Are you tired of being embarrassed when you go out because you can't properly identify the year of a VW Beetle based on the engine lid? Sure you are. Nothing stings more than when the sexy someone you were chatting up flings a drink in your face because you had no idea how many vents are on a '72 Beetle decklid. I'm here to help.
I've felt with painful VW minutia before, and I don't really see any chance of stopping, so let's all just get through this as best we can. The engine cover on a VW Beetle — known also as the engine lid, the decklid, or, by drooling simpletons, 'the trunk,' is one of the best, quickest ways to ID the year of any VW you see.
The ones I'm listing in this chart are primarily US-market Beetles — in Europe and elsewhere, Beetles with 1200 or 1300 engines often didn't have the ventilated decklids, those being reserved for the 1600cc engines we've enjoyed in the US since 1971.
There's also a few exceptions, and, of course, the convertibles all had ventilated lids from the start, so for optimal results, use this only for US-spec Beetles. Well, except for that Brazilian one I stuck on there. Besides, you often see US Beetles with replacement Brazilian decklids, so you can impress the honeys with that little zinger, if needed. Oh, and decklid badges varied a bit, so I'm not including those, save for the one-year only '1300' in 1966. From 1967- in the US, almost all said VOLKSWAGEN until 1976 when, flush with technical pride, they read FUEL INJECTION.
There's also a couple good terms you can throw around, too. Lids from 1947-1957 (roughly; there's some debate there) used license plate light housings called "Pope's Nose" because they looked like, well, the Pontiff's Nose, I guess.
The pope of that era would have been Pope Pius XII, and, if you look at him, I guess his nose sort of did resemble a Beetle license plate light. Maybe his nostrils illuminated his upper lip at night, too. That'd really sell it.
The early deck lids, covering the split-to-oval window era of Beetles (1938-1957), are known as the 'W' lids, because, well, they sort of look like a W.
Some other details: the late 1963 change has to do with the tiny curved ends of that center narrow parabola being replaced with straight ones, and the very early decklids ('38-'46) had a pressing for the license plate and a crude, round stop lamp in place of a metal shaped license plate light. The '47-'48 Pope's Nose light also incorporated a larger window at the bottom with a red stop lamp, too.
Got it? Here's your handy chart. Print it and keep it on you at all times.