Making the old Beatle new again?
April 4, 2007 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Volkswagen, BMW, and now Fiat have all recently bought out "remakes" of some of their classic cars (Beatles, Morris Minis and Fiat 500s). All of these cars do nothing more than pay homage to the original, stealing some aesthetic design features, while creating an entirely new car. But how much would it cost, now, to manufature a Volkeswagen Beatle the way they were made in 1969?

Assuming we're creating a car that is exactly the same; the same components made out of the same materials. The same chrome, metal badge, analogue clock on the dash, rear engine. If Volkwagen, instead of deciding to make a "New Beatle", simply decided to turn on the old production line again, what would we paying for a brand new "Old Beatle" at the dealership? What about a Mini? Would a car the size of a Fiat 500 even be deemed roadworthy these days?

Bonus points: I assume that 1960s-era cars fail to meet a fair number of safety and emmissions requirements that modern cars have to; what would the most basic modifications necessary be to make an "Old Beatle" legal, and how would this impact on the cost?
posted by Jimbob to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what it was costing VW, but the original Beetle was still being produced in Mexico up until 2003 or so. Obviously, these final versions weren't US-48-state, DOT-legal models, but they were legal elsewhere in the world.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:21 AM on April 4, 2007

Keep in mind that the 'Old Beetle' was in production in Mexico until 2003. So, unlike some of those other cars, the answer to the question in terms of the Beetle is probably pretty well known, if not to the general public, then certainly to VW.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:22 AM on April 4, 2007

It's maybe worth noting that Type 1 Beetles were manufactured in Mexico up until 2003 - obviously they weren't exactly the same as a 1969 model (why 1969?) but researching the manufacturing costs of the late Mexican and Brazillian Beetles would probably give you a few pointers.
posted by jack_mo at 6:25 AM on April 4, 2007

I think the major cost in restarting a manufacturing line would be retooling. It's quite common to destroy the dies and whatnot when a line is shut down for good, which take quite a bit of work to remake.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:27 AM on April 4, 2007

That's the problem. The fiat 500 would, as originally built, never pass the crashworthiness requirements of the Federal Highway Administration. So your question is really a two-parter: First, how much would it cost to build an old car, "from scratch" (i.e., without being able to source the factory parts since they're not being made -- i.e., the molds and stamps are lost/sold/destroyed)? And then, how to invisibly "up armor" the car to meet road worthiness standards. This is going to be hard, esp in the small cars you are specifically interested in. As I hear it, the VW beetle (and for sure the Mini and F500) have front bumpers that are so low as to slip under another car's (say, a Ford Expedition) bumper during an accident. This is sure to prove a) deadly and b) impossible to fix without changing the look of the car.

However, what do you care? You can still drive an old mini on the streets because they're exempt from the standards, since they were made before the standards took effect. They're grandfathered in. So just buy an old one and be done with it. Here's a mini restorer in Atlanta, GA. Note: These are drive on the right, british imports.
posted by zpousman at 6:35 AM on April 4, 2007

As a reference point, Hemmings has a 2003 Mexican Beetle for $11,500. Presumably it cost a good bit less than that to make.

It's quite common to destroy the dies and whatnot when a line is shut down for good

I can't find a source online right now, but I seem to recall that some tooling, particularly for musclecars, was sold to aftermarket companies who continue to make things like replacement sheet metal using the original tools.
posted by TedW at 6:44 AM on April 4, 2007

From what I understand, the Mexican beetles didn't even have saftey glass, so you're going to want to replace the windsheild.
posted by delmoi at 6:49 AM on April 4, 2007

Best answer: A couple of sources cite the price of a Mexican Beetle in 2003 as US$6800 or 7000. Now, these cars obviously were slightly different from a '69 model: according to the Wikipedia article, "This version, after the mid-1970s, saw little change with the incorporation of electronic ignition in 1988, an anti-theft alarm system in 1990, and electronic fuel injection, hydraulic valve lifters and a spin-on oil filter in 1993. The front turn signals were commonly located in the bumper instead of the Beetle's traditional placement on top of the front fenders."

Backseatpilot is right: the cost would be in tooling, and to a lesser extent, training. The thing is, of course, that if you were trying to build the cheapest car that would appeal to the most people today, you wouldn't build a Beetle—you'd start from scratch and take advantage of modern design methods, construction methods, and materials.

Building a version of the old Beetle that would pass modern standards of roadworthiness might simply be impossible: a lot of safety is stuff you need to design in, not tack on. You can't add 5-mph bumpers and airbags and say "the car is safe." In the EU, for example, they've got the "moose test," meaning the car must survive trampling by a moose. That's a designed-in feature. So if you said "OK, we'll make a heavier frame, etc" you'd wind up with a car weighing, oh, twice what the old Beetle weighed, leaving that poor air-cooled four mightily overworked. Then you say "OK, we'll redesign the engine to be more powerful. At some point, it's not the old Beetle anymore. I'm reminded of the Stephen Wright joke "this is George Washington's axe. I had to replace the handle, and later the blade, but it occupies the same physical space."

To answer your question about the Fiat 500: there are cars in Japan about that small. They're called keisha (light cars 軽車) and are restricted to 600-cc engines. They're the only cars that can park on the street in Tokyo.
posted by adamrice at 6:49 AM on April 4, 2007

Also known as kei cars.
posted by delmoi at 6:52 AM on April 4, 2007

"...the incorporation of ... hydraulic valve lifters and a spin-on oil filter in 1993."Hydraulic valve lifters, imagine that. How many hours of my life did I waste farking around under various Veedubs adjusting those damned mechanical valves.

Which brings me to my point: who in their right mind would want one of pieces of...those cars. Modern automobiles are infinitely superior. They're faster, handle better, more comfortable, safer, more economical and pollute less. I can't speak to the orginal Minis but those old VWs and Fiats were just rubbish.
posted by mojohand at 7:05 AM on April 4, 2007

Here is a link to a story about the Ford T-100 project, which built six 1914 Model T's from scratch for Ford's centennial in 2003. It was written by the engineer who supervised the project. His email is at the end of the article, so you could certainly inquire about cost.

When I first read about this project, I seem to recall that the cost was on the order of $40K per car, but then again, a production run of 6 is nothing and they paid heavily for custom work to make crank cases and engine blocks.
posted by plinth at 7:07 AM on April 4, 2007

"moose test," meaning the car must survive trampling by a moose

That's funny - I guess it's intentional, but for the uninitiated: the 'moose test' is not about being trampled. It involves a sudden evasive manoeuver (like when you encounter a moose on a Finnish highway in the middle of the night) at high speed. It tests the car's lateral stability (ie if it rolls over, it fails).

Narrow but high cars traditionally have trouble with this, like the Mercedes A class and the Mercedes Smart.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:09 AM on April 4, 2007

NekulturnY—About the moose test, is that really it? I've read a few references to it, one that implied the car was running into the moose, and two that implied the moose was running over the car. But they were all a little vague. Do you have any cites for this? I've always been curious.

(Sorry for the derail.)
posted by adamrice at 7:25 AM on April 4, 2007

Moose Test: evasive handling on dry pavement.
posted by ardgedee at 7:37 AM on April 4, 2007

But how much would it cost, now, to manufature a Volkeswagen Beatle the way they were made in 1969?

I agree it's not clear why you're asking, thus what you're getting at here.

But consider that the original Beetle used a lot of components that might be more expensive today, starting with the steel. Many changes to modern cars are done to manufacture them more cheaply. The original Beetle was not optimized for modern production lines, so would require more man-hours to produce than a comparable car designed today; the process of building a manufacturing line is now necessarily integral to the process of designing the car in the first place.

As you and others noted, there are tons of things that old cars do less well, like protect the safety of the occupants or burn minimal fuel or emit minimal pollution.

what would the most basic modifications necessary be to make an "Old Beatle" legal, and how would this impact on the cost?

Seriously, there are people who rebuild old cars to be working vehicles all the time; they're called enthusiasts. I would say that the rebuilding process for an old car, that's been on the road, is more complicated as you have to actually replace parts or remachine them and so forth. If it were your hypothetical old-but-new car, it might not cost so much, but you'd still have to do quite a bit to meet emissions standards (although there are often some types of exemptions for older vehicles) and to make it roadworth at least add a modern type of bumper (and there are places that build these for various vehicles, so you can price that).

But the basic answer to your question is economics. At a certain point, even the old Beetle became too expensive to manufacture based on what people would pay for it since it was such a primitive automobile. Automakers upgrade their cars as competition as much as anything else.
posted by dhartung at 8:29 AM on April 4, 2007

Another thing to consider is labour cost. If you were doing in your garage for fun, including all the machining it might not be very expensive at all, but I'm sure it would take a ton of man hours.
posted by delmoi at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2007

You can't reheat a soufflé.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:44 AM on April 4, 2007

I've always figured that one of everything from either Wolfsburg West or JC Whitney plus a frame would let you build a complete Beetle.
posted by djb at 9:57 AM on April 4, 2007

Best answer: A couple of sources cite the price of a Mexican Beetle in 2003 as US$6800 or 7000.

Using a Honda-ish 25% gross margin, you wind up at about $5000 if you make them at a decent volume-- pretty close to the inflation-adjusted price of a Yugo. Over 10% of that cost would be steel. I'd bet that if you forced every person in the world to buy one, and made them in Viet Nam, the last one off the line would probably cost closer to $3000.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2007

There are a ton of regulations currently in place for new cars. Emission controls, three-point seatbelts, frame strength, airbags, child seat mounts, tire pressure monitoring systems (soon), and so on.
posted by qvtqht at 2:21 PM on April 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers everyone, inclusing those incredulous at why I would want a new 1960s car. I don't really. Although I do miss my old Type 3 Volkswagen Station Wagon. And an ex-girlfriend owned a Fiat 500, although for obvious reasons we never made love in the back seat.

I guess the point of my question was; new cars are packed with a lot of expensive technology; vastly more complex engines and suspension systems, digital displays, ABS brakes, SRS airbags, all those new safety and emmisions requirements. Old cars, were a lot simpler from this point of view, but instead were made from more expensive materials, and had greater labour requirements for manufacturing. I was just wondering about the tradeoff between these two "types" of cars - which would cost more in 2007 - making a new Beatle, or making an old one?
posted by Jimbob at 5:05 PM on April 4, 2007

You can get "close to the metal" by building your own car, even today. Take a look at something like a Seven, Locost, or Caterham- all available in kit form.
Or there are the stripped-down base models of other high-performance cars intended for track usage: the Subaru STI, or Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution RS (no stereo, crank windows, manual locking- I can't wait for mine!). In higher price ranges you've got the Ariel Atom, Lotus Elise, Porsche GT3 RS, Ferrari F430 Challenge, McLaren F1... The list goes on and on, as do the prices.
posted by wzcx at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2007

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