Risky Oval Window: 1955 Volkswagen Beetle

If you’re going to get a Beetle, the older models with the oval or split rear window are the ones to get. They are the best looking and the most valuable. They may not be the best driving, but that’s not really why people buy these. Finding an early Beetle at an affordable price has become a real challenge though. That’s why this seemingly original ’55 found here on eBay with no reserve caught my eye. With bidding currently at $770 and only a day left, it looks like a good buy! There is one little problem though…

Before we get to that, let’s take a closer look. The seller claims that this is an original one-owner car. That may be, but it looks like someone mounted a gauge where the ashtray once resided and that the exterior it has undergone at least one bad respray. That first issue is an easy fix. and as long as the floors aren’t rotted out, the second may not be that big of a deal. You could send the body out for sandblasting or you could focus on the mechanicals first. Either way, these cars make great first-time restoration projects.

We don’t know if it’s original to the car, but there’s an air-cooled flat-four out back. The seller mentions that it has been converted to 12v and that it “ran when parked”. The semaphores have been filled and newer taillights mounted on the rear fenders. Semaphores were basically blinkers that popped out the side of the car (here’s a video). They worked better than sticking your arm out the window, but not by much. They are very cool looking, but if this car was used in any kind of traffic, the modification was probably a good idea.

This looks like a great starting point for someone who wants to build an oval window. Now, about that little problem. The car is located in Bucuresti, Romania! That presents a big issue if you live anywhere other than Eastern Europe. You could import the car, but there will be hassle and expense involved. It’ll be interesting to see what this one sells for and where it ends up going. The price may be cheap, but is this Beetle worth the risk?

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  1. doug

    The gauge may be oil pressure, no big deal. The ashtray is the small door beside the glovebox on an oval. Could be the original engine. My question would be what is the other round thing driven by the extra long belt? MAY be the 12 volt generator because none will ft a 36 hp case. Has later tail lights AND front turn signals. Could be a good project.

    • Derek

      Looks an alternator wounted off the side of the dynamo to me.

      • Derek


    • jdjonesdr

      Clearly the A/C compressor.

      • Derek

        On a Beetle? Remind me how the heaters work again…

      • Andy

        Not the supercharger?

    • Roger

      Back in the day J.C. Whitney sold an accessory gauge that measured individual cylinder tempetatures,as I recall it came with a switch that allowed the driver to check each cylinder,we had a 1960 Beetle sunroof sedan in the early seventies that was my sisters first car.

  2. Billy 007

    I find this so much nicer then an over priced 356. Kind of like a Duster vs a Barracuda back in the day. Almost as nice looking, yet able to offer as good if not better performance at a fraction of the price. True car enthusiasts vs rich boy posers, will always choose this option.

  3. Chris

    Check the pan. Definitely a worthwhile project given it’s not rusted too terribly.

  4. JimmyinTEXAS

    Bad respray? Nah, cheap whitewash with a roller. That “paint” looks like crape inside and out.

  5. Miguel

    It looks like the interior has been through a war.

    Are there no oval windows in the US to feature, so that somebody here might be able to buy it?

    For the experts here, what year did VW stop putting the split window in the car?

    • Mike H. Mike H. Member

      1957 was the last of the oval window Beetle. 1952 was the last year of the split window, but some of the early 1953 Beetles were known as a “Zwitter”, or “hybrid”, as they used the split-window bodyshell with oval-model chrome trim, vent windows and dashboard.

  6. Tempo Ray

    Hey Miguel,

    I’m glad you asked about the change-over from “split window to oval window.” The answer is mid-year 1953. Also, known as a zwitter. The gauge mentioned in this article is mounted onto a radio delete panel. Easily sorted out. A few other items worth mentioning is the rear deck lid apron: a 1955 model would have an “H” pattern apron with no exhaust cutouts. The tail lights would either be “heart” lights or for US export models “egg” lights. The steering wheel for this model would be a “batwing” style. Of course, out of practicality, many Beetles were outfitted with whatever was available or could be canabalized. Unfortunately, I’m not getting a clear view of the engine compartment itself with its peculiar pulley assembly. In closing, this is definitely a cool model to restore. As mentioned above, these models are highly sought after. The trick to shipping something like this is to get together with an outfit that does international shipping on a regular basis and piggy-backing off of ftheir logistical paperwork. I made the mistake several years ago of trying to figure out the shipping and handling by myself. It involved a very unique and obsolete vehicle that I purchased out of Uruguay. I hope this answers some questions you may have. “Continue to innovate not duplicate”

    • Miguel

      Tempo Ray, please look at this car. The owner says it is a 1956 model but it does have the split window and the semafores.

      Is it possible that the split window was used in cars in other countries after the date you cite?



    • Karl Neufeld

      Tempo Rey
      Who would you have used out of Uruguay. I have been given an old Land River Defender 4 dr pickup from my uncle in South America. I was thinking of driving it from the Paraguayan Chaco to Montevideo and then have it shipped to BC, Canada

      • Tempo Ray

        Hello Karl,

        If possible, would you (pm) me. I used a multi-lingual broker who acted in my behalf. The whole process took well over 7 months. However, by hiring a person who can make the transaction happen in person, is well worth your peace of mind and pocket book…

      • Bill McCoskey

        In 1985 we bought a 1938 Ford Deluxe 4-door convertible with RHD from Uruguay, only to discover there was a restriction on removing “national treasures” from the country, and that included vintage cars & trucks. Don’t know if it’s still the rule, so check carefully. Since I lived in the Washington DC area, I knew people at the various embassies, and I was able get the car imported by one of the Uruguayan embassy drivers as a favor to us. From the same estate seller we also bought a 1934 Buick model 50, 4 door convertible [with a custom body built in South America], and ended up having it trucked into Chile inside a trailer, then shipped from Santiago, Chile.

        You may find the costs involved in shipping from Uruguay to Canada may well exceed the value of the Land Rover, depending on it’s condition. [Typical Land Rovers in 3rd world countries are driven until they can no longer be repaired, then they continue to drive them anyway!]

        DO USE A FREIGHT FORWARDER & CUSTOMS AGENT TO GET IT MOVED. And take out additional insurance on the car, as the “included insurance” only covers the car if the boat sinks!

      • Bill McCoskey

        Tempo Rey and Karl,
        I agree you need a guy on the ground where the car is located, and if possible you should use an exporter who is LICENSED AND BONDED, as they will be working with, & known to the US ICE. That generally means they are very reliable and know what to look out for in a case of attempted fraud, and if needed, they can arrange for private cash payments [bribes] to speed up the process!

  7. Chinga-Trailer

    With a competent freight forwarder and customs agent, shipping should be no headache at all. These horror stories regarding shipping must be old wives tales told by those who don’t regularly ship cars.

    • Bill McCoskey

      Romania is a very special place of horrors when it comes to buying vehicles. I have friends who live there & collect vintage American cars. They tell me that for the last 60 years 90% of used cars brought into Romania are stolen from other countries & driven into Romania, where they continue to drive them on the old tags. The 3 wise men of BBC’s Top Gear went to Romania, and basically said the same thing about all the hot cars & trucks.

      Romania is a landlocked country, I’m told when a car is exported out of Romania, thru another country like Germany, Italy, or France, there is a good chance it will come up on an Interpol hot sheet, even if it has current Romanian papers as they are probably forgeries!

      • Rush2Liberty

        Romania “Landlocked”? Nope. Better check a map. There is a large body of water called The Black Sea on its east coast.

  8. Rex Kahrs Member


  9. Tempo Ray

    Hello Miguel,

    The pic. you presented is that of a split window conversion or customization. If you have any doubts or questions, there are several vintage VW reference books that will give you a clear understanding of the Beetles evolution.Take care…

  10. JoeT

    Front fenders are wrong as well. This oval should have semaphore turn signals in the b-pillars. US models would have bullet style front turn signals mounted on the front fenders. You can also see a small rust hole above the speedo in the dash photo. They use large amounts of salt and de-icer chemicals in that area so significant rust should be expected. I suspect the gauge in the radio block-off plate may be an aftermarket fuel gauge as the early Beetles did not have a factory fuel gauge. A full restoration on this car will be pricey unless you can do the metalwork yourself.

  11. Edward

    This car ran for many years after it was made. All those exterior lights were used from 1958(front signals) and rear brakes(1962-1967). The front hood looks original ( missing the Wolfsburg crest)), with the usual cracked driver’s side edge caused by failure to properly release the hood support multiples of times. The engine lid also looks to be original, with pope’s nose. (That’s what they called them!) The inside of this car is a mess. Area to the left of steering wheel looks smashed back. The door panels are from a much later year bug. While the price will make certain heads turn, think twice because this car will cost you 5-10x purchase price just to get it roadworthy. And that’s after you’ve got it home.

  12. Daniel Crockett

    Tempo Ray, I agree with you on the tail lights also front directional also have Amber lenses, does not look right for a 1955.

  13. GlenK

    The car is most likely German which would explains the signal lights on front fender and bigger rear tail lights. Europe used semaphores until the early 60s in some countries. The other generator was an extra for special use like police, military etc.

  14. Tempo Ray

    Thanks Bill McCoskey for your comments. I hesitated to respond to Chingas statement for obvious reasons. You’re absolutely right with your remarks. Our son who is a film maker in Hollywood, recently shot a documentary in Romania. Transylvania to be exact. The focus of the film recognized Transylvania as the epicenter of computer fraud and corruption worldwide. Understanding what you’re up against with this Beetle is necessary for anyone entertaining the idea of negotiating a deal. In addition, when dealing with purchases abroad, there is a process and it can be quite challenging and expensive if you haven’t done your homework first…

    • Chinga-Trailer

      I’m wondering, what “obvious reasons” make you hesitate to respond to my statement? If I’m wrong, or you or anyone knows something I don’t, just come out and say it. We’re trying to help and enlighten each other here anyway, aren’t we? And I still maintain, with competent and professional help, shipping isn’t that big a headache!

  15. Bill McCoskey


    Whoops! I stand corrected, thanks. I had both Hungary & Romania locations transposed in my brain that day!

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