WHICH OF­FERS THE MOST SUM­MER FUN?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Best Summer Buys -

We’ve al­ready touched on these cars’ time­less looks, but it’s not un­til you park them side by side that you ap­pre­ci­ate just how sim­i­lar they re­ally are – both have head­lamps set in to bul­bous front wings, spindly bumpers with over­rid­ers, quar­terlights in the front win­dows, shiny hub­caps set on steel wheels and pro­trud­ing rear wings. The fact that the cars in our pho­tos are two-doors only serves to em­pha­sise their in­her­ent like­nesses.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is, of course, the pres­ence of a front grille on the Mi­nor, which im­me­di­ately tells you which of these cars is front-en­gined and which is rear-en­gined. Although both are quite ba­sic, the Bee­tle some­how doesn’t ap­pear quite as aus­tere, per­haps be­cause of its jol­lier paint and ad­di­tional chrome around its win­dows and rear screen.

It’s easy to ap­pre­ci­ate why the Mi­nor was so pop­u­lar with driv­ing schools in pe­riod – a learner couldn’t hope for a more user-friendly ma­chine in which to hone the art of driv­ing. Much of this is down to the Mi­nor’s rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing, which is both light and pre­cise – some­thing you can rarely say about small cars of the 1950s and ‘60s. The steer­ing wheel it­self is nicely an­gled and even small in­puts in­spire a reaction at the road wheels, a lack of slop fur­ther aid­ing a sense of com­plete con­trol.

The Mi­nor’s four-speed ‘box changes gear smoothly and pre­cisely, and while first is some­times dif­fi­cult to en­gage when sta­tion­ary, re­leas­ing the clutch and try­ing again finds the gear eas­ily. The driv­ing po­si­tion is such that the driver has to lean for­ward to shift from sec­ond to third gear, but these are mi­nor grum­bles. In all other re­spects chang­ing gear in a Mi­nor is ex­tremely straight­for­ward.

The sus­pen­sion is quite stiff on both cars, which cer­tainly aids sta­bil­ity, but the Mi­nor is pos­i­tively sup­ple com­pared to the no­tice­ably firmer, allinde­pen­dently-sprung Bee­tle, and as such you do tend to feel slightly more roll in the cor­ners and bounce over rough sur­faces. Each has ex­tremely com­fort­able seats, how­ever, which do a lot to dampen out the road vi­bra­tions that their re­spec­tive sus­pen­sion set-ups don’t.

Han­dling on both cars is neu­tral. Over­steer is said to be a prob­lem for the Bee­tle, par­tic­u­larly in the wet, while the Mi­nor can suf­fer from un­der­steer and oc­ca­sional axle tramp if you come back on the power too quickly fol­low­ing a bend. But play sen­si­bly at real-world speeds and there’s no sense of ei­ther step­ping out of line.

It’s sur­pris­ing to dis­cover that you can use the full rev range to get the most out of the Mi­nor’s mod­est per­for­mance; the A-se­ries en­gine re­mains smooth – if quite noisy – even at higher revs, es­pe­cially com­pared to the Bee­tle. There’s no rev counter, so you have to tune into the en­gine note, which re­sults in ini­tially overly-sym­pa­thetic short-shift­ing. Keep go­ing, though, and you soon dis­cover that the A-se­ries is just as flex­i­ble at low en­gine speeds as it is at higher revs; it’s suf­fi­ciently geared for both gen­teel around-town driv­ing and press­ing on to keep up with mod­ern traf­fic.

The ini­tial im­pres­sion when mov­ing from the Mi­nor to the Bee­tle is that the Ger­man prod­uct boasts greater heft; it’s chunkier and feels bet­ter nailed to­gether, with ab­so­lutely no rat­tles or clonks. If that’s to be con­sid­ered a pos­i­tive, then sadly the driv­ing po­si­tion is not. The less an­gled, more up­right po­si­tion of the steer­ing wheel is doubt­less a re­sult of there be­ing less space for front seat oc­cu­pants. Nonethe­less, both cars feel airy in­side thanks to their large front and rear screens and thin pil­lars, all of which greatly aid vis­i­bil­ity. The Bee­tle’s pedal ar­range­ment po­lar­izes opin­ion, though, com­pris­ing a rail on the floor from which the ped­als sprout. They’re nicely spaced but feel high and badly an­gled – it’s par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic with the heavy clutch.

Where the Mi­nor’s A-se­ries en­gine doesn’t feel overly stressed, thrum­ming along roads at 45mph,

‘Nei­ther re­ally seemed to change much dur­ing their long pro­duc­tion runs’

the Bee­tle’s flat-four is truly un­der-stressed. Un­like the Mi­nor, there is noth­ing to be gained from exploring the top of the Bee­tle’s rev range; do­ing so gives the im­pres­sion of ac­cel­er­a­tion tail­ing off and the car be­ing des­per­ate for the next ra­tio. This is es­pe­cially true of first and sec­ond gears, which seem to have been de­signed specif­i­cally for low bursts of ac­cel­er­a­tion. Lots of gearchanges and re­laxed revs is the ap­proach most ap­pre­ci­ated by the lit­tle Volk­swa­gen.

Like the Mi­nor, the Bee­tle feels ex­tremely sta­ble on the road and its steer­ing is just as praise-wor­thy, pro­vid­ing plenty of road feel through the steer­ing wheel. It might be as a re­sult of the en­gine be­ing be­hind the driver, but the turn-in feels far sharper on the Bee­tle, though it’s woe­ful in com­par­i­son to the Mi­nor in terms of park­ing ma­noeu­vres; the Mi­nor has a much smaller turn­ing cir­cle.

The dual-cir­cuit brakes on the Bee­tle are a lot fiercer than those on the Mi­nor, so much so that you have to be de­lib­er­ately much mea­sured in how you ap­ply force to the pedal.

The Bee­tle’s buzzy-but-not-busy air-cooled flat­four ‘wuf­fle’ is, of course, at the heart of its ap­peal. That’s not to say that the Mi­nor’s evoca­tive gear whine and trade­mark ex­haust parp on the over­run aren’t de­light­ful, but the Bee­tle’s en­gine noise is some­how more ap­peal­ing. The Volk­swa­gen’s more con­ven­tion­ally-po­si­tioned sin­gle in­stru­ment gauge – in front of the driver – is prob­a­bly more in­tu­itive than BMC’s pre­ferred spot in the cen­tre of the dash­board, too.

As you’ve prob­a­bly guessed by now, whether or not ei­ther of these cars ap­peals to you is very much down to per­sonal taste and pref­er­ence. De­spite be­ing very dif­fer­ent in their spec­i­fi­ca­tions, they are very much two sides of the same coin – and you won’t know which side you pre­fer un­til you’ve driven them both.

Both cars are quite firmly sprung, but the Mi­nor’s set-up has a lit­tle more give than the Bee­tle’s.

Mi­nor has am­ple room for four. Gearshift is gen­er­ally good, though find­ing first can be tricky and shift­ing from sec­ond to third re­quires the driver to lean for­ward.

The Bee­tle is no­tice­ably more cramped up front than the Mi­nor and its driv­ing po­si­tion isn’t as com­fort­able, but place­ment of the sim­ple gauges is more in­tu­itive.

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