Everywhere around Bird towers, you will spot something relating to Volkswagen.
More-so relating to the old school ways of the Beetle and bus. Most things during my school days related to the little VW even down to my GCSE art project. Outside of school I could always be found with my head in a VW book or making models of Beetles. I even made a radio controlled Beetle similar to the one Barbra Streisand was in from the film What’s Up Doc? I suppose it isn’t surprising then that there is a 70’s camper van in the garage and a Mk2 Golf on the driveway.
Indoors, I am strict and have nothing car related in the lounge or my bedroom. A petrol head needs a place or two to get away from the motor vehicle. That said, the man lab has plenty of Beetle based memorabilia on the shelves and there is even an engine deck lid stuck to the shed disguising the pots my creepers grow from. There is also a Beetle bonnet behind the garage that I’ll make into something for the garden.
So it might come as a surprise to you that I find the Beetle an absolutely awful car.
Anyone who has owned one will be getting ready to scratch my eyes out with that above statement but I stand by it. Anyone who has just driven one may actually agree with me. They are an acquired taste and are like nothing else out there, from way back in 1948 to the day in 1978 when it was discontinued in Europe, although the convertible did continue until 1980.
The driving position was cramped. The doors were just millimetres from your elbows. The pedals mounted from the floor giving an unusual feel. The extremities of the vehicle were impossible to see and there were no parking sensors in the 70s. The steering wheel almost horizontal and there wasn’t really any kind of dashboard until the arrival of the 1303 with its panoramic windscreen. Come to think of it the passenger compartment was cramped.
One thing I will say is that the heating was good. It’s a complicated system full of levers by the handbrake and relies on engine speed. Badly maintained it is also prone to haemorrhaging vital air reducing the output to the breath of half a dozen kittens. Citroën’s 2CV wasn’t this bad and that relied on little heat exchangers and two cylinders.
Considering its overall length of over 13 ft, it also lacked luggage space of anything reasonable. The bulletproof engine took up the boot area leaving the front compartment under the bonnet to resemble what should have been a spacious area for luggage. Though it was essential in propelling the Beetle forward, the fuel tank sat in the boot area along with the spare wheel. It left you with 4.9 cu.ft of space. despite it not being the easiest car to clamber into, there was some extra space behind the rear seat. The rear seat did fold down but it never turned it into an estate.
The ride could best be described as entertaining and bouncy made even worse when lowered. The 1302 and 1303 models with McPherson struts was better. The swing axle rear end was lively.
After the second world war, AC cars, Ford and Rootes group performed a vehicle analysis on the Beetle. None found the Beetle particularly good. It’s interesting that Baron William Rootes of the Rootes Group who owned Humber taking a dislike to the vehicle. During their testing using a Mk2 Hillman Mink, Rootes were quite keen to penalise the Beetle for the smallest indifferences. Ironic then that the flawed Beetle would go on to become a market leader, world conqueror and champion of the people’s car while his company failed and in 1979 was bought by Peugeot.
Looking at two group tests from 1968 and 1976 one thing remains: the Beetle. In ’68 the Beetle was pitted against the Austin 1100, Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva. In ’76 it was relegated to the cheap end of motoring with the Citroën Dyane, Honda Civic and Reliant Kitten. The Beetle was consistent in two areas. It was expensive. It was well made. It was also not the best in many areas where others were doing it so much better. FYI in ’76, the Beetle was more expensive than the better packaged VW Polo.
Today the Beetle is still regarded by many as a wonderful car. I’m sure in some ways Disney are responsible for a generation who love the little bug. It’s true that after the first feature film, sales grew in the US.
The Beetle had its heydey in the UK in the 80s when the Cal-look became popular. It continued to grow into the 90s. The scene for the Beetle shows no signs of slowing down. It’s true that the club scene has changed over the last 10 years. The bus that could once be bought really cheaply took over but looking around, there is a resurgence for the Beetle once-more. Probably in some part due to the bus being so expensive and the Beetle being so cheap. The trend at the moment does look set to change. The bus will never be cheap and the Beetle isn’t looking that cheap now either.
Here then is my dilemma. Despite its flawed ways I still want one. I almost bought one 3 years ago. I want to make a Herbie replica and the one I found was perfect. I just wasn’t the highest drunken bidder on a Saturday night.
And why do I want one? There hasn’t been a car made since the Beetle that has so much character. The sound of that engine talks to you. You can’t help to smile when you see one. It’s classless, that can cause great envy. A vehicle designed to move people from A to B and yet it moves them in other ways too.
Watch this space.
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Motoring nurse or medical motorist? It’s a difficult one. By day l nurse and by night l drive.
Fingers have always been grease deep in attending the motoring of an ageing fleet. And now l write about new and old.
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Member of the Southern Group of Motoring Writers. (SGMW)
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.