of the Beetle – Mark I
to notice a fair number of old (Mark I) Beetles on the road. The
original ones. Last sold here (new) in the late 70s.
Not at car shows (or on their way to/from one). But in traffic,
being used as everyday drivers. My survey is far from scientific,
but my eyes are telling me that there are more and more people who
are turning their backs on federally-approved, late model government
mandated cars with all their costs and complexities and returning
to cars that (mostly) did what the people who bought them (as opposed
to the government) wanted them to.
The Mark I
Bug is such a car. A simple car but a brilliantly
It weighs less
than 2,000 pounds, in part because it does not have a separate frame
onto which body panels are bolted (the common practice when it was
designed back in the 1930s and for decades afterward). But also
because when it was conceived, the designers did not have to add
heavy structural elements (or air bags) in order to meet government
safety requirements. There is nothing wrong with safety,
of course. But back then, it was not the governments role
to define it or prioritize it. If a buyer thought
the Beetle insubstantial, he was free to choose a more substantial
(if less economical) alternative. But the buyer who liked the idea
of superior fuel economy a Bug can get 30 MPG, despite 1930s-era
technology even if it meant he might fare less well in an
accident, was free to judge the relative risks vs. the advantages
and decide for himself.
there were no mandates the Bug could get by with a very
small four cylinder engine that was also a gem of functional engineering.
It was made entirely of alloy (another rare thing, both in the 1930s
and for decades thereafter) and was itself so light that a man could
remove it from the car all by himself with a floor jack and a couple
of 2x4s. The alloy material also warmed up much faster than cast
iron, which improved cold-weather driveability and also gave the
passengers near -instantaneous heat which was cleverly supplied
by tin ductwork fitted over the engine to capture and make use of
its heat. The air-cooled engine did not require a radiator and all
the other bits and pieces that are part and parcel of water-cooled
was as is well-known also mounted in the rear, right
on top of the drive wheels. This gave excellent traction
which was made even better in deep snow by VWs use of skinny
(but tall) wheels and tires, which cut right down to the pavement
instead of compacting the snow underneath them. Mark I Beetles are
tenacious and will go almost anywhere. They are superior to most
modern FWD cars in the snow and will give many modern AWD
cars a run for the money, in part because most modern AWD cars are
fitted with ludicrous (for the snow) performance tires
that are 3-4 times the width of the Beetles 15 inchers.
Fuel was metered
to the engine via a single Solex 1-barrel carburetor, once again
the essence of simple but functional engineering.
The transmission and axle were melded together into a single, compact
transaxle unit that bolted to the back of the engine another
design innovation that did not become common until the 1980s, almost
50 years after the Beetles conception.
consists of changing out the 3-4 quarts of oil (no filter to deal
with, just a screen to clean), maybe a new set of plugs, adjust
the points and carburetor, set the timing. Maybe run some grease
along a few cables. All easily done by the home mechanic with the
most basic tools and for less than $50 for everything.
There is no
check engine light, no ECM and no computer hook-up
is necessary to determine how much oils in the crankcase (as
in current BMW models no kidding). There is, in brief, not
much to do except drive the thing.
a problem crops up. But the difference vs. a modern (government-mandated)
car is that the problem will be three things:
- Cheap to
We have lost
been deprived of all three of these things by government-mandated
cars, which though more reliable on a day-to-day basis also are
not simple when they do have a problem, rarely inexpensive
to fix and almost never fixable by you.
And so, there
is a peaceful rebellion of sorts developing. Government can force
the automakers to build ever-more-complex, ever-more-expensive new
cars that increasingly require 5-6 year mini-mortgages to buy and
the ability to pay a $70-per-hour technician to service.
But government cant force people to buy these marvels
of technology and tyranny.
We can just
we can buy cars built in the pre-government era (roughly, before
the early 1970s) that are free of the encumbrances and expense
that has been layered on over the past 40-something years.
Mark Is resurgent popularity tells me that at least some people
have figured out that while you cant fight city hall, you
can do an end run around city hall.
At least, for
now. Until the Clovers begin to notice people evading their safe
government-issued cars and trucks. Then well hear calls to
ban cars like the Mark I that dont have everything the Clovers
desire and demand. Even though, of course, the Clovers are
just as free to buy what they want as we are (for the present)
free to buy what we want. But thats never sufficient. Clovers
cant abide people doing anything different let alone
doing what they want to do, especially when it is not what the Clovers
want them to do.
Wait and see.
New cars are going to become much more expensive to buy in the next
few years, both as a result of inflation but also as a result of
the latest slew of edicts from Washington especially the
just-passed 56 MPG fleet average fuel economy requirement.
That is going to drive more and more people away from new cars
and toward sane cars like the Beetle Mark I.
will drive the Clovers into conniptions.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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