As the technology around vehicles developed, there were influential models that defined the automobile market and the vehicles that would follow as the world embraced an internal combustion future. Of these influential models, many come readily to mind when asked what cars most directly impacted the vehicles produced today. Cars like the Ford Model T, Willy’s Jeep, and the Volkswagen Bug come immediately to mind. Of the three most noteworthy cars in modern history, two of the three are amazingly still produced today. Unfortunately, in June of 2019, we will say goodbye to a car that transcended its humble roots as a ‘people’s car’ and became a people’s icon. The Volkswagen Bug will disappear next year, so we wanted to say a proper farewell so we can celebrate one of the greatest cars ever built and give you a few ideas how you can make yours better in tribute to the end of an era.
The VW Beetle was not always as identifiable with youth culture and recent AARP beneficiaries as it is today. Looking back, we almost see the Haight-Asbury movement in the 1960s as defined by the Beetle, which took its occupants on as many memorable journeys as did the blotter acid those occupants were rapidly eating. Before the cultural explosion around the little air-cooled VW occurred, it had an uncertain future in the post-WWII world.
In 1934, Hitler rose to power in Germany, where he replaced Hindenburg as the head of the German state. Immediately, Hitler began to realize his grandiose visions. Most of Hitler’s dreams about his ‘best life’ turned out to be atrocious war crimes, genocide, and other similarly deplorable aspirations. His decision to create a modern, mobile, and metropolitan Germany, however, produced one nugget of positivity in his unequivocally evil agenda. The furious Führer demanded a car be designed that was rugged, dependable, relatively spacious, and affordable to the people of Germany. The ‘people’s car’ was born.
Hitler recruited the legendary Ferdinand Porsche, then a race car engineer, to design this car. The Beetle was designed and about 200 models were produced, but the war halted any further development and production shortly after the car’s debut. It turned out the people’s car would be a car for about 200 government and military people rather than the people of Germany. The war demanded all factories shift production to military vehicles, which left the Beetle’s future in a fugue, neither living nor dead.
The factory built to originally produce the Beetle, then called the Type 1, was repurposed for military vehicle production and subsequently reduced to rubble by the Allied bombing efforts. After the war, the German people had no ability to build, buy, or hardly use a people’s car thanks to the utter devastation in which the country was left after the fall of the Third Reich. The Beetle’s plans and parts were scavenged, amassed, and put up for auction by the British occupying Germany in the wake of the war.
Fortunately for the Beetle, the British hated the car and no one bid on the designs. Ivan Hirst, a British Army Major, was given control of the factory remains in 1945 under the direction of the British government. Knowing that the German people needed work and Britain needed vehicles, he was able to convince the British government to purchase 20,000 Type 1s, which were to be produced at the plant original to VW but renamed Wolfsburg.
Four years later, Heinz Nordhoff, formerly the manager of Opel, was appointed the head of the Volkswagen plant in 1949. Under his direction, Volkswagen ramped up their production of the Type 1, affectionately dubbed the Beetle by the Germans (a creative bunch) and the sales began to steadily grow.
However, it is hard to sell vehicles in a country that has been bombed back to pre-road human history. VW decided to approach America, the biggest auto market in the world with the most open road to support the car, and try their hand at entering a foreign market. At first, no dealership wanted the 24HP economy car. They feared the quirky looks, lack of equipment, small size, and low power would be unappealing to American consumers who were already buying bigger cars with V8s in the post-war boom economy.
Surprisingly to Volkswagen and the American dealers, when some were convinced to buy Beetles for their lots, the cars sold with vigor. The explosive sales prompted VW to further ramp production, which surpassed 1 million vehicles sold by 1955, just six short years after Heinz took control. Following that success was quite possibly one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time, which would become the gold standard of automotive marketing and compel Volkswagen to constantly push the envelope in reaching their customers.
Their ads were honest. In an arena filled with overly-specific, gratuitous and somewhat sexist two-page advertisements, Volkswagen was able to use a phrase that completely contradicted extant marketing strategy: ‘Think Small’ became a revolution.
Much like the car itself, the advertisements that sold them offered a completely fresh perspective on modern transportation. The cheap to own Beetle became a symbol of American freedom as youths purchased the cars en-masse, modifying them, racing them, driving them to see what drugs Jimi Hendrix would do on stage next, and loving their simple lifestyle choice to drive a Beetle.
The cars were easily repaired at home. Parts could be purchased from a Sears catalog, down to every nut-and-bolt, which further established the sense of freedom associated with the cars. No one could tell you when or where to go, nor could they tell you money would stand in your way. The Volkswagen Beetle subsequently passed the Model T in sales by 1972, when the 15,007,034th Beetle rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg.
In 1974, the Beetle was finally ‘replaced’ by the MK1 Golf. Many parts of the world, however, were not ready to give up on the little air-cooled cars. Brazil and Mexico continued to produce the Beetle for several years. Mexico finally ended production of the Type 1 in 2003, making the car one of the longest running without a true generational change over its production run.
The Beetle was replaced with a shiny new update in 2001, basically making a Golf into an iconically-styled coupe, now sporting a modern drivetrain and front engine layout. This car was updated with a 1.8T model, which gave buyers a cheeky alternative to the MK4 GTI that boasted the same 180hp output and handling characteristics.
Lastly, the most recent redesign featured a body more true to the original styling of the VW Beetle Type 1 while following its immediate predecessor’s moves to hide a MK5/MK6 Golf underneath its curvy little body. The current Beetle also has a performance-oriented turbo model, but it has not been enough to compel buyers or VW that the Beetle has a place in the forward-thinking automotive market. In June of 2019, the Beetle will be finished for good say Volkswagen. No more redesigns, no retro-styled reintroduction, and no EV conversions will befall the Beetle, as Volkswagen has decided its longest running car finished its race.
Over its entire production span, the VW Beetle sold more than 22 Million units, making it one of the best-selling automobiles of all time. In its history, the modifications by the consumers who helped use the Beetle to define a generation were equally as important as the car itself that helped lead to its insane success. To say goodbye to the Beetle, we would like to share some of our favorite modifications for the modern Beetle that will remind you these cars are still cool, relevant, and represent the ideals they did as they emerged in America back in 1955.
We will conclude with our list of Top Five Modifications for a MK4 Beetle that we think everyone can agree might spark a new revolution in modifying Beetles. We can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to the Beetle with a celebration of its existence and appreciate it through the bond of modifications.
Believe it or not, with the 2012+ 1.8T Beetle, you can significantly improve stopping power. Braided steel lines, Big Brake Kits, and even dual caliper conversions exist. You can shorten your stopping distance, improve pedal feel, and quicken your corner entries with these simple upgrades to make your Beetle stop more like Herbie.
Speaking of Herbie, how are you going to effectively use those bigger brakes if your suspension is still bouncing like a 3rd grader on a sugar high? Springs are a good choice, but effectively corner balancing and setting an exact ride height/spring rate with coilovers gives your Beetle more advantages under the driving conditions you most expect to encounter. Plus, who doesn’t love a stanced Beetle?
Everyone knows the MK4 GTI is a two-step competition champion. The bangs and pops from the little turbo four are made by a few software changes and amplified through performance exhaust. The results are both more power to the crankshaft and exemplary noise candy. Show up and wow the scene crowd with a flame-spitting, ear-shattering, burbly two-step from the least assuming performance car ever built.
Under those fat fenders can fit some awesome wheels. Anything you can fit to a MK4 GTI you can equip to the Beetle, so go crazy. Some of our favorites are Alzor, Radi8, 3SDM, and Rotiform, which can dramatically improve the look and character of your bubbly little Beetle. Plus, as we mentioned, stanced Beetles look incredible.
An intake, Turbo Outlet Pipe, Blow Off Valve, Upgraded Drivetrain Mounts, and a software tune are all you need to pull more power from the little Beetle. The coveted 220HP special edition Beetle, released in 2004 and never imported to America, can be had with some simple modifications. Easily bump your performance by 50HP and improve your throttle response with these basic bolt-ons and take your Beetle from benign to badass, finishing off your enthusiast list of perfect performance parts for your people’s perambulator.
After more than 70 years as a mainstay in pop culture, automotive culture, and used car YouTube review channels, the Volkswagen Beetle is finally being prepared for its life after production, dried and pinned inside a shadow box on the wall of some oddball Entomologist’s dungeon. Thank you, Volkswagen, for giving the world a car that would come to symbolize car ownership and freedom around the world and for transforming one of the vehicles of evil into that of the icon of peace.