Unlikely Hero: 1968 Volkswagen Beetle

If there were ever an unlikely best selling car, the Volkswagen Beetle was it.  Born in Nazi Germany, the Volkswagen Beetle was one of the first signs that Germany was getting back on its feet after having its industrial capabilities bombed into dust during World War II.  Designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, the Type One, which was the Beetle’s official name, was designed to be a “people’s car.”  The emphasis was on making it simple enough to build in volume, and cheap enough that almost everyone could afford it.  Meeting those goals, the Beetle went on to become the most produced car ever, and also the car with the longest production life. While not the best looking, they were built exceptionally well for an economy car, Volkswagens like this 1968 Beetle found on craigslist in Dothan, Alabama used to be a common sight in the United States. While it is rare to see one on the road now, you can change that by purchasing this one for just $1,800.

Nearly as revolutionary as the car itself, Volkswagen’s advertising at the time was phenomenal.  With ad lines such as “Last one to conk out is a Volkswagen!” and “Its ugly, but it gets you there.”, the company had some of the best ads in the history of the automobile industry.  Between the ads, the fuel economy, the build quality, and the word of mouth promotion from a legion of happy owners, Volkswagen managed to sell over twenty one million of the cars by the time production concluded in Mexico on July 30, 2003.  When you think of that stunning number, you would expect to find air cooled Beetles behind every house in America.  Sadly, bust was the undoing of many a Beetle, and they are all but gone from the highways today.

As a kid, nothing was better than playing “Punch Buggy.”  In this game, you got to hit your seat mate every time you saw a VW Beetle, or Bug as we called them, after you called out “Punch Buggy (insert color here)!”  I hear this is how Chuck Norris got to be so tough, because playing the game either made you impervious to pain over time or the beating killed you.  Another part of the VW experience was the sound.  The rear engine, air cooled cars sounded like nothing else before or since, and you could tell one was coming or going without looking up.  Stories abounded about how they would float if driven into a lake, and drunks around my hometown tested the theory a time or two.  People also hot rodded them to ridiculous horsepower numbers, and there was an astounding aftermarket parts business dedicated to these cars.  Finally, the dune buggy and kit car industry would never have happened if not for the plethora of junkyard VW chassis found everywhere.  Volkswagen Beetles went beyond being merely transportation, and were more like a movement in history.  You had to be there to appreciate it.

Under the hood, or trunk if you please, sits the ubiquitous Volkswagen flat four cylinder engine.  Displacing only 91 cubic inches, the engine only produced 53 horsepower.  The owner says that the car ran when it was parked, but the hose to supply fuel to the engine seems to go nowhere.  Perhaps there was trouble with bad or dirty gas after the car sat idle for a while.  Everything else looks to be there and in fair condition.  The motor on these is easy to remove with the help of some jack stands for the body and a floor jack to lower the unbolted engine and transmission to the floor.  From there, rebuilds are straightforward, and many an amateur has rebuilt one in their garage.  Sometimes, you hear stories of them being rebuilt in alleys and parking lots too!

Inside, the car looks a little rough.  From what we can see, the seats look to be in pretty good condition.  The dash is cracked, and the driver’s side is missing the door panel altogether.  The car will certainly need all new weather stripping, a windshield and back glass gasket, and any other rubber parts I have forgotten.  All of this is available, but this stuff does cost a bit and requires a patient hand for installation.  A set of carpets is likely in order, and a thorough inspection of the floor pans is a must before purchasing one of these cars.  Floor pans are a weak link in Beetles, and the factory sunroof in this one may mean more water found its way in if the gasket wasn’t maintained.  Considering that the body on this car is pretty straight and rust free, at least from the pictures, the interior is where you are going to spend a lot of money.  Even more money will be spent if the bumpers are no longer with the car.  Of course, that depends on how deep into a restoration you want to go.

When people talk about restoring a car, but they are scared to take the leap for fear that it is too big a project for them, this is the kind of car they should be looking at.  Like early Mustangs, and nearly any pre-1970 pick up truck made by Ford or General Motors, these cars make fantastic first restoration projects.  They are plentiful and cheap, parts are easy to come by, and the internet is loaded down with how to articles and helpful information to get you through the rough spots.  Once finished, Beetles are a lot of fun to drive, and can provide decades of reliable service once again.

When you consider the Volkswagen Beetle was built by our former enemy, had an underpowered air cooled engine during a time of ever increasing horsepower (at least until the dawn of the seventies), and was a rather primitive design from the 1930s, the car really had a tremendous impact on the world.  Like the Model T Ford, Beetles are a milestone car that everyone should at least drive once in their lifetimes.  With the low cost of entry on this one, you can make driving one an everyday thing.  Just like it used to be for millions of proud Beetle owners.

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Bob

    According to Wikipedia, there were 21.5 million Beetles produced. However, the same source says that there were over 40 million Toyota Corollas produced and that Toyota overtook Volkswagen in 1997. True, the VW run was from 1938 to 2003 (65 years) making it the longest run for a single model. And while Toyota didn’t start making the Corolla until 1965, they’re still making it so it’s conceivable they could break that record, too. After all, they are 52 years in. Only 13 to go!

    Just sayin’

    (picture is of my two-owner 1979 with only 82,000 miles)

    • TBAU Member

      I have to respectfully disagree with the Corolla having such high sales numbers.

      The Corolla has changed designs so many times, the only thing they have in common is the name. The only way I can tell the latest Corolla from any other hatch back is to read the badges. VW made 20+ million air-cooled beetles that all look and sound basically the same.

      • Dave Wright

        That is like saying GM has been building a car for over 100 years…..yes….many different ones……but they were all General Motors…..not the same as VW at all.

      • john machado

        Facts are facts. deal with it.

    • BMW4RunninTundra

      I had one like yours, mine was silver, and was running the KE (squirrel feeders) engine, with a four speed. INDESTRUCTIBLE! Rest assured, if it could be torn up, at the time, I was the man for the job!! Not only did it live through me but went on to help another young guy out when wheels were needed but cash was not easy to come by!!! I think I paid $500 for it. Had to do nothing other than clean it up, a lot, and sold it for $500. And that’s after a couple of very very very hard years under my abusive ownership. BUT, I did maintain it, meticulously!!

    • Tyler

      If we are going solely by badge name, the Suburban has been being built since 1935, & I doubt will be dropped anytime soon. But I wouldn’t compare its continous production to the Beetle, as the Suburban had major redesigns once or twice every decade.

  2. Moe

    Not a fan of the 68, swing axle in that body style, gotta be a 67 or older or a 69 and newer with a irs.

    • Rick

      Not particularly Moe. I had a ’67 with IRS. ’68 was the crossover year when they went to IRS, so my chassis was probably a late ’67.

      • Luki

        1967 Beetle with IRS?
        Don’t think so.

      • Moe

        67 never had a factory IRS, a late 68 maybe, but never a 67.

  3. F.A.G.

    We called the game “Slug Bug”.

  4. David C

    1969 was the introduction of the IRS in the bettle model year. If you had a 67 with an IRS then someone changed it to a later model pan. There are some 1968 manufacture date IRS but the model year change was 1969.

    • Dave Wright

      I think the problem is the definition of IRS……compared to an American vehicle, all VW’s were IRS

      • Moe

        Good point!

  5. LAB3

    If you really miss the sound of the engine just grab a Goldwing and open up the exhaust on it a bit, pretty darn close!

  6. BRAKESERVO

    No history of the VW Beetle is complete or accurate without considering the Tatra influence ,Tatra sued VW and eventually prevailed in the matter of plagiarism, indeed the good Dr. Porsche even admitting that he maybe had sorta kinda “looked over the shoulder” of Tatra’s designer Ledwinka when penning his proposal to Der Furher.

    • Dave Wright

      Porsche worked at Tatra and was influential in its development……..like modern tech companies, he just reused some of the design work he did for Tatra in his own vehicles…….who was going to argue with Hitler………certainly not the Czech’s. I think the lawsuit was not resumed until after the war and VW/Porsche had some money. The suit wasn’t settled until the mid 60’s. I think the Tatra influence is over stated although Porsche did take some paychecks from them. I find the Ford influence much more interesting. Porsche, Ford and Hitler were all buddies.

  7. George Will

    The 67 beetle rules! The 67 was the first vehicle I ever owned. I learned how to drive in our retired 59 VW “MICROBUS” as they were called. My 67 came to this part of the world via Hawaii! It was previously owned by a military family and I bought it off a lot in Albany Georgia where I’m from. It was 1971 when it became mine with only 16,000 on an island car that was four years old. In 1978 when a woman I worked with bought it for her son I had turned the speedometer over and had way more than 16,000 miles it had when I bought it. Had it during my wild years going to beaches and mountains and anywhere my fancy and my friends wanted to go. I’m 65 years old and have had many different vehicles and that first 67 beetle is by far the best car I’ve ever owned. I worked for GM for thirty years before I retired and I went through at least two new cars or pickups for many of those years and that 67 is still my favorite and I must say toughest car I ever had. They don’t make them like they use to. In my older years now I wish right now I had an old beetle like the one I had to tool around in and bring back some good memories of times now gone by.

  8. Rich Nepon

    posting id: 6272767396 On Craigslist for a restored ’67 VW. Engine original. Body, all rubber, seat covers, door cards, carpet, headliner. Good pans. Period mag wheels. New exhaust. New brakes, fuel tank and line.

  9. grant

    “Rare sight on the road?” Where are you from, Jeff? They’re maybe not as ubiquitous as they used to be but there are still a lot of them out there. I played “Slug Bug” (Punch Buggy? No….) with my coworker on the way back to the shop tonight. In an hour, he won; 4 to 3. In the Pacific Northwest at least, they are still plentiful.

    • Dave Wright

      I have always felt that in the PNW we keep the cars we like longer than other areas. I grew up in Spokane, still lots of great old cars on the road there. (My brother works on many forhis customers) Little rust and a different attitude I guess. Ever notice how many great collector cars come from Oregon?

      • grant

        -Dave Wright
        I have noticed. We bring them out when the sun shines :-), and cheap used commuters are easily found too. Portland recently announced they would start using salt. My heart broke.

    • LAB3

      You won’t see many in places that use salt on the roads, they tend to dissolve!

      • Dave Wright

        My youngest son is doing a 72 super beetle that his in laws bought new. It has been driven a lot, probably on its 4th engine, he is doing a total rebuild on everything. It spent its life in Rainer Oregon with modest to poor care. It has rust in strange places, must have had a leaky rear window gasket, the shelf below it was rusted but no rust in the pan or really any where else on the car. This is my USCG Helicopter flight mechanic son…..so it will be incredible when done. He ought to get a lot of points with his wife. We will be painting it at our Weiser shop.

  10. Rich Nepon

    Wife and I are retiring there soon. Kids already in Portland. Every visit I see cars I want.

  11. Brakeservo

    Dave Wright – Rainier huh? I wonder if we ever met? My ex-wife used to be the principal at Rainier High School and one year we used my RHD E-Type Jaguar in the Homecoming celebration.
    -Brakeservo-

    • Dave Wright

      My sons in laws were both teachers there……..long time 3rd or 4th generation residents. There name is Burnham. So, where are you now…..New Mexico?

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.

*

Notify me of new comments via email. Or subscribe without commenting.