The pool of original cars continues to shrink, thanks to fires, floods, rust, and kids with a hankering to build a sand rail
The Volkswagen Beetle sedan inspired unusual loyalty and enthusiasm based on its practicality, reliability, adaptability, and affordability. Originally conceived by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche in the earliest days of his consulting engineering company, it was shopped to various German manufacturers in the early 1930s, but it wasn't until the rise of National Socialism that a People's Car gathered support from the government as a way of promoting the use of Germany's new Autobahn highway system. The Volkswagen's platform backbone frame was simple to build and it was adaptable; the rear-mounted engine left the entire volume between the wheels free of obstructions and mated directly to the transaxle, which eliminated the driveshaft. Porsche's favored trailing arm independent front suspension with transverse torsion bar springs imposed little upon the internal volume, and the swing axle rear suspension coped with the typically rough roads of the day. Porsche preferred an air-cooled engine because it eliminated pumps, pipes, hoses and radiators, as well as the risk of freezing in cold northern winters. The Beetle always stayed true to the basic concept:the wheelbase never budged from 94.5 inches, and the track changed only slightly with wheel and tire choices, as well as the 1969 change from swing axles to fully articulated independent rear suspension. From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, Volkswagens sold in hundreds of thousands in the United States, peaking at 572,573 in 1970. In 1973, the Beetle surpassed the Model T's total production and has continued to add to its margin for a further quarter century. The Paine Collection's 1959 Volkswagen 1200 two-door sedan exemplifies small but important evolutionary changes. Tubeless tires had been standardized in 1957. In 1958, the rear window grew larger and nearly rectangular in shape, instead of the former oval. Parking lights and turn signals now perched on top of the front fenders. Changes for 1959 were strictly mechanical, reflecting how Volkswagen amortized its design, development, and tooling costs to keep prices in check. In 1959, the 1200 sedan was just $1,555, landed at a U.S. port. This 1959 Volkswagen 1200 shows just 34,338 miles on the odometer and is completely original. The original paint is a pastel gray-blue, while the interior is gray two-tone vinyl. It has an AM radio, two gray translucent plastic sun visors, bumper overriders, and blackwall tires. It was given the "Rusty Jones" rustproofing treatment when new, which no doubt contributes to the current sound condition of its body. After mechanical recommissioning, it should be usable in its present cosmetic condition, as it is much too well preserved to be ruined by restoration.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Volkswagen Beetle 1200 2-dr sedan
Number Produced:575,407 (1959); 16,255,500 (total German production)
Original List Price:$1,545 (1959)
Tune Up Cost:$100
Distributor Caps:$10
Chassis Number Location:Bulkhead plate in trunk behind spare tire; stamped on chassis pan beneath rear seat
Engine Number Location:Stamped on crankcase generator support boss
Club Info:Vintage Volkswagen Club PO Box 1016, Springdale, AR 72765-1016
Investment Grade:C

This 1959 Volkswagen 1200 2-Door Sedan sold for $12,870, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams & Butterfields Owls Head sale in Maine on September 27, 2008.

Over the last few years, Americans have finally gotten religion on a subject the Europeans figured out years ago: Don’t mess with good original cars. The American scheme of things for decades has been to take an original car-from lightly worn to scraped off the rock pile on the end of a field-and meticulously restore it to better-than-original condition.

This hit me hard a few years back at a Lincoln & Continental Owner’s Club national meet. A well-known member of the club was showing his 80-mile 1979 Continental Mk V Bill Blass edition next to another club member’s 20-mile 1978 Mk V. While commenting to the owner of the ’78 on how nice both cars looked, he told me that the other chap’s car should look nice, as it was restored. In fact, it was over-restored, and what he had accomplished in the process was to perfect it too much, failing to replicate it as a historical object and instead elevating it to a type of concours lawn art.

It can only be original once

Unlike the vast majority of Beetles I encounter in Auctionland, this Volkswagen 1200 2-Door Sedan is true to its original configuration and distinctly unaccessorized-either in period or modern pieces. In fact, the only accessory on the 1200 2-Door Sedan is the optional AM radio, which was in it when it was sold new by Jim Adams Volkswagen of Bangor, Maine.

While the bumper chrome comes off as slightly cloudy, along with the original coating of Türkis enamel, they still accurately represent the finishes of period Wolfsburg production. Modern triple-plated, mirror-gloss chrome doesn’t replicate the simple mass-produced single shot plating. If all Beetles were repainted in an always-wet-looking base coat/clear coat finish, the only way one would know what true Türkis looks like would be to crack open the N.O.S. vial of touch-up paint I happen to have.

For better or worse, unrestored cars also retain the original driving characteristics. Sure, radial tires, dual-master-cylinder brakes, and 12-volt electrical systems make cars more livable in 2009, but our example is a car that is intended to be preserved as a time capsule-lousy handling, poor stopping, and anemic heaters included. As the hackneyed old saying goes, it’s original only once.
While not a low-mile, near-virgin example of a desirable convertible, this is a lightly used example of what the typical workaday Beetle actually was circa 1960. For the sake of being a template for future restorations, it should be left as-is, except to fix minor issues from long-term sitting.

Although over 16 million Beetles were made over the decades, the pool of all-original cars will continue to shrink, as certain as fires, floods, rust, and kids armed with a JC Whitney catalog and a hankering to build a sand rail. Just like another car that is among the ranks of the 15-million club-the Ford Model T-everyone at one time thought there were plenty of originals to go around. Today, an original unrestored T in presentable, running condition can highlight a show. With the march of time, the Beetle will do the same.

As for this selling price, while at first it might seem a little strong (based solely on the car’s condition), when you factor in the originality, it is right on the mark. This sale had a number of unrestored originals in it, and while most were older, higher caliber cars, they also tended to sell for slightly above the pricing curve-a marketplace nod to originality.

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