Oval Window Project: 1957 Volkswagen Beetle

If you’re a tri-five Chevrolet fan, 1957 marks the end of the party. The 1958 model had little in common other than the nameplate and the 283 engine. For VW Beetle aficionados, the ’57 to ’58 transition was a lot less dramatic. The small oval rear window of the ’57 gave way to the larger, more panoramic(?) rear glass of the ’58. It’s a small item but it seems to make a big difference in terms of values. And today, we have found a ’57 Beetle that’s a bit of a project. It is located in Seaside, California and is available, here on Facebook Marketplace for $8,500.

Split window example prior to 1953

At the start of VW Beetle production in 1938, continuing through 1952, the rear window was a “split” design, consisting of two pieces of glass with a center divider. It’s a look that was commonplace with domestic automobiles starting in the mid-’30s and continuing into the ’40s. The 1953 model, with a small single, oval-shaped piece of glass, lasted through ’57 with the larger glass backlight prevailing from ’58 forward.

The seller’s description is curious, he states, “Classic, floor pans need replaced in their entirety, although there is no body rust, 100% rust free,… the driver’s door is rusted badly“. That’s a bit of a disconnect, either there is rust in the body or there isn’t, and last time I checked, the door is part of the body. Admittedly, the body looks pretty straight with quite a bit of surface or patina rust – but no obvious rot. The seller mentions that there is no rear bumper but makes no reference to the conspicuously missing hood – it is available however as the final image, below, reveals its existence. The front bumper, which is frequently mashed-in on old VW beetles is straight on this example, but it is very corroded. The glass, including that oh so valuable rear window, is all intact and none of the pieces appear to be cracked.

Under that removed hood is a probably seized, according to the seller, 36 HP,  1,200 CC, flat four-cylinder engine attached to a four-speed manual transaxle. The VW Type I engine, regardless of displacement, is one of the most common automobile engines in existence. Whether the goal is to refurbish this “matching numbers” powerplant or go for broke with something more substantial, there are endless, reasonable options available to the new owner.

The interior is in seemingly reasonable condition. There’s not much to the instrument panel of VW Beetles, other than some notable cobwebs in this case, but what is there presents as one would expect. The steering wheel center cap is missing but the wheel, itself, looks fair with typical ag induced cracks. It’s hard to say much about the upholstery as the requisite “box of stuff”, some kind of old car requirement, is in place on the passenger seat. The headliner is either gravity-bound or missing and the back seat’s upholstery does not match the driver’s seat cover. We’ll have to assume that the seller is on target about the floor pan condition. There are no images from the inside and those included of the underside aren’t clear.

Oval window or not, $8,500 seems like a lot of scratch for a Bug in this condition, especially one with a seized engine. So now, assuming that we can get around the pricing matter, what to do? I don’t think I’d go for stock, I’d think in terms of powering this Type I up with some serious Bug power and the corresponding looks to match. How about you, what do you recommend?

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Comments

  1. Rustytech Member

    I’d go with a stock appearance, and a mid 70’s super beetle power train. In its current condition the price is about double what I would be willing to pay if I was looking for another project at this time.

    Like 5
  2. Henry

    I’m confused. I’ve researched it, and it seems like the oval windows should be the most common beetle, not the rarer one. split windows seem to be the rarer one. is this different in Canada or something?

    Like 1
    • Racer-X

      Oval window was replaced with larger rectangular window in 58. Split is very rare, oval rare, rectangular common. Side glass also increased size in 65.

      Like 5
    • Tom D

      Nope split windows are the rarer ones at least in the hard land of the beetle -> Germany

  3. Ford Fred

    beautiful patina. not some nasty fake patina. (?)

  4. T

    I sold my 1957 for $75.00 in 1973. Prior owner backed into a street light and the exhaust pipes pierced the heater boxes. Could not afford new heater boxes so took flexible dryer gas line – welded it to the block and returned it to the 2 exhaust pipes. Back pressure restored and it ran like a champ.

  5. Kurt Member

    Forsooth dost I spy Bondo on thine fenders? Old VWs have enough metal in them that one can hammer out dents with a minimum of filler.

    Like 2
  6. Skip

    I had a 1956 with a a little flap that came behind the door for the directional. Also I put it on my 1965 bug with a porche engine. It was a very fast sleeper.

    • Skip

      I ment floor pan

  7. John P

    The owner seems to be greatly confused on where body and tires begin as far as rust goes..
    ..the area behind the right front wheel pictured is caked in body filler, and that’s just one area.. this car is about 2/3rds more expensive than it’s worth-even in California. It’s sad when someone can’t just represent what’s being offered someone honestly..

  8. Bimmerbill

    I would put a Subaru engine in it with the turbo and of course with that much power you will need to really up date the suspension and brakes.

  9. Karl speck

    There were 53 split window beetles and 53 oval window beetles as well !

  10. Karl speck

    A few of the late. 52 split window beetles had the oval window dash ! All 53 split window beetles also had the oval window dash. The rear window was changed in the 53 model year.

  11. CaCarDude

    And for those wanting to know more on the ’57 Bug, Tubeless tires replaced old school tube type tires, Adjustable Striker plates were fitted to doors, and the front heater outlets were moved back to within12 inches or door for better heat distribution. Now you know the few changes made this year. The Chassis numbers for this year would have been 1,246,619—1,600,439.
    The listed Bug is in an area with the salt air and I suspect is full of rust, buyer beware here.

  12. JOHN Member

    The rear window glass isn’t that valuable… I thought it was also. I have one that I took out of one at a crusher in 1970 or 1971, I still have it, complete with an old peace sign sticker on it.

    Like 1
  13. Leigh

    The 36hp engine has the sweetest of sounds when properly rebuilt. And equipped with the factory exhaust… it’s just a distant whistle to accompany you as you beetle about.

    Like 1
    • Kurt Seidler Member

      Old VW engines are like pocket watches in their engineering, well engineered all around.

  14. Robert Hagedorn

    I sure would like to see a lot more of that 1953 you have pictured. Also, I will never forgive myself for not buying a 1951 (yes, ’51) VW in beautiful condition for $150 from a gas station in Arliington, VA in 1967. It had the mechanical brakes and Semiphore turn signals. The owner thought it was a ’52.

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