Any Beetle of yore is more closely related to a lawn tractor than it is to the modern auto with which it shares a name and silhouette
It hardly seems believable that by 1971 the Volkswagen Beetle-the success story of the 1960s-was losing favor with the public. In earlier years the Beetle's quaint simplicity had been a plus, but those same qualities were beginning to seem as hopelessly outdated as the car's underpinnings and mechanicals. To complicate matters, after years of mostly ignoring VW's pest, domestic manufacturers started to fight back with new cars that were good enough to steal market share from the "people's car."
Rather than totally redo the Beetle, VW introduced the Super Beetle, the first car to officially carry the "Beetle" moniker.
Sold alongside the standard Beetle, the new Super Beetle coupe was a slightly larger package all around, including a three-inch longer wheelbase. To compensate for the Super's additional 155 pounds, engine output was increased to a blistering 60 horsepower, from the 1970 Beetle's 57. But manufacturing economies dictated that this engine also be used in the standard model in 1971, meaning the Super carried no power advantage.
The big technical news was a McPherson strut front suspension in lieu of horizontally stacked transverse torsion bars. Not only did this provide a smoother ride (albeit with an increased turning radius), but now the forward compartment could actually swallow more than a purse, as its volume almost doubled. Still, the only way you could put a set of golf clubs in the "trunk" was with a Sawzall.
With competition from such automotive heavyweights as the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Gremlin, even these slight improvements to the standard Beetle were enough to make the car a success. It sold in respectable enough quantities that changes for 1972 were minimal. Both Beetle models were given a new steering wheel, column-mounted light switch lever, inertia wheel three-point seat belts, a hinged rear parcel shelf, and a larger rear window. The adjustment in SAE horsepower ratings meant that last year's 1585-cc flat four now yielded an advertised 46 net horsepower, which must have made the ad agency's job a little tougher: "Now with 14 less horsepower than the year before" is not exactly a catchy slogan.
For 1973, the two models began to diverge a bit more. The Super Beetle received a larger curved glass windshield, with a correspondingly shorter trunk lid, making it easier to distinguish between the two Bugs. With the added interior space came a new dashboard.
Changes for 1974 applied to all Beetles, and were mostly unique to the North American market, such as telescoping bumper supports, slightly beefier bumpers, and the infamous federally mandated seat belt interlock and buzzer system.
From day one, purists would have nothing to do with the Super Beetle, decrying the styling as bulbous and calling it "the pregnant Beetle," which later gave way to "the fish bowl" when the panoramic windshield debuted. In a manner that would have made the late, great Henry Ford proud, they insisted that a proper VW could only have a transverse front suspension.
In 1975, this argument was rendered as dead as old Henry when an even greater blasphemy occurred: Volkswagen introduced its new water-cooled, front-wheel-drive Rabbit, rendering all Beetles antiquities. Even worse, the recent Arab oil embargo had shown the public that the Beetle was less of an economy car than everyone had been led to believe. With Honda Civics then getting over 30 miles per gallon in the city cycle, the contemporary Beetle was hard pressed to get 25 mpg on the open road, or anywhere else. Americans were increasingly turning to more modern cars, rightly desiring better mileage and more room, and figuring crumple zones might not be bad things either.
Volkswagen had made good use of limited edition color and trim specials in 1973 and 1974, with packages like Sports Bug, Sun Bug, and, of course, Love Bug. Following in these footsteps came 1975's "La Grande Bug," the new name for the final Super Beetle model. Yes, by now the sizzle was getting almost indistinguishable from the steak, though '75 did see fuel injection added to all Bugs, upping horsepower to 48.
The standard Beetle sedan soldiered on in the U.S. through 1977, though as it turns out, the Super Beetle did get the last laugh, as all Beetle convertibles from 1973 on through the end in 1979 used the Super Beetle structure.
A generation later, time has healed all wounds in the Super versus torsion bar Beetle dispute. Indeed, any Beetle of yore is more closely related to a lawn tractor than it is to any of today's cars, including the one with which it shares a name and silhouette. The original Beetle remains a timeless classic, with Super Beetles lagging farther down the collectible food chain. But the Super Beetle is inexpensive to buy, drive, maintain, and restore.
Fewer "enthusiasts" purchased Supers when new, meaning most of these bigger Bugs were used like the appliances of their era-disposed of rather than repaired when in need of major work. Consequently, fewer have survived intact than standard Beetles, making them somewhat harder to find. The upside here is that the dune buggy/kit car/tuner crowd have had little interest in Supers (apart from their drivetrains) so few lost their sheetmetal virginity for cut-down fenders and zoomie exhaust pipes.
Some of the unique Super parts can take a bit more effort to track down (like the 1973-1975 windshield), but no Beetle parts can really be called expensive. The rest of what you might need to fix or restore a Super Beetle is as easy to find as for any other Bug, in that parts almost drop out of the sky. Remember, millions were made so it's a buyer's market.
The same can be said about the cars, although we've seen some staggering auction prices for convertibles, with some selling for over $20,000. However, the smart buyer who shops around shouldn't pay much more than half that price.
While hardly a sporting car, the softer-sprung Super is just the ticket for aging baby boomers who aren't as nimble as they used to be, don't want to pop a couple of ibuprofen after every drive, yet are still nostalgic enough to want to teach a new generation to play "Slug Bug."