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Lifestyles: Motoring

Battle of the Bugs
VW Beetle: Out with the Old, in with the New?
Rachael D’Cruze

It’s winter and my hands, against the steering wheel, are turning blue. Most of the other cars overtake me, including several brightly coloured new beetles. The Empi sticker on my glove box that reads ‘WARNING DO NOT OPEN WINDOWS AT SPEEDS IN EXCESS OF 120 MPH’ catches my eye and I laugh. My car is freezing, noisy and slow but it’s got soul and I’m having the time of my life driving it.
The car that was born out of Hitler’s dream for standardisation ironically became the car of choice for the rebellious post-war generation. Shedding its Nazi roots the bug came to symbolise freedom and fitted in nicely the Doors and cheesecloth of the 60’s. Surfing on this wave of bug nostalgia VW decided to release a new Beetle, but does niche marketing and retro styling live up to the legacy the old bug left behind?

Outwardly the new Beetle does resemble a more modern version of the original but inside it’s somewhat lacking in character and resembles the Golf far too closely. If VW wanted to recreate the spirit of the old bug they should have kept the characteristics that make old beetles so appealing. Putting the engine in the front was a dire move as was dropping the air-cooled system – I mean, what would Herbie say?
One of the reasons the original beetles have remained so popular is that they are still available and restorable at reasonable prices. The Volkswagen Beetle was conceived in the early 1930’s and Volkswagen literally means "people’s car" in German. These cars were created as a cheap, durable standard car for the German family and there was nothing exclusive about them. Luckily, as so many old Beetles were sold parts are still in ample supply today, so the restoration and nostalgia market for old bugs will continue to boom.

The new Beetle however, retailing between £11,295 and £18,265, is no cheap option in the UK. This weighty pricing excludes many people, which is a great shame as part of the appeal of old bugs is that they can be picked up cheaply and restored to their former glory on a reasonable budget with plenty of TLC.

Marking the end of the real Beetle era, the last old style beetle was produced On July 30th in Puebla, Mexico. The decision to stop production from the last Beetle-producing factory came about as sales almost halved from 2000 to 2002 to 24,500 cars. A mariachi band that fittingly played "El Rey", meaning "The King", serenaded the last bug, baby blue in colour and number 21,529,464. Oddly, Volkswagen set themselves the extremely modest sales target of 100,000 in its first year, for the new Beetle, which of course they exceeded. But still, does this live up to the expectations of the subcompact economy car that won a permanent place in people’s hearts and, outrageously, outsold Henry Ford’s immortal Model T? I think not.

Long live the (old) Beetle!
© Rachel D'Cruz December 2003

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