Original test: VW 1300 (Beetle)

In 1969 we showed what kind of weapons the Wolfsburg crawling animal uses to defend itself against its enemies. Reinhard Seiffert wrote the original driving report for issue 23.

The beetle will always be the beetle. But under the skin he's changing, and his competition is changing even more. He finds himself in a new situation every year, so to speak.

Nevertheless, it is bought unchanged — its market share in Germany has fluctuated only slightly between 19 and 22 percent for many years. So far, no other car has been able to challenge its leading position. ,

There must be reasons. Technically, not much new can be said in a Beetle test. But it can be determined what are the advantages and disadvantages of the Beetle compared to its competitors today. With the Fiat 128, a new serious Beetle competitor came onto the market. What kind of weapons are used by the Wolfsburg crawling animal to defend itself against such enemies?

Beetle power

It can't be the performance that fascinates people about the Beetle. It has steadily improved over the past few years. But she always kept a respectful distance. Compared to the 40 hp of the VW 1300, the Opel Kadett 1100 has the edge even in the weakest version with 45 hp, the Kadett S and Fiat 128 are a whole class higher with 55 hp. So temperament can only contribute to the success of the Beetle if it is just about enough. If it were even worse than it is, that could be an obstacle for many buyers. The test car had good performance values ​​for a VW 1300: It accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 24.4 seconds and had a top speed of 125 km/h. You can get by with it in today's traffic to some extent, even if you run out of breath earlier on the motorway gradients than with other cars.

Nevertheless, there are things in the Beetle's performance characteristics that can also be decisive for its success. The 40 VW hp are obtained from 1,300 ccm, the higher performance of the competitors from 1,100, only with more expensive types from 1,200 or 1,300 ccm. The Beetle, despite its not exactly youthful engine design, achieves a maximum torque of 8.9 mkg at 2,000 rpm. The 45 hp Kadett, on the other hand, only weighs 7.6 mkg and needs 2,400 rpm for this, the Fiat 128, with its engine designed for high speeds, achieves 8.2 mkg at 3,000 rpm. ,

These numbers explain why the VW engine is fundamentally different from most of its competitors: It may not be very powerful, but it has plenty of torque "down there". Although not a bull, he has a brawny character, he doesn't come across as exciting or nervous, but rather calming. He works in the back of the car like a loyal servant, reliable, undemanding, good-natured.The fact that he does it at the back helps to get ahead in unfavorable conditions - that also subtly contributes to driver confidence.

None of these things can be proven with measured values, but they do play a role in the Beetle's image. Psychologists have determined that the Beetle is not considered a "small car". This is not only due to the body shape, but also to the engine. Nervous, high-revving engines are typical of small cars, low-revving, high-torque engines are not. This was also evident in the Beetle-Kadett automatic comparison (see issue 16), in which the Beetle performed well despite its lower temperament thanks to its calming driving style.

By simply combining existing parts, it is possible to obtain a 1,600cc Beetle engine with 47 hp at 4,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 10.6 mkg at 2,200 rpm. VW supplies this engine to the USA. The plant should seriously consider offering it to us as well. Because with it, even better than with the 1500, the performance deficit can be made up without damaging the typical character of the Beetle engine.

Beetle costs

Of course, such considerations come up against the displacement barrier, which apparently still plays a role for Beetle buyers. But let's do the math: With 1,300 ccm and 40 hp, the Beetle costs 187 marks in tax and 437 marks in insurance. With 1,600 cc and 47 hp, it would be 230 marks for tax and 480 marks for insurance, so a total of 86 marks more. That shouldn't play a role for a large proportion of Beetle buyers - there is only a psychological inhibition that can certainly be reduced by appropriate sales tactics.

Because the maintenance costs are by no means the serious problem of Beetle owners. This is already evident from the fact that the Beetle consumes more petrol than its competitors, without its reputation suffering as a result. Because on the one hand the VW is a real regular petrol guzzler, on the other hand the low maintenance and repair costs outweigh the consumption disadvantage. As long as the consumption, as in the test car, is between 9 and 11.5 liters per 100 km, it does not represent a serious disadvantage. But it would not be much higher with a 1600, because weight and air resistance are for the consumption more important than displacement. ,

The real cost advantages of the VW are in the areas of reliability, customer service and repairs. If you want to find out the secret of why so many people in Germany and elsewhere keep buying a Beetle, then this is one of the main reasons. It's not just a cost motive: The fact that the VW is reliable and rarely breaks down reduces the hassle and loss of time that can be expected. But it is also a cost factor: time costs money, repairs cost money, premature wear and tear reduces the resale value.

It seems paradoxical, but many people buy the VW because they can sell it cheaply. The large amount of money that has to be invested in a car is - at least for the European mentality - a significant psychological obstacle. In contrast to houses and condominiums, cars are objects that lose a lot of their value. If this loss of value can be kept within acceptable limits, then this is a very important reason to buy, which ranks far ahead of aspects such as acceleration or road holding. Since the low-revving engine is the most important factor for the Beetle's still very long service life, everything speaks in favor of an increase in cubic capacity from this point of view as well.

Beetle body

The Beetle is not classified as a small car, but has a neutral, "classless" image. This is not just a guess, but can be proven by psychological tests. As mentioned, it is related to the engine, among other things, but is even more the result of the body shape.

If you look into the matter, you will also find a paradox here: With a small-car wheelbase of 2.40 m and modest interior and trunk proportions, the VW is inferior to comparable small cars with better use of space. But just because he has a bad use of space, he does not look like a small car.

At over 4 meters long and 1.55 meters wide, the VW is not a small car. The sweeping bumpers, the tapered rear, the side fenders with hints of running boards document a waste of space for which no modern-day coachbuilder could expect praise. But there is a generosity in it, a generous renunciation of the use of space down to the last square centimeter that is necessary in a small car. The VW is not "mini", it is not fluffy and not small. He is also formally different from all the others. It's long been chalked up as a disadvantage, but now there's evidence to suggest it's one of its major assets. Because the bodywork fashion is dead, there is no longer a universal form to which contemporary taste has committed itself. In this situation it comes into play that the beetle shape has a certain formal perfection: it has good proportions and clean lines. In Professor Porsche's legendary design office, you could not only construct well, you could also draw good shapes. Erwin Komenda, who wrote down the shape of the Beetle at the time, had previously looked around at the Americans - the styling was the inspiration for the Beetle and combined with the desire for a timeless shape for the people's car. For a long time there was no understanding of this, but today, in the age of pop and op, the form suddenly no longer bothers us. ,

The various cosmetic and functional operations have contributed to the topicality.Vertical headlamps, larger front and rear windows, steeper bonnet meet today's design ideas. And finally, the colors are a never-failing means of creating new attractions: the test car was clementine-colored and was therefore never called anything else than "Clementine".

Despite poor use of space, the interior of the VW can keep up with modern cars: You sit comfortably in the front, and there is even room for three people in the back if necessary. The wasted space is at the expense of the trunk, which is not only smaller but also less usable than in other cars due to its division into two parts. But the sales figures prove that the trunk is not a decisive factor when buying in this class: In normal operation, you can get by with the available space or you can use the folding rear seat backrest, and you can strap your holiday luggage onto the roof.

This is undoubtedly not an ideal situation. Likewise, the visibility conditions are anything but ideal: the narrow roof pillars limit the view to the front, the wide bars next to the rear window to the rear. The fact that the front screen is not curved can only be considered a formal, not a functional disadvantage, for the price of the screen and wipers it is even cheap. The Beetle dress is not on par with a modern body in every respect, but the imperfections are not serious enough to seriously question the sales success.

Body quality must be counted on the plus side. Like every car manufacturer, the VW factory faces the constant temptation to build as cheaply as possible. You can tell by the little things like the almost unusable battery mount or the wafer-thin chrome plating on the bumpers. But the construction sets limits to such attempts at saving: body structure, doors, hoods are more stable than in other cars in this class. Upholstery, panels, switches and levers withstand constant use better - you have a "feeling of quality" in the VW, the money is well spent.

Beetle comfort

Body and engine characterize the Beetle character, comfort only plays a secondary role. But the Beetle was also always above the level of a small car in terms of comfort: Its individually suspended wheels gave the impression of "full" road holding, the VW was never hard and bumpy like other cars in this price range. ,

The spring system is still up to the increased demands. One of its advantages is the easy response even when driving slowly. It results not only from the independent wheel suspension, but also from the rear engine arrangement: The rear axle, which has to do the main suspension work in all cars, is relatively heavily loaded even when the car is empty. It therefore has to take on a smaller percentage of payload than in cars with the engine in the front.This "preload" is all the more advantageous the lower the overall weight of a car. It is a plus compared to front-wheel drive cars, where the rear wheel suspension has to cope with almost the entire load, and even more compared to cars with a driven rear rigid axle, where the high weight of the axle is unfavorable in relation to the weight of the car.

The VW was also always superior to small cars when it came to seating comfort: It already had full individual seats with a high backrest in the front and a wide and comfortable bench in the back when small, spartan seats with a shallow seat depth were still common in this price range. It was only always behind in two points of comfort: heating and noise. The air cooling is to blame for both, the peculiarities of which the VW cannot deny even today. Despite successful improvement work, the heating has remained dependent on the engine speed and is not satisfactory in short-distance traffic. The noise has been surprisingly reduced compared to the early days, but the Beetle can still not be counted among the quiet cars.

Beetle curves

When the Beetle proved to be a hit in the first post-war years, other car factories rushed to copy it: rear-engine cars were springing up everywhere. But those times are long gone. Although Fiat, Renault and Simca still make rear-engine cars, they are remnants of the past. The new models of the VW competitors have front-wheel drive. The main reason for this change is the tendency of rear-engined vehicles to oversteer. The center of gravity lying behind the middle of the car makes the chassis design a problem: You can mitigate the tendency for the rear to break out; but not completely eliminate it. Front-lying engine and front-wheel drive, on the other hand, make the cars directionally stable.

Statistics are available in Wolfsburg according to which VW accidents caused by oversteering hardly ever occur. But statistics are patient — until there is reliable causation of accidents, there are no reliable statistics. ,

A better argument is the progress that has actually been made in the road holding of the Volkswagen in recent years. The last change was the widening of the rear track and the installation of a balancing spring in 1967. This suppressed the rear swing axle's tendency to produce sudden, hard-to-control oversteer when cornering quickly or when changing direction suddenly. Since then, the VW can be driven through corners remarkably fast without the rear breaking out, and it is easier to control at the limit.

Another advance can be achieved with the double-jointed axle, which has so far only been available in Europe for the automatic version of the Beetle.Although the cornering limit speeds that can be achieved with this axle are hardly higher, the car is even easier to control in the limit area, and subjectively it seems more good-natured. However, the Volkswagen factory has not yet been able to decide to convert the entire series to this axle because of the higher costs.

The Wolfsburg development team has proven through a respectable effort in crosswind and weaving tests that the VW can be considered a car with good road holding today. But what cannot be done away with is the difference in the driving experience, which every layman immediately feels when comparing the VW with a front-wheel drive vehicle in curves or in cross winds. That is why the desire for better cornering also plays the main role for buyers who are loyal to the Beetle, alongside the desire for greater acceleration. The factory still has reserves for both: the larger displacement and the double-jointed axle. ,

On the other hand, there is no general tiredness with the rear engine, because the rear engine is partly responsible for the fact that the VW remained a universal vehicle that was also capable off the road. It doesn't let you down easily, and that's especially important for those buyers who have to drive on country lanes, in the sand or in the mountains. What the Beetle can do here, many other cars can no longer do. High loads on the drive wheels, large wheel diameters, sufficient ground clearance and a smooth floor are real advantages under such conditions.

Beetle competition

The search for the secrets of VW's success not only reveals the qualities of the Beetle, but also very specific purchase motives that are often overlooked. Certainly, a modern body shape, large trunk, high performance and good road holding play an important role when buying a car today. But other motives have at least the same weight: reliability under all driving conditions, durability, well-established customer service, inexpensive repairs, low depreciation. Because he is world champion in these areas, the beetle can afford to lose points in other areas. ,

There is also nothing to suggest that this situation will change in the foreseeable future. Even good new competitors like the Fiat 128 do not hit the core of the Beetle's success. They will take buyers away from him because some people would like to have more temperament, good-natured driving behavior, better visibility. Something can also be done about the price, at least temporarily. The Japanese large-scale attack on the Beetle in the USA will show whether its position can be permanently shaken in this way. American industry is trying bigger and more powerful cars that cost the same or just a little more than the VW. But there will never be a real, genuine anti-bug. Nobody can build it — not even the Volkswagen factory itself. ,


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