Last but not least  (May 1999)

Walk into T. Hayselden, the VW dealership in Barnsley and you'll find a gleaming new Beetle an display, with 159 miles showing on its odometer. Nothing unusual there; after all, the New Beetle is on sale at most main dealers this month. However, before you start thinking that Hayselden's example has rather a high delivery mileage, I'd better point out that the car in their showroom is 21 years old and has an air-cooled engine at the rear!

The Beetle in question is actually a Diamond Silver 1978 Last Edition model and it has been the star of the showroom since Managing Director Mike Hayselden bought it a couple of years ago. The Bug was first registered as AHE 655T and bought as an investment by VW enthusiast John Lamb. John had been associated with VWs for over 20 years and subsequently went on to run his own dealership in Chesterfield. When he eventually left the dealership, which had diversified into Porsche and Citroen models, he took the Beetle with him and decided to offer it for sale. He appointed Mike Ball of Beacon Vintage & Classics, based at Gringley on the Hill in Doncaster, to sell the vehicle for him and it was subsequently advertised in Exchange and Mart in mid-1994.

For some reason, the car languished in this traditional classic car showroom for around two years, until it came to the attention of Mike Hayselden.

'One of my customers spoke of a mint low-mileage Beetle for sale with a five-figure price tag. Although I wasn't really in the market for one I thought I'd go and see what it was like.

'It turned out to be immaculate, having only been driven once a year to check the brakes. I thought it would be a great reminder of our heritage - we must have sold thousands of Beetles - as well as being a real attraction for the showroom.'

Parked near the reception desk in the new car showroom, the Beetle undoubtedly stands out. You'll not find many VW dealers displaying an air-cooled vehicle alongside a new Polo, that's for sure!

The condition of the Beetle has to be seen to be believed and it could quite easily be sold as a 'new' car. The original paintwork still looks as fresh as the day it was applied and all the panels have the crisp alignment that you only find on concours vehicles. Peering under the front wings, you can still see the panel markings, which were presumably chalked on by the assembly workers at the factory. I couldn't help noticing that the tyres looked a bit flat, though ('Still got the original air in them!' Mike grinned).

Opening the door revealed an absolutely pristine interior which, unlike most other Beetles I've seen, still had a faint 'new car' smell - very strange not to get that familiar 'musty Beetle' odour!

However, while many customers admire its gleaming bodywork, only the knowledgeable few realise the actual significance of the Last Edition model. European production of the Beetle saloon ended in 1978, and to mark the occasion the last batch of 640 vehicles exported to the UK from the Emden factory were designated 'Last Edition' models. These were based on the 1200L which came equipped with a full headlining, padded dashboard, fresh air ventilation, rear parcel shelf, heated rear window, reversing lights, chrome hub caps and chrome bumpers with rubber inserts.

A popular misconception is that all of them were Diamond Silver; in reality, only 300 sported this colour, with the remaining 340 being finished in standard 1978 model-year colours (Alpine White, Riyad Yellow, Mars Red and Miami Blue). However, the Diamond Silver models were that bit more special, thanks to their blue cloth upholstery and individually numbered commemorative dashboard plaques. Many lose this unique plaque - apparently they were stuck on at the dealerships - but fortunately, this hasn't happened to Mike's example, which still proudly sports its number '260' on the glovebox lid.

However, the big question for any Beetle enthusiast must be: would Mike ever sell it? Apparently not; he is adamant that the car is not for sale, and, according to a recent article in The Sun, he's even turned down a cheque for £25,000 for it. After all, how could you possibly find another brand-new Beetle that's 21 years old?!

VW Motoring May 1999

Last but not least

Ever wondered what it must have been like to walk into a showroom in 1978 and admire a brand new Beetle ? Well, wonder no more - 21 years on, you can still enjoy the experience. Peter Rosenthal finds out more...