10 Things To Look at When Buying a Vintage Volkswagen Beetle
At DuneBuggyWarehouse.com we love Volkswagen Beetles. We have many VW Beetle parts in stock for early VW Bugs, late VW Bugs and Volkswagen Super Beetles.
According to Car and Driver 21 million Vintage VW Beetles were sold worldwide before the first major modernization in 1998. Many are still around today in some form, whether they are a stock VW Bug, Dune Buggy, Sand Rail, VW Trike or kit car.
People love the simplicity of air-cooled VW Type 1s. We always hear stories about families having multiple bugs and their trials and tribulations.
While VW Beetles are fairly simple in many aspects a bad Bug can give you a big headache. As prices for vintage VW Beetles continue to rise and the cars continue to age it is becoming more and more important to choose a car wisely.
A bad choice can lead to many long term fixes, high costs and dissatisfaction. We have seen many heartbroken customers over the years who find out that the VW Beetle they loved is doing their budget more harm than good. A car is part fun, but also part investment. Take a look at these ten buying tips for Volkswagen Bugs. We hope we can make your Vintage Vdub buying experience an excellent one that leads to years of enjoyment in your new air-cooled ride.
- Consider What Type of Car You Want: Volkswagen Beetles come in all types of variations. They can be as original as the day they came out of the factory or completely unrecognizable. Consider if you want an original ride for that nostalgic feel, a lowered cruiser for weekend shows, a baja bug for on and off road adventures, a hot rod weekend warrior bug or even a dune buggy. Once you decide what style of bug you want consider looking for one that someone else has built in that style. Typically it is much cheaper to buy a car that has many of the parts you want already on it. The downside is that you may not like everything done to it. However choosing a nicely done car typically can save thousands in repair or customization work if you can afford the initial purchase price. Small changes that make it suit your tastes after the buy are typically much cheaper.
- Decide If You Want an Early or Late Style VW Bug: The subject of early versus late polarizes many Vintage VW Beetle Owners. Again it comes down to what you want out of your Beetle. Many people love the look and lines of early VW Type 1s. The Split Window and Oval Window Beetles, which were made up until 1957, have become serious collector cars and the prices have been going up. These early cars are ideal for someone who wants maximum value from a restoration, but be warned some parts are very expensive if they are missing or broken. Early "Big Window" VW Beetles still have a classic look and a great utilitarian vintage feel. These cars are also a great choice for restoration or customization as their value continues to rise. The downside of these early VW beetles up to 1965 is that parts are a little more difficult to come by and there is less aftermarket support for the original engines. For off roaders early beetle chassis parts are desirable because their king and link pin front ends are known to take some serious abuse. Swing axle transmissions installed in US VW bugs until 1968 are also popular for drag racers. Beetles were continually going through transitions from year to year. Model years from 1966 through 1968 saw some continual changes as Volkswagen update the beetle to new government and technology standards. 1966 was the first year for a ball joint front end and featured a one year only 1300CC engine. 1967 was the first year for 12 Volt power and the 1500 engine. It also featured a one year only body styling that blended beetles from years past and the new direction of VW bugs. 1967 VW Beetles are one of the most sought after cars for many air-cooled VW enthusiasts. 1968 was the first year for the padded dash and four lug wheels. 1969 was the first year for independent rear suspension, making them and later years a great choice for a baja bug. The famous 1600CC Dual Port VW Type 1 Engine came 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, but better for road racing applications. Fuel injection was also installed at the factory in 1975. The factory L-Jet Fuel Injection is great if it is in good working order, but can be difficult to repair. It is also not ideal for performance applications.
- Examine The Beetle for Rust: Like any vintage car, Volkswagen Beetles are prone to rusting. From the factory rust proofing was not great and many factory drain holes for water can get plugged over time causing inner body cavities to being rusting. Check the floor pans for rust and look beneath the battery tray on the passenger side rear of the vehicle. Other common rust areas include beneath the front spare tire well, front and rear kick panel sections, door posts and the rear parcel shelf. Always remember if you can see rust on the vehicle there is much more beneath the surface. Repairing extensive rust on a VW bug can often surpass the value of the car. We recommend check dry desert states or states in the south for the most rust free cars. Also check local collectors. You never know what someone has in storage!
- Check The Condition of The VW Bug's Engine: VW Beetle engines are simple, but rebuilds still are not cheap. Oil leaks are a common problem. A leak from a valve cover or sump plate is an easy fix. A leak from a type 1 engine oil cooler, pushrod tubes or case halves on the other hand will likely require removal of the engine and other parts. Oil pressure can also be an issue for a worn out engine. If the oil light is coming on during idle while you test drive the car that means oil pressure is falling below the VW factory minimum of 5 PSI, which is a bad sign for the engine's longevity. Crankshaft endplay is another sign of excessive wear. Grab the crank pulley and give it a tug and shove. If it moves noticeably at all the endplay is likely out of the .003" - .005" spec. A compression test is another good check to perform on a bug before buying it. Low compression across one or all cylinders may indicate warped heads or a crack bleeding off cylinder pressure. Even if you are planning to swap engines this is all fodder for negotiation.
- Check The Condition of the VW Bug's Transmission & Drivetrain: VW Beetle transmissions are another expensive item on your prospective car to fix. Always test drive the car if you can. Shift it through all gears under high and low loads. See if it pops out of gear or grinds between shifts. Some of these issues can be due to shifter alignment, but they can also be related to a deeper transmission issue, which can get expensive. The early and late VW beetles have different transaxle setups. Swing axle transmissions have two inner boots and oil seals at each wheel. Check the rear drums and axle tubes for signs of leaking fluid. Repair of these parts is not too difficult but it is a dirty job. Replacing rear axle seals will require an impact wrench. VW Beetles after 1969 and all Super Beetles had independent rear suspension transaxles. It's always a good idea to listen for clicking at the CV joints while on a test drive. The clutch on any bug is also a good thing to check, if the pedal has a high release on takeoff, it may need adjustment. If there is very little adjustment left on the clutch cable, you may need to replace a clutch in the near future, which requires removing the engine. The biggest cost is a transmission rebuild and most of the other parts require more labor than cash to repair.
- Does The Bug Stop?: It sounds silly but it's a legitimate concern when buying any old car. VW Beetles were fitted with four wheel drum brakes for almost all of their production years. These brakes can work well as long as they are in good condition and are properly adjusted. If you are driving a drum brake beetle and the emergency brake doesn't work or the pedal sinks very low before the car stops the drum brakes likely need serviced or adjusted. If the car shutters to a stop your drums may be out of round or just out of adjustment. If the pedal bleeds down or pumps up that my indicated a leak or air in the brake system. A nice upgrade for a VW Bug is disc brakes and many owners have already installed them. No matter which braking setup the car you are looking at has make sure it is safe. Old rubber hoses and corroded steel brake lines can wreak havoc on a brake system. Aged brake hoses can close up and prevent fluid from flowing to your calipers or wheel cylinders. If the steel brake line that leads from the front to the rear is rusted out get ready for a several hour job. Again rust is your enemy!
- Check Out the VW Bug's Front End: The front axle of a standard VW beetle is a modular unit that has a fairly simple design. But, when it wears out it can be a big job to replace different components. Early VW Beetles up to 1965 have a King and Link Pin Front End. This front end is fairly simple and strong, but if you find your king pins are worn out it will require a specialist to repair them. The job requires pressing the spindle assemblies apart and replacing king pin bushings with new units, which must be reamed to fit. Link pins are an easier job, but must be shimmed correctly to give the correct camber. Ball joint front beams have four ball joints in them, two upper and two lower. If they are worn out, you will need a press to replace them. Often they are an extremely tight fit, so it's not a bad idea to have a good shop press the old out and the new in. Tie rods are a fairly simple replacement and that job can be done in the driveway. Steering box play is another common problem. Sometimes sellers will say the play can be adjusted out, but that is not always the case depending on wear. Super Beetle front ends had either a steering box (1971 - 1974) or a rack and pinion (1975-1979). Common wear items on both of those front ends are suspension bushings, steering universal shafts and strut cartridges. Keep in mind that steering boxes are available in the aftermarket for Super Beetles, but late model rack and pinions have not been reproduced.
- Do You Want to Start With a Modified Beetle or an Original Beetle?: Beetles come in all forms, as discussed above. Your end vision for your car should determine your possible candidates for purchase. If you are going for a stock look, don't buy a modified bug or Baja bug. It is typically a ton of work to un baja a Beetle! If you want to keep all of your bugs classic trim and factory accessories don't look at a Cal-Look car, where many trim pieces are removed or shaved off. If you want an off road bug, consider the fact that buying a baja project could save money on aftermarket body panels and shipping. If you want a Cal-Look Car, check out some enthusiast marketplaces for one. There are also communities of racers for asphalt and sand drag cars. If you are interested in a kit car, look at several that are already done. We don't want to limit you to anything in particular, but remember that finding something close to your vision may make your life easier. That is as long as the VW bug is in good shape. We prefer to start with fairly good condition original cars purely because we don't have to undo other peoples modifications, but sometimes there are some well done customs at awesome deals.
- What Should I Pay for a VW Beetle?: Like many other classic cars the value of VW Beetles has risen. They are no longer $50 cars, but most are still relatively cheap by classic car standards. In truth prices for VW bugs are all over the map. Early Split window beetles (1946 - 1953) tend to be highly collectable and expensive. A cheap project goes for $20K - $35K. A nice running and driving example of a Split Window VW Beetle can be upwards of $50K. Oval Window Bugs (1954 - 1957) are also very collectable. Typically a project Oval Window Beetle will cost $6K - $10K on an enthusiast website. A nice running and driving Oval will be $20K -$30K depending on year model and options. Early big window VW bugs (1958-1966) are the most affordable of early style VW Beetles. A project can be had for $1K - $4K. A driver will cost $5k-$14K depending on quality and the style of car. The 1967 model year has its own classification to many VW enthusiasts. 1967 VW Beetles tend to be more valuable than its earlier predecessors. A 1967 VW Project will cost between $2500 and $4500. A driver will cost $6K - $25K depending on the quality of the car. Late model Beetles (1968 - 1977) and Super Beetles (1971-1979) are the most affordable of the bunch. A project can be had for $500 to $2k. A driver can be had for $3500 - $15K depending on condition.
- How Do I Know if This is the VW Beetle for Me?: If you have checked over your prospective bug and it passes all or most of these tests, maybe it's the one. If you are in doubt or feel rushed to make the buy then wait. Remember that the buyer has the power when car shopping no matter what your seller tells you. Also remember that no matter how in love you are with a particular VW Bug, if it doesn't pass your tests there's another that will. For us the biggest deal breaker is rust. We can deal with mechanical and chassis issues, but rust repair can be extremely costly and time consuming. If the budget is tight, which it usually is, than we would rather have a car with little to no rust and some mechanical problems rather than the opposite.
We hope this guide helps you better select your Volkswagen Beetle. If you have any questions on buying or selling your bug please contact us. If you need any VW Beetle Parts, whether they are aftermarket, stock replacement or performance check out DuneBuggyWarehouse.com or give us a call and we will do our best to get you what you need fast and at a great price.