Final Year Oval: 1957 Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen adopted a “steady as she goes” approach with the styling evolution of the Beetle. This philosophy helped the “Herbie” to become the most recognizable vehicle in automotive history. This 1957 Beetle is a case in point, as it was from the final year the company offered the car with the iconic Oval Window. The seller located it hidden in a barn, a spot it had occupied since the 1980s. They meticulously revived this classic and feel the time is right for it to find a new home. It is listed here on eBay in Holtsville, New York. The bidding has raced to $11,000, although it remains shy of the reserve.

Until purchased by the seller, this Beetle had been part of the same family since new. They parked it in a dry Connecticut barn in the 1980s, and it only recently emerged from hiding. It presents reasonably well in Code L41 Black, with a good shine for its age. It isn’t perfect because a couple of minor dings and bruises are visible in the supplied photos. The temptation exists to perform a cosmetic refresh, but it is not a screaming need. The seller indicates that the car is structurally sound, with only some mild underside rust in the floors and prior repairs under the battery. The work quality is solid but is not “pretty.” That may motivate the new owner to redo the work to achieve a better finish level. The chrome shines nicely, the glass is in good order, and the wide whitewall tires add a classy finishing touch.

While the Beetle’s interior is serviceable, the presentation doesn’t match the rest of the vehicle. The driver’s seat sports an aftermarket cover, and the passenger seat upholstery has split. With the headliner past its best, a retrim would seem the obvious solution. Trim kits are readily available in the right colors and materials and are pleasantly cheap. Returning this interior to its best would cost around $1,200, which seems a wise investment.

Powering this Beetle is a drivetrain that is typical Volkswagen fare. The rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-four engine would produce 36hp. The power finds its way to the road via the rear wheels and a four-speed manual transaxle. Personal experience allows me to state that the Beetle will never break any land speed records, but they perfectly fulfill their designer’s aim of cruising all day at 60 mph. When the seller located this little gem, it had spent more than four decades parked in a barn. They treated the engine and transaxle to new seals, replaced the clutch, and threw in a new starter and exhaust. After inspecting everything thoroughly and replacing any questionable components, the Beetle is now roadworthy and in sound mechanical health. It is a turnkey proposition begging for a new owner.

Conceived as a genuine people’s car, the Beetle was an affordable vehicle designed to mobilize the general population. It proved successful, with 21,529,464 rolling out the doors of various factories before production ceased in June 2003. Today, the once-affordable Beetle is becoming less so as values climb at a dizzying rate. The Oval Window models are particularly popular among enthusiasts, helping to explain why the bidding on this car has been spirited. Despite its potential shortcomings, I expect it to easily pass $20,000 before the hammer falls. If I reflect on the cars I’ve parked in my garage, an early Beetle features on that list. It was no jet, but it provided an enjoyable and engaging driving experience. Have you ever owned one of these, and do you agree with my assessment?

Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    Probably the most iconic automobile ever built. My first car in ’76 was a black ’63 with a rag-top sunroof. It felt like a vintage car to me even then.

    Like 23
    • tommy c

      In 1973 I had a black 1962 bug with a rag-top sunroof, never leaked. would run all day at 55mph.I loved that car.

      Like 9
  2. RoughDiamond Member

    Never owned one this old, but learned to drive in my mother’s ’65 Beetle. Somehow while standing behind me and telling me to pull forward, I managed to get the car in reverse. When I let out the clutch and started moving in reverse while anticipating moving forward, I panicked and gave the motor too much gas. That in conjunction with abruptly turning the wheel to the right, I succeeded in chasing my mother half way up the front yard seeing her bob and weave in the rearview mirror before finally killing the motor. That was the end of the lesson for that day.

    Like 17
  3. Terrry

    Correct me if I’m right, but I believe ’57 was the last year of the 36 hp motor too. 40 hp would debut in ’58 along with the bigger rear window and different turn signals.

    Like 4
    • CaCarDude

      The change from 36 hp to the new 40 hp was in 1961. The updates from’57 to ’58 were: Brake drums and shoes widened, rear window and windshield were enlarged, front turn signals moved to top of fender, Radio grille moved left, in front of driver, and the accelerator pedal was introduced, formerly the roller.
      My HS senior year (’66) I was driving an exact copy of this car ’57 black on red, got hit head on by a jeep at 45mph totaled bug, impact turned jeep on drvr side, got busted kneecap, other minor injuries, gas tank rupture, not a pretty sight, lucky to survive that. Funny thing after the mend, I went on to buy and drive a ’56 oval for the next couple years. Always had a soft spot for these VW bugs, and still like them to this day.

      Like 7
  4. Mike

    I love the very distinct smell of an old bug interior!!

    Like 7
  5. Tempo Matador Ray

    Terry,
    The 36hp made its way through 1961. At this point the 40hp was introduced…

    Like 5
  6. Malcolm Boyes

    Much as I love old VW’s I would be tempted to pull the motor and safely store it and drop in a nice 1776..and keep everything else just the way it is. The 1776 really does go nicely and would turn this into a 75 mph cruiser.

    Like 4
  7. Scott

    I remember when my high school buddy bought one just like this, similar condition, for $300. That was in 1974.

    Like 4
  8. Roger Williams

    I had a 1970 green bug, I drove it down to Ft Jackson SC on 95 we drove just about flat out and no problem doing 80. This was in the summer of 1970. Loved that car. You just had to learn how to change and set the points, and keep to oil new. Bottom final rusted out and it was getting tired at 13 years old.

    Like 3
  9. Tempo Matador Ray

    Malcolm,
    I also agree with your comment to some degree. I have several early air-cooled vehicles including a 1954 Beetle sedan (powered by a 36hp Judson Super charger). Of course, this is vintage novelty at its finest. However, for modern freeway driving, your comment about engine and transmission upgrades ring true. I have a 1951 Tempo Matador (original engine/ 25hp). In order for this vehicle to somewhat compete with modern day cars on the highways, your engine/ transmission combination is a good one that I also will consider on this old relic under construction.
    Continue to innovate, Ray

    Like 2
  10. Jackie Hollingsworth

    Death Trap.

    Like 2
    • Rex Osborne

      As were so many interesting cars that were fun to drive and endearing to own. A Nader-approved crashmobile would have been quite boring.

      Like 1
  11. Robert Hagedorn

    I’ve owned four of them and can still remember crawling underneath early in the morning to make certain the valve adjustment was done accurately before the engine was started–004 except for the number three exhaust valve, which was exposed to some extra heat, so it was set at 006, following John Muir’s advice.

    Like 7
    • tommy c

      VW repair for the complete idiot! You could sit and read that book and enjoy it even if you were not working on one!

      Like 4
    • Phil Parmelee

      My first 4 cars were air-cooled VW’s: 58, 62, 67 Squareback, 71 Super Beetle. I was all of 15 when I purchased the first two in anticipation of acquiring my first driver’s license. I too learned to adjust the valves via John Muir’s “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” book. Very helpful book, very entertaining as well. Good times! Loved them all, but the new Super Beetle soured me on buying new cars ever again. Spent money I didn’t have to keep the maintenance schedule up to date, but still kept needing repairs early on anyway.

    • CaCarDude

      Robert, I did the same thing routinely on my 1970 bug I bought in ’76, kept it till ’84. Best investment to do the valve adjustment was the Snap-on 13mm offset boxed end wrench. Made the task much easier.

  12. Malcolm Boyes

    How cool to have a Tempo..rare indeed. I have a 1966 single cab that I got with a mystery motor..the guy I bought it from had taken it off a guy late paying his rent! All he wanted was his back rent..The motor in it is definitely from a 1972 vehicle but it has twin Solexes and drives really well..making me think ( and my mechanic) its got a 1776 in it! Wont know until we have to break it down. I also own a 73 Thing that is down here in the Caribbean and that has a 1776 and its a great motor( sadly the car is suffering terminal rust from Hurricane Irma and then being parked because of Covid..sad) I like original cars but these upgraded motors look close to the originals and make driving so much more pleasant IMHO.

  13. steve

    Headliner? Ummm yeah…that’s no small job on these. Before starting on the job, try wallpapering the inside of a basketball…once you’ve mastered that, THEN try installing the headline in a beetle..

    Like 1
  14. BrianT BrianT Member

    I had a 57. I liked the reserve lever in lieu of a gas guage. It had zero heat, (the window scraper got used in the inside of the car more than the outside) non synchro first gear. In 1970 it was a $275 car. I traded it for a 66, 14 more horsepower. The one winter that I had it, it got down to close to 40 below. It had a hand choke and was the only car in my neighborhood to start. I couldn’t jumpstart anybody, being 6 volt.

    Like 1
  15. Carbob Member

    Great story, RoughDiamond! Thanks to all the Moms and Dads who went through white knuckle moments while we mastered the clutch. I think that you would be hard pressed to find anyone over fifty who didn’t drive or ride in a Bug. It really was a car for the people. Lots of fond memories for me about these little cars!

    Like 1
  16. charlie Member

    My father, in 1957, was an engineer at GE. Fellow engineer bought one, could not stop bragging about gas milage. Another fellow engineer brought a gas can to work each day and put some in the VW’s tank. It got up to about a supposed 153 miles to the gallon before a weekend trip (with no fellow engineer’s refills) to caused the need for the Reserve tank’s contents.

    Like 2
    • Smokey

      Brother and I did the same thing to a neighbor years ago, same bragging about mileage. He was getting 65 to 80 MPG !!!! But we took it one more step. We started removing gas from his tank. He was so upset with the bad gas mileage then, kept taking it to the dealer for repair. We stopped doing that, never did tell him.

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