Perhaps incomprehensible to the uninitiated, ye olde Volkswagen Beetle is an automobile icon par excellence. Defying comparison with other means of transportation, naked data of horsepower, acceleration, and maximum speed are unimportant to the true VW enthusiast. One of the most recognized industrial designs on the planet, Professor Porsche's brainchild has been as important in the history of individualized transportation as Ford's Model T.
Especially Oval Window Beetles, built from 1953 to 1957, are highly coveted among aficionados of the marque. Still radiating quaint pre-WWII charme, the Oval Window Bug is vastly more user friendly than its predecessor, the Split Window. Just imagine driving a 24hp car with cable-actuated mechanical brakes in L.A.'s rush hour traffic!
Despite its age, an Oval Window Bug in fine fettle is a wonderful classic car to own. It's easy to live with, easy to maintain (parts availability is excellent) and it's utmost pleasing to the eye.
Sadly, not many of these wonderful cars have survived the ravages of time unharmed. Many have been eaten alive by the merciless cancer rust, others have been used and abused by a succession of economically challenged owners just looking for a set of cheap wheels. Of the few that did survive, many have been modified by careless youths, often beyond the boundaries of good taste, to a point of no return.
Not so this one!
The 1957 Oval Window Beetle Deluxe sedan presented here, VIN *1277966*, has miraculously survived for 48 years.
Sold new in the autumn of 1956 at Valley Volkswagen in Temple City, Calif., a long-defunct dealership in the San Gabriel Valley, the Bug still resides in the Golden State. It has known just two owners in five decades.
Various old invoices, dating back to the 1960s, accompany the Bug. A full dealership lubrication and maintenance service, including compression check and installation of new wiper blades, cost a whopping $18.96 in 1968. Those were the days . . .
Authentic California black-and-yellow license plates, front and rear, establish a most desirable provenance. Cars like this are rapidly becoming extinct, many being exported back to the Fatherland, where appreciative buyers are eagerly waiting, cash in hand.
Clearly, this little crawler is deserving of a closer look.
Let's start with the trunk.
What you ideally want to see is a rust free, undamaged spare tire compartment. Scrutinizing the front luggage compartment on this California beauty leaves us smiling. Everything is solid, tire jack and factory tags are in place, the hood fits and closes nicely.
Next area to inspect: the undercarriage. 48 years is a long time for any car, so the odds of finding a car with a virginal undercarriage, one that never had any rust or rust repair, are fairly slim, even in sunny SoCal.
Well, this one beat the odds, as its undercarriage is as healthy as can be. Underneath a thin layer of California road dust, not a speck of rust can be found.
During restoration, the Bug's body was completely dismantled, revealing pristine original sheet metal. Re-painted inside and out in gorgeous Jupitergrau (factory code L225), the finish was carefully color-sanded and painstakingly hand-rubbed to reveal a high luster. There are no scratches, dings or dents anywhere. Begun in 1989, this restoration was a true labor of love, performed without time constraints!
Stock two-tone steel wheels wear brand new radial tires of the dimension 165 SR 15, the correct replacement for the old bias ply 5.60-15 donuts. Early style hub caps with large VW logo lend the perfect finishing touch.
All external brightwork and weatherstripping has been replaced, including the full Export bumpers.
Inside, we are impressed and humbled by Volkswagen's "less is more" philosophy. A Bug makes perfect sense as a transportation choice for the new Millennium. It's frugal and hip at the same time! As ingeniously and tastefully designed as an iPod, as easy to use and enjoy. There's everything you need, not more, not less. This Deluxe model features ivory steering wheel and knobs, ash tray, and BENDIX radio (which needs a new speaker).
Red leatherette interior (factory code K168) complements the gray exterior most favorably. Seats are correctly piped in creme. Carpeting is black.
"My car is my castle", to paraphrase the British. Looking at the cozy rear cabin with its mail-slot-sized backlight, woollen headliner and inviting, pleated seat, we appreciate the Germans' effort at affordable Gemütlichkeit. A Jaguar MKI has nothing on the humble Beetle!
(My Mom let me ride in the luggage compartment behind the rear seat on long trips when I was little. At night, I would gaze at the twinkling stars through the small window above, kept warm by the purring engine below, feeling as snug as a bug in a . . . Bug.)
Ready for a test drive?
Indeed, we are! But let's check out the engine first. How's the oil?
Engine compartment presents itself sparklingly clean and looks all correct, down to the tar paper on the firewall
The original 1200cc Boxer delivers 30 healthy horses on demand, enough for cruising a today's highway speeds. It starts without hesitation, runs smoothly, and doesn't smoke a bit.
Motor number, on the early 1.2-liter cars found on the generator mount that's actually part of the case, verifies the engine's build date to be within the correct range. We have no doubt that this is the original engine installed in Wolfsburg almost fifty years ago.
April 15, when we took all of these photos, was a beautiful day in Ventura, perfect for a cruise in the VW.
We pushed in, then turned the ignition key and the flat-4 engine instantly came to life, burbling away happily at a steady idle.
It is truly amazing how effortlessly this 48-year-old Beetle keeps up with today's traffic. Good acceleration away from a stop light was always one of the VW's admirable traits. Easy shifting and good brakes add to the Beetle's legendary drivability.
This beloved automobile is not only a collector's item but could serve as economical and stylish daily transport. It's a fully functional museum piece, a restored driver, a welcome alternative to your gas-guzzling SUV. To find another one like it would be hard, to restore a lesser one, a tedious and expensive undertaking.