40 years of Beetling  (August 1999)

Back in August 1978, fed up with the unreliability of my well-used Hillman Imp, I decided to change to something newer and - above all - more reliable.

I knew a little about Beetles, one of my earliest memories being riding in my father's 1960 Sea Blue model, which had transported the family on holidays and days out for some years without incident.

I hadn't, in fact, particularly considered a VW of any sort until I noticed a silver Beetle in the window of the local VW dealership, and decided to investigate further. It turned out to be a 1200L, finished in Diamond Silver with Marine Blue upholstery, and with a plaque proclaiming it to be number 45 of 300 'Last Edition' Beetles produced for the UK.

A week later I was driving WMK 720T away from the showroom, nursing a heavily depleted bank balance and wondering if this was such a good idea after all! For the record, I paid £2626 for the car, plus an additional £85 for Ziebart treatment. The latter must rate as being about the best £85 I have ever spent, as the all-important sills and box sections have remained intact. I also discovered 'Safer Motoring', and have been an avid reader ever since.

The car, of course perfomed faultlessly from day one, the only warranty claim being for a leaky shock absorber fixed at the first (free) 800-mile service. OK, it was slow, even by the standards of 20 years ago, being shod with humble crossply tyres and lacking even a radio, but it did have that plaque on the glovebox, an air-cooled engine, with its characteristic sound, and was superbly built and finished as well.

It also brought me an unexpected bonus - one day a girl at my local Church turned up in a gleaming 1967 Beetle she had bought from her neighbour; we struck up a conversation about the cars and we were married a couple of years later! After a decent interval while we toured Scotland (twice) and Cornwall in the '78, the birth of our first son caused me to install carrycot straps, and - later on - rear seatbelts, the bodyshell already having the correct mounting holes beneath the trim. The '67, incidentally, was sold to my father-in-law.

By the time our second son arrived, space became something of a premium, the solution being to install a towbar, and hitch on a trailer to carry all the paraphernalia associated with little ones. This proved to be a satisfactory arrangement for a number of years, and was infinitely cheaper than buying an estate car. Contrary to tradition, neither of the babies were carried in the luggage space behind the rear seat!

I added a few improvements over the years, the first being radial tyres, when the crossplies wore out. In truth, the ride felt better and the steering more precise with crossplies, but the immediate bonus with radials was the greatly improved grip and reduced stopping distance.

In 1984 I also took the plunge and fitted four Koni shock absorbers and a Koni steering damper. It was expensive (I could have fitted four standard dampers for the cost of one Koni), but the ride was greatly improved and the Konis still work perfectly to this day.

It was the fashion in the 70s to swap the standard Solex carb for something more exotic, such as a Nikki or Reece-Fish, mainly to cure flat-spots. VW must have sorted things out by the time mine was built, though, as the carburation has been no trouble at all.

One thing I did miss out on was a stainless-steel exhaust for the 1192cc engine, something I regret every few years or so when a hole blows in yet another mild-steel replacement and it's out with the spanners yet again!

On the subject of spanners, I've been fortunate in being able to do all my own servicing and minor repairs on the car since the guarantee expired in 1979 (!), the Haynes and Bentley manuals being essential reading. Otherwise, I entrust the work to Mr. Alexander of Antim Motors in Enfield who has always attended to the car with great skill.

I've used a monograde oil in the sump from the beginning; firstly Castrol CRI 30, until that became unavailable, after which I changed to Morris HD3O. The other consumables have been decidedly routine - plugs, points, brake shoes, etc. plus a couple of clutches.

Only once did the Beetle really blot its copy-book, when a minor engine fire in 1992 led to most of the ancillaries being replaced, as plastic and rubber are not particularly flame-resistant! It also gave me an excuse to have the engine rebuilt and the car resprayed, as time was beginning to take its toll on the paintwork by then, particularly at the front. I also indulged in some mild 'customizing', in the shape of a Wolfsburg crest on the bonnet and a flower vase on the dashboard! The car has been my 'daily driver' for the past 20 years, including use in the course of my employer's business, which explains the mileage of 210,000 to date.

I've always found the car to be fun to drive - 'involving' is perhaps a better word - and I've particularly enjoyed the 'fellowship' that's to be found among Beetle drivers, both at the shows and on the road, as evidenced by that familiar wave. One of the highlights was taking part in the display of Last Edition Beetles at Tatton Park in 1996, the 20 or so cars in the line-up looking gorgeous in their silver paintwork. Safer/VW Motoring (now VWM) has also played its part, particularly with the technical advice given by contributors over the years. Long may it continue!

So what of the next 20 years? My new car has grown into an Ancient Beetle, although the bodywork remains basically sound, and the rebuilt engine will hopefully remain usable for a good few miles yet. The gearbox is stilL original: impressive, as a goodly proportion of all those miles have been done around town. The only real question mark has been the emergence of corrosion in the front axle beam. Rather frustratingly, a new RHD beam is no longer available, so if any of your readers have an unused NOS item tucked away somewhere then I would be very pleased to hear from them.

I'll write again in 2018 and let you know I how I got on...!

VW Motoring August 1999

40 years of Beetling

Fred Wall writes about the joys of Last Edition Beetle ownership