Advice for buying an old VW?
October 25, 2006 1:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for tips and/or advice on buying a used pre-loved 1960's Volkswagen Beetle.

I am in love with VW Beetles and am in a postion to buy one.
The one I am currently looking at is a 1966 model, 2 door, 4 speed manual. It has a four-year-old 1600cc engine with 30,000kms and is newly serviced with a brand new fuel pump. It also has new tyres and registration until August next year. It also has a fairly new interior and has a rather anal owner (who has had it for 12 years), so the car is more or less immaculate, with very little rust.

My questions are:
- How 'reliable' are these cars?
- Will it send me broke in repairs?
- The owner is asking $6,000 for this car. There is an element of emotional attachment to the vehicle. What would be a fair price, given the specs above? I was thinking somewhere in the range of $3,000-$4,000.

Any other advice would be dearly appreciated.

If you need any other info, let me know, email is in profile.
posted by cholly to Shopping (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you visited the 1966 VW Beetle site?
posted by pracowity at 1:58 AM on October 25, 2006

Best answer: Type I Beetles that start out in good shape are dirt cheap to operate and maintain (and cheaper than dirt if you learn to do a little of the work yourself). The primary weakness of old Beetles is the ground straps tend to deteriorate and electrical problems such as very dim headlights and dragging starter motors, but that won't be a problem if the car has been upgraded to a 12 volt system.

If an aftermarket oil filter hasn't been installed, you can plan on oil changes (just oil, no filter) every 1500 miles and you'll need a valve adjustment every 6-12,000 miles if you're anal about maintenance (I used to go 25-30,000 miles between adjustments with no problems and I drove my Beetles hard). The oil cooler in the 66's original motor blocked airflow to the number 3 cylinder and caused the exhaust valve in that cylinder to burn, but that won't be a problem with the later model 1600 cc motor.

I'd be surprised if any car has ever been built that is cheaper to maintain than a Type I Beetle, but they aren't very good on mpg. They're also one of the last cars you want to be in during a crash. A hit from the rear will break the front seats loose, slam yout knees into the solid steel under the dash and cause serious knee injuries. An impact to the front is also very bad as the sheet metal (no real frame to speak of) crumbles quickly and causes serious injury. Another hazard is the solid mounted rear view mirror in that small cockpit with no shoulder harness. A couple of my friends suffered serious injury and nasty scars from those mirrors.

They're great little cars and can go just about anywhere, through snow, ice, mud, soft sand, but they were basically built to 1930s safety standards. I've done a complete engine swap in under an hour (pulling into my garage with the old motor to driving out with the new motor) and owned a few dozen of them. I love the Beetle to death, but they also scare me to death after crashing a few of them and seeing a few friends badly injured in their Beetles.

The 66 was always my favorite year as I liked the styling of that year best, the popout rear windows were available for the 1st time as was the 1300 cc motor. But all the Beetles built through 67 were good cars except for the 61. The 61 had a bizarre transmission mount that was prone to faulure.

You can't go wrong if you get a good one to start with so be sure to have it checked out by a mechanic who is well versed in air-cooled VWs. You'll find theyre cheaper to keep on the road than any new car and you'll have a tough time finding any car better suited for extreme duty that a Beetle.

Although they aren't very safe, at least you'll never need to repair CV joints or replace timing belts on your Beetle.
posted by buggzzee23 at 3:13 AM on October 25, 2006

To be cleare: The dim lights and dragging starters are caused by bad ground straps.
posted by buggzzee23 at 3:15 AM on October 25, 2006

We have a 73 beetle. We've definitely put a lot of money into it, but primarily structural, and now that's done, so I don't expect to spend much more. Miscellaneous things go wrong, but if you have a good mechanic who specializes in old vws you should be ok.

Seconded on the saftey stuff, though. We pretty much only drive ours around town at lower speeds.
posted by miss tea at 4:50 AM on October 25, 2006

My 70 Karmann Ghia (built on a beetle chassis) had rust in places no one would normally think. Check the gas tank, the area around the headlights, look at the front axle and other suspension parts in the front end. look at the exhaust, look at the floor, look at the heaterboxes, look at the areas where body panels meet, look at the undersides of the doors. Do a compression test on the engine. Buy the book even if you don't buy the bug.
A decent original Bug of that vintage should cost you no more than 4500.00
posted by Gungho at 6:32 AM on October 25, 2006

Best answer: Get thee to The Samba! All the VW info, parts and support you'll ever need, and so much more. The level of technical expertise in their forums is astounding, and any question you could possibly have has already been asked and answered a dozen times, and is now stored in the searchable archives.

posted by saladin at 6:34 AM on October 25, 2006

Best answer: I've had a number of old VWs but I can't add too much to what people have said above. As far as the engine goes, adjust the valves and change the oil religiously at 3000 miles and the engine will be pretty reliable. Sounds like rust isn't an issue on this car but check under the battery anyway. Also on that age of car, IIRC, there can be a problem with the rear seat springs sagging and touching the battery terminals and potentially starting a fire.

I've actually considered getting another Beetle or Ghia but I never really thought about safety before (must be getting old). I would commute in one here in Montana, especially in the winter - they're great in the snow, but not in a major metropolitan area where accidents are more likely. I had a '71 Ghia in '90-'91 in Denver and used it to commute year 'round from Westminster to Littleton. I was stuck crawling along the Boulder Turnpike for hours during the aftermath of a particularly nasty blizzard and the car performed most excellently. Even had heat.

But I'll stick with my '94 Golf with it's A/C and good heat and decent mileage and (relative) comfort.
posted by friarjohn at 6:56 AM on October 25, 2006

I second saladin's recommendation of The Samba. The guys there seem to know more about air cooled VWs than the original engineers of the cars did. They also have a very good classified section that is policed pretty well for scam artists and the like. I've been coveting a type III VW for a fews years but haven't gotten it together to buy one yet but when I do, it will probably be through their ads.
posted by octothorpe at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2006

As long as you're not expecting this to be a daily driver, and as long as you accept the near constant need for some repair or another, you'll find this is probably the most fun classic car you can buy for the money.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:06 AM on October 25, 2006

I learned to drive on and owned several Type 1s and the only thing I'd add is '66 was the last 6-volt year, a beetle still running that's been around that long's probably been upgraded to 12 volts but it's something to verify.

The first, obvious place to check for rust is under the running boards. A good test is, do they stay firm when you stand on them? (Open the door and then hold onto door and roof.) Then get down on your knees and check the rails where they're bolted on.

Also realize that security may be an issue, parts are easy to unbolt and may disappear in the night if it's parked in a visible location.
posted by Rash at 8:24 AM on October 25, 2006

Buy the Muir book (as fandango_matt recommended). Muir even tells you what to look for when you buy one, so go get that today if possible. Inspect it well. Talk to your local supplier of vintage VW parts. Be aware that VWs are one of those brands that inspires localty of the sort that borders on addiction.

I finally sold my '56 a few months back, and even though it hadn't been driven in a few years and I know it has a better home now where it is being restored as it should be, I sometimes miss it a little. But otherwise, I'm a recovered VW addict (at least until they actually build that scirocco concept car, mmm).
posted by ilsa at 10:35 AM on October 25, 2006

Nth the Muir book, and The Samba. Look at them both before you buy.
I have a 74 bus as my daily driver ... well almost daily.
Plan on doing your own maintenance - the Muir book will show you how to do most of it.
Then it will be mainly an investment of time rather than money.
posted by yetanother at 12:36 PM on October 25, 2006

It has probably had a few rebuilt engines in its time, but that is normal. It will undoubtably need one in the future. People with Bugs/Beetles are constantly tinkering with them(this is not necessarily a bad thing if you like tinkering with stuff, but if you're not handy you'll want to buy the book everyone else has recommended in this thread). As far as a fair price for the vehicle, you'll want to check local advertisements to see what comparable ones are selling for.
posted by philad at 2:29 PM on October 25, 2006

The John Muir book was my first automotive manual, during my sophomore year of high school. Just a great, great book. Made my eventual transition to regular shop manuals so much easier. But the "Idiot book" helped me build a baja bug out of a '71 rolling pan and a '65 body for my first car, with no training at all, not even auto shop class. I imagine sites like the Samba could make the book obsolete, though.
posted by friarjohn at 3:00 PM on October 26, 2006

« Older This is not about AOL   |   Sidestepping the FICO blues Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.