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Split Window Project: 1952 Volkswagen Beetle

When it comes to air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles, the early models certainly stand apart in terms of collectability. Of course, they’re also significantly harder to find, especially in restorable condition. The most desirable of the lot are the ones with the split rear window, and the “semaphore” turn signals in the B-pillars. This one is made even more coveted for being what is known as a “Zwitter” – a small group of split rear window Beetles built in 1952 during a five month span before the model transitioned over to the standard oval rear window. This example listed here on eBay is called a barn find and unfinished restoration project. Bidding is at $12,600 with no reserve.

The seller notes that the restoration was started but never completed, with one of the major changes involving a pan swap to a later ’63 pan. The rest of the body looks to be in nice shape, but the paintwork may be original – it’s certainly not new – given the presence of some minor rust in the lower doors and door jambs. The iconic split rear window and the semaphores are clear indications that this is a desirable early model Beetle, but you have to step inside to realize it’s also a Zwitter. Like the 1967.5 Datsun 2000 roadster we featured the other day, transition year models are often quite sought after by collectors.

The Zwitter is most easily recognized by its dashboard. The earlier split windows featured a novel two glovebox design, with storage cubbies on either side of the steering wheel. The Zwitter featured the refreshed dash design of the later, oval window models while keeping the split rear window design. There were some other minor tweaks that make finding some parts exceedingly hard given the very narrow production window. Some restored Zwitters have gone for fairly eye-watering prices at auction, and I’m surprised to not see more action on this partially restored example at the moment.

Of course, there’s a lot of information missing that may be holding this example back – and the swapped pan may be a turn-off for purists as well. The Beetle does run and drive but will need brake work; the seller doesn’t elaborate as to whether the engine is still numbers matching or what level of refurbishment happened inside the engine compartment. Photos show extra fenders, door panels, another pan, and more, but no information is offered as to whether these are components that need replacing on the subject car, or simply nice-to-have spare parts. This Zwitter is surely deserving of further restoration, and even with the missing info, it’s going for a bargain price at the moment.


  1. alphasud Member

    I consider myself pretty well informed about Beetles but I have to admit I never heard of a Zwitter. Thank you BarnFinds for expanding my education! The oldest bug I have driven is a 60 and they are quite charming to take a leisurely drive on the weekend.

    Like 7
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      I had a 61 in 1971 and my friend had a 57, which was very cool.
      I ordered two replacement 15 inch (slightly wider) steel rims from JC Whitney for the back, painted them silver, threw on a couple of wide-ovals, shortened the exhaust tips and I had a very cool bug.
      I also never heard of a Zwitter before today.

      Like 4
      • BrianT Brian Member

        I remember it well as I was the one with the ’57.

        Like 1
  2. RayT Member

    I know a little about Zwitters, but not much. They’re quite rare.

    Seems to me the seller’s “restoration” took away much of the car’s value when he swapped pans. Yes, the car originally had hydraulic brakes and a lot of improvements that separated it from earlier “Splitties,” but my understanding is that many of those parts are not interchangeable with later cars.

    I have seen an online parts source for Zwitters (don’t remember exactly where) and was surprised with how many unique pieces they required.

    I sure wouldn’t pay the current bid price for this car, even though I like this particular Beetle model, as I find “Splitties” attractive, but prefer hydraulic brakes and the engine/transmission upgrades that came along with these last-of-the-line cars.

    Like 4
    • MarveH

      I’m with you Ray. An air cooled VW has been on my radar since the 1980’s without ever pulling the trigger. I get the earlier cars attraction because of all the quaint features, but I’d have a Super Beetle in my sights for the improvements. At the end of the day, and often at any hour, I like driving my cars and a later car seems more up to the challenge of modern traffic.

      Like 2
  3. Jack Hammer

    1965 or so I found a 1953 oval, ragtop, in original forest green paint. It just needed four fenders. I put them on in primer before I’d learned to paint them first.
    I took the 1600N engine out of my ’58 speedster, and putting it in only required some metal cutting. And immediately proceeded to blow up the transmission
    I was very lucky to find an almost complete 1953 coupe in Lajoie’s junk yard, and although the mounting points were a little different, the ’53 trans bolted right up.
    Here’s the best part. I thought about the coup’s brakes. 11 in. ribbed aluminum drums. Bolted right up to the rear and spindles. Here is the only serious adjustment I had to do.The parking brake cable was about 3/4 inch too short and I had to grind some off the rear shoe. Piece of cake. Enjoy.

    Like 9
  4. Benny B

    Motor looks to be the same as the chassis, a 1963 40hp motor vs the original 25hp that would have been in the Zwitter!!! The 63 would have had syncro transmission, which would have made it easier to shift and you would not have to come to a complete stop to put into first gear – as with the original non syncro ’52 tranny!

    Like 4
    • Fred Martinsen

      I am currently restoring a Zwitter. They where produced from oct 52 until march 53. They have more in commons with early ovals than the pre oct 52 Split :
      Synchro gear, hydraulic brakes, telescopic dampers. But there are a lot of small details that are different. Such as Ashtray, interior light, gas cap …

      Like 2
  5. Tempo Matador Ray

    As mentioned by the author, Zwitter is a transitional period. The word literally means hybrid in German. This is when the dash area morphed into the Oval era dash from the earlier, living-room-style interior with large radio and dual glove boxes along with other coveted knobs and adornments.There is a strong aftermarket surplus of parts available as well as good used parts. Of course prices vary with each seller. I have been immersed in the very early air-cooled hobby for well over 40+ years. Currently resurrecting a 1950 Tempo Matador purchased out of Uruguay, S.A.

    Like 10
  6. lbpa18

    Split window corvette, split window VW, what’s not to like!

    Like 2
  7. Lance

    Zwitter also mean mongrel. For what it’s worth.

    Like 4
  8. Ron E Daily

    Zwitter is an Oval dash split window beetle. Made between 10/1952 ans March 1953 at which time the Oval window appeared. It was unique in a lot of items. However, there are some errors in this add. The chassis it is on is not a 1963, but a 1965. The engine case was originally a 1300cc .

    Like 2
  9. Thistledew

    I wonder what is the purpose of the plastic windshield washer tank that is wired to the upper left of the engine?

    Like 3
    • Donek

      Storage of Schnaps…

      Like 1
  10. Steve RM

    The plastic tank is the current gas supply. The engine is an H case which makes it a 67 engine. The price is relatively low because the car is a mash up many different cars and needs a ton of work to be roadworthy. Could be made into a great driver though.

    • Tim

      I thought maybe that tank was for the coolant. :)

  11. Jeffery Cohen

    People who would buy a split window bug want the car to be original even if it needs work. Having the original pan and 25hp engine gives it more desire than just saying I have a split window bug. I have a ’58 right now I’m trying to sell, engine is gone but its cheap and nobody wants it. I gave up years ago trying to understand the old volkswagen world and I probably did the right thing.

    Like 1
  12. John Noll

    I had a 51 split window back in 68 when I was in the US Army in Germany. Semaphore turn signals, cable operated brakes, no gas gauge- reserve tank. Drove it all over Germany, even took a lap on the nueremburg ring and got passed going flat out on the autobahn.

    Like 2
  13. Mcl23aren

    Sold for $14,156

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