There would be no Volkswagen without the Beetle, and occasionally VW remembers that and decides to have some fun with the modern Beetle. That’s exactly what happened at the NY Auto Show, where VW showed four special Beetles: the R-Line, the convertible Denim, the Pink Color, and the Convertible Wave. But is it actually only 60 years?

So, before I get into the details of these special edition Beetles, let’s look at how VW likely came up with the 60 years figure. They say in their press release

  • Volkswagen celebrates 60 years of Beetle heritage

... but the only date they mention is 1949, when two Beetles came to the US for the first time. A quick burst of mental math tells me that while subtracting 1949 from 2015 is basically impossible, it sure as hell isn’t 60. To get to 60 years, VW is pegging the start of the Beetle’s life at 1955, the founding date of Volkswagen of America, but that makes no sense at all for the Beetle itself. Maybe 1945 would be a decent compromise, at 70 years?

See, the Beetle as we know it had a long, convoluted pre-history (Josef Ganz, Tatra, et al) but the final design — the Ferdinand Porsche-engineered, Erwin Komenda-bodied Beetle that set the template for all those to follow — was pretty much set by 1938.

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Some Beetles — not many — were built in this prewar period, mostly for high-ranking Nazis and other unpleasant bastards. During the war, a number of other cars we’d all recognize as Beetles were built, including almost 700 4-wheel drive Kommandeurwagens But most of the production was Beetle-based Kubelwagens, essentially the German Jeep.

After the war, in 1945, the factory fell under British control and was famously turned down by Ford and a number of other possible buyers. Major Ivan Hurst took over, and restarted production, mostly to give starving Germans some work. The first 1700 or Beetles were made that year.

So this could be where VW officially pegs the beginning of the Beetle — the production run under British control. I don’t blame them, and it’s the first time VW was its own actual company and not some creepy arm of the National Socialists, so we can give this to them. But, for those of us who want to be really, really painful nerds, the Beetle as a car I think is really 77 years old. What it absolutely isn’t is 60, since the Beetle pre-dates VWoA.

Okay, enough of me geeking out — let’s talk about what VW showed here tonight:

Beetle Convertible Denim

This is the only one of these special editions to have a direct original-Beetle ancestor: 1974’s Jeans Bug, a Beetle with denim interior upholstery and some blacked-out chrome and hubcaps that looked like jeans rivets. There were actually seven Jeans-themed Beetles over the years, in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, and in Germany, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico. So this is not a new thing.

The Convertible Denim is the first convertible denim-Beetle ever, and by far the most powerful, with the 170 HP 1.8L TSI engine. But read this:

On the exterior, the fast opening power soft top features a dark blue, textured fabric resembling denim. Stonewashed Blue Metallic paint was developed specifically for the concept car, but nine other colors would also be available for a production version. The exterior mirror caps, side skirts and body moldings are finished in gray and the appearance is finished off by 18-inch Disc aluminum-alloy wheels.

Naturally, the use of denim extends to the interior as well. The Color & Trim department restyled such features as the sport seats in blue; the inner seating surfaces are upholstered in a light blue fabric, while the outer surfaces are designed in dark blue V-tex leatherette. The piping was executed in white and the usual small Beetle flags in red. The designers also integrated practical denim-look pockets on the backs and sides of the seats.

Unless I missed something, I don’t think there’s any real denim in there? It’s all “resembling denim” and “denim-look.” I guess after seven versions of these VW finally realized real denim sort of sucks as car interior upholstery material.

Beetle Pink Color Edition

My first thought on this one: isn’t that purple? I mean, it almost looks like Fanta grape soda-purple — as a kid, I sought out Fanta grape as often as I could, so I know. Maybe it’s pink in the right light, but it sure as hell seems more purple in these pictures.

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This concept is basically just the Beetle in that “pink” color, with a lot of pink accents and piping on things. I find this one a bit odd, considering how hard VW seems to have worked to distance the Beetle from being pigeonholed into any inane ‘chick-car’ role.

But the weirdest part of this is this line from the press release:

An even higher proportion of pink would be conceivable, based on feedback from the auto show.

This may be the first time we the people have had the power to influence the “proportion of pink” on a production vehicle from a major manufacturer. What a glorious age we live in.

Beetle Convertible Wave

Beetle convertible, nice orange color, wood dashed designed to resemble a surfboard, houndstooth upholstery. I have no problem with any of these things, and think an orange Beetle with houndstooth upholstery would be quite fetching. But, come on, this is pretty much just an option kit, and not a “concept.”

Beetle R-Line concept

The R-Line is the most different of the current Beetle lineup in that it has a custom front bumper skin with additional air intakes, fender flares, and

The Beetle R-Line concept is finished in Oryx White Pearl effect paint and has a customized exterior featuring aggressive bumpers that have large air vents at the front and wrap-around high-gloss black moldings that extend down the sides of the car. Other visual changes include a rear diffuser, painted black exterior mirror caps, a large rear spoiler and 20-inch Monterey aluminum-alloy wheels. The Beetle R-Line concept is 0.6 inches wider than the standard production car.

The interior is equipped with upgraded sport bucket seats. In addition, numerous interior features, including the dashpad, door inserts and steering wheel spoke trim, have a carbon fiber-style finish. Forming a distinctive contrast is the yellow finish of the instruments and the decorative stitching in the cabin.

It uses the 217 HP 2L motor, and when I drove something close to this car before (Beetle GSR), I liked it a lot. So I bet this will be a pretty fun and usable Beetle variant to have.

Even so, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed at these Beetle special editions. I’m glad VW is paying attention to the Beetle and doing something, but there’s so much more that could be done. A true, raised, cutaway-fender Baja revival, for example, or maybe a 2-seat Hebmüller-inspired roadster, or even something that paid a little homage to the VW -based kit cars, like a clever little shooting brake or a little pickup. Something fun, not too serious, and willing to really take some risks.

Maybe next year, for what I’ll still insist is the Beetle’s 78th anniversary. Or, better, maybe they’ll show the Beetle they really should be making.