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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
The other side of the shoe, I think a Beetle may not be for you if:
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.....
Now before we start, let me give some definitions of some terms I use often in this text:
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
The "Solid" Beetle- Assessing the BODY
First and foremost, I look for rust in the "doomsday" places.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The trim used on the later lights is easier to
find and, like the other stuff, the chrome seems to be longer lasting.
'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
'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.
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".
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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