Mods & Consequences: How to make your Beetle even better
Virtually every aspect of the Beetle can be upgraded with off-the-shelf parts. Here’s how to do it properly
‘The Beetle didn’t seem to evolve much, but nothing is interchangeable between the first and last cars’
W ith 21.5 million Beetles built in a production run from 1945 to 2003, more of these air-cooled VWs have been produced than any other car in the history of motoring. So it’s no wonder that many Beetle owners want to stand out from the crowd, especially when it comes to improving performance.
The Beetle’s ubiquity – and the fact there are so many different types of owner – means that you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to modifications. A vast array of companies offer products off the shelf or you can be more creative with your own upgrades. The Beetle didn’t seem to evolve much during its lengthy production run, but nothing is interchangeable between the first and last cars, so make sure a given upgrade is suitable for your car.
Very early Beetles are now highly sought-after so the trend is to keep them as standard as possible. Parts for pre-1960 engines (1131cc and 1192cc) are now scarce, mainly because these engines differ completely from later units. Swapping to a later engine will give you better usability and cheaper rebuilds but you’ll also need to swap to the later gearbox and final drive. Beetle engines were never highly tuned, so it’s easy to coax extra power out of them. But obviously, it makes more sense to start with one of the bigger units.
As the biggest engine, the 1600 has the most tuning potential; and attention to the exhaust, valves, carburation and ignition means it’s easy to achieve 90bhp on the dyno – a vast improvement over the standard car’s 50bhp. Because of the flat-four’s construction, swapping camshafts can only really be done as part of a rebuild (the engine has to be completely dismantled to swap camshafts) but upping the displacement is easier than you may think because the barrels that house the pistons are detachable. Simply fitting larger pistons and barrels means that the displacement can easily be raised to 1641cc.