an ex-PSF body engineer, I’ve worked in many countries – and I’m far from unique!

    • Actually, about 1/3 of engineers working in Germany are British (many ex-BL).

      Without making excuses for any union actions, BL died through shockingly poor management at senior levels, and nothing else. It started with the complete inability to combine the various constituent parts of the company into something viable. It got worse with the disasterous product decisions made. That Longbridge died as it did was simply inevitable.

  72. I have a soft spot for an era in which rival cars were COMPLETELY different, with completely different mechanical layouts and thinking.

    For example, I have a soft spot for the VW Type 4. It’s extraordinary that in 1968 VW could produce an all new and in many ways quite modern and upmarket new model…yet power it with a rear engined air cooled unit. I guess that’s what happens when you get a successful formula, you keep repeating it until you are eventually forced by your customers to move on…

    • I had a 411LE in the late ’80s. The Bosch Jetronic injection brain had developed dementia age about 18 so it was the least reliable car I’ve ever owned, either doing 15mpg or not running at all. Hot starts in cold weather were particular hit-and-miss fun, often having the hot engine drowned in petrol producing swathes of petrol steam from the exhaust! I have fond memories of it though…. Super comfy and quiet ride, just a vague rumble of engine following you, good handling and steering, the brilliant built-in petrol fired heater (dead reliable unlike the engine’s fuel system) and some neat touches like the battery under the passenger seat (would be driver’s in LHD)

  73. The big shame to me was the demise of NSU, whose Ro 80 had the potential to be a fantastic upmarket saloon with its whisper quiet and powerful rotary engine and attractive styling. Unfortunately the engines had a habit of burning out the rotors prematurely and the company was bankrupted by warranty claims. It was one big shame as Mazda resurrected this engine for their sports car and didn’t encounter the same problems.

    • Yes they did! It’s just that Mazda didn’t sell that many, that you didn’t notice. The failing rotor tip seals and filthy emissions of early Wankel engines damaged Mazda for 30 years.

      • Also early Wankels had high fuel consumption, not a good thing in the 1970s.

        It’s probably the reason Mazda eventually restricted it to the high performance models.

        NSU took a real leap of faith with the Ro80 after the fairly mundane Prinz.

        • They certainly did take a real leap of faith with the Ro80, their Comotor rotary joint venture almost took down Citroen as well had Peugeot not stepped in.

          Though NSU must have considered developing a standby conventional engine for the Ro80 at some point like they did with the Volkswagen / NSU K70, perhaps even a bored-out 2-litre version of the K70 engine if such a thing were possible or some other non-Wankel engine.

    • @ Glenn, My Dad owned a 1973 Mazda RX4 Coupe which was a great looking car and drove well – good acceleration. He had no trouble with the engine… but it was thirsty on the fuel! It was slightly damaged in a crash but repaired and he kept it until 1978 I think I still have a Dinky model of the NSU Ro80, which as you say was an attractive saloon.

    • They encountered the problems but managed to solve them with better metallurgy than NSU or Citroen had managed.

  74. Another extremely durable design, that of the Fiat 124/125, launched in 1966. While Fiat had phased out these cars by 1975, they provided the basis for the Lada 1200/ Riva, which remained in production until 2010. Also unlike the Fiat version, rust protection was far better and the car is still a common sight in Russia.

  75. I appreciate that this blog is designed for people to let off steam – however off-beat the rantings may be.
    I still think it is somewhat pointless to criticise a 70 year old design by judging it with no reference to its peers.
    At the time I purchased my first beetle (an oval rear window model) in the late 60’s the competition included: Skodas – rear engined, very crude but utterly reliable, Moskvitch’s – with handling that would make a beetle feel like an Alfa, Wartburg’s – with handling that would make the Moskvitch feel like an Alfa, NSU’s – that were very quirky to say the least, Goggomobiles – some with electric gearboxes and other eccentricities – 3 cylinder Saabs that were probably one of the cleverest and most competent cars of the day – and then and only then can talk about all the normal stuff! Compared with most of my list above the Beetle was a well built, individually styled family car with oodles of charachter! Anyone who be called any sort of enthusiast knew how to get the rear wheels to be at negative camber, would fit the thing with Michelin X’s and enjoy the experience. Yes, your right, the heater was rubbish! But we don’t kill the mini off ‘cos it let water in through every orrifice do we? Name me the perfect car. In my view the Renault 16 comes blooming close – but even Renault hadn’t worked out the full hatchback advantage – so still not perfect then!

    • Well said, it helps to put these things in context of what other cars were available.

      Renault did quite well with the 16, but the OHV engine was still in-line with the gearbox ahead of the engine, needing an odd gear shift.

      Also rust proofing was poor, my Dad observed that most UK sold examples had vanished from the roads by about 1982, only 3 years after the last ones made.

      Renault never came up with a direct replacement for the 16, the 20 was the closest, but still had an in-line engine.

  76. I have no particular affection for the Beetle, but I can see how it provided what people wanted, i.e. cheap reliable transport. Was it any better or worse than it’s peers? Well, it was better than some and worse than others. I personally find driving a classic Mini very uncomfortable, my long legs mean that I sit with a knee either side of the steering wheel and have to grope around under my thigh for the gear lever. I would prefer a Morris 1000 to either a Beetle or Mini, but that is a function of my particular preferences.

    Currently, I have a German estate and my wife a German hatchback. Both are excellent cars in their own right, but for pottering round town and short runs we often find outselves using our son’s 1.2 litre Suzuki Swift which is a pleasure because you don’t need a degree in astrophysics to operate the radio, or a PhD in Information Technology to turn the wipers on.

    There is a certain charm in the basic simplicity of many older cars (pre-electronics), and it should be remembered that even as late as the 1980s repair panels and welding sets were the province of the professional garage. Nowadays it is perfectly possible to rebuild many classic cars (MGB, Morris Minor, Beetle, Mini, LandRover etc) in the garage at home thanks to the extensive parts support and tools from Machine Mart or HSS.

    I’m not going to knock any of these cars, Beetle, Minor or Mini, they all had their place and time, and none should be judged by the standards of 2017.

  77. Grown up in early post war Germany, I remember quite well the time when more than 40 percent of the cars on German roads were Beetles.
    Many a schoolmate’s father told me that never in his life he would buy a water cooled car because in Stalingrad he had seen water cooled vehicles freeze up in Russian winter and how the air cooled Kubelwagens didn’t give any problems.
    Even then, this car never touched me, just as the uber-Beetle Porsche 911 never was and still isn’t attractive for me.

    At a time when the object of the average car buyer’s dreams was an Isetta or Goggomobil microcar with 250cc (at that time, cars up to that capacity could be driven with a moped driver’s licence, hence they were very popular in Germany) a Beetle was a proper, grown up vehicle and relatively inexpensive.
    And yes, by the early Seventies, thanks to its Beetle monoculture VW was bankrupt and was saved only by tax payer’s money and by stealing Audi’s products like the Audi 80 fastback sold as the first VW Passat. The Golf was the car that saved the company, it was developed in record time and initially hat numerous faults, lousy quality and high prices. But that is a different story.

    Whoever thinks that VW did not update the Beetle should remember the advertising where the headline said “all the parts carried over from last year’s Beetle” and all you could see were the headlamp chrome rims and the hubcaps. In reality, Beetle parts interchangeability is a convoluted science of its own.

    • I think your comment about air cooling and water cooled cars having their coolant freeze in winter hits the nail on the head.

      These were superb cars for the kind of people who would find mixing and adding coolant far too complex, while the air cooled flat 4’s could survive on little maintenance and be “repaired” with a pick axe and a piece of scaffolding tube. I don’t believe that these cars were ever reliable, but the process of repairing them was something that a blacksmith could work out (frequently) from scratch!

      Let’s remember Beetles as the dog slow, noisy, evil handling, mind numbingly gutless when cold and prone to over heating at any opportunity cars that they were. Add in dire 6v electrics (retained for far too long!) and a heater system that was just as likely to kill the unfortunate occupants though carbon monoxide poisoning, as it was to provide some meagre heat and you have a truly terrible car!

  78. The Beetle was brilliant at things it was good at. Unbreakable off-road and with traction not far off a 4×4 on muddy slopes. Unbreakable foot-to-the-floor flat-out all day every day in any climate, in a way no long-stroke undergeared British car could manage. (essential to its American success)
    As a car I prefer FWD French stuff… The Renault 4 F6 van is probably the best vehicle ever in my eyes, but credit where it’s due to the Beetle!

  79. It was Germany;s answer to the Morris Minor and the Citroen 2 CV, a simple car that was able to seat four people and provide cheap, basic transport. Problem was Volkswagen became complacent with the Beetle, believing people would keep on buying the car, but never considered a replacement and by the early seventies, with most Germans favouring far superior and more modern cars and the export market drying up, Volkswagen was in serious trouble. By then, the Beetle was seen as an antiquated car which was noisy, slow, strange looking and lacking in any kind of luxury fittings that buyers demanded.

    • Quite a few makers were lured into a false sense of security by demand for their cars exceeding supply for many years after the war.

      By the 1970s the Beetle was outdated but at least VW did their homework right for the next generation of cars,

  80. Rear engined cars weren’t exactly unfashionable and confined to the Beetle in the sixties. In France the Simca Mille( 1000) proved to be a very popular rear engined car that remained in production until 1979 and in Britain we had the Hillman Imp, a Mini alternative that was in production for 13 years. Also Skoda, and Porsche were devotees of the rear engine/ rwd layout as it gave their cars more traction in poor weather conditions.

    • I forgot about the Simca 1000 Glenn. A neighbour a few doors down our street had one, before changing to a Colt Lancer

      • They seemed to rust away quite quickly over here, but the drier climates in southern France meant they could still be seen into the nineties. Also sporting and Special versions with the more powerful 1294cc engines were always worth a look for people who wanted something different.

    • It is a pity Britain’s other Rear-engined projects never got off the ground.

      From Roy Fedden developing his F-Car prototype with a more compact conventional engine and fully independent suspension (or Imp-like rear trailing arms) instead of a sleeve-valve air-cooled radial engine and swing-axles.

      To someone like Fedden later providing his experience with designing rear-engined cars to Standard-Triumph when they were considering using the Renault 4CV as a possible pattern for what eventually became the Standard Eight.

      • Wasn’t cricket to have a rear engined( particularly air cooled) British car, and rear engined cars were seen as part of a backward foreign car industry. Rootes were quite brave to develop the Imp as a rear engined car, and with hindsight, it was a very good design, having the boot in the front meant far more luggage space, the rear engine/rwd drive layout made the Imp a very good driver’s car, and car looked quite futuristic. However, other manufacturers seemed hostile to this layout and it never took off in Britain.

        • Not sure understand the first part above. Rootes did investigate a rear-engined car with the post-war Little Jim prototype, though the same name was apparently used on a pre-war front-engined RWD prototype below the pre-war Minx.

          The Imp was a good effort all things considered, it is just a shame other factors conspired to undermine the car and Rootes itself. One can only imagine how Rootes could have built upon the success of the Imp even if the rear-engined layout was going out of fashion around that point.

          There was also the pre-war Rover Scarab prototype along with possibly one or two less viable projects, while rear-engined projects for BMC were only used as a comparison to their FWD program.

  81. Hitler and his cronies might have harped on about the people’s car, but i notice he was never seen in one, preferring his huge supercharged Mercedes, often with an open top so he could salute his sieg heiling followers in Nuremberg. Somehow a small, crude car like the Beetle wouldn’t be suited for a dictator like Hitler.

    • VW gave Hitler a Beetle but he didn’t have much use for it as he nether bothered to learn to drive & probably decided it was fancy enough to be driven about in.

      • No the Beetle wouldn’t give off the same image as the huge Mercedes favoured by the top brass, and few cars were sold to the general public as the war intervened. A bigger Nazi success was the Volksempfaenger radio, a government subsidised radio that appeared in 1933 and sold in millions.

  82. One good thing came out of the later Beetle era, the revival of Audi in the early seventies that helped to save Volkswagen and became their upmarket brand. The original 80 and 100 were fine cars and the equal of BMW and smaller Mercedes. Almost never seen now, the 80 GT was a fine driver’s car and the 100 Coupe was a Capri rival for a more discerning driver with a bit more money.

  83. I am a big fan of the Beetle and whilst it may have been unique in many ways it was tough, had comfortable and simple suspension, was well built and was simple economical motoring which is what a lot of people in the 50s, 60s and 70s needed. Other people’s cars like the fiat 500 and 2cv were similar in principle. Whilst not the last word in sophistication they did a job very well. The Morris minor was a great car but those early lowlights with puny engines were not that useful and it wasn’t until a few years later they became more practical.
    Given the choice of a Beetle or a Minor it would be a Beetle for me. Timeless design

  84. The Beetle did the job in the same way the Morris Minor, Citroen CV and Fiat 500 did in other European countries, it was an affordable car in a country that was recovering from six years of war and post war shortages. The Beetle was the right car for Germany until the mid sixties, same as you could say about the other three I’d mentioned, but more affuent buyers thereafter wanted faster, more stylish and better equipped cars. Yet the car has been a cult item every since and well loved by enthusiasts who appreciate the Beetle’s basic charms.

    • it’s true that most first world markets had moved on by the 1970s, especially as the American Government were starting to introduce emission controls the Beetle’s engine would have trouble passing.

  85. Personally, I’m a Beetle fan; remember that when designed its British equivalents were typically powered by sub-1-litre long-stroke sidevalve engines (owing to the ‘RAC Horsepower Tax’, often had 3-speed gearboxes, cable brakes and leaf-springs.

    The Beetle had more modern suspension, 4 speeds, hydraulic brakes and a sensibly-sized OHV engine (never less than 1.1 litre), coupled with relatively long gearing so it could happily sustain crusing-speeds that would have caused a similar-era Austin/Morris/Wolseley 8hp to explode!

    The Beetle of course evolved, with engines-up-to-1600cc, fuel injection, semi-automatic transmissions etc that made it still OK as basic transport up to the late-70s. OK, they rusted, but everything else did, so you got used to buying a new one every 4 years and the rusty old one was sold on to someone impoverished, to run into the ground. Look at any street-scene of the 60s and 70s and there will be a Beetle. They were also ubiquitous in Africa (along with the Peugeot 404/504) until Toyota came along.

    The fastback/Estate Beetles in 1600 form were the car the Maxi should have been! I remember travelling to school in the back of one as a teenager (squeezed in the rear seat between two twin sisters…!) and the Beetle seemed to go pretty well. It was subsequently replaced by a Volvo 145 which didn’t have as much charm.

  86. The problem with the Beetle, Citroen 2CV, Morris Minor and Fiat 500 was they’d become elderly by the seventies and the latter three car manufacturers had a much more modern and desirable range of cars. Volkswagen had become complacent by the late sixties, seeing the future in only making air cooled Beetle based vehicles, and buoyed up by export sales of the Beetle. Unfortunately German buyers wanted better and more modern cars, the main export market in America dried up after 1969 with emissions and safety regulationss, and the company was heading for bankruptcy. The Beetle and the Variant estate car became a real headache for Volkswagen by the early seventies as market share tumbled in Germany and the company needed more modern cars or face the end.

    • Luckily Volkswagen saw the train coming down the tracks and changed plan … hence why they are still here today and doing okay!

      • VW managed to do their homework right when designing the Golf, using a Simca 1100 as a starting point.

        I’m not sure if they studied any particular for for the Passat & Polo.

      • Volkswagen bought Audi in 1969, gaining access to an upmarket brand, and the Passat and Polo were Audi designs that were ready for production when the Golf was launched. By 1975, Volkswagen had a far more modern range of cars that were hits in Germany and growing in popularity in export markets. Also the Beetle managed to live on in Latin America, where its simple design and low running costs were appreciated.
        I’ve never been anti the Beetle, as it was an iconic car and well loved by enthusiasts, just compared with something like the ADO16. it was totally dated and really should have been replaced ten years earlier.

        • Volkswagen actually took over Auto Union in 1964, purchasing the shares owned by Daimler Benz. They purchased NSU in 1969 and merged it with Auto Union (operating only as Audi). NSU had project K50 in progress, which became the Audi 50/ Polo. Supposedly the Golf was another NSU project, though not been ever confirmed just speculation. It was really the arrival of NSU engineers that turned VW around, as previously they had relied on Porsche to develop models for them.

  87. Those cars referred to at the start of the article – Range Rover, Mini, ADO16 etc where all developed in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s of course. Decades after the Beatle was designed and initially produced. Plenty of cars in the intervening years where influenced by the Beatle – Renault Dauphine, Fiat 500 and even the Hillman Imp so the concept did have some legs. The Beatle proved popular in the post war period of course was because it was reliable and had build quality that its contemporaries could only dream of.

  88. The Hillman Imp always struck me as a car that could have done better if the reliability was right on the early cars. Its rear engined, rear drive design wasn’t unusual at the time and the engine being in the back meant there was quite decent luggage space in the front and the rear windscreen could open to provide more iuggage space. Also the 875cc engine was very tuneable and while the handling could be lively, the sporting Sunbeam versions could do 90 mph quite easily and developed a loyal following. Then there was the oh so seventies Caledonia run out model with tartan seats and bright red paint that really stood out.

  89. How amusing that author of this article slagging off the Beetle, doesn’t work on his own cars, but pays someone else. Well I do work on my own cars, and can say that not only is the Beetle more fun than a box of frogs, it is great to work on. Why is he comparing the Beetle which is essentially a prewar car with Minis and the like? I’ve a 1938 Morris Eight and a 1940s Beetle. The Beetle is a better, more lively and reliable than the Morris. The Mini is modern by comparison to those two cars, being created 1n the 1950s. But then again it is a far worse car to be in an accident in. The crash resistance of a wet cerial box, and rust issues wthin just three years, subframes coming away were not uncommon. The Mini’s transverse mounted engine and front wheel drive, were not the Mini being ground-breaking in car design. This was a rip-off by Mini designer Alex Issigonis, from German car maker DKW who built cars with that format as early as 1931. As for the Beetle, that a car designed in the 1930s should stay in production virtually unchanged until 2003, is staggering and a testament to it’s reliability, simplicity, appeal and ruggedness. It is also today the most popular classic car on the planet.

    • @ John Mills, the Mini was another car in its original form that lasted even longer than the German built Beetle, was a big seller in its sixties and seventies heyday, but by the eighties had become a dated, unsafe buzzbox that eas falling way behind its rivals like the Beetle. Like the Beetle, a replacement was overdue and the Metro probably saved British Leyland from oblivion in the early eighties, but unlike the Beetle’s Golf replacement, the Metro carried over the drivetrains from its predecessor and became dated quite quickly.
      Interesting, rather like the Beetle, the Mini became a cult item, continued in production in limited form until 2000, and developed an enormous after life following around the world. Also the Mini name, unlike the Metro, was so iconic, a totally new BMW based Mini has become an even bigger success than the original. Interestingly the new Beetle that was launched at the same time with modern technology and kitschy retro styling never sold in the same numbers.

      • Unlike the Mini, the New Beetle was based on the contemporary Golf & anyone wanting a more practical car chose the Golf.

        At least the New Mini had other body styles added to the range, while the Beetle was only a 3 door hatchback & convertible.

        • The new Beetle was hampered by using an ageing 8 valve 2 litre engine that wasn’t very economical or particularly powerful. With the Bini, you had a variety of engines and some very powerful John Cooper versions, as well as different body shapes. The Beetle just looked like some bad kitsch two door car and the fake flowers on the dashboard made it look stupid.

  90. I don’t see why “not working on your car but paying someone else” is necessarily odd.

    Yes, I spent my student years lying under a car with one set of wheels on the kerb to provide a secure ‘lift’ while I lay in the gutter removing a SU fuel-pump from under a Mini, or wrapping a split-down baked-bean tin round a crapped-out silencer [followed up by using a Mole-wrench to tie the baked-bean-tin in place with a couple of coathangers snarfed from Sketchleys] – but once I got a decent job that sort of nonsense was happily behind me.

    Beetles never seemed to require the sort of weekly make-do-and-mend stuff the buyer of 1960s BMC cars got used to.

    Which was great!

    [I hated the ADO16s owned by college friends, their exhausts were always breaking because of the way they seemed to be designed to use the downpipe as an additional engine-stabiliser! And the pipe running down the middle of the car meant that even parking with two wheels on the kerb didn’t really help ease access for bodgerrific repairs].

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