It’s a question that has always stumped me, as in most aspects, the Beetle was an utter horror of a car with few redeeming qualities, so how on earth did it become such a success? A degree of simplicity and dependability have to be the main reasons I guess, as it’s certainly not rewarding to drive, and is slow, noisy and uncomfortable, with little in the way of practicality or style. Yet people the world over loved, and still love, them! Why?!
Okay, the Beetle did spawn beach buggies, the Karmann-Ghia (acceptable to look at, but disagreeable to drive and as sporty as a kettle) and the Jeep-style 181 Trekker (appropriately called The Thing in America), the latter derived from the sinister war-time Kublewagen, so that’s a trio of positives straight away!
As a kid, the Herbie movies (there, I’ve mentioned it) had a certain charm as well, as did the very (perhaps too) Germanic Bauhaus styling of the earlier models, before the more bloated and increasingly irrelevant later derivatives such as the 1302 and 1303 were launched. By the time Beetle production ended the first time around in Mexico in 2003, the rear-engined model was a complete anachronism which should have been put out of it to pasture decades earlier.
By this time, however, Volkswagen had introduced the New Beetle in 1998 – a neo-retro homage to the Type 1 original – but finally (and thankfully) with the engine and driving wheels moved to the correct end of the car; the front. Based on the modern running gear of the contemporary VW Golf, the New Beetle was an instant hit, although like its forefather, the model was left wanting in many key areas, too expensive and simply outclassed by most of its contemporary rivals.
When buyers soon realised that the New Beetle was a real case of style over substance, sales dropped away rapidly, although not enough to convince VW to build a second-generation New Beetle, with a reprofiled lower roofline and arguably a better car all round. This newer model never enjoyed the success of its predecessor though, hence production drawing to an end next summer, earlier than originally anticipated.
So, RIP to the Beetle, and Volkswagen, please, please, let the model enjoy a very long sleep and never revive it again. Me, Top Gear, Clarkson, plus countless other motoring enthusiasts the world over, will thank you for it. For those who do oddly admire this automotive “legend”, there are more than enough examples left on the planet, coughing, spluttering and polluting the atmosphere, to satisfy their demand. Just don’t count me in as being one of them, as I’d rather walk, thanks all the same.