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Prewar VW Beetles-Are There Any?

egkelly1egkelly1 Member Posts: 30
edited March 2014 in Volkswagen
A bit of a question-I know that the VW Beetle was born in the late 1930's as a project assigned to Dr. porsche by Adolf Hitler. Are there any of these pre-war bugs still around? I would imagine they would be quite valuble today. Anyway, my question is prompted by a story told me by my wife's ex-employer. This woman grew up in wartime Germany, and she told me that the whole VW car project was a massive scam, perpetrated on the german people by der Fuhrer. It seems that the company took deposits on the cars (which had yet to be built), and the German government used the money on re-arming, and not to set up the VW for mass production. they deposits were around $500.00 per car (which was quite a sum of money for the time), and the money was never returned. can anybody corroborate this story?


  • rea98drea98d Member Posts: 982
    I don't know if there are any left, but if they do exist, they're probably safely squirriled away in a Porsche or VW museum somewhere. However, those VW's are easy to spot if you ever have one,because they have a split rear windshield. FWIW, World War II started in 1939, not late '41 as most Americans tend to think. I'm not sure when the first Beetles were built, but I'd be surprised if it were before this, so technically, they would have to be '38 models or earlier to be considered prewar.
  • crossedrealitycrossedreality Member Posts: 72
    It wasn't a scam, they took the orders for the cars before the war started. Once the war was going, they didn't produce the cars for obvious reasons. The factory they were supposed to be built in was also bombed several times because it was being used to make military vehicles.

    As for pre-war Beetles, the original prototypes are in a museum somewhere. They did make somewhere around 650 for members of the Reich during the war, though, those might be worth something if they could be tracked down.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yes, the VW Museum apparently has a 1934 prototype and a 1936 Bug on display.

    Interestingly, there is no know photo of Hitler ever driving a car, and it is not known if he could in fact even drive.

    Another interesting fact is that the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf is Henry Ford. The admiration was (initially) mutual, as there is a famous photo of Henry Ford at his desk, with a photo of Hitler plainly visible on the wall.

    Obviously, Ford's Model T was the inspiration for the "people's car" in Germany.

    Once VW was back in production and getting along allright in the 1950s, the company actually honored the deposits made by citizens who could prove they made these deposits...I don't recall if they got all their money, but they got a credit if they wanted to buy a new bug.

    Right after the war, the VW factory was offered to Henry Ford, but he examined the car and declared it to be "unsaleable". So the British took it and got the assembly line rolling again amid the ruins.

    The rest, as they say, is history.
  • crossedrealitycrossedreality Member Posts: 72
    I had forgotten about the factory being offered to Ford. I remember that the British (and Allied occupation troops in general) wouldn't have bothered at all, except that cars from their native countries were in extremely short supply in post-war Germany, and they needed something to drive while stationed there.
  • blarg1blarg1 Member Posts: 59
    hitler had one of these cars, the very first one. it is, I think, in a museum in berlin, maybe the veedub museum. he was driven around the grounds of the wolfsburg plant when it first opened. too bad it didnt whack something at 60 mph, metal dash and no seatbelts would have made a difference.

    some of the crazy variants include coal fired engines, four wheel drive and the really really early ones did not have back windows.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,664
    ...that the Beetle was introduced in the United States in 1949, and a grand total of 2 were sold that year!

    So while there may be some pre-war Beetles around somewhere, chances are that they'd be hard to find in the States!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    You never know what shows up in the US....I've seen some of the weirdest things on wheels at auction, etc.

    Those early postwar (40s and very early 50s) Bugs are nicely made but quite anemic. In a way, I could see Henry Ford laughing at the ones he might have seen. But by the time they really started to sell in serious numbers in the US, in the late 50s, they had been refined considerably. Not exactly PLUSH by any means, but trimmed better inside and out. I think Americans liked them because of their simplicity compared to 50s American cars but also for how well-made they were. American cars of the 50s were often built rather carelessly. They were flashy, but often rattled apart and rusted in a few years. Bugs seemed like these neat, tight little packages, and they proved to be very tough little cars.

    Also, as with japanese cars in the 70s, it was the right time for them.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,664
    a VW Beetle could reach its top speed considerably quicker than most other cars!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yes, the ad campaigns were absolutely brilliant...maybe the best ever written.

    My favorite was just a very simple line sketch of a cartoony-looking guy holding up a gas pump nozzle to his temple, as if it were a pistol, and under this simple drawing the simple words:

    "Or.....drive a Volkswagon"

    That was the entire full page ad.
  • rea98drea98d Member Posts: 982
    "a VW Beetle could reach its top speed considerably quicker than most other cars!"

    That doesn't mean a whole lot if your top speed is measured in feet per hour!
    My grandfather saw a VW Bug when he was in Germany in WWII, and liked them the first time he saw one. When they first began importing them in any numbers into this country, he ordered one (You had to pay half down, half when the ship arrived with your car). He had a friend that also had a VW Beetle, and both cars were anemically underpowered. One day Mickey, my grandpa's friend pulled up beside my grandfather, both in their little VW's, and Micky hollered out "You wanna race?" as a joke. Well, there was a cop behind them, that neither noticed, and he pulled them both over for "Contesting speed" in VW beetles. They were still laughing at getting tickets for contesting speed in a VW for years and years after that.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,664
    What was the top speed on those old Beetles, anyway? I heard somewhere around 65-70 mph, but I'm pretty sure I've seen them travelling faster than that. I've read in old magazines like Consumer Reports that 0-60 was in around 26-30 seconds. In comparison, a cheap compact Mopar with a 225 slant six and Torqueflite was usually good for 13-14 seconds.

    I've also heard that, from a standstill to something like 15 mph or so, they're actually pretty fast. My uncle said he used to have a friend in high school who liked to race cars on foot. The car would take off from a traffic light, and his friend would start out on foot, and he'd sprint to a certain spot and stop. He said that the Beetles were actually the fastest cars he ran against!
  • crossedrealitycrossedreality Member Posts: 72
    They upgraded the power slightly as the years went on, but the original Beetles were designed specifically to meet a top speed requirement of 100 kph, so if you've seen any going faster than 70, it was either modded or of a later variety.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Fact is, with that chassis and suspension, you didn't want to go more than 70 mph. They are not a very stable car.
  • ndancendance Member Posts: 323
    is kind of self limiting on a 1200 Beetle. I'll bet that you start seeing a little bit of oil light flashing after a bit and then in no time you .. are .. in .. hot water.
  • dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    Nah, just hot air. ;-O
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,664
    ...it seemed that the most common car to see burned-up alongside the road was a Beetle.

    Nowadays, it seems to be the '88-94 Lincoln Continental!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Not much slack in a VW engine, so you get a bit careless and KABOOM!

    People who aren't real car nuts think a VW and Porsche engine are similar, but when you take the two apart and place them side by side, the whole truth is very apparent. One is built for economy, the other for durability, and the difference in quality, strength, design, engineering and machining is very apparent, even to the untrained eye.

    Still, for what they are, VW engines are pretty amazing. With maintenance and judicious driving, you can get 60,000 good miles out of one and then order a rebuilt (even today) for $600-800, sometimes even installed!

    Try THAT in an older Porsche (more like $10,000 in California).
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    And there's only a couple of people in the country who can do a 356 engine "right".

    A guy in San Jose is one of them (Harry Pellow aka the "Maestro")

  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,664
    I think it was called a "Kammback" or something like that? A little bigger than a Beetle, and available as a 2-door sedan or 2-door wagon. There used to be one of these driving around in my neck of the woods called "the Humbler", because it was hot-rodded, but still looked pretty stock on the outside (I guess "Type-R" stickers weren't a 70's thing ;-). I never saw it, but heard stories about it from some of my older friends, who said that it humbled many a muscle car in its day!
  • egkelly1egkelly1 Member Posts: 30
    I recall reading that you could have your engine replaced very cheaply, so you could keep a VW running for years. in fact, in Quincy, MA (where I grew up) there was a garage (KERTZMANN'S VW-don't know if they are still around) who could remove your old engine and replace it with a rebuilt unit in less than 30 minutes! This is how cars OUGHT to be made-easy to repair!
  • rea98drea98d Member Posts: 982
    I'll trade the ease of repair for the OHC, fuel injected V-8 in my T-Bird, along with a suspension that will go much faster than 70, a quiet, livable interior, 200 horsepower, a decent amount of interior room...Oh well, it's just an all around better car. The only real advantage VW's have going for them is they're cheap and simple. Some people require more than that in a car.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well, they made more sense in 1955 than in 2001, that's true.
  • ndancendance Member Posts: 323
    >I'll trade the ease of repair for the OHC, fuel injected V-8 in my T-Bird
    I appreciate the sentiment, problem is that

    Late model Thunderbird = appliance
    Early, semaphore turn signal, cloth sunroof beetle with Porsche alloys, Berg motor = cool
  • rea98drea98d Member Posts: 982
    My car is not an appliance. You want an appliance, get a Camry. I have a Mustang GT drivetrain, an poor excuse for a backseat (requsite in anything trying to be a sporty car), a long NASCAR heritage, and one of Ford's most popular nameplates, dating back to 1955. If I could have my car, with all the stuff its got, and the ease of maintainence of a 55 VW beetle, that would be great. But the ability to swap an engine in 30 minutes is not worth the trade-off of driving around in an archaic, quirky little car not at home on a modern interstate.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,664
    Seems to me that the T-bird would win out here as well. Maybe some things, when they do break, will be harder to get to, but how much maintance does a modern T-bird, or any typical modern car, need?

    I've noticed on my Intrepid, that even things like air filters and pcv valves don't get dirty as quickly as they used to!

    I'd also rather have a car that has an engine that will outlive the rest of the car. With a 60K mile lifespan, I'd need a new engine about every 2 to 2.5 years. Shifty, do they still need to be replaced that often, even with all the advances we've made in oils, gasoline, etc, over the years?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I suppose you could add an external oil filter and an external oil cooler (two things a VW engine badly needs--the original has no oil filter whatsoever, and the oil cooler is lame to say the least). And with fanatical care and careful driving, sure, you could extend engine life. But for the average car driven by the average person, 60K is plenty for a VW. But gee, at $800 a pop it's worth it even every two years. You are still getting the miles of use, and 60,000 engine miles for $800 is a bargain if you do the math compared to, say, 180,000 miles on an Audi ( 3 X $800 does not buy you a rebuilt Audi engine!)
  • ndancendance Member Posts: 323
    the Berg people claim that the stock oil cooler is fine. An oil filter is a good idea however and with just a couple of changes (I'm talking 1600's here,not 1200's) you can get the reliablility way up.

    0) A quality rebuild (or new engine)
    1) Berg temperature sensing dipstick (makes the oil light glow at high temps).
    2) Oil filter
    3) Pertronix ignition
    4) Hydraulic lifters (new Mexican engines are available this way, check btlmex.com)
    5) Reasonably regular service (oil changes, re-torquing heads, etc)

    and these can be pretty much a no-brainer setup.

    I think the problems I've seen with most beetles in the last few years are badly looked after, 40 year old cars. You let things go long enough, and any car will lose in a reliability contest.

    And puhleez, comparing new Fords with half century old economy cars is hardly worth the time typing. Ok, ok, late model Thunderbirds aren't 'appliances', they're just boring.
  • ndancendance Member Posts: 323
    In the latest (Aug/01) VW Trends magazine, they've got something called a 'Tempo Matador'. Build at the 'Tempo Werke' in Hamburg, the Tempo is a VW powered delivery truck with, get this, front engine, front wheel drive, type 1 engine (a 25hp.). This particular car is a '52 and is seriously strange....
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Sounds like the answer to a question nobody asked.

    The placement of the stock VW oil cooler doesn't look ideal to me. It definitely blocks some cooling air, that's plain to see. Whether that blockage results in a problem, well...it does seem that number three cylinder acts up more than the others.

    But yes, the improvements you listed are certainly worth while. The filter especially adds not only protection but extra oil capacity, which couldn't hurt.

    VW made improvements all the time, and I don't think owners should stop doing that...an old VW can be a charming little car to drive around the city, and very practical, if you can get it really squared away and then keep it maintained as it should be.
  • ndancendance Member Posts: 323

    under 'tech tips'

    under 'about oil coolers'

    To increase oil capacity, there are also relatively easy to add sump extenders.
  • tjparkertjparker Member Posts: 25
    Just had to chime in here, since I've been driving wind-cooled VWs now for 31 years. First was my dad's 1965 Squareback with the pancake engine and dual carbs. SWEET vehicle! Lots of folks didn't like the pancakes, but the single best thing about them was that the cooling fan was on the crank pulley, so if the generator belt broke, you still had cooling.

    Most of my VWs have been buses and trucks. I had a 1967 standard microbus that had nearly 400,000 miles on it when I sold it. Still have my 1960 singlecab pickup, which is a great hauler. I've tried all kinds of combinations of engine performance additions and such, but the ones that work best are things like counterbalanced cranks and "doghouse" style oil coolers (a stock item on later engines). I don't even like dual port heads, as the ones in my 1971 bug were hard to work around.

    My ideal VW engine for the truck would be an otherwise stock 1600cc single port with a 74mm counterweighted crank, fuel injection, electronic ignition and hydraulic lifters. No ups, no extras!

    And another thing. Maybe the 50's engines only went 60K miles, but the 60's and 70's engines, even in the van, would go farther than that if properly maintained. I usually get about 75K out of an engine in the van, and you can usually get by with just rebuilding the heads (but since it's out and cheap, it doesn't make sense not to pull it apart).

    Last time I checked, the world record for pulling an engine out of a bug and putting it back in and driving the car was 2 minutes and 30 seconds for a two-man team. I've seen it done in under 4 minutes. By myself, I can pull the engine out of my truck, rebuild it, and have it running again in 2 days, without breaking a sweat. I've done it in a single day, but with some sweat.
  • dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    I can recall replacing a clutch in about an hour.
  • tjparkertjparker Member Posts: 25
    I've done that, too. Once, on the way out of LA basin on vacation, I realized my rear main seal was leaking too badly, so I turned around, changed it in about an hour, put the fam back in the van and continued on the vacation. Can't do that with my VW water-pumper.
  • fowler3fowler3 Member Posts: 1,919
    The German people contributed $500 each to the production of VW's with the promise from the German government that they would get a new car. Then they started WWII and it never happened, at least not like they promised.

    The few original VW Beetles are in the VW Museum. The first ones built after the War did not have the safety equipment required in American cars of that era: The windshield and side windows were not safety-plate glass, they were ordinary window glass; the brakes were mechanical with drums on all four wheels; headlamps were simple lightbulbs with reflectors; and they didn't have additonal firewall protection for the fuel tank, which was mounted under the dash (in your lap!). The seats were cheap fabric, very thin. Saw many of them when I was there during the last days of the Occupation, in the USAF.

    American servicemen in Germany during the Occupation were forbidden to buy the domestic model for the reasons stated above. When export models were offered they could buy those for use in Germany and ship them home. We bought car insurance from local companies and insurance agents, one of whom said she was a "Good [non-permissible content removed]", when I went to pay a premium.

    The waiting period for export models in Germany was six months. All were 4-speed sticks. And they ran like hell all-day-long wide open! You could drive one off the factory lot and on to the Autobhan at its top speed and not harm the engine. Later models (1956 onward) had 68hp and got 40 mpg.

    The instrument panel had the speedometer and a few lights, no fuel guage. When the engine sputtered you reached under the dash and flipped a lever to get the reserve fuel flowing. There was a reserve of 2 gallons. When you refueled you had to remember to flip the lever back or risk running out the next time.

    The best models were built in 1998. Still see a few of those on the roads. They have a chrome ID mounted diagonally across the back hatch lid and a black horizontal stripe on the bumper.

    In 1954, Germany had the first International Automobiler Show in Frankfurt am Main, following WWII. The VW pavillion had VW's mounted on pipes on the walls in a single file around the huge room. In the center was the 1,000,000th VW Beetle sitting on top of a cube of structural glass. Every bit of chrome on the metallic gold painted car was encrusted with diamonds -- valued at $1,000,000. That was a site to see.

    I went to that one, and it was the year they introduced the Karman Gia model,a two-door sport coupe, designed in Italy by Gia and the body was built in Berlin by Karman. You sat real low almost on the floor. Otherwise it was stock VW Beetle mechanicals. I also went to the IAS in 1995 and it was huge! Like a DisneyWorld for car-lovers! It takes days to see all the cars. There is one building just for parts suppliers. It's starts this year on September 17th, would love to go. But you can see all the cars on this web site soon:

    http://www.cardesignnews.com and the 2001 shows in NYC, Detroit, LA, and Geneva, Switzerland now.

    By the way, the original name was Peoples Car -- a.k.a VolksWagen. And the price of the export model, in Germany, was $1750.00, one dollar a pound. Door armrests, right door outside mirrors, mudflaps, foglights, and AM-radios were optional. The only options. The most popular colors were black and a really nice medium metallic blue. German models were two-toned in green, tan, or blue -- light blue with a darker blue on the hood and rear hatch lid. Customized models had leather seating and electrical outlets for electric razors and other accessories. Some buyers ran their price up to a whopping $2500.00!

  • fowler3fowler3 Member Posts: 1,919
    The best models were 1958, not 1998.

  • kneisl1kneisl1 Member Posts: 1,694
    Actually, my 74 beetle engine went 115k miles before its first rebuild which basically was just a valve job, the cylindars and bearings were well within tolerance. I replaced them anyway and kept the old ones. The next rebuild was at 250,000 miles when I did another valve job and replaced the pistons and cylindars and bearings with the ones I saved from the first rebuild. I put all the internal parts from this engine into an engine case from a 71 bus I bought with a blown engine. (this case is nearly the same as the beetle one except for tapped holes for engine mounts peculiar to the VW bus) This engine then ran another 30 k miles in the bus which I sold at that point, with the engine running very well. This bus was driven east to west through Canada and the US then back east on a 12k miles three month trip in 1988. Only problem: the generator seized and we had to get another junkyard one and install it. I cut a hatch above the engine to get the fan housing out which made things easier. This engine had the origional (to the 74 beetle) carburator, fuel pump, clutch (the part that bolts to the flywheel) distributor, sparkplug wires, ignition coil, and intake manifold for 280,000 miles. The oil was changed every 1500 miles and the valves were adjusted every 3 k miles. I wish it were possible to buy another new one today!
  • groovy2groovy2 Member Posts: 5
    I seem to recall seeing a picture of the war-time VW "Jeep" or German utility vehicle that looked identical to the Thing that VW introduced to the US in the 60's. Or maybe I'm having a "senior moment".
    Is my memory correct?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yep, Kubelwagon I guess it was called. It was the German Jeep of World War II, but I don't think they were 4X4s unless specially adapted.


    And here's a Schwimmwagon, which as the name implies, floats.....
  • pweidnerpweidner Member Posts: 1
    Besides btlmex.com, can one just go to mexico and buy a clasico beetle (the air-cooled variety) and
    adapt it to us standards? or is this a foolish proposition?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yes, foolish. The Mex VW is actually a hodge-podge of many different years of VW and it would be financially unwise to even begin to make it conform. Had it been possible, people would have been doing it by now, right?
This discussion has been closed.