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The VW Beetle's quirks made it a star

The National's motoring editor explains the Beetle's appeal.

The Beetle wasn’t killed because people were bored with it – how could they be? Rather its demise was due to its air-cooled engine’s lack of green credentials.

Porsche ditched its own air-cooled units in the mid-1990s for the same reason. The evergreen 911, itself a direct descendant of the Beetle, has never been the same since, at least not in the eyes of aficionados. If you’ve ever heard a Beetle’s flat-four engine note, you’ll understand why. The flatulent rasp that emerges from its twin exhausts is addictive, adding to the bags of character the people’s car already possesses.

The engine’s location over the rear axle also gave it some personality, while saving production costs because it was located over the driven wheels. This made for “interesting” handling and, again, we miss that in our cars today.

And we didn’t realise what we had until it was gone. Consequently, values are on the up, and the earliest Beetles are now out of reach for all but the most minted collectors. How ironic, that the people’s car is fast becoming a status symbol for the world’s wealthy. Will we be saying the same about the current one in 60 years? I doubt that very much.

Kevin Hackett is The National’s Motoring editor.


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