There are two schools of thought to building a long-lasting car. You can make a crude car that will never break, no matter how many times the thoughtless owner forgets to put oil in it. Alternatively, you can make a car that's well-built and sturdy, but needs regular tune-ups and simple repairs.
Which do you prefer?
The debate came up while we were discussing how India makes the most interesting cars in the world. It's a discussion that still runs hot between fans of Japanese and German cars, and, as bobbycrumpley and jzEllis illustrate, used to flare up between Japanese imports and VWs.
The difference that I see between the Model T, Beetle and these interesting Indian cars is that I would be shocked if they are built to last forever like those two icons. (Yes, I left out the awful 2CV on purpose.)
Like their modern descendents, Beetles were hardly "reliable". Unlike the new VWs, they were easy to fix, being little more than enclosed go karts and all.
The point is that so many did indeed survive, unlike all the Japanese econo-boxes that were so prevalent in the 70s & 80s. In the late 70s, Datsun B210s and their ilk outnumbered Beetles by what seemed like 10-1 around here. Couldn't tell you when the last time I saw one was though.
No disagreement there. They just had (and still have) "character". One of the worse cars my dad ever owned was his Beetle. Yet we still talk fondly of it, and it got me addicted to air cooled V-dubs.
So which do you prefer: the reliability-over-everything embodied by Detroit in its glory days and Japan for the past few decades, or the keep it on the road with regular maintenance like old VWs?