Sure, every so often you’d notice that the once powerful ejaculation of washer fluid had degraded to a sad ooze, which just meant that the next time you got gas you’d inflate your spare tire back up to 43 PSI or so. Really, checking on the condition of your spare is never a bad idea, and you could always get a sense of how it was just by cleaning your window.

Advertisement

Volkswagen used this spare tire-driven washer system on the Type Is (Beetles, Ghias, Things, etc.) and Type 3s (Squarebacks, Fastbacks, etc.), and Type 4s, but not the Type 2 buses, which had you just pressurize the reservoir directly with an air pump. And even though Type 4s were VW’s “premium” car, they still couldn’t bring themselves to include a real electric pump, even though VW wanted to sell them to kings and sheiks, probably.

Advertisement

This system has always been one of my favorite technical details about air-cooled Volkswagens. It’s clever, sure, but it’s also a little bit weird and even sort of obsessive, especially in its context on a car like the Type 4, which was much more expensive than an bargain-basement Beetle and certainly could have had an electric pump.

Advertisement

It’s like Volkswagen of that era was just so taken with the idea of wasting nothing, not even dormant air in a spare tire, that they simply could not in good conscience install a wasteful, decadent pump. Their system effectively got work done for free, and there’s a strange beauty there.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that it often didn’t work that great, if we’re honest, and because the button on the dash knob wasn’t an electric switch but a valve to open or close the flow of pressurized fluid, it was possible to develop a leak behind the switch and inside the car, dripping down the rear of the dash, which was no fun.

Advertisement

Still, none of that pesky reality can cool my ardor for this idiosyncratic little bit of engineering. Put those lazy spare tires to work cleaning windows!