When I tell people I want to purchase an old Volkswagen Beetle I typically get a response somewhere on the spectrum between “why the hell would you want one of those old pieces of junk?” to “what are you, nuts?!”
And I’ll grant you that in the intervening years — er, decades — er, half-centuries — since they first were introduced to the world, technology has advanced and there are certain modern conveniences and safety features which are generally considered to be “good” that simply aren’t available on these older Beetles.
But what many people fail to appreciate is how beautifully engineered almost every facet of the classic Beetles was, in relation to both competition back in the day, and when comparing to modern cars.
I’m a big believer in walkable cities, better biking infrastructure, and eliminating as many cars from the road as possible, so I know it’s a bit of a contradiction to be wanting a vehicle like this. But then again, I find myself holding opposing thoughts in my mind all the time, so we can add one more onto the heap.
Allow me to share a few examples of the ways in which the Beetle was a triumph (and then, in the following paragraphs, walk it back and share a few ways in which it was not):
- Great fuel economy, particularly for its time (”An Honest 25 mpg”)
- Interchangeable parts from one model year to the next
- Easy to repair
- Parts easily accessible
- Highly customizable
- Lovely touches and ingenious designs (like the windshield washer fluid being pressurized by the spare tire, which I’ll discuss more below)
That’s not to say that every design decision is a good one. One wacky thing is that the windshield wiper fluid reservoir does not rely on any kind of electrical pump; instead, the fluid is held in a tank that is pressurized by the spare tire in the frunk, and tugging on the lever opens a valve and allows the pressurized fluid to squirt up on the windshield.
The problem with this is, of course, that each time you use the wiper fluid it lets out a small amount of air from the tire, and over a relatively short period of time your spare tire will go flat. The corollary issue is that if your spare tire is flat, your fluid won’t squirt, so if your windshield gets obstructed you’re basically out of luck until you stop and refill your spare’s air (granted, you really shouldn’t be driving with a flat spare anyway).
And then that brings you to the other little modern touches that you might find missing, such as an air conditioner, or power windows, or power anything really. And the fact that the only heater is a hose coming from the engine bay, which when opened all the way can melt your sneakers (but still not quite keep the rest of your body toasty on a cold day).
But who cares about air conditioning, when you have a car with such character, that makes such a neat little sound as it putters along. And did I mention the frunk?
In a perfect world in which I have tons of expendable income, I would absolutely buy an old beat-up Beetle, fix it up, and then add some classy, modern touches. A popular modification is to turn old Beetles into electric cars, but where I live, I’m not sure that’s quite feasible yet. I’d be happy to instead make an “open source” car, where sensors keep track of everything in computers that are all running open source code, and all the modern gadgets like music playback, GPS guidance, etc., are all open source.
The open source Beetle. A man can dream!