Have you been considering the new VW Beetle as a fun second car? Forget it! Buy a wretched, stinky piece of crap instead.
A few months back Volkswagen flew me out to Santa Monica to drive the new range of Beetle Cabrios. It was no surprise that VW brought out examples of the base model, the diesel, and the turbo. It was a surprise that they brought out a trio of classic VW Bug convertibles from the late '70s to try as well.
Surely none of the German executives and engineers from VW really expected professional automotive journalists to prefer the classic car to their shiny, clean new models. After all, the old Bug was less rigid than a can of Budweiser, the interior was less luxurious than a high school library, and the engine was less powerful than some washing machines.
How wrong those Germans were. The old car was vastly superior to the new one, and I'll explain why.
First, let us discuss the handling. In the few corners I could find in the limited test route or the '79 Bug I drove, the car could best be described as 'terrifying.' I took a 180 degree downhill bend at something below walking pace because I was convinced that if I went any faster, the rear wheels would tuck in the car would flip, and I'd be sent down the cliff side, head aiming for the rocks with no roof above me.
Why was this? Well, I knew that the Bug has its engine all the way out back and the rear suspension was of the same basic design as the "Unsafe At Any Speed" Chevy Corvair. That and the brakes were so bad. I genuinely thought my car had a brake failure the first time I drove it. I had to full-out panic brake to slow down for a speed bump.
Regardless, it was a significantly more enjoyable experience than driving the new Beetle. Now, I have nothing against the handing of the new Beetle. The Turbo in particular felt sharp, tight, and solid. Never once did I feel like it was getting away from me on a twisting canyon road that I probably drove faster than was appropriate.
The new car, however, failed to really tell me "Hey Raphael, did you know that at any time, if you are not absolutely aware of what you are doing, I could just spear off through that guardrail and send you do your demise? Oh, and have I mentioned how I don't have airbags, a roll bar, or any crumple zones?"
Now that you understand how the old car is much more exciting to drive than the new one, let me address how each car functions with its top down.
The new Beetle's convertible roof is more like a gigantic sunroof than anything else. There's very little buffeting from the wind, and while you get a great view of everything around you, the close windshield means you still feel like you're in a normal car.
The old Bug? You feel like you're outside. It's more like being in a large basket than a car.
What about running costs, you might wonder? Well, I won't weigh in on the reliability of the brand new VW, as it's not exactly proven product, but I have taken my own 1973 VW to the shop three times in the four months I have owned it. Yes, I liked the old Bug so much I went on to buy one of my own. If I had spent more than $1,500 in my initial purchase, I'm sure I wouldn't have had problems like a leaky carburetor, or exposed sparking wiring directly over my gas tank. Still, the old car is so very much more affordable than the new car I have to give it the edge.
So the old Volkswagen is more exciting in the corners, it puts a bigger smile on your face with the top down, and it's better value. Don't be tricked into thinking that the new Bug is the be-all, end-all of German droptops. Test drive a slow, wheezy, obsolete shitbox instead.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik