Published on August 26th, 2020 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Restoring A Classic Volkswagen Beetle
Are you thinking about owning and restoring a classic Beetle
We have never owned or restored a classic Volkswagen Beetle, but we have restored, rejuvenated and owned 4 different version of the Volkswagen Golf Mk1 from the 1977 model (pictured below) right up to the 1983 1.8 GTi model, so we know a little about interior restoration, bodywork, rust work and electric wiring. But the air-cooled engine is another machine all-together.
In the process of getting our old water cooled VW’s to be reliable, we have seen dozens of friend’s work on their classic VW Beetles over the years. They were hand me down Beetles from parents, relatives or bought from a small town owner for a few thousand ringgit and driven in its current state, across state lines with no issue. The reliability and simplicity of an air cooled Beetle is legendary.
This is why till today, there are many people looking to buy a classic Beetle and revive it with no expense spared.
Knowing this, we find it very strange that the used selling prices for the humble classic Beetle has not really shot upwards like other iconic cars from its era. Yes, prices are not cheap for a fully restored unit and for a simple basic unit, but its not as high as a retro Japanese car or even a classic basic Mercedes.
Probably because there are too many well looked after units in the used car market at any one time. But the most expensive classic Beetle to buy today is a convertible. Beetle convertibles were produced from 1953 to 1979. Since they are always more desirable, any year drop top is worth your time. The factory-fitted tops were pretty good, and featured a glass rear window.
So which is the best version to buy used?
For us, it has to be the famous 1600CC Dual Port VW Type 1 Engine came which out in 1971 making the later cars the most powerful from the factory. 1971 was also the first year for the Super Beetle. Later standard Beetles and Super Beetles featured the most built in comforts in both the interior and chassis making them nicer for long trips and even around town cruising compared to earlier VW Beetles. Super Beetles featured a Macpherson Strut front end that made them less ideal for off road use
So where do you go for engine spare parts and trim parts?
There are plenty of parts available in Malaysia and also overseas (Thailand and Japan) and the process vary. You do do a simple back to factory spec or a Cal-look which is a personal favorite or even a dragster look which is popular in Japan.
So what’s the most expensive part of restoration?
Some might disagree with me but I would say, painting and rust management. It is better to completely change rusted panels where possible, like floorboards and fenders and strip your Beetle to bare metal and paint it from bare metal.
The original Beetle concept was one of practicality. Starting with a platform frame using a central structural tunnel, the rear-mounted engine bolted directly to the trans-axle, eliminating the need for a driveshaft or U-joints. Having an air-cooled engine eliminated the need for a water pump, radiator, thermostat, or coolant hoses. The body attaches to the chassis with eighteen bolts.
During the air-cooled Beetle’s 65-year production run, more than 21 million versions were built world-wide. Every version and model upgrade of Volkswagen’s air-cooled Beetle had their good points and bad points.
Floorboard – This is a common repair area for many old cars, including old Beetles. Also check under the battery, which is under the rear seat.
Frame – This is the front of the frame that sits below the fuel tank. Any rust or rot here is dangerous, as this is where the front suspension is bolted on.
Heater Channels – This is a common area for rust to form. Look above the jack support of the car and all the way to the front.
Rear Cross Member – Under the back seat is the rear cross member, this is where the body gets bolted to the chassis. The heater tubes come through here, they run from the engine compartment to the heater channels. This is not always easy to detect as other spots.
Firewall – This is the panel that separates the passenger compartment from the front boot/storage. Rust damage here is most easily seen after the petrol tank is removed, but can also be viewed from under the car.
Spare Tire Housing – If there is a spare tire in the spare tire well, remove it and check for rust underneath.
Four Fenders – All four fenders on vintage Beetles are removed/installed to the body with bolts and a rubber strip. This makes them easy to remove and replace, but it’s also another place where dirt can collect and lead to rust.
The issue of reliability?
When done properly, this is a daily driver car with no issue. Might not have power steering and power brakes and high safety features, but it will start and run with little issues. The problem is with many owners who embark on this cash only payment project and after its all done they drive their Beetle for a few weeks or months and then it is left covered under the porch for months.
How much to pay?
Well, this is the hardest question to answer accurately. As you can see from the units for sale we have shared here, it varies from RM20,000 to RM80,000. Here is the question, what tickles your fancy? A classic looking Beetle, a modernized Beetle, a Cal-Look Beetle, a showroom condition last version Beetle or a classic 1200 Beetle?
If you are looking for a Beetle to KEEP for years and you want to drive it as often as possible I would suggest you get a Beetle that has been completely restored 100% as you need not deal with all the trials and issues with going from workshop to workshop and dealing with ordering parts online and so on. Yes, it sounds expensive, but when dealing with your time and effort and the idea of being ‘played’ by some car painters and panel beaters, let the ‘other guy’ do it for you.
Personally, I will look at a fully restored ‘period’ Beetle like the cream colored unit asking for RM50,000. I want a restored body and interior with original seats and trim and some added retro goodies. Air-conditioning and a 1600cc engine is a must and no tacky wheels and secondhand re-trimmed Japanese car front seats please.
RM35,000 is what think is a fair price to pay as that is probably how much the seller might have spent (without making a profit) and his time and effort is a bonus.
When to buy?
If you ask me, start looking right now. In this economic climate is when people will be selling their ‘toys’ or hobby cars and they will have to take a depreciation hit even though the Beetle is timeless.
Well, I have started looking, casually, and if I find the right one, will all my personal /must have’ boxes ticked, I might just be the owner of an air-cooled classic some time soon.