Original Oval: 1955 VW Beetle

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The other day, we featured a short-lived 1966 VW Beetle due to the auction ending. That car sold for what seemed like a great price, but it wasn’t necessarily a hard to find version of the People’s Car. However, this highly original 1955 oval-window Beetle here on craigslist in Vermont is desirable for being an early model that retains some desirable accessories and is said to have been the actual car featured in a vintage VW billboard advertisement. The seller is asking for $7,500 or trade for another vintage VW that’s less of a project. 

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The seller sounds like an interesting guy: he recently bought a historic church (plenty of those languishing in VT) and doesn’t have the bandwidth for another restoration project. He says the Beetle has clearly been loved, and he bought the car from the second original owner. The interior remains in excellent condition for the age, with an uncut dash bearing the original radio and seats that look like they were hardly sat in. The headliner could use replacement, but that’s the only major flaw inside.

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On the outside, the car has been repainted once in its lifetime, and the seller says the lower quarters on the passenger side could use some work. Overall, this is astonishingly solid for a New England car of this vintage. I absolutely dig the Euro-spec “blade” bumpers that were installed by a previous owner in the 70s, which, along with the OEM roof rack and NOS exhaust included with the sale, tells you something about the commitment to originality the Beetle’s previous caretakers have adhered to. Also note this Bug still has its desirable semaphore turn signals attached.

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Overall, this is a pleasingly honest example of an early VW Beetle, and I’ve always thought the oval windows were among the prettiest generations of this air-cooled classic. The motor hasn’t been fired up but does turn freely; given the love that’s been lavished on this example, I’ll bet that it was treated well mechanically, too. The paint? Well, I do dig the patina, but I might be tempted to clean up the fenders and leave the rest as-is, along with installing the new whitewalls included in the sale on re-chromed hubcaps. How would you restore it – or would you?

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Comments

  1. RayT Member

    A car as original and unmolested as this one deserves a full-boat redo, if you ask me. Paint (original color), fix any interior defects, mechanical refurbishing, all using as much of was on the car when it left Wolfsburg as possible.

    These are so neat when they’re shiny and unmodified!

  2. Bobsmyuncle

    I like it! Seems a decent deal to me.

  3. Chuck Brand

    This is a car that defines “patina”; sort the mechanicals and drive it, sparingly but lovingly…

  4. John b

    What is a second original owner?

  5. Mik Muller

    Hard to say. On the one hand, leaving the exterior as-is (perhaps with a coating so it won’t deteriorate further) shows the courage — the stamina — of this particular specimen. The patina is its “grey hair”, as it were.

    On the other hand, I also agree with the RayT that it deserves a total restoration to off-the-line perfection.

    I guess in the end your budget and willpower will ultimately decide.

  6. Blindmarc

    A 2180 with a turbo and selectadrop front end would make this one a sweet ride.

  7. DrinkinGasoline

    This example can be easily taken back to original at reasonable cost without the unthinkable “Blindmarc” suggestions…..there’s a reason why Marc is Blind..The original front beams are adjustable,within reason. No need for any Selecta-crap anything. Really ? Next time you want to cross the street Blindmarc….let me know so I can help You across the intersection so You don’t get hurt. You seem to be a danger to yourself. Everybody plays the fool, there’s no exception to the rule.

    • Tony S

      :)

    • Paul

      What happened to the no personal attacks rule?

  8. Blindmarc

    Sorry for the profanity bf people. I don’t put up with degrading of anyone, period.

    • MercMan

      What profanity ?

  9. Tony S

    Better Boxer

    • DrinkinGasoline

      A matter of taste, to say the very least. that’s no longer a VW Type 1 but a Bugbortion. I’ve often thought that some folk’s taste is purely in their mouth.

  10. Blindmarc

    If I wanted a slow a$$ car, I’ll keep the one driving.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      If I wanted a slow a$$ car, I’ll keep the one driving.
      What??

      • Blindmarc

        What don’t you understand about that?

  11. MeToo

    I owned a 71 vw, but I am no expert older models. Educate me. What the heck is that white handled rod mounted to the bottom of the dash. I am mystified.

    • John b

      Its the handle for the fuel petcock valve. Type 1 did bot get a fuel gauge until 62. By turning this valve when u ran out of gas, it gave u access to the last gallon of gas or 2 in the tank.

  12. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    he’s a suggestion my money and mouth can handle……….

  13. Blindmarc

    You couldn’t merge on the freeway at the recommended speed in this with a 80 mph tailwind.

  14. Howard A Member

    OK, back to the “double nickel” VW, ( it’s as old as me) just an incredible find. I agree, restore this car to the hilt. There’s plenty of newer bugs you can play the patina card with, but this one is so rare, it should, nay, must be restored. And why VW moved the fuel reserve lever to the floor, I’ll never know. I knew a guy with a ’58, and the reserve lever was just a small stub next to the gas pedal. Took some skill to switch it over before the motor killed. This setup seems much better. ( until the gas gauge came out in ’62 of course) Hemmings has several mid-50’s bugs and they are all around 30g’s. A money maker here if I ever saw one.

    • MeToo

      I for one will be happy to see the patina fad die.

      • Bobsmyuncle

        It’s easy to simply relegate it to a fad, but it is more than that, and if you’ve ever restored a car you learn to appreciate it.

        If you decide to do a sympathetic restoration where you’ll “just do the paint” inevitably trim gets bent, seals split, glass cracks etc. Then you realize “I might as well do the interior”.

        After paint upon reassembly, the brightwork that didn’t already get bent turns out to look more scratched and pitted than you recall, the lenses look faded, and discoloured next to the beautiful fresh paint, and the seals? No way are you using those!

        The snowball effect carrys over to the interior. The end result (and that’s only if all your parts don’t end up being junk repro that only fits so-so) is a brand new car that has lost its soul.

        The stories, the history that lie in faded paint, cracked vinyl, fogged laminated glass, and the dents and even the smells of an old car can be erased so easily, gone forever.

        As beautiful as any of my restored cars ended up, there was always a part of me sad at what I had done.

  15. Ben T. Spanner

    I agree this could be a great project for restoration depending on the amount of rust. This is an original radio from 1952 with pushbuttons? I guess it could be since they were dealer installed up through the 1960’s, at least in Ohio. This may have varied locally, as the regional distributor could pick how they wanted cars to be equipped. Dealer installed accessories were more profitable.

    • Joe Howell

      Radios were still a dealer installed option as late as 1974. I worked in a VW dealership while in college.

  16. Chris A.

    61 year old VW. The first car I ever drove was a ’55 black with red interior VW convertible. The fuel rod here is actually an extension to the little “L” shaped lever down near the floorboard. The fuel reserve was just about a gallon so you had 25-30 miles to find a gas station. Lady up the street complained that she got horrible gas mileage. Turned out she thought the manual choke was a purse hanger when pulled out. It was not unusual for a person moving their feet around in the footwell to accidently nudge the reserve lever to extend. Then you call home for help. As the fuel gauge came later, lots of people bought a replacement speedometer with the reset odometer and filled up when it hit 280 miles or before. No syncro in first, but if you were good and doing about 6-7 or below, you could double clutch into first. My Mom was really good at it as she did a lot of city traffic driving. I still have the 1955 VW factory shop manual and it is neat to read and straight forward on how to work on the VW. What my Dad marveled about in the 50’s was the VW build quality which was incredible for an economy car. We eventually had two more.

  17. Eric Dashman

    Now that we’re back to rational dialogue, the Santucci sisters used to babysit me and my brothers (we’re talking 1958, 59, 60 or so). First Emma and then Rita. Emma’s dad bought her an early small oval window used VW and it also had the semaphore turn signals. If you look closely at one of the interior pix, you’ll see that it didn’t have an accelerator pedal, but rather a rubber wheel about the size of a hockey puck. I’ve always remembered that ‘feature’. It felt weird, but I suspect it would have been comfortable to drive, although it might have dangerous in a more powerful car. It may have been the first foreign car I ever sat in, right-sized for a kid unlike our 54 Chrysler Windsor or 51 Kaiser Traveler (ever seen one of these…the first hatchbacks).

  18. 68 custom

    restore it but park the motor/tranny and build a 1776 so you can cruise the highway.maybe a little rake. yes I agree with Blindmarc for the most part. love the exhaust setup where the muffler is tucked into the passenger rear fender, they sound like a mini Porsche. runs away covering head…

  19. Chris A.

    Eric, the changeover to an actual pedal must have occurred sometime in late ’54 or early ’55 as I remember seeing many VW’s with the wheel setup. Our ’55 had the pedal. Ladies with high heels didn’t like the wheel as the shoe heel would get caught. A whole industry sprung up with after market parts accessories for VW’s before Wolfsburg caught up with improvements like the fuel gauge. I remember aftermarket fuel gauges, rubber floor mats, camber compensators, gasoline heaters and shift knobs with the shift pattern. Early clutches were subject to abuse, people would have the clutch part way out to hold the car on a hill in first. The upgrade was the clutch assembly out of the transporter which was supposedly tougher. You always carried a spare fan belt. There were no seat belts. Neither our ’55 or the later ’58 had anything that resembled a working heater. Dad’s parking spot at work was over a steam line so the car would start after 8 hours of zero winter sitting. 12 volt systems came later. Karmann made the VW convertible bodies and there were several optional color choices. Our area had the first red convertible in the Rochester area. F-A Motors was a very early and successful VW dealer. With 36 hp flat out in good tune on the NYS Thruway was 68 mph.

    • Eric Dashman

      I had the opportunity to rideshare from college (the Chicago area) home to New York for a between semesters break in a 1964/5/6 (not sure) VW bug. Flat out on the level was 72 mph. When we got to the mountains of PA it would drop back to 55 and stay there going up hill. Don’t remember what it did down hill, but it wasn’t much more than on the flat. I also had the opportunity to drive a 23 window bus to Milwaukee with a load of people. We were lucky to hit 60 in that thing.

  20. 68 custom

    How do semiphores work? always wondered. OK I found a video on Youtube.

    • Dean

      I had a 1949 Austin on the farm, before I was of legal driving age. Amongst other questionable modifications, I wired the semaphores so they both functioned at the same time, with the little built in light flashing at the top of the action. Made it look a little like a dog’s ears flapping as it runs towards you…

  21. Jeff Staff

    According to Facebook, a deposit was taken shortly after the owner’s phone began pinging with inquiries once it was featured here! Barn Finds – we’ll sell your car faster!

  22. Dolphin Member

    No surprise it sold so quickly, even needing some metal work. These older Beetles are rising in value and still have buyers for two reasons I can think of.

    1. They are vintage, foreign, and still cheap.

    2. There is something attractive about old Beetles to all kinds of people, from former owners who sold their last Beetle decades ago, to younger guys who still want to hot rod the heck out of them, as we saw in some of the comments above.

    I guess I can understand former owners having a soft spot for a car they used to own, altho I never had any of that for my Beetle. To me it was just cheap, reliable transportation, the way F. Porsche intended it to be, and nothing more.

    The hot rod approach to Beetle ownership I understand even less. The older cars had swing axles, and unless you go to very expensive efforts to correct that, as shown above in the photo, they will always handle, go, and stop less well than what you would want or expect after all that time and money.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Hang around the scene for a couple weeks and get back to us.

    • JohnD

      I think you hit the nail on the head. Most everyone I know who grew up in the 60s or 70s has a VW Bug memory. My uncle had a 60-something bug, black w/red interior. Loved riding with him; it was an event for a 6 y.o. kid. It wasn’t about speed or looking cool, but the smell, the steering wheel, that little cargo area behind the back seat and the sounds of the engine made it fun. My dad had a 911S Targa at the time, so I already loved that air-cooled, rear-engine sound.

      • CarNut from Winnipeg Member

        As a 6 year old I would sit in the passenger seat of my father’s 66 beetle and shift the gears. Sometimes I would cram myself into the little space behind the back seat and look out the back window. Imagine if a child was seen doing that now. I fondly recall that car but have no desire to own one now.
        I have in the past year acquired a couple cars from my own early adulthood however. 86 Prelude SI and 92 Integra. So I understand the attraction of driving something you had 25-30 years ago.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I’m with you Dolphin. I’ve tried to force myself to get excited about VWs because I know there are many people who love them. I’ve read books about how to hot rod them and even daily drove a Type 3 last winter. You’d think that would have changed my outlook, but it didn’t. These were cheap economy cars when they were new and they still are today. Sure, there’s performance potential to be unlocked. That’s because they weren’t built for performance. Today I see people doing the same thing with their Hondas. Kids take their cheap commuters and dump thousands into them attempting to create a sports car. It would have made more sense to just save up and buy a real sports car, but I suppose they have fun doing it. I will admit that the Beetle’s engineering was novel and the build quality relatively high, but the real draw has to be nostalgia because it’s a bit of a let down once you actually get behind the wheel…

  23. Bobsmyuncle

    You mean hot rodding… Yep that’s a thing. ;)

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