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I Stepped In A VW Beetle: Five Reasons It Sucks

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Do you have a heartwarming Volkswagen Beetle story? Call someone who gives a crap. Cute? Sure. But dangerous, unreliable and jam-packed with technology that was outdated in 1938. I have major Beetle issues. Here are five of them.

Issue #1: Versatile Design Allows It To Fail At Variety of Tasks

Let's be honest, Dr. Porsche designed the Volkswagen as a contractual obligation. He would have been much happier working his half-baked ideas into dangerous racing cars, but since he had bills to pay – and probably the threat of death to himself and everyone he'd ever met – he decided to put his half-baked ideas into dangerous road cars instead.


"Let's put the engine behind the rear wheels, so we'll have lots of room inside."
"Won't that make the handling diabolical and dangerous?"
"Okay, we'll make it underpowered, too."

Here's the basic layout of the air-cooled Volkswagen: small, wheezy engine hanging out past the real wheels, manual transaxle, suspension system from a chuck wagon and a body borrowed from a Czech Tatra.


(The last point makes perfect sense, because when you're trying to break new ground in design, the first thing you do is steal an idea from the Czechs.)

The same misguided layout was extended to other useless contraptions, like the Type 2 Transporter. The perfect vehicle for carrying 1,000 pounds of people and cargo at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

Then we were treated to the Type 3 Squareback, a car noted for having not one, but two, unusable trunks and, finally, the Type 4 (models 411 and 412) which are remembered mostly for catching fire.

I've left out the Karmann Ghia. On purpose.

Issue #2: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Who says Germans don't have a sense of humor?

Volkswagen Beetles had small handles on the center tunnel marked "Heat" and "Defrost." This is what the Germans view as a practical joke.


No matter how you moved the handles they produced neither "heat" nor "defrost." Of course, if you put them in just the right position they did fill the sealed passenger compartment with carbon monoxide.

Those wacky Germans.

Issue #3: Overstated Gas Mileage

Every Beetle story must contain at least one outlandish gas mileage claim along the lines of, "I didn't even know how to open the gas cap."


People regularly claim 35 miles per gallon and more, the number rising in proportion to the numbers of years since their Beetle went to the great tie-dyed t-shirt store in the sky. These people are pathological liars.

The early models didn't even have gas gauges.

The fact is, VW Beetles got roughly 25 miles per gallon. About the same as a Model T, a car with no aerodynamic design, a two-speed planetary gearbox and tires made from baby seal pelts.


In its defense, the Beetle did throw down twice the power at the 20-horse Model T, putting on par with lawn equipment of the time.

Today, a Kia Rio, a dreadful vehicle weighed down with ac, air bags, stereo and a design so horrible criminals refuse to steal the vehicles in case a friend might see them driving one, delivers 31 miles per gallon.


Issue #4: The Ads Were Good

Okay, I'll give you that one.

Issue #5: The Myth of Clever Design

We were made to believe Beetle designers were brimming with innovative ideas. It turns out they just cheapskates.


Volkswagens didn't have radiators. The benefits of this were explained as better reliability, less maintenance and no boilovers. Of course they skipped the parts about warped cylinder liners, melted heads and engine fires. Every yin needs a yang.

Instead of complicated and risky hydraulic braking systems, VW Beetles came with cable actuated brakes. Perfect for salty New England roads. This braking system actually pre-dated the next major advancement, the Fred Flintstone brakes, which did not arrive until 1960.


Beetles also featured a torsion bar suspension that, in slippery situations, tended to exhibit a snap overseer condition quickly followed by an upside down condition occasionally followed by a condition known as death.

The windshield washer was powered by air pressure from the spare tire. What if you had, I don't know, a flat?


The VW Beetle was designed to be simple to repair. This had two advantages. First, by making it easy to repair, the factory didn't have to worry about what later came to be known as "reliability."

The second reason was the old marketing maxim, give away the razor and sell the blades. If you could get someone to buy a Beetle that would begin disassembling itself on the way home from the dealership, you could get them right back to the parts department from some Made in Germany replacements at a 200% mark up. Sheer genius.


Bonus Issue: VW Design Was Like A Frozen Caveman

Once they had taken 1938 technology at far as they could, they dipped into the well marked "1939" and came up with the "Super" Beetle.


Supers were marked by the addition of a curved windshield, springs to the front suspension and a new feature called "brakes."

Let's be honest about VW Beetles. They're so horrible, so dangerous, so shabby, even the British didn't want them.


A British car manufacturer who was offered the Wolfsburg factory at the end of World War II said, "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car." This from people who brought us the Humber.

If you still have one of these four-wheeled time machines in your driveway, give it to a museum.


And let them crush it.

This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"