22 January 2019

More than an old car #91: Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle)

Mention the words "classic car" and it is likely you would think of the Volkswagen Type 1, or commonly known as the 'Beetle'. The VW Beetle is representative of all things retro/classic/vintage: it adorns posters in flea markets, car events and perhaps your neighbour drives one too! It is not too far to say that the Beetle also dominates pop culture: from the hippie movement to Herbie the Beetle and more recently, Bumblebee (!), it has become well-loved and recognised by millions worldwide. The information surrounding the Beetle may be quite daunting, so I hope I've made it easier to understand!

Rather strangely, Adolf Hitler is credited for being the brainchild of the Volkswagen (German for "people's car"). In 1934, Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to develop a basic vehicle that could carry 2 adults and 3 children, be able to cruise at 100 km/h, a fuel consumption of less than 7 km per 100 litres and equipped with a air-cooled engine, since antifreeze solution was not commercially available yet. With these in mind, the first prototypes, known as the Porsche Type 60, were made in 1935. A few other prototypes followed until it was halted by the ongoing war. After the war, the factories were in ruins; a British Army officer named Ivan Hirst is also credited for saving the Type 1. He persuaded the British Army to order 20,000 cars, and production increased dramatically over the next decade: the 1 millionth car rolled off the production line in 1955.

The "Beetle" naming convention only came about in 1968, paradoxically coined by The New York Times in 1938 where it described the car as a beetle/bug that would be seen plying the autobahn. Its distinctive round shape was inspired by the flowing lines of the Lincoln Zephyr, and had a good drag coefficient of 0.41 (the lower, the better). As the intention was to produce a car that was utilitarian, the interior featured a painted metal surface, a compact dashboard and a fold-down rear seat among other things.

Over the years, the Beetle experienced changes in its exterior while still maintaining the familiar rounded shape. Compared to the 1972 Beetle in the 1st picture, you can see some differences with this 1957 Beetle. Most notably, the headlights are more upright, the indicators have been moved to the front fenders, the bumpers became more simple and the taillights became distinctively 'tombstone'-like (not visible here).

Most Beetles in Singapore were sold with the 1194 cc B4 engine, which allowed it to reach a top speed of 114 km/h. As a result, they were badged as VW 1200s. In the 1970s, the engine was enlarged to 1493 cc and this allowed the car to reach a higher top speed of 126 km/h. The badging was also changed to VW 1300. Even later models, which featured a taller wrap-around windscreen, were subsequently badged as the VW 1303. Most Beetles were 4079 mm long and weighed around 830 kg.
Other than the conventional 2-door coupe style, a cabriolet version was also made in collaboration with Karmann (a car design company). To compensate for the loss of the top portion, various methods were used to provide the cabriolet with sufficient strength such as reinforced rails and additional beams. The interior was also more luxurious compared to the standard Beetle, such as having ashtrays at the back of the car. Similarly, the exterior design followed the same as the standard Beetle: the red car is a 1953 model and the dark-green car is a 1978 model.

The Beetle is one of the longest-running production cars in modern history: main production in Germany stopped some time between 1978 to 1980, although they were still made in Brazil and Mexico up till 2003! At that time, its spiritual successor, the New Beetle, had been made for more than 5 years. A grand total of 21,529,654 were produced, including more than 330,000 cabriolet versions. The last unit that was made in Mexico was serenaded by a band, commemorating its 65 years of existence and currently resides in the VW museum in Wolfsburg.

The first Beetles were first sold here some time in 1954 and it is amazing that till today, it continues to bring smiles to passer-bys and owners alike. They are the most common classic car in Singapore and I estimate at least 100 of them. Quite a number still sport their original number plates, although there are also a mix of recent imports as well. I believe that if you observe your surroundings, you may find your neighbours who may still own one. VW Beetles will continue to endure as the years go by, and I am confident there will always be some roaming around!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this excellent post with us. I just enjoyed the details and photos that you provided of the Beetle car. Have a great rest of your day and keep up the informative posts.
    Greg Prosmushkin