A Lush History of the Volkswagen Beetle (Warning: Contains Nazis)

Fun in the sun with a Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Image Source: Animalia Life Club

 

When it comes to cars, you can’t get much more iconic than the Volkswagen Beetle. This oddly-shaped automobile that was originally designed for efficiency and economy stole the hearts of consumers everywhere became cemented in history as the automotive symbol of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and is still going strong with a base of devoted fans across the globe. Call it quirky, call it adorable, call it a “slug bug” if you absolutely must- whatever attributes you attach to it, one thing is certain: the Volkswagen Beetle is a cherished and universally beloved entry into the automotive hall of fame, and it got there by being its own weird little self.

Wait…What’s This About Nazis?

Want to hear something ironic? The car that became synonymous with peace, love and hippies back in the 60s was originally dreamed up by an individual with a slightly…different set of principles. Sort of the opposite of peace and love, if you get my drift.

OK, OK, fine, it was Hitler. Yes, THAT Hitler.

In 1934, after coming to power in Germany, Adolf Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche (yes, THAT Porsche) to design a “people’s car” (literal German translation: “Volkswagen”) that was cheap and simple enough to be mass-produced so average German Joes could afford to drive on the country’s newly-completed road network. From 1934 to 1938 Porsche worked on the Beetle, known officially as the Volkswagen Type 1, though production was put on hold until 1945 as a result of World War II. When the car finally began to be produced in significant numbers, it became an instant hit with citizens of Germany, followed shortly by the rest of the world.

Meet the Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle was produced as a rear-engine, two-door, four-cylinder compact car. Its original design objective was to maximize efficiency and economy for consumers around the world. One of the first rear-engine designed car since the Brass Era, Volkswagen stuck with roughly the same design from 1938 to 2003, when the last original Bug rolled off the production line.

Mark I of the VW Beetle had 25 horsepower and was designed for a top speed of 100 km/h, or 62 MPH.

The 40 hp configuration that lasted through 1966 became the model’s classic motor, though subsequent variants such as the Kharmann Ghia, Type 2 (the official “hippie bus”) and the Golf began rolling off the assembly line to compete with the original Beetle for dominance in the European small-car market. In over six decades, 21,529,464 VW Beetles were produced, making it the longest-running, most manufactured car ever made on a single platform.

In 1998, Volkswagen released the New Beetle, a VW that tugged at the nostalgia heartstrings of aging Baby Boomers with its lines that hearkened back to the original Volkswagen Type 1. Built on a Golf platform, the New Beetle became a huge hit instantly and remained in production until 2011, when it was replaced by the redesigned Beetle A5, which remains in production today.

A Bug by Any Other Name

This may seem like common sense, but Volkswagen markets Beetles under various names around the world. Much like the way McDonald’s calls a Quarter Pounder a “Royale with Cheese” in France, Volkswagen’s iconic car has many cute nicknames in various parts of the world. In its native Germany, the Beetle is called the Kafer (German for “beetle), and here in the United States, as well as other English-speaking parts of the globe, it is known affectionately as a Bug. Say you’re in Paris:

… you can drive your Coccinelle (“ladybug”) up to the window at McDonald’s and order a Royale with Cheese, tout de suite!

Let’s face it: VW Beetles are adorable! Their round little chassis and bug-eyed headlights give them an irresistible personality all their own. There is no car on the market that embodies friendliness and joy than a Beetle. That’s probably why they are one of pop culture’s favorite automobiles. Back in the 1960s, the family-friendly Disney movie The Love Bug introduced us to Herbie, the anthropomorphic little Bug that can drive and think for himself. Herbie went on to star in a series of films including a fairly recent reboot, Herbie: Fully Loaded, featuring Lindsey Lohan. That’s not all- the VW Beetle pops up constantly in the media: every time a movie or TV show wants to portray a character as quirky or unique, the Beetle is the go-to vehicle of choice.

The Volkswagen Beetle is a thriving piece of 20th century pop culture that continues to be revered and celebrated to this day. There is no car more instantly recognizable (and certainly no other car that gives you license to punch a friend on the arm during a road trip), than a loveable, huggable Bug. The feel-good car that sprung from unlikely beginnings has become the subject of countless festivals and conventions to celebrate its existence, and will continue to be a symbol of freedom, individuality and love for years to come.

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

V8 VW Bug – How to Build One

Growing up, I always found it fascinating that no matter what vehicle was out there, somebody would find a way to shove a V8 in it. That would usually mean a Chevy motor stuff into something that could support it in the first place.

First: a confession, or rather a string of confessions. Over the years, I have been a willing wrenchman in this pursuit of upgrading horsepower. I once put a Chevy 350 in an early 70s Jaguar XJ6. The original engine was a piece of crap and the car was sturdy. Plus the parts to do it were readily available by mail (pre-internet days). I put a 350 in a Chevy Vega. This was popular at the time and all you had to do was change motor mounts, the transmission hump and if you were smart, you would upgrade the brakes so you could stop the suddenly heavier vehicle. The list goes on and on. I committed many atrocious acts of Frankenstein-level vehicle swap/transplants. It was fun, it was easy and there was nobody there to stop me. I could keep you here for days on this topic, but I thought it was appropriate to share given the subject.  

In all my years, I never imagined that I would see something like this. I had seen very complex sand rails and dune buggies that had VW roots but really didn’t look or act anything like a VW. I had heard of these many years ago, I read about a couple in a magazine sometime in the 80s, but here it is. A Volkswagen V8 Beetle Bug. For real.

VW PURISTS – This is your chance to look away.

3211932_f520

Here is the heresy and brilliant lunacy of this project in a nutshell. Gone is the original rear engine, air-cooled wonder of the VW motor. Gone is the original chassis. In is a front-mounted V8 powerhouse that is stroked out for more power. A full 2 x 3 steel tube chassis replaces the original, along with an integrated roll bar, a fabricated transmission tunnel, a relocated gas tank and all kinds of madness.

3207343_f520

Builder Dale Nelson goes over his entire plan and offers tips on how to build one yourself, if you want one that is. It looks like a really cool project.

3207061_f520

For my tastes, despite my past at having done things like this, I would prefer to restore a classic over going this far into modding something that will end up nothing like its intended design. But perhaps that is because I am getting older and it is getting harder to find these classics. I suppose if you find a nice donor, have some time, a welder and all kinds of tools, you can say you did it once the same way I butchered Jaguars that Brits probably pine for and wince at.

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

The Volkswagen Lupo that never was

We have found an example of a nifty Volkswagen that never made it into the United States. This is the Volkswagen Lupo.

IMG_0185

Let’s talk details. This was the most fuel-efficient and smallest car in the VW lineup. Smaller than Golf, it was even smaller than the VW Polo. Standard, it had a 1.0 liter inline engine and a whopping 49 horses.

If you’re curious how fuel efficient the base Lupo was, it was just under 80 miles per gallon.

You could opt for a 1.4 liter engine for a little more power, or you could step up and order the GTI Lupo, which came with a 1.6 liter screamer that turned out 123 horsepower.

VW_Lupo_GTI_–_Heckansicht,_15._Juni_2014,_Hilden

So what happened? Well, the Lupo came around in the 90’s, at a time that gas was pretty expensive in Europe, but cheap in the states. So Volkswagen never bothered to bring a car with a singular focus to this market. It was discontinued in 2005. Still, it looks like a fun, light car to have some fun with, especially if you can get to Europe and land one of the GTI models.

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

People We Will Miss 2015: George Barris, Creator of the Classic VW ‘Herbie’

It seems that at the end of each year, we look back at famous people that were lost and we look back at their careers. This past November, the car world lost one of its legends as we said goodbye to the one and only George Barris.

george-barris-625

He was known as the “King of the Kustomizers”, and if you had to pick from one of the many vehicle customization as his most famous, it would have to be the Batmobile. It is this Batmobile from the original 1960s television series that people remember most and it cemented his legacy for many vehicles that he produced since. From its wild fins, to red stripe-on-black finish, to its jet turbine engine, this two-seater got the dynamic duo (Batman and Robin) to and from the bat cave to take one the villains in Gotham City.

herbie and batmobile

Barris put together some of the most famous movie and television cars in history, including “Herbie”, the anthropomorphic star of the eponymous movies of the 1960s, 1970s, and every decade since. The car had a personality, could drive itself, and the movies showed its adventures with that classic Disney touch. The beloved VW bug was based on a L87 Pearl White 1963 Model 117 Volkswagen Type 1 Deluxe Sunroof model. It was distinguished by its unique red, white and blue racing stripes that ran from the front to back bumper, a racing-style number “53” on the front luggage compartment lid, doors, and engine lid, and a yellow-on-black ’63 California license plate with the lettering “OFP 857”.

  63_VW_Bug_Herbie_DV-06_Volo-01Despite the fact that the car first debuted on film in 1969, it is still very popular today. Earlier this year, an original sold for $126,500 at auction. There are also countless replicas and tributes that roll out of garages each spring.

herbie_bruce_campbell

Barris’ work will be missed, but his spirit lives on in the love that is displayed for this classic and his many other movie cars.  He was not only responsible for Herbie, he inspired a passion for many classic Volkswagens that continues to this day.

article-2198755-14D8BC2B000005DC-140_634x415

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Classic Revisit: Scirocco Mk1 (part 1)

Welcome to the first edition of the Classic Revisit!

In this new series, we will explore some beautiful examples of the Volkswagen brand from years past. Expect to see lots of Beetles, Ghias, GTIs, and Buses of all incarnation in the coming months!

Simple lines hide the tiny heart of this little throw-around!
Simple lines hide the tiny heart of this little throw-around!

Today, however, we’ll revisit one of the brands speedier creations, the Mk1 Scirocco. This writer must admit a bias and quite a wide soft spot in his heart for this car.

In 1991, after off-loading a horrible Dodge pickup for a measly $800, I went searching for another ride. After banging around classic car lots for the better part of a month, drooling over muscle cars and hot-rod pickups, I happened upon  little independent lot on the outskirts of Fort Collins, CO. I went there with the specific intention of test driving this lovely 1964 Ford Thunderbird, but after the salesman couldn’t get the damn thing to start (go figure…) this squat grey box caught my eye.

The box, of course, was fairly clean example of 1981 German engineering from Audi meeting the Italian design of Giorgetto Giugiaro, for the low, low price of $2,800. I took it for a test drive and immediately fell in like with the car. It was a good, German color as gray as the Dolomites, Cirrus Gray Metallic, with black leather factory sports seats and aftermarket louvered rear hatch. It looked sporty, yet oddly muscular compared with the spritely roller-skate look of the Rabbit, the cuddly lump of the Beetle, or the slightly voluptuous Ghia. Yet, even after the spirited test drive, I wasn’t in love with the car. I just liked it, a lot!

I eventually fell in love with the car, but like any lasting relationship, the courtship was long and not always smooth, but I can still remember the exact moment…

By now, I’d been driving the car for a couple of weeks, getting to know her, discovering her likes and dislikes. First, she liked a good warm up before she really hit her stride. She didn’t like rough pavement much and would protest with a litany of rattles and buzzes of complaint, but never failed to track properly when the need arose. If I slammed the doors, they would, just as likely as not, bounce right back open, but closing them more gently would elicit a satisfying “thunk-click” of approval. The gearbox was chunky and the engine could be buzzy at times, but mostly she was quick and nimble, and capable of embarrassing certain overly aggressive muscle-bound brutes over short distances or twisty corners.

Then, it happened… Honestly, it was completely unexpected, and many would dismiss the turn as mundane, but it solidified my love of this car. We were zipping around the streets of Fort Collins one afternoon, just she and I, when I approached an intersection that lead back towards home. We’d travelled this route many times before, but this day we were approaching at a pretty good clip with a car waiting in the apex of the four-way on our left and another quickly approaching from our twelve o’clock. Now, any sane driver would have pressed the big left pedal and waited for the approaching car to pass, especially with a squared-off turn-in, but at 21 in my new “sports car” I wasn’t exactly sane… I downshifted into second at 45, dabbed the brakes, and cranked over the wheel while planting my foot onto the go-juice, and dammit if she didn’t just stick that friggin’ turn like a 962. A little sideslip, a chirp of the tires, and just the tiniest waggle of her rear-end and we were hi-tailing it away down the lane.

Any of my previous rides would have ended up in someone’s front yard, or worse, but this little Fraulein merely sidestepped and dragged her foot a little before scooting right along into our next dance. From that moment on, I knew that while she was mild-mannered Fox-Trotter most of the time, with a little more coaxing she could Samba, Twist, or Swing with more refined company.

In the coming years, I would punch her dance card as often as I could over the backroads and twisty canyons of the Western United States. But that, my friends, is a story for another day…

Even stock, she felt like this!
Even stock, she felt like this!
It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn