Interesting article. Unfortunately, the author has absolutely no clue why the VW Beetle sold millions of cars…including mine. We bought them because they were a cheap, reliable, affordable means of good solid basic transportation. We bought them inspite of the looks, not because of the looks. And we did not buy them because of some “counterculture” image they may have portrayed. Something tells me the author is too young to have been there, too young to be authoritively writing about why the Beetle was such a success.
I had a '61.
Mountainbike, you may not have bought a Beetle because of the counter culture, but you if you bought one after 1967, then you would have been in the minority of the buyers. I was a 60’s hippie in So Cal, though I never owned a bug or microbus, or any other VW for that matter.
If you remember the '60’s, then you weren’t born yet.
Keith, I still believe the overwhelming majority of the Beetle buyers bought them because they were cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, reliable (for the era), and fun, rather than for the counterculture image. I lived in the northeast and was never a hippie. Had the article author been correct, you probably would have owned one rather than I.
Keith and the same mountainbike–
You both have me very confused. I had been trying to decide which of the following statements is true:
A. If a person is a hippie, then the person drives a VW Beetle.
B. If a person drives a VW Beetle, then the person is a hippie.
I had really hoped that statement B was true. Back in the early 1960s, I really wanted to be a hippie and I thought if only I could save enough money to buy a VW Beetle, I could then become a hippie. However, the same mountainbike has burst my bubble. On the other hand, Keith was a hippie but didn’t drive a VW Beetle. Now, at age 70, I think I have enough money to buy a VW Beetle, but it doesn’t look like driving one is the route to becoming a hippie. Is there another car out there that I could purchase that would insure that I would become a hippie?
I think that the VW Beetle became a trendy car to own in the late 1950s. The U.S cars had kept growing larger, and the quality of the bodywork was not the greatest. In 1958, a VW cost very little less than a bottom the line Chevrolet Del Ray or a Ford Custom, or a Plymouth Savoy. The Studebaker Scotsman could probably be had for less than a VW Beetle. However, the VW Beetle had a nicely appointed interior while the interior of a Studebaker Scotsman made a school bus seem luxurious. The bottom of the line Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth did not show the care in assembly as was displayed by the VW Beetle. The waiting line was about two months for a VW Beetle which made them even more desirable. In 1958, the country was in a recession and getting the most for the dollar was important. The VW Beetle held its value well. In the early 1960s, a 4 year old VW Beetle and a 4 year old Cadillac with roughly the same mileage and in the same condition would fetch about the same amount of money as a used car, even though the Cadillac cost at least three times as much as the VW when new.
Where VW messed up, in my opinion, was in the Fasback and Squareback models that came along in the late 1960s. I think these cars were designed for families who had outgrown the Beetle. However, these cars weren’t assembled as well as the Beetle and were not as reliable or were as easily repaired.
New VWs back then were not sold to hippies, most didn’t have the money for new cars. Used ones, sure.
I just got back from a VW meet in Fredericksburg, TX. Over 300 old VWs, many with all the hippie trappings. Must be what a Grateful Dead concert parking lot looks like…
Thanks for the laugh Triedaq. Sorry I burst your bubble.
According to Wikipedia, on 17 February 1972 the 15,007,034th Beetle was sold. Since hippies numbered in the hundreds of thousands rather than the mllions, it would stand to reason (or math) that multitudes of Beetles were bought by persons who were not hippies. I’ll grant you that the 15M number goes back to the '40s, but still…
IMHO the things that killed the Beetle were safety regulations, emissions regulations, and the modernization of the highway system. There was absolutely no way the air cooled beetles could have been improved to meet safety or emissions regulations or to keep up with traffic on modern highways. Except perhaps flat, straight highways once they got their speed up.
First, the comment about the hippies not being able to afford a Beetle is pretty much true. In fact, the true hippies didn’t own any car. But like most people my age, in my location, I was a part time hippie. I was a student at that time so I couldn’t afford a new car, I had a 57 Olds that I bought for $200.
But the fact is, people who bought their Beetles before 1967, did so for practical reasons. In 1967, the Beetle became popular, it was the “in” car to own. Counterculture was the popular culture at the time so making the leap that the Beetle was popular because of the “counter culture” is not hard to make.
Interestingly, I got my 57 Olds in 67 from a school teacher couple that had two new Beetles. They actually kept the Olds in the garage so the neighbors wouldn’t see it, until I bought it. The lived in a condo at the beach and everyone there owned the little Bugs.
Same here, my first drive in a Beetle was my 6th grade teacher’s. Not much ‘hippie’ vibe about it. Not much ‘hippie’ vibe in Cincinnati, either…
Actually, I have been trying to figure out how the VW got attached to the hippie scene. Hippies hitchhiked everywhere. The actual hippie scene only lasted for a little over a year and the VW was not part of it at that time. In the late 70’s, you began to see old Beetles with the stick-on flowers.
In 1970, I owned a 1960 Borgward that had stick-on flowers, though I didn’t put them on. I got it for $50.
The old air cooled VWs were about the simplest and cheapest cars on Earth to service. Back in the day one could buy a complete engine gasket set for 5 dollars, a new set of jugs/pistons/rings for 40, and so on.
I owned half a dozen at one time or the other including a hippie bus that was red/white with a gold metalflake dashboard and the interior was slathered from one end to the other in deep lime green shag carpet.
People used to call me hippie (or sometimes Jesus) because of the long hair and beard but a hippie I never was and definitely not JC. My personal opinion was that most hippies are just loopy and the movie Woodstock made me cringe with all of the peace and love stuff; not to mention that one guy who said the government was seeding the clouds in an attempt to ruin it all.
I did have a Morris Minor at one time that had a huge yellow daisy painted on the roof and a peace sign in the rear glass so that brought a few hippie comments too, along with some not repeatable comments about getting a haircut. The car was purchased like that so I’m not the one that did it and for 75 dollars total price I wasn’t about to dink around with it at all.
@Keith “In fact, the true hippies didn’t own any car”. Maybe I was a true hippie in my college days and didn’t now it because I didn’t own a car. “Hippies hitchhiked everywhere”. I hitchhiked quite a bit. In fact I hitchhiked 50 miles each way every other weekend to take horn lessons on a campus different from the one I attended to study with a particular horn professor. This further gives credence to the possibility that I may have been a hippie. Perhaps now I don’t have to consider purchasing a VW Beetle to fulfill my dream of being a hippie. I also understand the hippies smoke grass which caused me some confusion. I could never figure out, as a country boy, if the grass I was to smoke was a fescue, Kentucky Blue Grass or if I could substitute crab grass, so I didn’t smoke any grass.
I don’t think my first car, a 1947 Pontiac Streamliner, for which I paid $75, would qualify me to be a hippie. Instead of putting flowers or peace symbols on the car, I applied rubbing compound, polishing compound and wax to the body. Even though it was 15 years old, the body looked as though the car just came out of the showroom. It had absolutely no rust. However, the engine used a lot of oil and the cluster gear in the transmission was worn, so the transmission really howled in first gear.
At the small college that I attended in the early 1960s, the car of choice of the students who had money was the VW Beetle. Many faculty, including straight laced senior professors, also owned VW Beetles as their only car. The pay scale was not very good and I am certain that these faculty bought the VW because of the low intial purchase price and the fact that they were cheap to maintain.
I did notice that the VW New Beetle comes with a bud vase. Is VW trying to start a 21st century hippie cult?
If so, I want to be in on it before it is too late for me at age 70.
They ditched the bud vase on the latest restyle, trying to improve their male sales.
As stated, the Beetle was cheap more reliable than other imports, and easy to fix. What set VW apart from other import dealerships was the thorough training they had to undergo and a plentiful supply of spares they had to stock.
In the 50s I remember hitchiking and being given a ride by a couple in a Beetle. Something went wrong with the car and they had a booklet in the car showing the location of all the dealers. They arrived at lunch time (the car was still driveable), the dealer had the part and fixed the car over lunch and we were on our way. That type of service was mostly absent with French, British and Italian economy car dealers.
“What set VW apart from other import dealerships was the thorough training they had to undergo and a plentiful supply of spares they had to stock. That type of service was mostly absent with French, British and Italian economy car dealers.”
Aside from the fact that VWs were very well-finished in those days, thus putting most other makes to shame in regard to panel fit, paint, etc, VW was alone among imports in requiring dealers to stock a huge supply of parts. By comparison, makes such as Renault and Fiat tended to have incredibly long waits for the arrival of parts other than the most commonly-needed ones.
With Fiat, it was not unusual for parts to be shipped from Italy, due to the importer stocking so few parts in their US warehouses. And, with the rate of breakdowns and other problems with Renaults and Fiats, this parts-supply problem was a major issue for owners.
As to VW’s policy of requiring thoroughly trained mechanics, the polar opposite was Datsun, which apparently didn’t even care if a dealership had a real service department! The Datsun dealership in Jersey City, NJ (circa–mid-late '60s) had a “service department” consisting of one elderly man who washed cars and removed plastic from seats and other parts prior to delivery. He couldn’t even do oil changes and lubes, so anything of a mechanical nature was definitely beyond him.
Of course, the customers were not supposed to be aware of this reality. The owners of the dealership, two brothers with broken noses and shiny suits, would have the old man drive cars that needed servicing around the corner to the local Gulf gas station. The guy who owned that station had no training whatsoever in repairing Datsuns, and appeared to have an equivalent level of interest in working on them.
When, inevitably, customers would return to the dealership after warranty work and/or repairs were not done properly (or not done at all in many cases), those two brothers would “convince” complaining customers that it was not in their best interests to come back again. They did everything short of leaving a severed horse’s head on your bed in order to get rid of you.
By contrast, it was a pleasure dealing with the VW dealership, both in terms of their demeanor and the outcome of visits for repairs and maintenance.
I think that the present time would be right for another VW Beetle type car. The VW Beetle reallly took hold in the “Eisenhower” recession which began in 1957. The VW Beetle offered a car where the car showed a quality of assembly in the bodywork and interior. The car could be easily repaired. The car didn’t have annual style changes. People thought they were getting the most for the dollar. The VW had a very low depreciation. The American manufacturers were building cars that were practically rusting in the showrooms. The bodywork was terrible. Rain leaks were common.
With today’s economy, a modern day VW, IMHO, would sell. I thought that Chrysler corporation could have made the modern day VW with its Neon. However, the Neon didn’t demonstrate the quality shown in the VW of the late 1950s through the 1960s. If the Fiat that Chrysler now sells has a good build quality and proves to be reliable and easy to maintain, it just might be today’s VW.