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Volkswagen Beetle: Buying guide and review (1945-2003)

VW Beetle buying guide VW Beetle buying guide
Volkswagen’s Beetle represents so many different things to so many people. With 21.5 million of them built around the world for more than 50 years, chances are you have either owned one at some point, or know someone that has. 
Born out of a need to quickly get German people mobile and onto the rapidly expanding autobahn network, this small and functional car was designed in the 1930s by Ferdinand Porsche, and was championed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. Full scale production of the Type 1 didn’t start until 1945 though, after World War 2 came to an end. 
It was of course developed over the years, with huge improvements, larger engines and improved trim and interior. European production continued right through to 1978, however the Brazilian and Mexican cars carried on for much longer, taking the production right through to 2003. 
Today many look good but are rotten; others have been badly restored. Most Beetles have also been modified in some way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it often makes them more usable; bigger engines, later brakes and newer gearboxes are all par for the course. What matters most is that you don’t buy a liability. 
Few cars are as easy to maintain or upgrade as the Beetle, with a ready parts supply and plenty of specialists. Running costs are low, ride comfort is great and performance isn’t bad; this is no road burner, but ample low-down torque means the Beetle is easy to drive. But perhaps the best aspect of all is the social scene that goes with the Beetle; if you want to kick start your social life, just buy a classic Beetle. 

Which classic Beetle to buy?

Although the Beetle didn’t seem to evolve much during its lengthy production run, nothing is interchangeable between the first and last cars. Indeed, there were changes of some sort just about every year. 
Most available Beetles are from the 1960s or 1970s; earlier cars rarely come onto the market, especially in right-hand drive form. As a result you can expect to buy a Beetle with an 1192cc or 1285cc engine, although by 1967 there was a 1493cc unit too. Even the biggest standard Beetle engine displaced just 1584cc, so running costs are brilliantly low.
The 1200 was always aimed at those on a budget; it was last to get brake, suspension and electrical upgrades. The 1302S and 1303S are more usable thanks to their 1600 powerplants, bigger boot, MacPherson strut front and semi-trailing arm rear suspension. The sloped-headlamp design is the purist’s favourite; buy a 1966 or 1967 car and you could have this with 1500 power, making it the pick of the bunch for some. However, pre-67 cars tend to rust less; whatever you buy, if it’s RHD make sure it’s genuine, as many cars have been converted. That’s fine if done properly, but such cars are worth less than original RHD examples.
Non-factory convertibles are best avoided, as they tend to leak badly, but if safe they can provide affordable summer fun. Finally, the Beetle is popular with young drivers, plenty of whom have learned or practised their restoration skills on a Bug. As a result, amateur rebuilds abound, so check for uneven panel gaps, wonky welding and distorted panels. 

Performance and specs

Volkswagen Beetle 1500
Engine 1493cc, four-cylinder 
Power 44bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 74lb ft @ 2000rpm
Top speed 78mph
0-50mph 11.3sec
Fuel consumption 30mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual/Three-speed automatic

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2420mm
Length 4080mm
Width 1585mm
Height 1500mm
Kerb weight 870kg

Common problems

• Check the jacking points, wheelarches and floorpans for rot, along with the spare wheel well and bumper mountings front and rear. On later cars with MacPherson struts, scrutinise the strut top mountings. Also check the running boards – particularly where they’re mounted to the bodyshell and the sills. The latter incorporate the heater ducts, so wholesale repairs are needed rather than patching. 
• Inspect the rear body supports ahead of the driveshafts under the wings, and significant corrosion in the rain gutters is bad news. Lift the back seat; the sound deadening absorbs water, then rots the floorpan. 
• The Karmann Cabriolet’s roof wears or gets damaged while the frame rots. From 1972 an all-metal frame was fitted, but earlier cars featured some timber sections. 
• All Beetles feature an air-cooled flat-four engine. Noisy when cold, these engines are tough, plus cheap and easy to rebuild. Minor oil leaks are normal, but anything more means a full rebuild is due. Parts for pre-1960 powerplants (1131cc and 1192cc) are scarce, with these engines completely different from later units. Swapping to a later engine will give you better usability and cheaper rebuilds, but you’ll also need to swap to the later gearbox and final drive. 
• A four-speed manual gearbox was fitted to most Beetles, but a three-speed automated manual was offered with the 1500 engine. These latter boxes are extremely rare now though. The most likely issue is with worn synchromesh or layshaft bearings, but rebuilt gearboxes are readily available. 
• From 1974 rack-and-pinion steering was fitted to the 1303; other cars got a box. Play should be minimal, except for 1972-74 cars. These suffer from rotten inner wings which flex when the steering wheel is turned; it feels like a worn box but it’s actually a weakened structure. 
• Axles rust from the inside out. If there’s much clonking and rattling over poor surfaces, assume a replacement axle will be needed. 
• Most Beetles have drum brakes all round, but from 1967 the 1500, 1302S and 1303S got discs up front. Everything is reliable, available and affordable, although pre-1960 parts are scarce. 
• Butchered interiors are common, so check for damaged trim. Most cars have a painted dash, but some late-1970s Beetles and the 1303 featured a plastic fascia that cracks and splits after years of exposure to the sun; repro replacements are expensive. 
• Until 1967, all Beetles featured a 6-volt electrical system; then it switched to a 12-volt set-up. Any car can be converted to 12 volts; for more reliable starting, and for the easier fitment of ancillaries it’s worthwhile. 

Model history

1945: Production starts, 10 years after the first prototype is built. An 1131cc engine is fitted. 
1949: Karmann cabriolet production starts. 
1950: The Beetle gets hydraulic brakes. 
1954: An 1192cc engine is now fitted. 
1965: There’s now a 1300 engine. 
1966: A 1493cc engine now features. 
1967: A restyle brings vertical headlights, bigger bumpers and dual-circuit brakes, plus 12v electrics for the 1300 and 1500. 
1970: The 1302 brings MacPherson struts up front, plus a 50bhp 1584cc 1302S option. 
1972: The 1303 gets a panoramic windscreen, bigger rear lights. 
1974: There’s now rack-and-pinion steering. 
1978: German production ends; the cars are now made in Mexico. 
1980: Karmann builds the final cabriolet; 330,281 were made. 
1992: There’s now a catalytic converter and electronic fuel injection. 
2003: The final Beetle is made. 

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.dubnuts.co.uk
• www.historicvws.org.uk
• www.pre67vw.com
• www.vwocgb.com

Summary and prices

Not only is the Volkswagen Beetle one of the most iconic cars of all time, it’s a cultural icon that goes beyond the automotive world entirely. While it might be hard to find original or unmolested cars for not a lot of money, the great thing about the Beetle is that it continues to offer the kind of cheap, accessible and DIY motoring that endeared them to the masses in the first place.
Prices have moved in recent years, with many people paying a premium for clean original cars, while there is still a thriving scene for the modified cars. Early cars are difficult to find, and rarely come up for sale in the UK, and when they do often sell for upwards of £25,000 in top condition. Oval screen cars (1953-1957) are again quite difficult to find, and start at around £5000, rising to £15,000 for a perfect example. 
If you want something fun and easy to look after, then it really has to be one of the later cars. Spares are plentiful, and there are many more around to choose from. You can still find a viable project from the £800 mark, while there are decent runners from around £2000. Pay around £6000 and you should be able to get something really presentable.
VW Beetle buying guide VW Beetle buying guide
Last updated: 6th Oct 2016
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Volkswagen Beetle cars for sale

24 Search results
Volkswagen Beetle
2950 16400 GBP
  • 1978 Volkswagen Beetle 1303 Karmann Cabriolet

    £6,000 - £8,000 est. £6,000 - £8,000 est.
    Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 0DE
    Auction Date: 23 Nov 2016
    • Engine size: 1.6
    Auction Date: 23 Nov 2016
    01568 611122 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • Volkswagen Beetle

    £9,850 £9,850

    This lovely car really has to be seen to be appreciated.It was originally registered in Buckinghamshire on 13th September 1962 and retains its original registration number. DVLA records show six subsequent keepers, details of whom are set out in a search report included in the extensive history file.In 2009/10 a sympathetic restoration of the car's structure was undertaken in which the original colour, and the original suspension and braking systems were retained. In early 2012 it passed to another enthusiast owner who continued the restoration process over the next few years and brought the car to the condition it's in today. Whilst continuing to keep the basic originality of the car ( ride height, track, and brakes are all still as standard ) many improvements have been made to it's appearance and driveability. These included a complete new interior,12v conversion still charged by dynamo, LED dipping headlamps, period front and rear fog lights and reversing light, additional instrumentation, new recoil front and static lap rear seat belts, and a skilfully installed DAB radio/Cd/MP3 player tucked away in the glove box. All the new electrical equipment works as it should and the changes were made with skill and due regard to the car's originality, using high quality components throughout.The engine was replaced with a reconditioned 1192cc unit and the gearbox was fully reconditioned.The history file is substantial and includes invoices for many thousands of pounds from reputa

    • Mileage: 27000 mi
    • Engine size: 1192
    For sale
  • ​1969 VW Beetle

    £10,985 £10,985

    Original 1500 cc 53 hp motor appears to have never been out of this authentically restored40,000 mile example. It is undoubtedly one of the finest combinations of a restoration while preserving most of the originality, rarely seen but very desirable. Closer inspection reveals original bolt on sheet metal removed and replaced for painting in the original code 620 Savannah Beige while still remaining original glass and weather strips. The immaculate seats and headliner appear to be all original, a testament to condition prior to the factory appearing respray. A rare find indeed. #7529 $16,900

    For sale
  • Volkswagen Beetle 1972

    £2,950 £2,950

    Fairly good condition, runs well. Very good engine and tyres  M.O.T.till May 17 offers tel.  07786137610

    • Mileage: 100000 mi
    • Engine size: 1300
    For sale
  • Volkswagen Beetle

    £4,995 £4,995

    iPod Connectivity, Alloy wheels, Service history Great VW engined beach buggy, only 340 miles since full restoration, very well built buggy, with an IPOD connection and speakers behind the seat, full waterproof controls, mot until 25/5/17 - £4995We pride ourselves on selling good quality cars at great prices. We are experts in offering car finance to customers across the UK.*** If you have had trouble getting a used car elsewhere then give us a call to see if we can help, we have flexible finance deals with weekly or monthly payments to suit all budgets, Fill out extended finance form on our website, www.purbrookcarsales.co.uk***

    • Mileage: 349 mi
    • Engine size: 1500
    For sale
  • Volkswagen Beetle

    £4,995 £4,995

    iPod Connectivity, Alloy wheels, Service history Great VW engined beach buggy, only 340 miles since full restoration, very well built buggy, with an IPOD connection and speakers behind the seat, full waterproof controls, mot until 25/5/17 - £4995We pride ourselves on selling good quality cars at great prices. We are experts in offering car finance to customers across the UK.*** If you have had trouble getting a used car elsewhere then give us a call to see if we can help, we have flexible finance deals with weekly or monthly payments to suit all budgets, Fill out extended finance form on our website, www.purbrookcarsales.co.uk***

    • Mileage: 349 mi
    • Engine size: 1500
    For sale
  • Volkswagen - 1966 Beetle 1300

    £9,950 £9,950

    Opening Hours Monday 9am-5pm Tuesday 9am-5pm Wednesday 9am-5pm Thursday 9am-5pm Friday 9am-5pm Saturday By appointment Sunday By appointment Appointments can also be made outside normal business hours. First registered on the 15th February 1966 this VW Beetle is in superb condition. Finished in Gambia Red with light grey upholstery, this car has been fully restored to its original condition and still using the 6 volt system. The engine has been professionally rebuilt and comes with a warranty. With only 9,500 recorded miles since new and just the one owner, for most of its life, this car has been looked after, loved and cherished. These unmolested Classic are becoming increasingly rare and there is a good chance this car will only increase in value. Oh, and it comes with an MOT until 2017! Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information or to arrange a test drive, telephone 01732 883113

    • Year: 1966
    • Mileage: 9500 mi
    For sale

    £14,999 £14,999

    VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE 1.5 SEMI AUTOMATIC 1968 (F reg). 52000 Genuine miles. Sold by Hutchinson and Beardalls of Nottingham. Bought back by Hutchinson and Beardalls and kept as a family car. Sold by Tim Hutchinson the son of the dealer principal in 1998 to a private collector who kept for 17 Years and used only as a show car and only doing 600 miles over the 17 year period. This Beetle was produced between 1968-1976 and is the full headliner model and the first to have external fuel filler cap and blank on tank. Rare semi auto box. 1500cc Engine. 12 Volt electrics. Disc front brakes, drum rear, IRS Rear suspension, Very rare grey paintwork Loads of history and bills. Original chrome and carpets. Not restored near concourse condition. only known repair was damage to R/H Jacking point and sill. some light paint to scratches and dings. Comes with spare gearbox, Torque converter Vacuum and oil pots and pump. Very rare classic will only appreciate in value GBP 14,999.00

    • Mileage: 52000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.493
    For sale
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