With the possible exception of the Willys Jeep (and its successors) and the Humvee (for obvious reasons), the Beetle is (still) the most recognizable vehicle in the world today. That's what a production run of over 21 million will do for you! Of course, it didn't hurt that the debut of the New Beetle reintroduced the shape to a whole new generation. It was a car that perplexed Detroit: small, underpowered, lacking amenities and seemingly oblivious to the endless styling fads the rest of the industry heaped upon the consumer. What it did possess was robust construction, quality materials, reliability and economy of operation. Not to mention a brilliant marketing campaign that poked fun at everything, including itself.
Hidden rust, especially floor pan and front suspension mounts
Hodgepodge of aftermarket or home-built parts often found
Over 8 million 1958-67 Beetles were produced and in the process it became a cultural (or should we say counter-cultural?) icon. While not as "pure" as the early cars, these were (and are) fully capable of being a year round, everyday car. Today they also have the advantage of being one of the easiest vintage cars to restore, own and maintain.
The '58 models were the first to have the new, large back window that replaced the earlier small oval glass. The windshield grew a bit, too, and both gave the Beetle the basic look that would last until the "redesign" for 1968. Power came from a diminutive 1192cc horizontally opposed, air cooled 4cylinder engine mounted out back. It generated all of 36hp (30hp DIN), which provided leisurely acceleration and a top speed this side of 80mph. Under stressed, it could run all day at close to maximum speed. A 4-spd manual was the only transmission. A fully independent torsion bar suspension delivered a decent ride and its relatively high ground clearance and superior traction gave the Beetle some capability off the pavement, important in third world markets. Drum brakes sat at all four corners. Lightweight and nimble, the Beetle was slow, but fun to drive.
Inside was simple and spartan, but fitted with quality materials and well put together. A round speedometer faced the driver; with a gas gauge (Deluxe models after 1961, all !) set off to the right. On convertibles, the fabric top was a robust affair and fit well when raised.
There were few options, most of them more accessories than equipment choices. The most desirable is the sunroof. Initially, this was sliding canvas over a fairly large opening in the roof. It was well designed and weather tight, at least when new. It was replaced in 1964 by a crank operated steel unit, much smaller in size. A gas heater was a welcome option in cold climates. The engine-derived hot air heating system is adequate down to at best freezing or so, below that it's capabilities were oversold.
All Beetles are collectible, particularly the pre-'68 models. Values for the '58-'67 models are pretty close, with the '67 apparently making up for its less appealing "sealed beam nose" with its larger engine, 12-volt electrics, and its ability to perform daily service better than the others. Long term though, we think the earlier cars will be a better investment. Convertibles run about 40% more than a comparable sedan. Beetle values have been gaining slowly but steadily for many years, and have avoided the recent turmoil in the marketplace. We expect similar performance to continue for the foreseeable future.Current Values
(C) Copyright 2010- VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the December 2010 issue of Collector Car Market Review.