Is it bad that I actually really like the Volkswagen New Beetle?
What can I say? It’s just a lovely looking little machine, with its cute round lights and its perky round body, I always had a soft-spot for the plucky re-imagining of Germany’s most famous car.
The original Beetle that dated back to before World War II was originally meant to mobilise the forces of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Dictatorship in the years prior to the conflict that would change the face of our planet, both socially and geographically. The social changes brought about after the conflict was a removal of the old Victorian ways, replaced by Rock n’ Roll, raised Hemlines, and the Hippie movement. Think Flower Power, think Beetle, the original became a staple of the Peace Movement and the 1967 Summer of Love, with thousands of these cars converging on San Francisco, an odd juxtaposition from these car’s original and more sinister intent.
By the early 1990’s though it was clear that the original Beetle, much like the Mini and the 2CV, were well past their bloom of youth and thus needed a replacement and a revamp. Although Volkswagen had attempted in the past to replace the Beetle in the 1970’s and 80’s, the replacement cars such as the Polo and the Derby had been unsuccessful in gaining the same nostalgic and novel touch that the original car continued to grasp firmly, much like the failure of the Metro to replace the Mini here in the UK.
So instead, Volkswagen chose to go back to the original formula, by making a car that was similar in shape, size and style, a reminisce of the 1967 Summer of Love and when Flower Power was at its peak. At the 1994 North American International Auto Show, Volkswagen unveiled the Concept One, a “retro”-themed concept car with a resemblance to the original Volkswagen Beetle. Designed by J Mays and Freeman Thomas at the company’s California design studio, the concept car was based on the platform of the Volkswagen Polo. A red cabriolet concept was featured at the Geneva Motor Show, also in 1994.
In 1995, a new version of the Concept One was shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, including major restyling that made it resemble the final production cars that were intended for a 1998 launch.
Strong public reaction to the Concept 1 convinced the company that it should develop a production version which was launched as the New Beetle in 1997, based on the Golf IV’s larger PQ34 platform. The New Beetle is related to the original only in name and appearance (including the absence of a car emblem script with the exception of the VW logo). For the 1998 model year, only the TDI compression-ignition engine was turbocharged; the spark-ignition engines were only naturally aspirated. In June 1999, Volkswagen introduced the 1.8T, which was the first turbocharged spark-ignition engine offered for the New Beetle. Volkswagen created a web site dedicated specifically to the 1.8T. A convertible was added in mid year 2003 to replace the Volkswagen Cabrio, however the New Beetle Convertible was never offered with a compression-ignition engine in North America.
The New Beetle carries many design similarities with the original VW Beetle: separate wings, vestigial running boards, sloping headlamps and large round tail lights, as well as a high rounded roofline. For that extra little touch which I actually think is rather charming, it also came complete with a flower on the dashboard.
Originally cars were built at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, but production moved in 1999 to Puebla in Mexico, where the car was built until production was discontinued in 2011 in favour of a new model released that year, being dubbed the Volkswagen Beetle A5, although it is also sold as the Volkswagen Coccinelle, Volkswagen Maggiolino, and the Volkswagen Fusca. But this didn’t spell the end of the original New Beetle, as CKD (Complete Knock Down) kits are still being produced in Vietnam.
During its 13 year lifetime though the Beetle did have a number of special variations. The most prominent one was the 2001 Beetle RSi, a limited edition version of 250 units built until 2003. The Beetle RSi featured a 221hp 3.2L VR6 engine, together with a 6-speed gearbox and Volkswagen’s four-wheel drive system 4motion, Remus twin-pipe exhaust.
Another variation concept was the New Beetle Dune of 2000, a proposed 4×4 version with a heightened ground clearance and larger wheel arches for high-grip All-Terrain tyres. I’m particularly sad this one didn’t enter production as it could have been a fantastic little 4WD Dune Buggy but with the creature comforts of a regular Beetle.
The Beetle today is still fairly popular, although often dubbed a ‘Little Girl’s’ car for its cutie looks. I honestly don’t see a problem in cute looks on cars, if anything it makes them more novel. Needless to say, early ones have become something of a cult find, and have appeared in many movies and films.