How did VW get good ventilation with cars that float?


#1

Remember those old tv adds, that showed a VW was so air tight it would float? I’ve never owned an old Beetle, but I did own a VW Rabbit in the 1970’s, and it was really airtight too. It was hard to close the doors with the windows up, it was so airtight. Much harder that on my Corolla. Are VW’s still like that, hard to close the doors with the windows up?

But wouldn’t making a car that airtight make it hard to get good fresh air ventilation? I mean air coming in to the car through the vents under the windshield has to go out somewhere, right, in order to maintain good fresh air flow? On the Corolla, there are purposeful installed venting spots, where the rubber seal is missing, and some grooved plastic pieces are there instead, at points under the doors, in the rear fixed windows, that provide channels to allow air to flow out of the car.

So, just wondering & curious, how does (or did) VW provide good fresh air flow through the car, if it is so air-tight?


#2

No, modern VWs are not as air-tight as VWs of yesteryear, and are essentially comparable to other makes in terms of ventilation.

The old VW bugs were virtually air-tight.
However…Fresh air ventilation?
The only fresh air ventilation on old VW bugs, Karmann Ghias & Microbuses came from opening a window–at which point, the car was no longer air-tight. Even the pathetic heaters on those vehicles did not use, “fresh air”, and after a few years, you would be lucky to avoid being asphyxiated in those vehicles.

You have to remember that the VW bug was created with the technology of the 1930s, and fresh air was not something that was popular back then. In those days, you bundled-up in wool, avoided drafts, and hoped that you wouldn’t contract TB.

Abundant fresh air ventilation and A/C are fairly modern concepts, as compared to the old VW bugs.


#3

True about the old Beetle. I do think those old water cooled VW’s had heat exhangers that surrounded the exhaust manifold to provide winter heating, ducted up to the passenger compartment in channels under the floor, so in theory at least some fresh air should have circulated maybe. If the heat exchanger wasn’t cracked or rusted that is. I do seem to recall even my VW Rabbit of the late 70’s didn’t have as good of fresh air ventilation as my 90’s Corolla. When I turned on the fresh air vents and the vent fan, I’d roll the window down a bit I guess. I’m glad to hear VW’s doors aren’t so difficult to close now. I always found that annoying, and the pressure from closing the doors hurt my ears if I forgot to crack the window!


#4

There’s not that much air flow into the cabin of an old VW Bug unless the wing vent windows are open and the cabins are pretty tight. I’ve owned a number of the old Bugs and Beetles and driven them in high water. Now and then the rear wheels would float loose, the engine would rev, and there would be some wallowing around before the wheels caught a high spot and gained traction again. Some water would enter the cabin around the doors but not much.

VW air cools got their heat from the engine cooling fan that was driven by the generator. The fan would blow air through a shroud and over the cylinder heads and exhaust pipes which were surrounded by sheet metal and junction boxes. The junction boxes could be thought of a small pipe inside a much larger one. A cable operated system opened flaps on the junction boxes and that would admit heated air from the heads/exhaust pipes into the cabin.

When everything was right the heat would work acceptably well if the RPMs were up. With oil leaks and exhaust system leaks the smell of hot oil and CO would also be present.

A mildly relevant story was when I owned a 61 Bug and my girlfriend (my wife now) back in the 70s just had to go to a concert in Tulsa featuring the J. Geils Band and Styx. The temps dropped into the 20s that night with random sleet. The junction boxes were leaking a bit of exhaust so that gave us 2 options;
A. Drive with the windows up, eyes tearing, dizziness, and a mild amount of cabin heat.
B. Drive with the windows down about 4" so the CO would get sucked out along with a fair amount of what little heat there was.

We chose the latter and it was a long 250 miles round trip. It’s humorous to think of it now but at the time it wasn’t a ton of fun. A 40 Horse bug on rolling hills does not translate into a lot of speed on the way up.


#5

Looking back at old Vw bugs, they were terrible cars by todays standards, bad by 1970’s standards. Neat cars and I like them, but if I had to drive one everyday now a days I would hate it.


#6

The old air cools are crude in comparison to other cars but they also were very popular and served a purpose; cheap MSRP, easy maintenance, and good gas mileage.
The '61 and '65 Bugs I had would tick off about 40 MPG at a 55 MPH cruise. Maintaining that cruise on a grade or against a stiff headwind could be iffy though…

The later Beetles (no longer Bugs), especially from about 1973 and up are actually fairly decent road cars as compared to earlier models. The strut suspension, steering stabilizer, and vastly increased horsepower would allow them to cruise all day long at 70 while holding the road. The ones with A/C were even more tolerable.


#7

I think that the reason the VW Beetles would float is that the steel used was 99 and 44/100 percent pure.
{Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. Does anybody else remember the radio commercial for Ivory soap? It was the sponsor for “Lowell Thomas”. The announcer would say "Ivory soap is 99 and 44 one-hundredths percent pure. It floats.]


#8

An open rowboat floats, has plenty of ventilation.

And remember, ‘the Beetle definitely floats…but doesn’t float indefinitely’.


#9

The last Beetle I owned was a '69 model with the Automatic Stick (hated that feature) and the car was given to me as a freebie. It was straight and had a torque converter seal leak.
Threw a seal in it and that car became my 50 miles daily round trip beater to work and back until a few cylinder/head studs started pulling at one point and created combustion chamber leakage.

They don’t use head gaskets so several evenings were spent flycutting the heads and repairing case threads.
They’re high maintenance cars but on the plus side it’s all pretty easy to do.


#10

The old VW bug was so underpowered there was no way it could handle AC. Also there was no room in the engine bay for AC components and no radiator area in front for an AC radiator. You got ventilation by rolling down the windows, and opening up the sunroof.


#11

The later air-cooled carbureted Beetles (not bug) and Fuel Injected models did have A/C as an option and it worked fairly well both as to cooling and engine performance.

The York compressor was mounted on on the driver’s side of the engine. This made it more awkward to access the 2 spark plugs on that side.
The evaporator case was underneath the ftont hood and behind the instrument panel.
The condenser was mounted underneath the car and up front in a horizontal manner with an electric fan blowing air straight down at the road surface.


#12

I don’t know if my 59 bug would float but it was pretty air tight. Don’t remember a ventilation issue with it though. Gotta remember it was a unibody with no frame, only two doors, and only two operating windows so not much to leak. Interestingly, my Pontiac also compresses the air when you close the door.