The Most Popular Car Ever Made

Main Question or Discussion Point

Something like 23 million sold, all over the world, during the years they were manufactured.

It's not simple to explain why they were so popular. They weren't particularly good cars, though they had their quirky strengths: good in snow, being the one I've seen most often mentioned. They got good gas mileage for the times, in contrast to the big gas guzzlers around them, but, speaking of gas, they were also prone to engine fires due to bad engineering on the fuel lines. They weren't sturdy, safe cars, and if you looked at the engines cross-eyed, they'd start leaking oil.

What really surprises me is how popular they still are. I'm not talking about the new version, I'm talking about the 1978 and older ones. I've been paying attention lately and I see them still out there being driven, all over the place. Every week I seem to see about 4 of them I've never seen before. People won't let them die. Many, many companies are still manufacturing replacement parts for them, even brand new engines. Search Craigslist in your area and see how many are up for sale. My impression is there are more of these than any other "classic" car, being revived and restored, and driven as people's primary vehicles. I would love to find out how many made between '46 and '78 are currently registered in the U.S.

Post your Bug opinions and stories and lore.

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nsaspook
It's a fast car in the right trim. :tongue:

jtbell
Mentor
For 27 years, I either rode in or drove Beetles. When I was a kid, my parents bought a light green '63, then a beige '68. I learned to drive in the '68. When I was in college, they bought a second-hand orange '74. They gave it to me the year before I finished grad school, after they retired and decided they didn't need two cars any more. It was the first car I owned. I drove it until 1989, and did much of the routine maintenance work on it: changing the oil, adjusting the valves, etc. The book I used as a guide is still in print!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1566913101/?tag=pfamazon01-20

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Borek
Mentor
You can fix it with bare hands. If you really need tools, just look around for a stick and a rock, they will do in most cases.

jtbell
Mentor
One of my all-time favorite TV commercials: "Did you ever wonder how the guy who drives the snow plow... gets to the snow plow?"

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nsaspook
My friends and I learned the hard way that VWs can float. Back when you could still drive a car on the beaches (early 70s) in Long Beach, CA we were driving like fools on the surf doing donuts at the waters edge when a huge wave came in and lifted the car up. For about 10 seconds we were spinning around and going out to sea with the tide.

lisab
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I learned to drive a manual transmission in a Bug, when I was 17!

And the weirdest thing about them: they had a distinctive smell. Every single one of them.

George Jones
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Three of my older siblings had classic VWs. My oldest sister had a red bug, my oldest brother had a yellow fastback,

http://www.oldparkedcars.com/2012/03/1969-volkswagen-type-3-1600-fastback-tl_21.html

and my other brother had a blue station wagon,

http://www.oldparkedcars.com/2010/05/1971-volkswagen-squareback-type-3-1600.html

And the weirdest thing about them: they had a distinctive smell. Every single one of them.
The engine also had/has a very distinctive sound. While walking down the street a few days ago, I heard a familiar sound. I looked around, and, sure enough, an old VW was passing by me.

phinds
Gold Member
2019 Award
I remember one of my roommates in college had one in the 60's and driving it used to scare the hell out of me because the road was RIGHT THERE in front of your feet.

AlephZero
Homework Helper
You still see a few old VW camper vans in use in the UK.

Same basic design as the "Beetle" cars - rear air-cooled engine. The long linkage from the gearstick to the gearbox could "randomize" gear changing if it got too worn - on a really bad day, toss a coin to decide if you want to start in forward or reverse gear!

driving it used to scare the hell out of me because the road was RIGHT THERE in front of your feet.
If that scared you in the car, look at the (non-existent) gap between the steering wheel and the front of the van! You are actually sitting in front of the front wheels.

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It's a fast car in the right trim. :tongue:
Yeah, a considerable percentage of current owners turn them into hot rods and dune buggies with aftermarket engines way bigger than the originals. The first bugs had 1200cc engines, I believe. They gradually got bigger till the stock engine topped out at 1600, I think. Top speed for a bug with a stock engine was something like 71mph, poor even for a 4-cylinder.
When I was in college, they bought a second-hand orange '74. They gave it to me the year before I finished grad school, after they retired and decided they didn't need two cars any more. It was the first car I owned. I drove it until 1990, and did much of the routine maintenance work on it: changing the oil, adjusting the valves, etc. The book I used as a guide is still in print!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1566913101/?tag=pfamazon01-20
For some reason, orange is my favorite color for a Beetle. It seems right and proper. And for some reason white, beige, and yellow Beetles strike me as completely wrong.

There are several different air-cooled Beetle manuals still in print beside the one you mention. Lots of them on Amazon. There's also myriad YouTube videos, everything from how to change the oil to rebuilding the engine. People are really still doing these cars.
You can fix it with bare hands. If you really need tools, just look around for a stick and a rock, they will do in most cases.
You can take the valve covers off with a stick, anyway. Beats loosening 10 bolts. They say the engine was designed so one person could drop it out of the car in one hour with minimal tools. That's good because you have to drop the engine for more repairs than you would on a "normal" car. Like, you can't take the heads off a bug engine without removing the whole engine from the vehicle first.

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One of my all-time favorite TV commercials: "Did you ever wonder how the guy who drives the snow plow... gets to the snow plow?"
That could be another reason: they were ahead of the pack when it came to amusing, clever advertising.

My friends and I learned the hard way that VWs can float. Back when you could still drive a car on the beaches (early 70s) in Long Beach, CA we were driving like fools on the surf doing donuts at the waters edge when a huge wave came in and lifted the car up. For about 10 seconds we were spinning around and going out to sea with the tide.
There's that Ted Kennedy joke.

The unsinkability of the bug is still important to bug buyers. There's a problem now, that the floor pans are often rusted through underneath the rear seat due to spilled battery acid. This detracts from the value. It's a major fix to make them seaworthy again.
I learned to drive a manual transmission in a Bug, when I was 17!

And the weirdest thing about them: they had a distinctive smell. Every single one of them.
The smell never goes away! Decades later, it's as distinct as ever! They say there's a secret, proprietary formula for the plastic they used in the seat covers.
Three of my older siblings had classic VWs. My oldest sister had a red bug, my oldest brother had a yellow fastback,

http://www.oldparkedcars.com/2012/03/1969-volkswagen-type-3-1600-fastback-tl_21.html

and my other brother had a blue station wagon,

http://www.oldparkedcars.com/2010/05/1971-volkswagen-squareback-type-3-1600.html
The Beetles had the "type 1" engine, and the others, type 2, 3, or 4.
The engine also had/has a very distinctive sound. While walking down the street a few days ago, I heard a familiar sound. I looked around, and, sure enough, an old VW was passing by me.
At first I always think I'm hearing some kind of motorcycle. But it's even different than that. Since the cylinders aren't jacketed with liquid coolant passages, you hear more raw engine sound.
You still see a few old VW camper vans in use in the UK.
I see these all over the place also, but I don't pay so much attention. It seems like for every two bugs left there's also one van left. I haven't measured, but they say the van and the bug are actually pretty much the same length. The bugs look smaller than they actually are, and the vans, larger.

lisab
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
If that scared you in the car, look at the (non-existent) gap between the steering wheel and the front of the van! You are actually sitting in front of the front wheels.
No, I never wear a seatbelt when I drive my VW van. You don't have to worry about going through the windshield - the windshield will come to you!
-- a friend of mine, a long time ago

OmCheeto
Gold Member
I'll try and keep this short.

I was 16 when I bought my first car. It was a '61 beetle. It was kind of inexpensive, as it didn't have a drivers side door, and it had been rolled. On the two mile long trip home, I had the accelerator pedal floored, and never broke 45 mph. I decided it should have gone faster than that, so the engine had be rebuilt, and I started the task. Shortly after, I discovered that someone had replaced the engine with a 1959 model, robbing me of 4 hp. But I had spent $50 for the car, and didn't have much to spare, so I completed the tear down. It struck me as being not too difficult, requiring only sticks and rocks to take apart, so I started tearing down the transmission. Upon removing the transaxle thingy, I decided the rest of the tear down required more than sticks and rocks, so I put everything back together. I was quite surprised that it started. Even more surprising, was that when I put the car in 1st gear, it went backwards. Apparently, the transaxle thingy could be reassembled by a dyslexic with absolutely no problem, yielding 4 reverse gears, and 1 forward gear. At that point, it didn't matter that I'd buggered the rebuild a bit, and still couldn't go faster than 45 mph, as I had the fastest backwards driving car in the world. Lessons learned from ending up with a coffee can full of spare nuts, bolts, screws, clips, and unidentifiable thingys, but it all held together: A: This car was way over-engineered. B: Take better notes next time. :thumbs: Last edited: Borek Mentor :rofl: nsaspook Science Advisor Zombie attack bug: Scout version: Stealth version: Troop carrier: OmCheeto Gold Member As a quirky little side note: My mother was born in Germany, way back in the 1920's. I have 4 brothers, and two sisters. Of the nine of us, only mom, and my two brothers born in Germany, never had Volkswagens. ps. A. My youngest sister taught me how to drive on ice in her beetle, when I was 15. B. I learned that you can drive with the emergency brake on for miles without noticing it, until your oldest sister, mentions an odd smell, when you arrive home. C. 4 extra teenagers do not improve the cornering ability of a VW fastback when there is snow on the road. As a quirky little side note: My mother was born in Germany, way back in the 1920's. I have 4 brothers, and two sisters. Of the nine of us, only mom, and my two brothers born in Germany, never had Volkswagens. The history is interesting. Under the Nazis, the German populace never benefitted from the "People's Car". In fact, a lot of citizens got ripped off, having made payments in advance for cars that never got produced. Between their conception and the German defeat, only about 600 bugs rolled off the assembly line. The "People's Car" project was abandoned because the resources were needed for the German war machine. World wide distribution of the Bug is due to the British, who revived the dead project after the war. The closed VW factory ended up being in the British sector of post-war Germany, and it was the British who discovered this factory all tooled up to make this cheap, peculiar air-cooled vehicle. They, themselves, needed vehicles to administer their quarter of the defeated country, and sent in specialists to get the plant back in operation. The first people to really benefit from the Beetle, therefore, and ironically, were Hitler's sworn enemies. OK, it just happened again. 10 minutes ago I was out walking and a Bug that I'd never seen before drove by. It was a very nicely kept light blue, and the engine sounded in fine tune. I'm wondering if anyone else has suddenly noticed Bugs they've not noticed before since I started this thread. I suspect I might be living in an anomalously Bug-heavy neighborhood in an anomalously Bug-heavy part of the country. Rust does actually sleep here, in the American Southwest. In fact, it's mostly asleep except for a couple months of the year. I wonder if I have a skewed perception of how many old air-cooled Beetles are actually out there in the world in general. Evo Mentor I knew a couple of people that owned one, back in the 60's, and their reason was that it was all they could afford, it was cheap. I rode as a passenger in one once and it was not pleasant, talk about I was feeling the road and about to become part of it. :surprised The fact that she was a bad driver didn't help. It was her, me and her parents. We were shaking when we got out (her parents and I). Last edited: Heard a story today I have to pass on to posterity. When I'm buying tools for my Beetle at the swap meet it often happens the geezers selling the kind of "old school" tools I need ask what car I'm fixing. When they find out it's a bug, they have to stop the presses and tell me their own personal bug stories. This one I heard today from a guy named Bill is certainly the most amazing: In 1972 Bill bought a 1962 VW Beetle from a "gypsy" car dealer in Ontario, Canada for$650. This "dealer" was a trailer set up in a vacant lot with some cars parked around it. It was illegal, they had no proper business papers. He put half down, received the car, and was going to receive the title after he made the rest of the payments. $25 a week till it was paid off. He made two payments, (which had to be physically brought to the "dealership," every week because they had no legal mailing address) but when he went to make the next one, the "dealership" had vanished, absconding one step ahead of law enforcement. So, Bill didn't legally have title to the bug, and the people who did were hiding. However, it was legally registered to the owner of the "dealership", and he would be able to simply renew the registration (DMV doesn't care who pays it) to avoid getting pulled over for outdated tags. . He came back to the US with the plan of sending the registration money to his brother in Ontario to pay for the registration when renewal was due. But, since he couldn't prove he owned the car, he also couldn't buy insurance for it. On the morning in question, Bill was setting out from Oakland to points south. He started his bug, but when he tried to release the hand brake, it wouldn't cooperate. He wrestled with it. The brake lever then came apart; the button flew off, the cable came loose from the lever, and the lever came loose from the body. He had no more parking brake, and was not a mechanically inclined individual, and was in a hurry, so he threw the parts in the back seat and took off. The lack of a parking brake played no part in the fate that befell him, but he now regards the incident as a bad omen he unfortunately ignored. Once Bill was underway, the weather on Highway 5 South turned bad: cold and rainy. His heater channel was rusted away so the warm air couldn't get up to the defroster vents under his windshield. It was constantly fogged up. He rolled the window down and checked where he was now and then, and tried his best to wipe the inside of the windshield off with random pieces of paper he had strewn about the cockpit. A car that was going much faster than him and which was pulling a trailer, passed him at high speed and sent a wash of water into his left ear. Then the car and trailer kind of lost control and began skidding. It swerved in front of him and started braking and trying to pull onto the shoulder. Bill had to pull some fast maneuvers to avoid hitting it. Both parties, though, came safely to rest, on the shoulder. The other guy asked if he was all right, and he said he was. The guy apologized and after checking his rig, took off. Bill sat there, composing himself, and thanking his lucky stars that everything had worked out OK. He'd been very, very lucky, he thought. And felt grateful he was OK. He buckled up and started his bug. Checking his rearview for oncoming traffic, he saw a large sedan coming toward him at high speed completely out of control spinning around and around. A second later it hit the back of his bug, pushing it out onto the highway. Bill gunned the gas, trying to get traction to get back on the shoulder, but there was no response from his engine. Looking around frantically, he saw his engine was now in the back seat. Then another car came along and clipped him, and rotated him around. He decided to forget the car and just get the hell out of it. He grasped the seat belt clasp, but it was stuck and wouldn't release. Then another car came along and clipped him and spun him around. He remembered he had a pocket knife. He could use that to cut the seat belt. He worked it out of his pocket, but while he was opening it, another car came along and clipped him. Luckily, he saw where the knife landed and it was in reach. While he was sawing through the seat belt, two more cars came along and clipped him. Finally, after being hit 6 times, he made it out of the bug and ran to the shoulder. There, he encountered the driver of the first car who had hit him. She said she was on her way home from a dog show, and she introduced him to her lap dog, who had been a contestant. While she talked about the dog show, she pulled a flask from her purse and offered him a swig. He declined. They stood and chatted, watching as 16 more cars came along and clipped the Beetle. Bill was counting. It got hit a total of 22 times that day, before it finally got pushed off to the other side of the highway. When a state trooper finally arrived, he gestured to the mangled and now unrecognizable, car and said, "I guess the meatwagon already came by and took that hamburger away." Bill raised his hand and said, "No, I'm right here." The trooper asked for license and registration and proof of insurance. Bill showed his license, but lied about the rest, "It's all in the glove box, if you can get it out." The trooper took their statements, and a whole lot of other people's, and finally said they could go. The woman with the dog gave Bill a lift to the next town, and he caught a bus. Eventually he got back here to San Diego, where he lived in a rented a room. When he arrived, his house mate said, "Boy, Bill, your phone has sure been ringing a lot lately." Now Bill was sure the illegal status of his Beetle had been, or would soon be, uncovered and it was only a matter of time before he'd be visited by the police. He wasn't sure what to do, and procrastinated about making a decision. A couple weeks later, he was skulking down the stairs on his way out, when a man in a suit suddenly came round the corner and saw him and halted. Bill froze, and dammed himself for not having already thrown some clothes in a bag. He could have already been in the wind. Damn. The guy asked if he was Bill ---. Bill admitted he was. The guy introduced himself as the insurance agent of the woman who had rear ended him. He said he'd been trying to call but there had been no answer. The woman's insurance company, he said, was prepared to offer a settlement of$1200.

Bill chewed that over for a while and it suddenly dawned on him, the woman's insurance company was trying to pay him for his wrecked Beetle. He thought some more, and wondered why they were offering so much. He'd only paid $650, and the only upgrade he'd made was new tires. Confused, he blurted out, "I just put new tires on it." The insurance man misunderstood him to be saying it was worth more than$1200, because it had just been upgraded with new tires. He said, "OK, OK, we want to settle this. We're willing to go as high as $2500, but that's the limit. Bill mulled that over, and, since he didn't have a bank account where he could deposit a check he said, "Is there any way I could get that in cash?" The insurance man smiled warmly and said, "Let's go over to the bank. You sign some papers, I'll make a call." Bill's nightmare dissolved. The woman was considered to be at fault because she'd rear ended him, and rear ended him while he was on the shoulder. The trooper had put in his report that he'd clearly found the shattered remnants of Bill's tail lights off the asphalt, on the gravel shoulder, meaning that is where he was when first hit. All the other cars hitting the Beetle was her fault and no one was going after Bill, so no one ever got around to checking whether he had insurance or if he actually owned the Beetle. Mark44 Mentor In the fairly long list of cars I've owned is Beetle (a '62 or so, IIRC), and a bus ('64 I believe). When I was in the Army I loaned it to a "friend," who managed to blow up the engine. I didn't have a lot of money, so I took the engine out and was in the process of repairing it at a shop the specialized in VWs. While the engine-less bug was in my garage (below the apartment my wife and I lived in), the fuel line flopped down and starter leaking gas on the floor, not far from the furnace. Needless to say, a fire resulted, but I was fortunate enough to wake up in time to get my wife and myself out of there. That was the end of that bug, though. The bus came out of a junkyard, and was minus an engine and windshield. At the same shop, the owner let me use his tools to put together another engine for the bus -- a 1600cc engine with an upgraded cam, extractor exhaust, and two carburetors. I drove that bus back and forth between Wash. state and Southern Cal. a few times, and the motor was strong enough that I could keep out of the way of semis on the highway. The motor ran strong, but had a relatively minor flaw, in that it leaked oil from the main (front) seal. To replace the seal you have to take the motor out, which I did twelve times, none of which was completely successful. I got so good at taking the motor out that I could do it in 30 minutes, including one time when all I had to work with was a scissors jack, a broomstick cut into foot-long rollers, and a small piece of plywood. After a few years I had had it with that car. You have to be religious about keeping the valves set, or you are likely to burn an exhaust valve on #3 cylinder (left front). In addition, you need to change the points and spark plugs about every 10,000 miles. Anyway, I decided I was done fooling with it, and bought a '60 Chevy for$75 from a guy at the college I was going to. It wasn't running, but I determined that a set of points (about $5) was just the ticket. After I put them in, I fired up the motor, and drove the car away. Wish I still had that Chevy -- I don't miss the bus, though. fresh_42 Mentor It is funny. Almost all people I ever met had one or another beetle story. Sometimes I thought there must have been an order to at least once in a lifetime everybody had to drive one. I remember a party - actually not, but the way home. My girlfriend had to drive a couple of us home for obvious reasons. Her bug was so overcrowded, that I had to "sit" on the gear stick and change the gears on call. It's been one of those cars that doesn't complain if you abuse them. Another adventure is related to a bus. A friend of mine and me had to transport a package of paneling. Of course it didn't fit into the bus. So we stacked it on the dashboard and with the hatchback open. That had two unpleasant side effects. We couldn't really hear or see us anymore and we had to breathe exhausts the entire drive of about 300 km which makes you tired quickly. It took ten minutes and a heavy summer rain added up to all of it. On the highway here you are supposed to drive on the right lane and overtaking on the right side is forbidden, so overtaking slower trucks went like this: (everything shouted due to the open hatchback) Me: "Can I change the lane?" Friend: "What?" Me (even louder): "Can I change the lane?" Friend: "Wait" ... Friend: "Now!" Me: "What?" Friend: "It's ok!" Me: "Ok" Friend: "Not anymore!" It was a long way home. And then on another occasion I was driving in a bus some friends to a poker game at somebody's house. I had never been there before and probably took the wrong highway exist. Since I did not know this I kept driving by the description I had and made a left turn at the next traffic light. What shall I say? The (US) G.I. on watch duty had been so friendly and let us turn on the base's ground. That were really good old times. Nowadays you would get arrested at best and shot at worst. I miss these times when people have been friendly and had not to assume terror attacks. I am always reminded again when they repeat "Back to the Future I" on TV. jtbell Mentor "OK, OK, we want to settle this. We're willing to go as high as$2500, but that's the limit."
So did Bill use the money to buy another Beetle?

So did Bill use the money to buy another Beetle?
No. But at a later time he bought a bus on the spur of the moment from a random guy he met in Arizona. He had a few stories about that bus, but none as amazing as getting hit 22 times.

Bill's problem was that he had no interest in mechanical things. VW's are exactly like Mark44 said: you have to be willing to constantly tinker, and sometimes a lot more. For the ones that are still around, that is worse than ever, because they're older than ever. You buy a 45 year old car, and, as one guy put it, and basically you need a new car: everything on it needs replacing. The good news is that they're still so popular that an amazing number of companies all over the world are making brand new parts for them. Someone somewhere is manufacturing some weird little grommet that holds some odd piece of trim that exists only on the 1963 Beetle. It's uncanny.