When I mention that I love vintage Volkswagen Beetles, I’m usually met with a response like “Really? I had no idea. Too bad you never freaking mention it in every stupid thing you write,” and then the slappings begin. But I mean it! And even better, I got to drive what I think may be the ultimate, ideal vintage Beetle.
WARNING: I mispronounce “Miglia” the whole time.
This is another casual, craptastically-shot unofficial episode of Jason Drives, which I just shot with my phone while I was in Germany for the Beetle Sunshine Rally. The car is from the collection of Volkswagen Classic, and, as in the Fridolin video I showed you before, VW Classic’s helpful man Klaus was on hand to hold the phone and shoot this for me.
Let’s talk about this car. If I’m going to call it the ultimate vintage Beetle, it better be something pretty special. It is. This is a 1956 Beetle that ran in the MIlle Miglia race—actually, it’s a reproduction of that Beetle, built from original documents and drawings.
The Mille Beetle was entered in the race by mechanics from Porsche, which should explain the biggest secret this Beetle holds—a Porsche 356 engine tucked away in that little rear end. You can tell by looking that there’s likely something special under the hood, because this Beetle uses the decklid from a convertible Beetle, which had the intake and ventilation vents on the decklid itself, instead of above, as on sedan Beetles.
There’s other good unique stuff, like that brake fluid resovoir right in front of the radio grille, looking like a gerbil’s drinky-thing. I guess keeping an eye on your brake fluid makes a lot of sense in an endurance race like the Mille Miglia.
Those extra vents get more cooling air in and air to the pair of carburetors on that 356 engine, which makes about 75 horsepower. Not an earth-shattering number today, but when you remember that a Beetle of that era made 36 HP from its 1200cc flat-four, that’s a pretty good jump.
Plus, the car weighs as much as a daydream about a milkshake, so those 75 horses really do feel pretty damn quick.
I hope I can convey the giddy sensation I felt around this car. It’s such a glorious mass of just the right details, put together in just the right way that it makes me feel funny inside.
Every little bit ticks off some entry on my semi-secret list of car fetishes: mesh headlight covers, big round driving lamps, a bunch of round gauges on a painted metal dash, odd rubber bumper-guard strips, horn grilles, thin shifters, redundant turn indicators (flashing and semaphores!), roller gas pedal, aluminum racing seats and on and on and on until I’m a quivering mass rolling around under the car.
And then driving it. The raw, visceral satisfaction I felt behind the wheel of that old Bug, the smell, the feel of the shifter in my hand, the sound of that Porsche engine behind me, the way it felt as it pulled forward, plucky, eager, ready, willing. I need to just shut up before this gets embarrassingly pornographic.
This is a staggeringly good Beetle. It really does feel like the manifestation of every Beetle wish I’ve ever had, made real and immaculately maintained. This thing was fun to drive, satisfying, rewarding, everything. But beyond that, as hokey as it sounds, it was an honor.
Now if I could just get it in yellow, with some black hood stripes.
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