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

Volkswagen Beetle: Buying guide and review (1945-2003) Classic and Performance Car
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
10 44950 GBP
  • Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet

    £14,989 £14,989

    Variant: 2.0 TDI 140PS DSG

    • Mileage: 23364 mi
    For sale
    £14,989 £14,989
    Westover Group-Lexus Poole
    01202 970446 View contact number
  • Volkswagen Beetle

    £6,995 £6,995

    *SIMILAR QUALITY CARS ALWAYS REQUIRED* SOLD Thinking of selling? Our proven commission sale or SOR (Sale or Return) program is a great way to utilise and access our professional services and facilities while still maximising the return from your vehicle with minimal hassle, stress and time, If you’d like to take advantage of this then please get in touch for further information. Alternatively If you’d like to move your vehicle on quickly and efficiently with minimal delay then we can make an offer on an outright purchase basis with payment and collection arranged soon after. An amazing Volkswagen Beetle 1300 with only 52,990 miles and full history. EQUIPMENT Chrome window trim, chrome bumpers, chrome wheel covers, running boards, horn pad with Wolfsburg crest, hazard lights, dash illumination adjustment, interior light, collapsible steering column, fuel gauge, assist straps, headlight flasher, bezel vents, sill vents, glove box, driver’s door pocket, twin sunvisors, grab handle, coat hooks. Dealer options: Radiomobile push-button stereo. EXTERIOR The unmodified, unspoilt and preserved nature of this delightful Beetle 1300 is truly wonderful and fondly reminiscent of a far simpler motoring age. Finished in Volkswagen Kasan Red/Kasanrot, (Code L30B), the vibrant finish to the paintwork is superb with only very light imperfections consisting of touched in marks and thin paint on bonnet edges from years of overzealous polishing. All utterly insignificant. The factory panels are damage free and uniformly even and the doors shut with a reassuring thud. The underside is excellent and free from excess applied underseal. Originality seekers will delight at the original VW etched glass badges and inner door shut stickers. Even the octane sticker to the inside of the petrol flap remains fitted! All chrome bumpers and trim pieces are intact and boast a brilliant shine. A delightfully humble and unmolested example of a motoring icon. INTERIOR The original black leatherette interior is spotless with all seats and matching door cards fully intact and remarkably free from wear. The factory fitted padded steering wheel with Wolfsburg crest is pristine, as is all other fully functioning controls and switchgear, including the Radiomobile push-button stereo. The factory sticker to the inner glovebox lid remains and the headlining is clean, fully intact and displays only very light discolouration around the rear seams. The front luggage compartment displays factory plates and stickers and houses the original spare wheel still feeding the pneumatic washer system, a system sadly often removed in favour of an electric washer pump. Ten years ago, the previous long-term owner found a Two Shilling coin underneath the carpet dated near the cars production and sentiment/superstition has led him to insist it remained there when he sold the car! ENGINE & TRANSMISSION The matching numbers standard air-cooled rear mounted engine produces 52bhp from its 1285cc displacement enabling a top speed of 78mph with the unmistakable Beetle engine note delightfully pronounced but completely unobtrusive. The engine bay is amazingly clean, exactly as Volkswagen intended and incredibly the original, yet now arguably primitive, Volkswagen diagnostics plug remains fitted! The fully synchronized 4-speed gearbox works perfectly offering light and precise gear changes. WHEELS, TYRES & BRAKES The original pressed steel wheels are dressed in immaculate chrome half wheel covers and shod in branded 155 R15 tyres with excellent tread remaining. Dual circuit drums front and rear operate freely, offering modest yet perfectly adequate stopping power when compared to modern vehicles, exactly as they were made! HISTORY FILE Registered new on the 13th October 1972, the supplying Volkswagen Main Dealer was Walter Scott Ltd of Pavillion Road, London. This incredible Beetle 1300 has covered a genuine warranted 52,990 miles from new with just three former keepers. Only very rarely does a classic car come with such an amazing history file, which in this instance begins with the original service booklet containing the supplying dealer stamp plus a further 39 stamped entries from 1972 to 2017! Each entry records the date and mileage to fully verify the authenticity and illustrate the cars continual enjoyment throughout the last 46 years. Furthermore, a huge history folder is beautifully presented with many previous MOT certificates and specialist invoices for service and maintenance work, including a rebuild of the original Solex carburettor in 2016. A feature in Classsic Car Weekly dated March 2008 is full of glowing praise when it was advertised for sale at £5,995. All original handbooks, guides, warranty book and dealership literature have been kept along with two sets of keys and an original sales brochure. Even the VW Diagnosis Punch Card Booklet with the original build sticker is present! A car that has thankfully evaded the modifiers, neglectful owners and scrappage schemes to now remain one of the best unmolested examples available. Appealing to the avid collector wanting a very special car with history file to match. MOT January 2019, Tax exempt, HPI Clear. To see a video of this car please copy the link below: https://youtu.be/E-1StuaBM14 To see a complete set of photographs of this car please copy the link below: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmm9rS1D 'Like us' or 'Follow us' for exciting new cars coming soon at KGF Classic Cars: https://www.facebook.com/KGFClassiccars https://twitter.com/KGFClassicCars

    • Year: 1972
    • Mileage: 52990 mi
    • Engine size: 1.3
    For sale
    £6,995 £6,995
  • VW Beetle 1961

    €29,950(£0) €29,950(£0)

    VW Beetle 1961 Dickholmer Faltdach in top condition This is a 1961 Dickholmer Faltdach Volkswagen Beetle in top condition. This new in Holland delivered Beetle was beautifully restored in Holland by the previous owner between 2007 and 2017. They chose for the original 1961 Beetle colour Beryl Green in combination with a two-tone interior and a beige Sonnenland Faltdach. So when you are looking for an early model Beetle in top condition, than this car is a good choice. Car has Holland title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1961
    For sale
    €29,950(£0) €29,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle 1500 Cabriolet

    €39,950(£0) €39,950(£0)

    Volkswagen Beetle 1500 cabriolet 1970, fully restored This fully restored Volkswagen Beetle 1500 has marvellous Savana Beige paint with a black mohair soft top. The convertible has the original and fully revised 1500 engine. The car also has disc brakes. The interior has comfortable red leather upholstery with the dashboard in the beige paint colour, a really great combination. Car has German title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1970
    For sale
    €39,950(£0) €39,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle 1302 LS

    €19,950(£0) €19,950(£0)

    Volkswagen Beetle 1302 LS 1970 in good condition This is a 1970 VW Beetle. This 1302 LS with the straight windshield has beautiful red paint, original Lemmertz GT wheels, black interior and a black cabrio top. Technics in very good condition of course and the car has German MOT. Car has German title and document import duties for every EU country are paid by us. Documentation is complete for registration in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import duties. We can help with transport. Trading in, buying and consignment possible.

    • Year: 1970
    For sale
    €19,950(£0) €19,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle

    £18,993 £18,993

    Variant name:1300 ,Derivative:MK1 (TYPE 1) ,Variant: 1300 Please Read Our Comments. This Could Be The Best Left In Existence. - Former multiple concours award winner- A truly exceptional example. The story of the Volkswagen Beetle is like no other. Sixty-six years of production, over 21 million examples manufactured, production on five continents etc. In 1933, Ferdinand Porsche designed and developed a 'volkswagen' (people's car). It needed to be a basic, affordable vehicle capable of transporting two adults and up to three children at up to 100kph (62 mph). It finally entered production in 1938 and, while it inevitably evolved over the years, the basic concept was never altered - as enduring a tribute to the genius of Dr Porsche as he could have wished for. 'WET 914K' was sold new in 1972 by the Listerdale Motor Company (part of the Gilder Group) to a gentleman in Rotherham. Apparently his 32-year custodianship was spent improving and conserving the Beetle, whilst never deviating from the original factory specification - he reportedly took it upon himself to strip various parts of the car and reassemble them to finer tolerances and, according to his family, used to clean inside the wheel arches after every journey! The Gilder Group purchased the Bug back from the gentleman's estate in 2004 in order to use it for promotional purposes in and around its 19 showrooms. This two-owner 1300 could just be 'the best and most original example still in existence'. It is certainly a multiple concours winner (numerous rosettes come with the car) and totally belies the 66,900 miles it has travelled to date - and is as 'a remarkable testament to .... love of his car'. The Beetle sports eye-catching Orange paintwork teamed with a Black vinyl interior and rides on smart, black-centred wheels. An unrepeatable opportunity. This car exudes charm and will provide great fun and pleasure to the next luck owner for many years.

    • Year: 1972
    • Mileage: 66900 mi
    • Engine size: 1.3
    For sale
    £18,993 £18,993
  • Volkswagen Beetle 1965

    €10,950(£0) €10,950(£0)

    Trade-in-car, special wholesale price. This is a trade-in-car. A special wholesale price applies to this car. That’s why a trade-in-car will be sold as seen, without guarantee and without inspections. We are sorry but we can’t give this car a foreign registration. Volkswagen Beetle 1965 in driver’s condition This is a 1965 VW Beetle with Bahama Blue paint. The Volkswagen drives, brakes and shifts gear. The car has cloth interior with a metal dashboard in the colour of the paint. The car has some traces of use. So a very nice driver’s car.

    • Year: 1965
    For sale
    €10,950(£0) €10,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet 1500 1968

    €39,950(£0) €39,950(£0)

    Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet 1500 1968 fully restored Between 1966 and 1970 the Super Beetle was produced. This type has a 1500 CC, 44 HP engine and disc brakes at the front. This Super Beetle is fully restored and provided with really marvellous Lotus White paint. (L282), finished with fabulous chrome and a beige softtop. The interior was completely renewed also and provided with two coloured crème and beige cloth upholstery and a magnificent painted dashboard. The interior offers a lot of comfort and is a great combination with the exterior. The fully revised 1500CC engine makes the Beetle drive great. This rare type VW is a pleasure to drive and a good investment also. Car has German title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1968
    For sale
    €39,950(£0) €39,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet 1966

    €44,950(£0) €44,950(£0)

    VW Beetle cabriolet rare 1500 model 1966 Java Green fully restored Between 1966 and 1970 Volkswagen has built the most luxury Beetle. This Volkswagen Beetle 1500 was delivered with a 1493CC engine and disc brakes at the front. This concerns a very rare early Volkswagen Beetle 1500 cabriolet 1966. It has beautiful original Java Green paint, fully restored. The half leather/cloth beige/white interior is a marvellous combination. The 1493CC engine has a manual gearbox. When you a looking for a very beautiful Beetle cabriolet this will be a very interesting one. Car has Holland title and Holland mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any importtaxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1966
    For sale
    €44,950(£0) €44,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet 1974

    €22,950(£0) €22,950(£0)

    Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet 1974 automatic This 1974 Volkswagen Beetle has a fabulous blue paint with a lot of chrome details. The interior has the original dashboard with a big combi clock and black leatherette upholstery. The Volkswagen has an automatic gearbox. The Beetle convertible is a very popular classic car which drives great. Car has Holland title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1974
    For sale
    €22,950(£0) €22,950(£0)
  • Volkswagen Beetle 1973

    €10,950(£0) €10,950(£0)

    Volkswagen Beetle 1973 in very good condition This originally in Holland delivered Beetle has had only 2 owners since 1973. Recently the car has been provided with new paint and even the dashboard got new details in the paint colour. The interior was provided with new black leatherette which makes the car feel as new. Technics are fully checked in our workshop and the car is ready to drive. This great driving Beetle has the original 1296 CC, 34 HP engine. Car has Holland title and Holland mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any importtaxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1973
    For sale
    €10,950(£0) €10,950(£0)