Beetle imports into the UK began in 1952, when John ColborneBaber (who had become one of the first UK VW dealers) began shipping small numbers across from Germany to satisfy demand from US Air Force personnel stationed in Kent. In 1956, it was described by the British Motor Industry Commission as ‘bizarre, noisy, too flimsy’ and ‘a toy not to be taken seriously.’ Eight years later, the 100,000th Beetle was imported into Britain and production would continue until the end of 1978, by which time 424,052 examples had been sold in this country alone. It comfortably outlasted the Morris Minor, and it is estimated that more than 21.5 million examples have been produced across the world, over a whopping eight decades.
Much like the Minor, the Beetle evolved to meet demands for greater performance. The original Type 1 was superseded by the oval window 1200, complete with bored-out 1192cc engine, in 1954 and provided the blueprints for the Beetle’s success. 1965 saw the introduction of the 1300, with a 40bhp 1285cc engine and stronger suspension.
‘Our’ Beetle will have been one of the last produced before a major facelift for the 1968 model year to meet American safety legislation. Until this update, Beetles had been characterised by their sloping headlights. These were made vertical and set in modified front wings, which now carried a chunkier bumper – a look that is considered altogether not as attractive as before, though the new look did coincide with benefits such as 12-volt electrics and an external fuel filler.