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

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Living With Classics - Richard Dredge

‘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.

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