Last Edition Beetle Volkswagen Driver September 2003 — Volkswagen 1303

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Volkswagen 1303

Press Volkswagen Driver September 2003

End of an era

Now that the has finally reached the end of production, Noad looks back 25 to the final batch of right-hand-drive Beetles sold in the UK.

When started producing the Golf in 1974, it was widely believed the end of the air-cooled Beetle was in sight. belief was reinforced when of the Beetle at Wolfsburg was terminated in leaving Emden as the only of Beetles in Germany. Needless to emotions ran high among the of passionate Beetle enthusiasts who that the legendary Bug should for ever.

The ensuing years saw rumours, uncertainties and predictions the Beetle’s future. The 1303 was in saloon form in 1975, only as the cabriolet and the only Beetle saloon was the basic drum-braked 1200. It was available the 1600 engine and disc in some countries, but not in the UK.

The writing was on the when it became known exports of Beetles to the USA, accounted for a major share of sales, would have to in 1978 due to the inability of the air-cooled to comply with ever stringent emission regulations.

The of the Beetle, both in Europe and the was substantially increased, and this was as a deliberate attempt to prompt a in sales figures which justify terminating production. A Beetle cost Ј2,407 in the UK in when you could buy a Polo for or a Golf for Ј2,299.

In the summer of Wolfsburg insisted that no had been taken and the situation was ‘flexible’, but a few months later the axe Karmann continued making the for another two years, but the last saloon to be built in Europe the Emden factory on January 19, Beetle production continued in such as Mexico, Brazil and and Mexican-built cars were and sold in Germany until So, 1978 was not the final curtain but it was the end as far as imports and official right-hand-drive were concerned.

To mark the end of the which was ironically also the jubilee of the UK importer, a batch of 640 (or 650 or depending on which source of you read) right-hand-drive Emden-built Beetles were sold by UK as ‘Last Edition’ models in The price was Ј2,626.

Of these 300 came specially finished in silver metallic paintwork, blue cloth upholstery and numbered ‘Last Edition’ on the glovebox lid. At least should all have had these but they were fitted by the UK and some were overlooked. The of numbers was arbitrary and not related to the of chassis numbers. The remaining in other colours (white, yellow or blue), without were technically part of the batch but only the chassis commencing 118 200, distinguish from any other 1978 1200L. It is only the silver which are generally recognised as the Last Edition Beetle.

In 1978, the 1200 Beetle had an engine which dated to 1960, producing only 34 PS. The of the Solex carburetter (30 PICT) and the ratio (7.3:1) were slightly increased in the Seventies, but no in power was claimed as a consequence. The was otherwise unchanged, apart the 12-volt electrics, an alternator in of the dynamo, and a paper element air instead of the original oil-bath

The torsion-bar suspension, with arms at the front and swing-axles at the drum brakes all round, and all-synchromesh gearbox were the same as in 1960. More ‘innovations’ included the vertical larger tail lights, bumpers, dual-circuit brakes, fuel filler, through-flow and various passive safety to comply with US legislation. In the the 1200 was a very spartan model and it was only the ‘luxury’ L which had chrome bumpers, hub a glovebox lid, passenger’s pocket, reversing lights and vents. By the time of the Last the specification also included a ventilation fan, heated window, rear luggage padded facia and cloth

The air-cooled Beetle always strong opinions and ‘love it or it’ feelings. For some it was painfully with dodgy handling; it was noisy and outdated. For others it was the reliable, sensible, long-lasting and car ever produced, needing simple — if frequent — maintenance. It has become a cult icon, a way of and a fashion statement.

The Last wasn’t the best of the bunch, but it was of the Beetle’s best era, in the when sales topped a a year. It dates from a when motorists were than satisfied with a speed of 72 mph and when an engine didn’t freeze or boil was the rather than the rule. It was a when a pneumatic screenwasher, footwell heating, and built-in for seat belts were advanced features for a small saloon, and when the rugged and the traction advantage of a rear pre-dated the mass-market 4×4 in a degree of off-road capability.

the Last Edition you found which were similar to in an early Golf; a large, hard plastic four-spoke wheel; thin felt-like on the side of the footwells and tunnel, but rubber mats to cover the and minimalist instrumentation comprising a dial, just a speedometer integral fuel gauge.

The padded dashboard panel the traditional shape of the Beetle’s it had been regarded as a desirable for many years and it suited the much better than the facia of the 1303. There traditional push-pull knobs for the and hazard flashers, with rotary knobs to regulate the flow of fresh air. You always open the quarter with their clever catches, if you wanted more into the cabin. The switch for the rear window was an awkwardly-placed on the underside of the facia, with a light in the speedo and a column controlled the two-speed wipers. next to the hand-brake controlled the of heat to front and rear. the engine had warmed up, which quite some time in weather, the heater was extremely but it was difficult to regulate between and ‘nothing’.

The curvaceous shape of the was not very space-efficient. Like its namesake, it had good headroom but was on rear legroom and luggage A shallow compartment beneath the bonnet offered 4.9 cu. ft of space and was another 4.9 cu. ft behind the back which also served as a travelling position fondly by youngsters of many generations. The did fold down, though, to the total capacity to a useful cu. ft in two-seat mode.

Road figures backed up the ‘painfully criticisms. Despite weighing 780 kg, the Beetle required more 25 seconds, and use of all four gears, to the benchmark 60 mph. But, in the 1200 Beetle was not as slow to other traffic as the figures especially around town. was because a Beetle was usually flat out all the time; accelerator travel was very short and revs were only — factors which led to regular, if not intentional, use of full throttle and power. A hard-driven Beetle a skilled driver at the helm keep up with much cars, both around and on winding country roads.

such as ‘an acquired taste’ and were often used describing the handling of the Beetle. in the 1950s, it was highly regarded for its and roadholding, and enjoyed considerable in rallies. But industry standards on and the torsion-bar Beetle remained in the standards of the Fifties and Sixties: than an A30 or Ford Anglia’ was a way short of a Golf or Polo.

oversteer, due to the rearward weight and positive camber swing-axle geometry, could be used to on tight corners and in rally but care and anticipation were to avoid instability on high-speed especially in the wet. In inexperienced the Beetle could prove dangerous, and it was also notoriously in cross winds where it require all of the driver’s efforts to in the same lane on the motorway. In its rugged suspension and the superior of the rear engine layout that it excelled on rough and it could climb muddy or hills with ease.

When I tested a Last Beetle, for the September 1986 of Volkswagen Audi Car, it was a car which had been kept by at Milton Keynes, with than 500 miles on the clock at time. Virtually a brand-new I praised the gearchange ‘still one of the to be found in any car’, the lights, aspect that had been since the early years’, and the smooth ride over roads.

Hardly run-in at the its mediocre performance was nothing to about, but with a following or downslope it could build up to 10 or 15 mph than its official maximum On the other hand, point it a headwind or long uphill and it could be fiat out at little than 60. Running quite on cheap 2-star petrol, and capable of using modern the 1200 was more economical larger-engined Beetles and I achieved mpg overall.

The Beetle’s build and paint finish were highly praised and the Last was probably better than cars of the 1970s. Nevertheless, do go rusty if neglected, and the blue upholstery fades. Those have survived for 25 years — the Register can account for about a of all the silver ones — tend to into two categories. Some been preserved as showpieces, purchased originally as an investment, extremely low mileages and remain in mint condition. Others majority of those which come up for sale) have used as ‘daily drivers’ and as tatty as any typical 25-year-old family saloon. There are which have done a mileage and been lovingly or restored, including one which has up well over 200,000

Volkswagen’s reputation was largely around the reliability and durability of the engine. Being able to all day at its maximum speed — even if was only 72 mph — was unusual for a family in the Fifties. What makes the seem unique nowadays is the service interval, when you are to change the non-filtered oil as well as the contact breaker, tappets and Without the benefit of hydraulic the valve clearances need every 6,000 miles. Its life expectancy is only 70,000 miles, before at least a cylinder head although the original 1200cc as in the Last Edition, is less to overheating and premature failure the larger capacity versions. The best features are that it is simple, easy to work on, and are cheap and widely available.

The air-cooled Beetle still has a following and world-wide appeal to of all ages, and there are few signs of ever diminishing. A late-Seventies does not have quite the status of the early ones, but it the spirit of an earlier age while some of the practicality and safety of a more modern car.

Mexican imports continuing and privately) amazingly for another 25 it is easy to forget the Last Beetle of 1978. But, at the it represented a very significant, and turning point in Volkswagen

Perhaps because of the high those last 300 right-hand-drive were not all snapped up immediately by buyers. Most are S-registered, but did not sell until after 1978 and got T-plates, while one or two mysteriously late-registered on W-plates. model in particular has attracted an following and the Last Edition Register keeps details of all the cars, organises occasional at VW events such as Volkswagen West, at Tatton Park in and it has an active website.


Julie Kinley, Palmers London

Last Edition number 250, bought in was my first car. I had no idea at the that it was so special, but when its finally dawned on me, I formed the Edition Beetle Register to try and down as many of the others as I

I bought my Beetle when I a community nursing job, it to be a reliable form of transport for my patients. It served me for six years in capacity, although on some I walked to my visits, when it to start, or I had to drive it in second only! However, my patients it; it was recognised by sight and sound, by of the people in the community where I I often stopped the car to be greeted by who’d recognised it and followed me, as wanted a chat. I could go anywhere undetected!

Since it has had various roles, some pleasant than others. It as a rubbish cart when we restoring our house, transporting to the dump, but a more glamorous job was as my carriage. Sadly, both the and myself are a lot older now, its restoration probably being an task than mine be!

The miles accumulated rapidly in its life and I finally put number 250 out to in 1995. I couldn’t bear to with it, though, so I saved for its which finally started year and is now an ongoing project. its working days are over, its days are about to begin. all this recent tender care, I am sure it will its lovable, idiosyncratic self!

Penryn, Cornwall

I bought my Edition Beetle seven ago, after we found him in a in a very bad state of repair, a siezed engine and needing a lot of We already had a Beetle which fully restored, so knew was involved, but we rebuilt him totally, a full respray in the original VW silver.

Now, I drive him day, and love him to pieces, I never part with my However driving a Beetle is work and at least one thing every month. You have to be dedicated to drive one, and it nicely. The biggest problem I is the petrol gauge. I’ve every single component and it doesn’t work. I’ve famous locally for running out of and am now quite well acquainted a few of the AA drivers!

But, at the end of the day, a Edition Beetle is so much than a car; it’s a a passion, a little friend, and good fun to drive. I love it you pass other Beetle who give you a little wave, and I it when people come up to you and say how your car is. It’s moments this that make all the worthwhile!

Richard Copping, Lancs

Buying a Last Beetle, back in April was the beginning of what has become an hobby for me for many years. I had no at the time that I’d purchased an asset. Indeed, it was only weeks later that the dashboard plaque arrived, and after nearly two years and the part of 11,000 miles did I that it should be cosseted.

My Concours entry was at Stanford in May 1983, where it came behind another Last Beetle, whose owner has a friend ever since. the remainder of that decade, and the next, appearances and trophies but due to work commitments, the Last Beetle has lead a very life recently. Indeed, 2000, it has remained ensconced in the garage it shares with a Standard Beetle.

Undoubtedly the point of the last 25 years was in when Major Ivan the British post-war saviour of sat in the car and remarked how far the Beetle had moved in terms of luxury since his at Wolfsburg. Foolishly, in the excitement of the I forgot to take a photograph!

The final passing of the Beetle, and yet Last Edition, is a sad time although I’m not tempted to snap up one of the as I was a quarter of a century ago. a great consolation to me, though, while many a car is quickly the Beetle will still to be a phenomenon when my advancing make it likely that or writing about will no be practical.

Fred Wall, London

One day in August 1978 I a silver Beetle in the showroom at my VW dealership, under a banner it to be a ‘Last Edition Beetle’. I was smitten, and a week later I away in WMK 720T, number 45 of the 300 produced for the UK. Yes, it was slow on the even by the standards of those but it was superbly built and there was that air-cooled engine its characteristic sound.

It also my life for the better. One Sunday, a at my local Church turned up in a 1967 Beetle; we started a about our cars and were a couple of years later! enjoying the delights of touring in the the birth of our first son necessitated the of carrycot straps. Space was at a by the time our second son arrived, the being to hitch on a trailer to all the necessary paraphernalia. Contrary to neither of our babies was conveyed in the space behind the rear

25 years and 228,000 miles I’m still Beetling. It has been fun to own and drive this car and I particularly the fellowship with other both when attending and on the road, and I always look out for familiar wave!

Article by kind permission of the Editor, Driver

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