Wednesday, July 24, 2019

2106 Auf Wiedersehen or is it Adiós to the VW Beetle

This may be the most storied and influential car in history with the possible exception of the Ford Model T. And you may think new ones disappeared years ago.  But until last week, you’d have been wrong. The “real” Beetle remained in production in Volkswagen’s Puebla, Puebla province Mexico from 1967 until Wednesday, July 10, 2019 when the last one rolled off the line.

The original Beetle could not meet US emission standards, so VW scrapped it in the US.  But Mexico?  Who cares if all those fumes kill a few hundred people a year and help melt the Polar ice?

No, the “original” Beetle with an occasional update -- like a gas gauge and some other frivolous stuff soldiered on.  Wait. Maybe “soldiered on” is not exactly the best way to describe something fathered by Hitler and birthed by the Porsche family.

Ok. It’s been around since the late 1930s and for sale in the US since the mid-50s.  People bought them because they ran well, lasted well and showed that a mere defeat at the hands of the allies didn’t do much harm to German engineering, although today, that’s not what it once was, either.

You could replace the engine in a Beetle in an hour or so, using only a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. Not much plastic on those bodies.  Just steel.  And they still got decent gas mileage.  

Up until a few years ago, you could buy a new Mexican VW for three or four thousand dollars.  It would cost you another three or four to retrofit US emissions equipment.  But you’d have a really good new car for half the price you can buy new in this country.

We’re expecting a big uptick in the prices of used Beetles here.  Before the shutdown you could get a decent one for about $1700, which was the price new in 1958.  Some listings show prices of up to $5,000 used.  That’s still not a bad deal.

And that would include leather seats and a gas gauge, as opposed to the rare base model which had neither.  A gas gauge became standard sometime in the 1960s.  So did a larger rear window.  If you’re a wimp, you can add air conditioning for about $2,000.

But why, you may ask, would you want one of these in the first place?

--It’s a nostalgia trip.
--Your left foot has nothing to do and complains.
--It’s a chick magnet, assuming the “chick” is of age to collect Social Security.
--It’s a cop magnet and you love being pulled over so some kid in blue can gawk.
--You’ve always wanted one.

VW has this habit of shooting itself in the foot.  When the Bug became a best seller they started making a bunch of different models.  One had a fancy body. One looked like a bus but smaller.  One looked like a WWII Jeep and others looked like every other car.  People didn’t want something that looked like every other car and eventually, the company pulled back.

Then they came out with the New Beetle, a rolling junk heap with some of the cuteness of the original but none of the sturdiness.

Later came the commercials that showed how fast their low-emissions diesels could accelerate and how fast they would go with low emissions. Slight problem, the engines turned out to be major polluters and the built-in software to evade fume detection were included in the base price.

So, Wiedersehen, old freund.  And Adiós, amigo. 

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2019

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