Technical Advice.

What we want to do is help you to understand exactly what you are getting yourself into. On these pages is a information about the cars, and typical problems you should expect to have. It is not meant to put you off, or to scare the Bejesus out of you. Just remember 'you are not alone', if you have a problem bet you a quid we've had the problem before.

 

Links to help you understand that little bit more.

About The type 2                                 Chassis & Engine Codes

About The Volkswagen Beetle            Beetles Through The Years

 

Please note ; This is my opinion, shared by many, laughed at by lots. We have been playing with these infernal contraptions for many years. This is advice I would give any body.

Symptom:  

You HAVE just got to buy a Beetle now.

There is nothing else in this world that you desire more, at this moment in time.

It will not wait, it has to happen now.

 

STOP

Read this article first, it may save yourself a lot of time, money and embarrassment.
 

Heater Channels. If you are going to get bored real quick, and not read any further, and only remember a word or two about what to look for, that is it. Heater Channels.
 

Index for this article:


Introduction

When you first look at that car, that 'you must have' there is just this fear that the seller is thinking "Oh, they'll never look there" and my educated friends would later say "You paid how much for this!?". You just wish you could talk to someone who had knew this stuff well and could give you a few "pointers". Well, this is what this article is all about. I really believe that with all of the experience I have, that this experience has the most to offer those just venturing out into the world of Beetles. And based on the feedback I have received, this is definitely the one of the most useful articles at this site

 Hopefully, you have come to grips with the fact that you are looking to buy an "old" car. And "old" means that it WILL, almost inevitably, require some work when you buy it or soon after. If you have some  experience and some tools and ambition, well, plan on setting some time aside on the weekends and getting greasy. If you have no experience, tools or intentions of getting your hands dirty, well, plan on contacting us and set aside a few hundred; for starters. You should not have the mindset of "IS there anything that would need to be fixed". Instead you should be thinking of "WHAT will need to be fixed", and how much that might cost. Now don't let me scare you off. It IS possible to find a cherry, well maintained and/or mostly rebuilt Beetle that doesn't need to go under the wrench right away, but don't fool yourself. You will likely pay big money for such a find and sooner or later it will need your attention (and money).

So plan on having to spend some money on your Beetle after you buy it.

And here is perhaps some more hard reality. Even the best of Beetles requires many times the maintenance of today's cars. I don't mean to scare you off (again), the maintenance is relatively simple, and even fun. But don't expect a Beetle to be a car that will carry you 200,000 miles, through all sorts of conditions with nothing more than some oil changes like the cars of today. The air-cooled Beetle, in all its years, is mostly a car developed with 1940s technologies. It is crude and simple. But hopefully that is why you want one.

And you might have a particular year in mind when you go out with your wad of money, but be flexible; it's not like you will pick from a row of cars, one from every year, and they will all be in exactly the same condition. No, you must take your intentions, your preferences and your budget and then go look to see what is available. Your intentions are especially important. If you want high vintage value, don't have to drive it immediately (or at all) and are willing (and able) to take on a bit of a "project", you might look for one thing. On the other hand, if you need and "immediate driver", you should look for other things too. Below are some of the important things to look for both a "Project" and "Immediate driver".

"Is a Beetle What I Really want?"

Beetle, and in fact all air-cooled Volkswagens, require much loving and patience, let no-one ever convince you otherwise. They are not a 15 year old Capri, a mark 2 Escort, a rover, you get my jist, the list can go on:

  • They will require much more maintenance, both periodic "preventive" maintenance, and repairs
  • They drive differently
    • They are much louder in terms of engine and road noise
    • They handle much differently, with significant over-steer (tail heavy weight distribution)
  • They are not as safe
  • People will often want to stop you and tell you about "back when" they had a Beetle
  • Many parts will be much less expensive than other cars
  • Mechanically, they are simpler


Ok, first, some of these statements are controversial. Yes, there are loads of people who will tell you how they survived an accident in their Beetle, drove away, and the "other car" was totalled. I'm sure there are such cases, I am not interested in debating. Second, note that not all the differences are negatives.

It may be a surprise to some that when I said that the Beetle will require more maintenance and repairs than a "typical" car. What? The car that won the world over and was the icon of bullet-proof reliability and economy?   Yes, that car. In 1967 it was the gold standard for reliability and economy. In 1999 however, when compared to a 1984 Golf or 1982 Civic, it is a quirky, needy, noisy, ill handling antique that can't help rusting. Remember folks, this car was designed in the 1930s, the gross functional changes made in the 40 years between 1938 and 1978 to the suspension and drive train are significant. The Beetle, no matter what year of manufacture, is a 1940s car, at best.

Point is, if you really want a Beetle, it better be because you want a Beetle, not just some cheap wheels that have a little character. And you better really know what a Beetle is, and what it isn't. To summarize, I think a Beetle is for you if:

  • You are comfortable with things mechanical, own tools and are willing to work on these cars (or, have a big wad of money and good shop nearby who will do this stuff for you)
  • You admire, respect and enjoy "vintage" automobiles
  • You are willing to put up with less-than-current technology ride characteristics and/or won't drive the car all that much
  • You will not (have to) drive the car in salty, winter weather
  • You really, really, really, really, really, really, really like them


The other side of the shoe, I think a Beetle may not be for you if:

  • You are not comfortable with things mechanical, do not own tools and are not willing to work on these cars
  • You just want "jump in and drive" transportation that you can depend on for years at a time without having to deal with any maintenance or repairs
  • You like to drive fast and aggressively and will not be happy with an underpowered car that has a tendency to spin out if you swerve to miss something
  • In order to buy it, you would have no money left over for any immediate repairs
  • You can't decide between the Beetle and the Chrysler PT Cruiser!


You get the idea. Yes, Beetles can be very reliable. But you need to keep them mechanically happy, well maintained and even if nothing breaks, you still need to have tools and manuals (They can "sense' if you don't have repair capabilities and will break by themselves. They like to be "touched" often). And yes, they can be made to go fast and handle pretty well too, but that can cost shed loads. And lastly about that driving in the snow comment. Beetles actually drive very well in the snow, but they cannot survive the rocks and salt of winters. No matter what you do, paint, undercoat or welding, lots and lots, salty roads will eat them up. Newer cars of today are able to deal with this problem much better.

 So make sure you know what you are getting into. Even if you are older and used to own, or had in your family, a Beetle, assess this decision carefully. Drive the new prospect as much as you can. If you are really a Beetle fanatic, you will want to by a Beetle because of all these things.

Ok, enough of that, now lets go on.....
 

Terms Used

Now before we start, let me give some definitions of some terms I use often in this text:

  • Solid - Mostly, this means "not rusty". It means no perforations especially (holes); a car could be very solid and still have some surface rust or cancer bubbles. It may also mean nothing loose, floppy, and rattly from a mechanical perspective, but usually when we say "solid" body, it has nothing to do with the mechanicals.
  • Complete - This means, well, complete. Nothing missing, all parts, wings, bumpers, interior, mouldings, etc. are there. Doesn't say anything about if all the parts are the right ones for that car (see below).
  • Correct - This means all of the parts are the right ones, and really it implies some reasonable level of completeness, but not necessarily totally. I mean a Beetle could be very "correct", but still be missing a few important pieces. But completeness says nothing about correctness. A car could be totally complete and totally incorrect. Make sense??
  • Original - A good definition of this for me is unmolested. This means everything is as it was when the car was bought new. Might not be shiny and clean, dent and scratch free, but is there as it was originally. And this is an area of some disagreement among enthusiasts. To many people, a car can have been repainted and they still call it original. Not me, original is original, not painted, modified, restored, covered, coated, etc., etc.
  • Mint - Something you get with a coffee, or eat if your breath stinks.
These are ordered the way they are above for a reason and really are very important. You should assess a car starting with "solid" and work your way down to "original". Each successive grade you give as you work your way through, adds to the value of the car. But just understand that high grades in one area doesn't merit the car is a gem. Think about it, someone could have bought a Beetle new, parked it in a field and just left it there. It might be rotted up to the door handles. Original?  yep; correct?  uh huh; complete?  absolutely; solid?  I don't think so. Solid should be your utmost priority in almost all cases. Look beyond new seats, stereos, chrome wheels, big engines, for solid. Then complete, then correct, then original.

Ok, enough briefing, let's move on. We'll take two approaches here. We'll call one the "solid" Beetle. Most of these considerations should apply no matter what you are buying. Then we'll go a second step and talk about mostly mechanical stuff that would be very important if you needed that "immediate driver". At the end of each section, I'll mention some "Vintage" considerations that you would want to look for if you were making a long term, heart and soul investment on a real oldie.

And at the end, I'll give you some tips to get super nit-picky about assessing a Beetle. You will want to read this if you go and look at the "fully restored, absolute mint (yummy), pristine and indistinguishable from new" Beetle that the seller is asking 8000 for.   Ha.
 

What is "Solid" (important truths about heater channels)

This text will be biased by my appreciation for vintage "correctness", but much of this stuff is generally applicable to any Beetle purchase.

First appearances are important. And I may mean the opposite of what you're thinking. I don't mean that you should only buy it if it looks good. You need to be able to look beyond that first appearance. See, if I go look at a filthy, tires low on air, good dent on one of the bumpers, headlight out, headliner falling down 1962 Beetle, my first thought is "opportunity". Which requires further looking. If that car is correct, complete and "inner" mechanically sound, it is worth far more than that same car with Empi 8 Spokes, and a bling bling paint job, some remnant house carpet covering the holes in the floor, missing bumper, huge holes in the dash for "previously removed" stereo equipment and a Type 3 engine shoe-horned into the back. Now again, I'm straying into my bias that "correct" is the only way. There is nothing wrong with a new "after-market" engine correctly installed into an earlier car.
 

The "Solid" Beetle- Assessing the BODY

First and foremost, I look for rust in the "doomsday" places.

  1. The heater channels
  2. The front bulkhead area
  3. The lower A-Pillar area.
[Begin Lecture on Heater Channels...]

 I come back and revise these articles often, and before I wrote this "lecture", I had this fear that way too many people were innocently buying Beetles with rotted heater channels either not knowing they were rotted, or were grossly underestimating the scope of replacing them, this is very important boys and girls.

    Let talk some more about heater channels

     I get asked all of the time about replacing heater channels. Is it worth it? How hard is it? Where can I go to have it done?

     8 Reasons Why Heater Channel Replacement May Not be as Easy as You Might Think:

       
    1. It takes a very long time. To do it properly, it requires you to drill out literally hundreds of spot welds which connect the channel to the other panels of the car.
    2. You run the risk of messing up the door opening dimensions and having doors that never close right again, especially if you try to replace the channels while the body is off the pan.
    3. If the channels are badly rotted, chances are good that some of the panels that attach to the channels are rotted in those locations too (most notably, the lower A-pillars)
    4. The generally available replacement heater channels are not correct for many of the older model VWs. While the shop may say they "fit" (and they do) the heater outlet is in the wrong place.
    5. Eventually, new heater channels will rust out again, especially if the car is driven in harsh conditions. The inside of the replacement channel is usually not coated with anything more than primer and welding them in will make them even more prone to rusting (hot metal burns paint off)
    6. The heater channel is not a simply body "panel", it is an important structural component that provides longitudinal rigidity to the body and floor pans.
    7. It is not trivial, in fact is in not even just "difficult". (see below)

       


    I bet you feel better now, huh? Don't misunderstand me. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from doing this. I am just trying to let you know that this is not trivial. Many people ask if they should do it like it is like replacing a floor pan. It is not, I assure you. To do it right requires skill, patience and time. Any one of those things may make up for some short comings in the other. What I mean by this is if you are have all of the time, money, patience and ambition in the world, go for it.

    But very quickly, what is the heater channel? Well, it is a hollow, multi-walled "tube" that runs from just in front of the rear torsion tube ends all the way along the lower edge of the sides of the car to the bulkhead where the master cylinder is bolted. It is a key structural component of the car. It houses a hollow tube that carries heat (yeah, right) up to the front floor vents. It is the front floor vents, it is the door "sill", it is the thing that the running boards bolt to. It is all of these things.

    And all too often people ask "Should I have it done?" before they ask "Can I have it done?". Heater channel replacement is not like having your house painted by someone. You won't find anyone listed in the yellow pages under "Heater Channel Replacement". Yes, many of the skills needed are common "body shop" skills, but some are not. Someone with a basic "chisel, patch and weld" technique, who is most interested in getting your car out so he can get the next one in, might get the job done but will look like crap, diminish the value of your car and you may have structural and/or rust problems down the road.

    If you seriously want to assess this job, first go find out what a replacement channel looks like. You usually can see them at the larger shows and most good retailers (check out the Links page), even magazine ads, have pretty good photos/drawings. They usually cost about 50 a piece. Once you see what one looks like, you will have a better idea about how it fits into your car, and what is involved in putting it in. Pull up the front foot well and rocker panel carpet, remove the rear quarter panel(s) and rear seat bottom. Remove your running boards (if they are still attached). You will now be able to see just about as much of your existing channels as possible. Examine them front to back and you will see how many different places that they are welded to other panels in the car. They are welded to the back upper floor where it rolls down toward the seat back, the lower edge of the rear quarters, the bottom of the B-pillar, the bottom of the A-pillar (hinge facing edge and inside the foot well area), the front quarter behind the front wheels and to the bulkhead cross member.

    The old channel must be carefully cut away in all these places and there must be good metal present to weld the new one in. "Filled hole" MIG spot welds are best and closest to the original assembly. MIG butt and stitch welds may also be used but will definitely not look "factory". In any case, extensive welding is required. The job can be done with the body on the car. It is a bit more difficult working around the pan (unless it (they) is being replaced too) but it does help keep the door opening square.

    As I said in the "buying" article, I wouldn't "walk" on a '61 for 1000 because the rear running board area was rusted through, but don't just lump wholly rotted channels into the same aggravation factor as a hole in the pan or a dented bumper. Heater channel repair is major commitment.
     

That might be little more technical/detail oriented then you would expect to have seen in a "What to look for when buying" article, but I hope it makes a very strong point. As the years go by, and the available "pool" of good restorable Beetles shrinks, this is all the more important. Find a Beetle with solid heater channels if at all possible! The guy selling the car might say "It just needs a couple of floor pans". But be informed and look closely for rotted heater channels, both front and back.

 I'm not saying don't do it, just be aware of what is involved. If you are comfortable and confident in body work, have a nice shop (us for example), MIG welder and LOTS of time, give it a shot. But if you are young, have a "spot" in the yard or live in a flat that has parking for one car out front, only a handful of tools and want something to drive by the end of the summer, don't be fooled!

 [..end lecture on Heater Channels. We now resume your regularly scheduled article. already in progress.]
 

Look at the pans closely, first from under the car, then from above. Lift up all of the carpet. Lift up the bottom of the back seat. Look under the carpet under the "storage" space under the rear window. Repairing floor pans really is not that bad if it is truly JUST the pans that are rusted. To the novice though, it might not be apparent where the pans stop and the heater channels start. Lift up the carpet covering the inside of the heater channels. This is the door "sill" area that rolls downward to meet the floor. Rust and rot at the bottom, vertical edge of this metal is NOT floor pan rust, it is heater channel rust- MUCH harder to repair.

Go all the way around the car and look for rust at that "heater channel" level. Where the running boards bolt up to. And the inner front quarter. Turn the front wheels about halfway to the right, now go look inside the front right wing. See the area that the back of the wheel is "pointing" at? This panel has a tendency to rust out about 1"-4" up from its lower edge. This is actually the back of the "frontest" part of the heater channel. If it has a little rust perforation, well, it's not catastrophic, but it must be dealt with. Look for rust at that same level in the front bulkhead area (this will require you to crawl up underneath the front and contort you neck). In a nutshell, rust (rust through, rot) anywhere at that "heater channel" level is not easily repairable.

Look for sagging doors, close them slowly and watch to see if they "hop up" when they latch up. Also, with them closed, very slowly release the handles and watch while squatting down. Do they drop down when the latch releases? Close them almost all the way and look at the line that the moulding makes from the door to the rear quarter. Lift up on the handle hard with them almost closed, is there play? Unfortunately, there is no one cause of sagging doors, but they are almost always difficult to remedy. They can sag from accident damage, A-pillar rot, worn hinge pins or just general old age. This is especially important for convertibles. Hinge pins are replaceable but it is not an easy job. Unless you have a special tool, it requires that you take the door off of the car, which may require other tools that you don't have.

And speaking of accident damage, go look for that. First, open up the bonnet, remove the spare (if there is one) and look at the inner sides of the spare tire well where the bumper brackets bolt to [may not be applicable to McPherson strut, "spare lays flat" Super Beetles]. Look for wrinkled metal. Now I have to tell you that in all my years and all of the scrap yards and cars in between, aside from show cars (and not always those either), I could probably count on one hand the number of pristine "well sides" that I have seen. The design of the front end of the Beetle is such that it cannot hide even a 6 mph collision with a solid object. There is a complex stamping in those side panels though, among which is a rounded large "wrinkle" to match the circumference of the spare tire, don't mistake that for collision damage. Collision damage is non-uniform and pretty easy to spot. There will usually be surface rusting and paint flaking in the wrinkles. Look also at this area from under the wing, in front of the wheel. Now damage here is not necessarily a reason not to buy the car, but it is a reason to tell the seller on discovery, "Oh, this car has been hit" and start talking them down.

Now go down back, get on the ground and look under the wings, behind the rear wheels. Look at the area surrounding where the rear bumper brackets bolt up to. Same story, look for wrinkled metal. This area does survive a hit much better than the front though. Also, while you are on the ground, look for rust-out along the lower edge of the inner rear quarter. If this area is severely rotted (outer edge gone) I'd pass it up.

Now as for the wings, don't worry about them, really. New ones are aren't mega money and good used ones can be had for 20 or less in the right places. But you don't have to tell the seller that. If one or two is dinged really good, or even missing, just say "Oh, these will have to be replaced" and talk them down some more.

Bumpers, especially on the "old" ('67 and earlier) models are important, the older the car, the more important. A good set of original, heavy steel, nice chrome bumpers are worth a lot. If the bumpers are destroyed, rusty or missing, again, doesn't mean don't get the car, but finding a "good" set will likely be tough. As for the new bugs ('68 and up), it is a little easier to find them.

Worth noting: if you are looking at a 1967, make sure that the rear deck-lid (thing that covers the engine) and the rear valance (the panel below the deck lid that the tailpipes come out from under) are in good shape and that both door handles are to your satisfaction. These are one-year only parts on these cars, and while they are not impossible to find, they are getting scarce and prices are going up. Even harder to find is the deck lid for the '67 convertible, door handles are the same as the '67 sedan.
 

The "Solid" Beetle- Vintage Considerations

Ok, you're in MY camp now. Completeness and correctness counts, but to what extent really depends on what you want to do with the car. We should have passed the "solid" tests above and/or be prepared to deal with whatever shortcomings that were found. Look "past" dirty things, but make note of things dented, destroyed or missing. Definitely look for the collision damage above.

Below I have attempted to list the "very hard to find" parts and the years that they were used on. This is because I don't want someone to pass up a solid vintage candidate because the glove box door is missing- they are the same on a wide variety of years and are plentiful in the scrap yards. On the other hand, I wouldn't want someone to pay top wedge for a '67 with a bashed-in deck lid and missing door handle thinking, "I'll just stop at the scrappers on the way home and pick up these things", it ain't likely to happen. See? So this list is not complete. But these are the "Oh wow, where did you find one of THOSE" parts, and I tried to list them in approximate order of scarcity:

  • '51 and earlier: you better know what you are looking at
  • '53 and earlier:
    • Semaphores (complete? working?)
    • Taillights ('52-'53 and earlier "hearts")
    • "W" Deck lid with triangle spring mount plate (if you are really picky)
    • Correct steering wheel
    • Correct and complete 30 or 36hp engine
  • '57 and earlier:
    • "W" deck lid (easily confused with the '58 and later lid)
    • "Bullet" turn signals (on front wings, '55 through '57)
    • Oval dash speaker grille ('53-'57, although I think Koch has a nice repro now)
    • Oval dash grille w/clock (an option)
    • Correct steering wheel
    • Correct and complete 36hp engine
    • Single tip exhaust ('54)
  • '67 and earlier:
    • '67 deck lid
    • '67 rear valance
    • '67 Door handles
    • 36 hp heater boxes ('61 and earlier)


This is not a complete list, just what pops into my head right now as the very first things I would look for. In the really early Beetles, there are lots of rare and hard to find parts. As a general rule, the older something is, the harder it is to find. In the 60s and newer Beetles, only the '67 stuff seems to be an exception. Once you go back to the very early 60s and into the 50s, stuff like correct interior parts, seats, some door hardware can be pretty tough to find.

Documentation on the car can be very valuable too. Original owners manuals, invoices, window stickers as well as maintenance records of any kind will add to the value.
 

Mechanical Stuff

This really is even more dependent on what you want the car for. I would gladly take a car (depending on the year) with NO brakes because I know that the whole system can be replaced for about 150. From the 40 horse era ('61) and up (assuming that you want to replace it with the correct items), most mechanical stuff is pretty inexpensive and available.

Mechanical Stuff- ENGINE

I did completely rebuild the engine in my first VW, I did all of the tune up, valve setting, "external" stuff on all my bugs for many years, nothing in, or about an air cooled VW engine scares me. But. In my humble opinion, a Beetle "long block" (that means the stuff inside the case, crank, rods, pistons, cams, heads valves,..... I thinks that's all the big stuff) is good for about 100000 miles, if the engine is taken care of. Specifically if the valve clearances have been kept right and the oil changed every 3-5k mi. A "short block" (case, crank, cam, maybe rods) is good for about 200000 miles under those same conditions. These are rough estimates, but the two most important considerations in assessing a Beetle engine are how many miles are on it, and has it been maintained properly. Unfortunately, it is very likely you will not know one or either of these two things.

I am not going to go into the technical engine assessment procedures like compression tests, spark plug inspections, etc. I think John Muir and other books have some good text on that. I would just say two things.

1) Your best purchase is from a "known" seller. I don't necessarily mean family, but from someone who has owned the car a long time, has records and indicates that he/she has meticulously maintained the car, can tell you every thing about it. As opposed to someone who just "got it from a friend" a couple weeks ago and has know idea of it's history. And;

2), don't think of a wheezing, drippy engine as a stake in the heart of an otherwise good car. Engines are pretty cheap compared to other makes. "Top ends" (pistons, cylinders, heads) can be rebuilt by the novice pretty easily. If the history of the car is unknown and the condition of the engine questionable, maybe you take a chance knowing that you could scrape up 400 (ish) for some engine work.. (BUT, see "Vintage considerations")

But I will give you three little "tests" that I have learned over the years to assess engine condition.

  • Test for crankshaft play- With the engine off, grab the pulley on the crank with both hands (the lower pulley) and try to push it in and out. Really hard. In a fresh, perfect engine, it should not move at all. In a wheezer, it may have 1/8" or more of play.
     
  • Test oil pressure- With the engine off, remove the high voltage wire from the centre of the voltage coil. That is the fat, short wire that goes between the voltage coil ( that  can-shaped thing bolted to the upper left side of the fan housing as you are peering into the engine bay) and the distributor cap (that round brown or black thing with 5 fat wires coming out of the top of it sticking out of the left side of the engine case). Do not disconnect it at the distributor cap end and leave it hanging, lest when you crank the engine it will spark to whatever is nearby and might start a fire ("Naaaah, I don't really think I want this car..."). Now without touching the gas, crank the engine and watch to see if the (red) oil light in the speedometer goes out. In a fresh engine, enough oil pressure will be built up at cranking speed to extinguish the light, but only in the freshest of engines. In a very-low-oil-pressure, wheezer engine, that red light will flicker or maybe come on steady at idle once the engine is hot (reattach the wire, start the engine). Make sure the oil is filled to the proper level for these tests.
     
  • Test for crankcase pressure/blow-by- When the piston rings are badly worn, combustion gases can "leak" past the rings and into the crankcase while the engine is running. This is called "blow-by" and creates pressure in the crankcase. To test for this, take the oil filler cap off a fully warmed up, idling engine. Place the palm of your hand firmly over the mouth of the opening and wait a few seconds, then remove your hand slowly. If you hear or feel a "pffftt" of pressure having built up, there is some blow-by. If you have burned a circle on the palm of your hand, the engine is also overheating. If the engine is equipped with a "breather box" (non-stock aftermarket accessory) you will not feel pressure even if the rings are worn.


Let me make a small point about engine removal. Some garages quote 300 in labour to remove and replace the engine. The last time I removed a Beetle engine in my garage, it took me 20 to 25 minutes. At many bigger VW shows there are "Engine Pull" contests where a Beetle is driven to a spot, two guys get out and remove the engine, roll it something like 10 ft away from the car, then back, re-install it and drive off. Record times, last I saw, were in the 6-7 minute range. That's no typo, 6-7 minutes (but I don't think the heater boxes are hooked up). Don't let anyone quote you any more than an hour labour to remove and replace an engine. If it takes them longer than that, they have no idea what they are doing (or they are trying to rip you a new.....bottom).
 

Mechanical Stuff- Transmission, suspension

There are a couple of known "wear out conditions" with the VW gearboxes. One is when the "slider" gear gets worn. In this case, the car will not stay in reverse. To test, back up the car and put a little load on the gearbox. Back up a slight incline or get in a clear area, engage the clutch fully in reverse and get on the fuel a bit (be careful, don't hurt any one). If this gear is worn, the shifter will pop out of reverse with a loud "thunk". If the gear is really worn, it won't even start to back up, it will just pop out quickly and quietly. Always check reverse, the car may behave perfectly other wise. If reverse pops out, the car will need a new gearbox.

Another gearbox "failure mode" is similar to reverse but involves 4th gear under load. Get the car out on the open road, get into 4th at about 40-45mph and floor it. If 4th is bad, it will pop out with a loud thunk.. If this happens, plan on a new gearbox.

 Lastly, a common wear sign is when the 2nd gear synchro goes bad. If this is the case (assuming a '51 or newer bug), the gears will "grind" when you try to downshift from 3rd to 2nd. This type of failure is very common (I think because 2nd is the gear most often "downshifted" to) but it doesn't render the car un-driveable. Two of my Beetles did it and I drove them for years like this. There is a workaround, by the way, that just involves a change in your shifting technique. When you go out of third, don't go down into second with the stick shift. First, go up like you are trying to go into first, push "up there" a little (don't worry, at 25+ mph, you are not likely to get it to go into first anyway) then quickly drop down into 2nd; and the gears won't grind. What you did was use the first gear synchro to match the main shaft speed to the wheels and then jumped into 2nd before it had a chance to spin up again (as simple as I can describe it with a dissertation on synchromesh transmission concepts). If it grinds going into 2nd the usual way and you do this while the seller is riding with you, just say matter-a-factly "Oh. Second gear synchro is shot, you didn't tell me that did you?"

As for the suspension in general, the rear swing axle suspension ('68 and earlier) is pretty hardy. The only thing that I might suggest is to look at the axle boots. These are rubber boots on either side of the gearbox that flex as the axles move up and down. They are cheap and easy to replace, but leaky ones and no indication by the seller that they were ever concerned about that might indicate a gearbox run without (much, if any) gear oil. At highway speed (that would be about 50 for a Beetle), a gearbox that has run without gear oil most of it's life will  "howl". I've heard deafening ones. You'll know it when you hear it; "Howl" = new gearbox.

The front suspension is a little more sensitive. It is a pretty good design, but gets wobbly, clunky and UNSAFE when it wears. Most parts are pretty inexpensive, and aside from accident damage, everything is pretty much fixable. Speaking of accident damage, look for a bent front beam and/or bulkhead area. The twin tubes that make up the beam should be straight and square with the front of the car. The bulkhead portion of the pan front that it (the beam) bolts to should be square and free of bends on its corners.

The parts that make the front end wobbly/unsafe when they go bad are most often the ball joints ('66 and newer) or the king/link pins ('65 and older) and the tie rod ends. Particularly unsafe is when a lower ball joint gets so bad it pulls out of its socket. This just leaves one of the two torsion arms to hold up that side of the car. If you are going slow when this happens, the front end of your car will collapse, more pronounced on the side with the failed ball joint, and the tyre may drag inside the wing and steering will be mostly inoperable. If it happens when you are going fast, the wheel will slam back in the wing opening the second you hit the brakes because you think something has gone wrong, usually rip the upper ball joint loose on that same side and allow the entire wheel, brake hub and spindle to rip from the car as soon as the rubber brake hose tears off, opening the brake lines and possibly rendering the brakes in the three hubs that you still have possession of, useless. Steering will be up to the will of the gods and you are now driving a brakeless three-wheeler. I was lucky enough to have learned this lesson when mine let go going over a speed bump at work., I know others who were not so lucky.

King/link pins front ends almost cannot let go that way, BUT they are somewhat more expensive to rebuild. Ball joints at the time of this writing are still plentiful around 10 ea; there are 4 of them.

So assess the front end carefully, and unless the seller shows you a receipt for a recent rebuild, count on spending some money here. If it is a ball joint front end and more than 2 yrs old (or unknown) since they were replaced, I would replace them immediately. The consequences are not worth the risk. Check the tie rods by grabbing the front wheels at 3 and 9 o'clock and trying to turn them back and forth while someone holds the steering wheel tight. Play here could be tie rod ends or steering box. Now if you can jack the car up, do the same with hands at 12 and 6 o'clock. Play this way usually means ball joints or link/king pins or loose/worn wheel bearings. The Muir book has some good points on this.

Notice how the car drives. Can you move the steering wheel side to side some without affecting steering? This probably means either steering box replacement (although some are adjustable, it is usually not the right fix) or very badly worn tie rods (pretty cheap). Go over some bumps. Listen and feel for clunking and loose stuff. I can't really get into the details of all the stuff that can go wrong up front, but be sensitive in this area ("Yep, the joints are shot. Listen, this car needs a few hundred in front end work, I'll offer ya...").

Take from this text these points:

  1. Beetle front ends are victims of wear and make Beetle feel sloppy, rattly and quite possibly unsafe
  2. Almost all parts are plentiful and inexpensive, stuff can be fixed. Only the steering box is a high value, in comparison, item
  3. Link/king pin front ends are somewhat more expensive to rebuild than ball joint units and require some additional expertise and tooling.
  4. Count on alignment and wheel balancing AFTER you have all the other front end mechanicals 100%. A Beetle CAN go straight down the road, smoothly.
Mechanical Stuff- Brakes

Ok, this will be quick. The Beetle brakes, when 100%, will stop the car, fast. These brakes are really no different than any other drum braking systems, YOU can do the work on them (get the Muir book).  Personally, I would never NOT buy a Beetle that I otherwise would take because it needed brake work. No matter what condition the brakes seem to be in, if you buy the car, plan on either paying someone to go over them or get the Muir book and a Saturday and do it yourself. And haggle a the selling price accordingly.
 

Mechanical Stuff- Clutch

A whole, new clutch costs about 70 (parts). Yes, you have to take the engine out to replace it, but that is no big deal (see "engine" text above). There IS a common problem with Beetle clutches though worth mentioning. It is when the clutch tube (a skinny steel pipe inside the "tunnel" that guides the clutch cable from your pedal back to where the clutch actually is) breaks itself loose from its welds inside the tunnel. The symptoms may vary. It might be a clanking or clunking sound from inside the tunnel when you depress and/or release the clutch (there should be NO sound), or it might be a very "tight" feeling clutch pedal; one that has no free play at all at the beginning of its travel and begins to disengage the clutch as soon as it is pressed. (this is because the clutch cable has to be tightened so much to compensate for the moving tube in the tunnel to make it work) You might find this symptom if the seller is trying to "hide" this problem (intentionally or not). The repair for this is somewhat involved and requires some simple welding. If you have a good candidate with this problem and are comfortable dealing with it, inform the seller of the problem and get them to lop a big chunk off the selling price.
 

Mechanical Stuff- Other

This whole mechanical thing is hard for me because I know these cars well, I'm not scared away by anything broken on them. So my tendency is to NEVER say "don't buy it if...." (except for bad rust out, as described above) As I go through it, there is very little that I could say, "Oh F*** that's a BIG problem". On the other hand, lots of little problems can sink a ship too.

"Other" mechanical stuff might be windows rolling up and down, bonnets closing right, wipers, wiring etc. All I can think to say is that there is no "bad" designs (years), it's all VERY simple (that's why the car was so successful). If your mechanically inclined, this is a perfect car to jump into.
 

Mechanical Stuff- Vintage considerations

You might think that "vintage" and "mechanical" are two words that don't really go together. Well in the case of the Beetle, they really do. Going on the assumption that you are somewhat (if not very ) interested in the vintage aspects of a pending purchase, let me offer what I think are some special mechanical considerations.
 

Mechanical Stuff- Vintage considerations, Engine

On the "Through The Years" page I "classed" the engines used in the Beetle, back to 1949. There was an earlier still engine, and that was the 25HP engine. There are many folks who know these engine aspects much better than me, so I will only offer what I am sure about. Basically, the "correct" engine for a vintage car increases its value. As you may well guess, it is easy to pop a 1971 twin port engine into a '63, maybe for driveability reasons, and this is done often.

The 1600 engine ('70 and up in most models), in all of its forms, is really the "bread and butter" engine of the Beetle crowd. You will likely find it in many bugs that originally came with a different (and smaller) engine.

The 1500 ('67-'69) isn't easily distinguishable from the 1600. It has single port heads and comes within 3HP of the later 1600 and many enthusiast feel it was the "best" and most reliable engine.

 The 1200, 40HP engine ('61-'66) has some special attributes of its own and, I would say, having correct vintage 40 horse in your '61 - '66 bug is an important vintage consideration.


Now going back one further, we had the 36HP motor ('54-'60, still 1200cc's though). This engine has some unique (and hard to find) internals. An original 36HP engine is a real perk, but rebuilding a tired one might be a little difficult and expensive. Parts for these engines are available but expect to have some difficulty finding them and to pay 2-3 times more for the same part as in a newer vintage engine. So keep that in mind. A quick way to spot a 36hp engine is that the generator stand is part of the right engine case half and is not a separate  casting like it is on the later versions.

 I really won't get into the older engines because I really believe if you are going there, you better know what you are looking at BEFORE you read this.

Summary: old and correct is valuable.
 

Mechanical Stuff- Vintage considerations, Other stuff

As I said many times earlier, when it comes to vintage, correct and complete is everything. Mechanically speaking, the things listed below are things that I would "OOooohh!!" if I saw in a "for sale" car:

  • Perfect doors in a pre-'66 bug. Close perfect, original panels good and not warped out at the bottom, window cranks tight and smooth. Not a hint of rust anywhere. To me, the doors are sort of the "speedo" of abuse; pristine doors means the car must have been taken car of.
  • A complete (I mean everything) interior that just needed a good cleaning. See filth can be good. It will turn a lot of people away, but if you can see past it and have some good cleaning products, you can do well. Seat and interior panel upholstery, headliner, dash, even carpet that is "cleanable" but otherwise complete and damage free is nice.
  • A truly "original" Beetle. This means NOTHING missing, NOTHING modified. Original paint, interior, maybe some dealer options and an owners manual. Wow.
  • Perfect or almost perfect mechanicals. I said how I tend to overlook certain aspects of wear and wobble because I can fix them in my sleep. But especially in a pre '68, if everything is tight, working and smooth, it IS a real plus. A sweet sounding, barely dripping engine; smooth gearbox with no grinds; tight wobble and wander free front end, smooth clutch. You usually find these from the real "caring" owners" or somebody who has just spent big bucks in this area.
  • A solid, complete 36hp engine. These are going the way of the dinosaur. It has always been just too easy to pop a 40 horse or 1600 in there (years ago, when we were all less savvy). At a glance, identify this engine by a generator stand that is not "un-boltable" from the top of the case, in the 36hp it is all one piece with the case.


About Chrome

I realise just how important good chrome is (and how hard it is too find). Not too long ago, good Beetle chrome was taken for granted, either because it wasn't that old and (on a driver) had been kept nice, or because good chrome spares were readily available. Now that isn't so much the case anymore. So I thought I would add this section and go over the chrome "bits". Front to back, and comment on availability and stuff. The thought being that someone scoping a Beetle for sale and seeing something rusted to nothingness or missing altogether might like to know the difference between "Not to worry, its only a tenner for a new one" and "Ha, you'd have better luck finding a T-Rex skull than one of those with good chrome".

As usual, this stuff is kind of "skewed" toward older Beetles, and some of the stuff mentioned is body accents and trim which are actually not chromed but other metals.

Exterior Parts:

  • Bumpers (both ends) - Early (pre '68) original bumpers with good chrome are very hard to find.
    Original thickness replacements for the '67 and earlier bumpers are not available. "Cheapy" bumpers, not of original thickness, are available for as little as 50 each, new. They are easily identified by plastic grommets between the over-riders (tubes or "towel bars"), the vertical upright's fit against the blade is pathetic and the blades rust on the backsides within minutes if you get them wet.

    A few retailers recently have come out with "show quality" bumpers for around 300. While the chrome is better (multi-plated), the prep-work done better (mirror chrome, shave in front of your car if you want) and the fit is such that grommets were not used, they still were not "original thickness".

     So the real Holy Grail is a pair of original bumpers. Original bumper's blade metal is around 90 thousands (.090") or 2.28mm whereas most of the aftermarket bumpers are around 60 thousands (.060") or 1.5mm. You can make these measurements quite easily with a micrometer along the edge of the blade near one end. You have to feel for a pretty "square" edge, most of the edge has a bit on a lip on one side from the shear that cuts the stock. Allow just the tips of the micrometer to "grasp" the metal, slide them in too far and you will get a false reading if the micrometer isn't perfectly square with the metal surfaces.
     

  • Horn Grilles - Good replacements readily available cheap, no worries.
    These are the little slotted, oval grilles below the headlights in the front wings, actually polished aluminium, not chrome. And the right side one is supposed to have a plastic or metal (early ones) "block off" plate behind it as there is no horn on that side. Because the little tabs that hold them on break off super easily and they are so cheap, "used" ones are hardly worth buying.
  • Hood handles- Good replacements readily available cheap
    Even for the early hoods, no brainer. Also common in good or better condition at the swaps. Know your "new" price when bargaining.
     
  • Body moulding- Good replacements readily available, not real cheap, stainless steel is even more.

    Virtually all Beetles had them, there are actually 9 pieces in all. One on the hood, one on each of the front quarters, one on each of the doors, one on each of the rear quarters and one on each running board edge. '67 was a one year only design, with a slight difference in the finished shape of the ends. Correct early mouldings (early 50s) may be hard to find. Sets are available in aluminium, and also stainless steel. Although the mouldings were never stainless from VW, they are very nice. Much stronger (harder to dent) than the aluminium ones and with a real lasting shine. The clips for them are also plentiful and cheap.

    Better quality (German) running boards come with the mouldings on them, but some later years may not have the moulded running boards. "Used" sets are usually not much of an option, most all used stock is dinged and/or bent up a bit.
     

  • Hood emblem- Good replacements readily available cheap
    The earlier "pressed" kind (vs. the later aluminium cast ones) are bit more spendy, but plentiful. Common at the show swap meets too, the cast ones are pretty indestructible.
     
  • Wing top turn signal housings ('58 and up)-Usually not much of a worry. Replacements are available but quality not as good as originals.
    But good used stuff is pretty easy to come by. For some reason, you hardly ever see rusty one.
     
  • Exterior rear view mirrors- Good replacements readily available
    Lots of repros of the early mirrors are available, but some are real junk. Not a "worry" item.
     
  • Door handles (exterior)- '59 and earlier are tough, '69 and later are pretty plentiful
    Same as the bumpers, original early door handles (lever type, to '54 with ridged face, '55 - '59 flat face) with good chrome are a real plus. NOS or mint originals sell for 75 - 150 each, and used ones with good chrome are scarce. Check the undersides of the handles, they usually pit there first.

    Note that originally in the '59 and earlier, only the driver's handle had a lock. The passenger side handle was flat. Also, the '54 and earlier, are not interchangeable with the later ones.

    In '61 the pushbutton handles were introduced. These seemed to be much more impervious to rust, and I think good new stock is available. Also pretty easy to find in the swaps. The exception is the '67 handle, which is a one year only. This handle had a round pushbutton instead of a square one. Good '67 handles are a real treat, but not impossible to find.

     '68 and on the "trigger" type handles were used. Replacements and used stock are readily available.
     

  • Door window separator- '64 and earlier are tough, later are pretty plentiful
    This is the vertical chrome piece between the vent and main windows in the doors. It is chromed on both sides. In the '64 and earlier doors, it is a separate piece with a bracket welded to the bottom, well inside the door. This piece is tough to find with good chrome. Left and rights are different, but you can "make" a left a right, or vice versa, by drilling off and re-welding the bracket on the bottom (so if you find one with great "inside" chrome, but bad "outside" chrome, you can reverse it with the good side facing the outside of the car).

    In the '65 and later doors, this vertical is wider and is part of (and removed with) the vent window frame. Good replacements are easier to find.
     

  • Door window mouldings- Replacements are available, but replacing them involves total disassembly of the door
    These are actually not chrome, but polished aluminium. They are attached to the outside "scraper" in the door (the rubber lip that touches the glass on the outside, in the window sill opening) even though they loop up the back edge and over the top of the opening. Replacements vary in cost depending on year. If you are doing a full resto on the door(s), these can be done. If you are not planning on a full resto on the doors, plan on one if you are going to replace these as you will completely disassemble the door to get them out/in. They are fastened under the felt U channel in the back and top of the opening by tiny sheet metal screws (earlies) or the clips that hold the U channel in (lates).

     
  • Hubcaps- Good repros available pretty inexpensively, but originals are original!
    Reproduction hubcaps, virtually all years back to the early 50s, are available for peanuts, and the quality and fit is pretty decent. Original hubcaps with perfect chrome, especially on the early cars, are all but non-existent. Most people just accept that they will buy a new set. If you find a car with useable originals, make sure you tell everybody....
     
  • Decklid handle- Not too hard to find good used/repros, but a good chrome, early "T" handle is a find
    The early engine lids ('52-'64) had the "T" handle. These are not being repro'ed (as far as I am aware) that I am aware of, but good used ones at the swaps are pretty easy to find. A locking one with a key is a bonus. The later model push button kind are plentiful, easy to get good used (chrome seems longer lasting) and I think NOS ones are still around and affordable.
     
  • Taillight chrome- Pre-'62 lights, look close, others don't worry too much
    The early glass taillights ('55-'61) had a chrome trim ring that was clipped into the housing and surrounded the glass lens when installed. Look close at this ring, good used ones are getting tough to find, the chrome can pit to uselessness pretty fast.

    The trim used on the later lights is easier to find and, like the other stuff, the chrome seems to be longer lasting.
     

Interior Parts:
  • Speedo Bezel- Not too big of a deal, same part '53-'67
    This is the chrome bezel that is clipped into the metal dash, and stays in when the speedo is removed, they are the same for a wide range of years and are pretty easy to get.
     
  • Speedo retainer ring- A good speedo is a good speedo
    This is the ring on the speedo that effectively holds the glass on the face. A tiny bit of it shows when the speedo is installed. It is the same on virtually all the early speedos (up to '67 anyway), but note that it's difficult to remove without destroying it. Fortunately, like most interior chrome, it holds up pretty well.
     
  • Speaker Grille ('52.5-'57 Oval dash)-A decent repro is available pretty cheap, but a good original one is a find
    This is the Oval dash speaker grill. repros are available, but the metal thickness and chrome quality is noticeable poorer than the original. Still not a bad repro. NOS ones at the time of this writing.
     
  • Ashtray trim- (Oval dash) No repros that I am aware of, supply of good used is dwindling
    This one is often overlooked, it is the chrome trim ring around the oval dash ashtray. Look close. It is possible to find good used, but prices are creeping up on this one.
     
  • Glovebox Door Latch-(Oval dash) Not too hard to find, but they are getting scarce
    These aren't quite as rare as the ashtray trim, but not too far behind. No repros that I am aware of, but the chrome holds up pretty good and they are still out there used.
     
  • Dash moulding-('58-'67) I think repro stuff is available, and good used is too.
    Not too tough an item, but make a note of it when scoping a car.
     
  • Interior release handles- Depends on year, earlies are getting scarce
    To '54 are ribbed handles, these are getting rare. They tend to pit very easily, especially along the bottoms. These have a "crease" running their length in the middle (hence "ribbed")

    '55-'66 are pretty plentiful, but some really perfect ones are getting spendy. There are repros of these, but I am told the quality is barely adequate. The repros may be prone to the splines stripping.

    '67 and up are twenty to the dozen in great shape at the swaps.....
     

  • Window winder handles- Depends on year, earlies are getting scarce
    To '54, same as the release handles, should be ribbed. These are just as hard to find in good shape, no repros available.

    '55-'66, same as the release handles. Never seen the repros, but am told quality is weak, knobs break off real quick. Good originals are keepers, still available in the swaps. Examine chrome closely.

    '67 are twenty to the dozen, repros are fine and cheap.
     

  • Door panel mouldings- Look close! (earlies)
    The early door and rear quarter panels had a chrome (or polished aluminium) "spear" moulding near the top. These are not reproduced, tend to get scratched up, and are pretty hard to find. Look close if you are scoping an oval. Not sure how late these mouldings were used...
Summary of it all

Ok, so we covered a lot of stuff here. What does it all mean? It's hard for me to say "don't buy that one", because I feel like I can fix anything. But it is always a trade off. And it may be even more important for you to pass up a basket case give-away if you are unsure of your capabilities/resources. And don't under/over estimate the availability of missing or bad parts. Some stuff is damn hard to find. Just bear that in mind before you buy.

So to summarize the solid Beetle, let me group the candidates in to 4 general categories. This assumes that the selling price of the Beetle is fair. Yeah, if it is a giveaway, I might be inclined to buy more of a "project".

    Beetles I would walk away from:
    • Severe rust or rot anywhere along the heater channels (almost all years)
    • Severe rust or rot in the front lower firewall area (almost all years)
    • Severe rust or rot in the front bulkhead area where the front beam attaches (almost all years)
    • Severe rust or rot in the lower "A" pillar (almost all years)
    • Evidence of major front collision damage ('67 and older)
    • A '67 with major rear end damage
    • Any 3 or more of the things in the list below
    Beetles I would only take if they were a real steal:
    • Clutch tube detached
    • Wheezing, drippy, useless engine
    • Gearbox popping out of any gear
    • Evidence of major front collision damage ('68 and up)
    • Both pans in need of total replacement
    • Saggy, beat up looking doors
    • Needs all front end components including steering box
    Beetles I would take if the seller's initial asking price was fair and they "came down" when I pointed out these things:
    • Loose, wobbly, clunky front end
    • Poorly or non-operating brakes
    • A high mileage engine that needed immediate work
    • Missing significant pieces (65 and up; exception the '67 hard to get stuff)
There are of course exceptions everywhere. No, I wouldn't "walk" on an otherwise complete '51 for 1000 because the rear running board area was rusted through. But on the other hand, a '71 with a loose clutch cable tube and a wheezing engine might make me go looking' at the other four '71s that are in the paper that week. And it doesn't mean you shouldn't buy that '64 that needs a gearbox, bumpers and has Baja fibreglass wings all the way around. It just means that you shouldn't pay top whack for it.

Hopefully that all helps "scope" things for you. What I really hoped to offer in all of this are those "hidden" things that are a real pain, and those things that might look big to a newbie, but are really easy and inexpensive to fix.

And remember, you WILL be fixing stuff.
 

Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle

So, you want to get really picky huh?

Perfect is indisputable. I have decided to add this for two reasons.

  • One, to give you the tools to break down those people who are asking WAY too much for their Beetles and to bring them back to reality.
  • And two, because if you ever go look a "completely restored" Beetle, you can get REALLY picky.

The short story goes that I had found a '56 "fully and professionally" restored in the classifieds, in my town, for 4500. Now, a '56, really restored nicely, might be worth that. But "magnifying glass" inspection of this car revealed that is was poorly done. At a distance this car looked wonderful. Nice paint, no dings in the lower front hood, absolutely pristine interior done in all the right (expensive) fabrics. But closer inspection revealed peeling paint, a B pillar with a "wave" curvature in it, and a nose that was punched in a good inch and a half such that the hood line didn't match the front quarter panel lines. 
I talked to the guy who had done the restoration work a couple years back, he was quite proud of his work. But it was an absolute shame to spend all of that time and money and paint on this car and not even TRY to pull the nose out. No one with good conscious could have painted over this B pillar and expected the discerning enthusiast not to notice. Interestingly enough,

So when you are inspecting that "ultimate" Beetle, what do you look for? Some of this stuff is obvious, I've already mentioned it (but I take it a step further), and some stuff you may never see perfect. And by the way, the car that passes all of these tests is NOT driven. Maybe across town to a show, where it is then wiped down for three hours.

 

Here's my Beetle "final" exam:

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: Become One With the Nose 

    That whole spare tyre well area of the Beetle can't hide much. It in the "100%" Beetle, it should be totally dent and rust free, shiny and clean. Look closely at those well sides and the whole inner quarter in the front. If the car has not ever been undercoated and those quarters are clean (what!? DIRT under the wings of this 8000 car!! Puh-leeeeaze!) you shouldn't be able to see any "straightened" metal or "clips". A "clip" is when somebody welds a whole nose, cut from another car, onto the project. Making a panel weld, with no overlap, undetectable is all but impossible. Look at all of the areas that I talked about "doomsday" rust. Look for welding and patching. Look close, from the sides of the car, at the line that the hood makes with the upper edge of the front quarters. It should be uniform (the same width gap) all the way from the windshield to the bottom edge of the hood.
     
     

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: The Doors  

    Same for the doors, look at the uniformity of the gap that the rear edge of the doors make. Look at the moulding line as it crosses from the door to the rear quarter. Look at the underside of the doors, there should be no rust, bubbling, peeling or scratched paint. Perfect is perfect.
     
     

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: A Smooth Belly  

    We're way beyond rust out here. A "perfect" car should have a perfect pan. Crawl under. The underside of the pan should be nicely painted and have no dents. Front to back, side to side. Everything should be clean.
     
     

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: The seal retainer lips  

    This is the hardest one. The hood-to-body and rear deck lid-to-body seals are held in place by a narrow strip of steel, spot welded to the body, with a thin, rolled edge in it. That rolled edge is pinched over the seals. I'm not sure I have ever seen a Beetle with a flawless hood seal retainer . Usually, the first person to replace the seal (long before anyone ever thought of restoring the car) just pounded down the lip with a screwdriver and hammer after the new seal was installed. This rolled lip is also along the upper hood edge of the body, just in front of the windshield (and an interesting piece of trivia: This retainer strip in front of the windshield is supposedly the only part on the Beetle that NEVER changed in all of it's years of production). Look at these edges closely. They will either have been ignored, some attempt made to dolly them out, or replaced (the rubber seal will hide the spot welds). And while you are inspecting, look at the edge that the very top of the front quarter panel makes as it turns inward; just inside of the hood seal.

    By the way, new retainer strips are available, but replacement requires you drill the spot welds out of the old ones and weld the new ones on, carefully matching the correct bend without kinking anything. Then, of course, you have to grind everything down and paint it so it is undetectable.
     
     

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: The Carpet "keeper" on the door sills  

    There is a right angle piece of sheet metal that runs the length of the door opening, it is spot welded to the upper side of the rocker panel (heater channel) and rolls over into the door sill. Its function is to hold the carpet that covers the heater channels inside the car. It is stepped on constantly, almost always beat up and often partially rusted away.

    There are some after-market "door sill mouldings" that people may buy and screw in here, some are anodized aluminium. These just cover up a horrid looking sill strip. In the perfect Beetle, this strip will not be scratched, bent or dented.

    And it most certainly is not covered up.
     
     

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: The Rear Engine Vents  

    Here's another super picky thing to look at. Look into the cavity behind the engine air vent right under the back window. Is it painted? Is it dirty? Does it just look coated with overspray? And what about the exterior vent "fins"? Look close. Do you see old paint? Sander or scrape marks in between? Only the perfectionist (or VW factory) is going to take the time to make this area perfect.
     
     

  • Assessing the "Ultimate" Beetle: Other stuff  

    A perfect car should be clean. So clean that you if you drop you gum into the engine compartment while talking carelessly to the seller, you pick it up and pop it back into you mouth without thinking twice. EVERYTHING should be shiny clean. All of the engine parts, under the carpet/mats, under the hood, behind the dash. There should be no grease, grime or oil anywhere underneath. Perfect is perfect.

    The paint should not have any key gouges or scratches around the door handles or around the ignition switch ('67 and earlier).
     

So now you know. When you go out to see that car that the seller told you on the phone is "immaculate" or "mint", think bad breath, pick them apart a piece at a time until they grovel and sells you their "perfect" 6000 car for 2500. And if you can't, even with these tips, find a single fault or failure, race home and give me a call and let me know where this car is. You really don't want it. Perfect is perfect.
 

So How Much to Should I PAY!?

Well this is the difficult part. I cannot tell you how much people are prepared to pay for something:

You HAVE just got to have.

That you can desire  anything more in this world, at this moment in time.

It will not wait, it has to happen now.

Don't ask me "how much is it worth?". There's a part of me that say's "leave this alone", it is way too subjective and market driven. But the reality is that Beetles ARE inexpensive, still. So I will stick my neck WAY out and attempt to discuss the VALUE of Beetles. Remember that value is a personal virtue, and the "market" value of anything is the pounds and pence amount that the person who values the piece the most is willing to offer. And this means that this person needs to be accessible to the seller. Just because a '65 Beetle in America fetches $8000 doesn't mean it is worth that in Taunton where the general populous has offered 1400 after 6 months in the Somerset County Gazette. A seller has to make the decision to take and offer or sit around and wait for something higher. He can say that it is worth whatever they want, but if it is higher than the highest buyers value, well, they'll still be sitting on it this time next year.

So that's it. Remember, these are my opinions (but I do welcome polite and constructive comments). I have lots of experience with these cars, but I don't know it all. And especially with pricing, there is no "right" answer. Remember to LEARN all you can before you go out and buy. Talk to as many owners, enthusiasts that you can. Get the Muir book if you are serious. Go to a VW show, they are a GREAT way to see what is out there and available. Read some industry magazines like "Volksworld" or "Ultra VW". Don't let a seller "tell" you what the car is worth. Especially today, buying a Beetle takes patience. It takes some investigation, lots of reading, phone calls, etc. But they are out there, you just have to find yours.

If it's in your blood at all, you will get sucked into it like the rest of us!!
 
 

 

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This site was last updated 08/02/07