Engine: 1.2-liter OHV H4 Gearbox: 4-speed manual Power: 34hp @ 3,600rpm Torque: 84Nm @ 2,000rpm Estimated economy: 8km/L (city); 12km/L+ (highway) Price new: P500,000 (inflation-adjusted) Price now: P50,000 to P350,000
How can you not be bitten by the Bug? Here’s what to look out for if you’re buying one.
As automotive playthings go, the Beetle is perhaps one of the most iconic. Distributed and later assembled in Manila by Domingo M. Guevara Motors as early as 1958-1959, it was the epitome of stylish and affordable motoring, outselling Japanese and American competitors over the next two decades. But by 1981, crony politics and unfavorable business conditions forced DMG to shutter operations, right before the local industry, as a whole, collapsed.
Thanks to their mechanical simplicity and great popularity, however, many half-century-old Beetles are still in remarkably good condition. Could there be one out there waiting for you?
Value and costs
Though rustbuckets with documentation issues can be had for under P50,000, running and registered Beetles often list between P120,000 and P200,000. Fully restored show-quality cars list at up to twice that.
It is important to check for fire hazards such as frayed wiring and fuel hoses. Rust is also a critical issue. Most Bugs have some rust, but you want to avoid units with compromised bulkheads and floorpans. Floorpan rot, usually starting at the battery tray under the right rear seat, and rust in the lower door sills from the heater channels, often require a tedious frame-off restoration to fix.
Exterior and interior
Though the Beetle’s basic design has changed little over the years, styling differences can help you identify a Bug’s vintage. Early ‘swing-axle’ Bugs have two-piece five-lug wheels, bug-eye headlights, and oval taillamps, with matching license-plate light housing. The 1968 model introduced independent rear suspension, four-lug wheels, vertical headlamps, flat-bottomed ‘tombstone’ taillights, bigger front and rear windscreens, and a shorter engine cover.
The 1971 update brought the 1.6-liter Super Beetle (1302), whose wide trunklid and fenders hid a new coilsprung front suspension. Distinctive crescent-shaped rear-cabin vents and a ventilated engine cover differentiated it from the standard 1.2-liter Econo. In 1973, the Super Beetle (1303) gained a curved windscreen, while the whole lineup, including the 1.3-liter Econo and the 1.5-liter 1300S, received the ungainly ‘elephant foot’ taillamps.
Though spartan by modern standards, the interior features soft, springy seats and excellent head- and legroom... except in the rear. Factory seatbelts weren’t offered locally, but they’re an easy—and necessary—retrofit.
The Beetle’s air-cooled, push-rod flatfour is refreshingly basic. Oil changes involve simply dumping the old oil, cleaning the strainer (no oil filter here), and putting new oil in both the sump and the oil-bath air cleaner (no air filter, either).
While Super Beetles hit 100kph in under 20sec, 1.2-liter Standards take a burbly-gurgly half-minute to do the deed. Thankfully, swapping heads, pistons or even entire engines and transmissions for more performance is relatively cheap. One of the more common mods, however, is the Sanden-powered air-conditioner seen here—important in Manila traffic!
Let’s be honest: Swing-axle Beetles, with their vague steering, unassisted front drum brakes, and erratic rear camber aren’t newbie-friendly. Later cars, like this one, drive much better. The unassisted worm-gear steering is still rather vague, and the brake pedal requires a strong push, but the light front end is delightfully responsive, and the independent rear suspension keeps the rear tires reasonably planted even over rough roads.
Super Beetles are more stable still, thanks to the MacPherson-strut front suspension. But Super Bugs tend to suffer from shimmy and uneven tire wear as the bushings wear out. It’s something to really look out for on the test drive.
The Beetle offers nostalgia, style, and ease of maintenance in an extremely classy package. While this car isn’t the quickest or most comfortable classic, the huge Bug community and near-endless customization options mean building one specific to your tastes and desires is easier than with almost any other car. It pays, however, to do your research and to talk to local enthusiasts before taking the plunge. Buying a Beetle is a big commitment, no matter how much or how little you plan to spend, and you will need to learn it foibles to keep it running. Props to Joey Rocero for sharing his beloved car with us. For those like him bitten by the Bug fever, it is well worth the trouble.
Fuchs-style alloys are a great way to make it pop