The Volkswagen Beetle enjoyed enormous success for many years, and in 1972 became the best selling car ever, with total production worldwide exceeding 15 million vehicles. By then, however, the Beetle was starting to seem dated compared with much of the modern competition, and sales were flagging. In an attempt to maintain interest in the cars, VW produced numerous special edition models during the final years of European production. These included the Jeans Beetle, City Beetle, Sun Bug and Marathon Beetle, to give just a few examples. Each of the special editions had its own cosmetic peculiarities, like the denim seats and distinctive decals that characterised the Jeans Beetle. Some, such as the GT Beetle also benefited from performance enhancements. If you're interested in learning more about the special edition Beetles, the definitive online guide is Colin Shinkin's SE Beetles website.
Despite all the special editions, Beetle sales continued to decline, and the last European-built car left the production line in Emden, Germany on the 19th of January, 1978, immediately taking early retirement in the Wolfsburg Auto Museum.
To mark the occasion, the final run of 300 cars produced for the United Kingdom was released as yet another special edition - the 'Last Edition Beetles'. These were painted metallic silver, upholstered in blue cloth, and each had a commemorative plaque giving its unique number within the batch. Unfortunately, these seem to have been supplied to VW dealers separately from the cars, and quite a number of LEBs never received the plaques intended for them. Ultimately, the allocation of numbers was arbitrary, and it's not possible to work out an LEB edition number from its chassis or engine number, as there's no reliable correlation between them. From enquiries made by owner Fred Wall, it seems likely that the plaques were assigned by chassis number at the factory, but the numbering scheme was not strictly followed by all dealers. Consequently we can't work out the correct numbers for cars without plaques, as there are too many anomalies in the sequence.
The historical significance of the cars has meant that many are now owned by VW enthusiasts, so a considerable number are still in good, roadworthy condition.
When Julie Kinley bought Last Edition Beetle number 250 back in 1989, she thought it would be fun to see how many of its 299 brethren she could track down. Advertising in VW Motoring brought in a gratifying number of replies, and word-of-mouth did the rest. So the Last Edition Beetle Register was born. With considerable assistance from Wendy Flynn, the Register eventually recorded around a hundred of the cars still running in the mid-1990s. In 1993 and 1995, Register members displayed their cars in lineups at the VW North West meetings at Tatton Park, receiving much favourable publicity in the Volkswagen specialist press.
After those early triumphs, the Register lay dormant for several years due to pressures on the organisers' time. In 2000, with the cars approaching their 25th birthday, and Julie's own vehicle undergoing a complete renovation, she felt it was time to rally the LEBs and their owners once again. Getting things moving again took a few months. An initial mailout to the 110 owners we thought we knew the addresses of only brought in about a dozen replies ! However, after a few months of publicising the new website, the early inertia was overcome, and we now have a thriving organisation once again. We now have some record of the lives and times of around a half of the entire set of 300 vehicles, with recent information on about 75 of these. Not bad for cars that are now more than a quarter of a century old.
This website provides a place for owners of LEBs to show off photos of their cars, along with news of meetings and suchlike. If you'd like to know more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Hmmm.... that's a tricky one... It seems that Volkswagen's sales literature described all 600 cars in the final UK run as 'Last Edition Beetles'. However, only the 300 Diamond Silver cars were intended to have the special numbered plaques, and it's these that most enthusiasts recognize as being the true 'Last Edition' cars. This website, and the Last Edition Beetle Register are dedicated to the silver ones. Cue howls of anguish from pedants, and owners of non-silver 1978 bugs...
Here's a German news article about the end of Beetle production at Emden