It pleases me to no end that I’ve achieved a point in my life where people will notice something weird about an old Volkswagen and decide to ask me about it. That’s probably why I’ve been contacted a surprising number of times to answer just what the hell is going on with all those louvers in Willie Nelson’s Beetle’s hood. I’m here for you. Let’s solve this.
It may be worth mentioning that the only reason anybody is aware that Willie Nelson drove what appears to be a 1972 Volkswagen 1302 ‘Super Beetle’ convertible is because the Red Headed Stranger showed up driving one in this recent VW commercial for the Passat:
Yes, the new Passat is a great car, full of driver’s aids for terrible drivers who almost run people over and smack into the rears of cars and then get passed on the highway by a 44-year old ragtop making 60 HP.
I’m just happy to see a vintage Beetle in any modern Volkswagen ad, so I’m not complaining. Anyway, the ad includes a nice tight shot of Willie behind the wheel of his Beetle, and we get a nice closeup of the yellow hood, which is why we’re here. Because that hood is covered in many small louvers.
Most people were asking variants of “Why? Why are there vents in the hood? Was this some special model?” and that’s a valid question. It’s valid because anyone who gives enough of a percentage of a rats’s ass to ask also knows that a Beetle keeps its engine at the rear, making the point of those hood vents questionable at best.
I know some people are wondering if there’s a front-mounted engine under there, and the vents maybe feed a radiator? Could it be that weird?
Beetles did actually have functional vents in their hoods, starting from 1968. Those vents are a small little row of them close to the base of the windshield, and they’re to capture air to feed into the fresh-air ventilation system.
This system was always pretty marginal, and later Mexican Beetles eliminated it entirely. But, Willie’s Bug is has them, and, as a Super Beetle, it even has a little two-speed fresh air fan in the cowl to move that air around! Holy shit, what is this, a Rolls-goddamn-Royce?
But that’s just the small set of vertical vents at the top of the hood. All these louvers, they’re something else entirely. Note how they face: backwards. They’re less about scooping air in, and more about venting air out. Plus, look how many of them there are, and how they’re in long rows – what does that tell you about what they do?
I’m just fucking with you. They don’t do anything. Nothing at all, except look cool, if you like the look of a crapload of louvers. Which, it seems, a lot of people did, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.
See, these louver hoods were a popular aftermarket item, the kind you’d get out of a JC Whitney catalog or something. There were louvered hoods and engine lids and people would louver all kinds of other panels.
One of the more famous applications of these louvered hoods was the use of one to make Horace the Hate Bug, Herbie’s nemesis, look more sinister in the weird 1997 reboot of The Love Bug.
People were just victims of a powerful strain of louvermania, and it seems Willie Nelson is too. Or, the person who casts the cars for the commercial is. Or they aren’t and they just took whatever old convertible Bug they got quickest. I’m not sure.
What I am sure of is that all those louvers don’t do anything at all. I mean, sure, they allow some airflow into the trunk, if that’s important to you. Are you hauling several laundry baskets full of hamsters? Then absolutely get this sort of hood. Have a dog crammed in there? Get a louvered hood. Like louvers? Get a louvered hood.
So, the answer to the question is simple: the louvers don’t do shit, they were just a popular aftermarket item back in the day.
Aw, hell, since we’re already talking this much about Super Beetles and vents, I may as well explain what another set of Super Beetle-only vents are: see these vents under the bumper?
This was an American market thing, but was optional in the rest of the world, too. It’s not for an oil cooler (though modders certainly use it for that now) but rather for an air-conditioner condenser, which was finally an option on a Beetle. Well, a Super Beetle, at least.
And I thought a two-speed fan was decadent. Conditioned air! Is everyone a freaking sultan all of a sudden?
UPDATE: In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to share with you an email I just received:
Read your article on the beetle. I’m close with the production team that worked on the ad and just as background wanted to let you know that it’s not actually Willie Nelson in the ad, but an actor. Not sure if that changes anything in the article but figured I’d pass along.
I’m aghast. First Dieselgate, now Nelsongate? AND vents that serve no purpose? What are you trying to do to us, VW?