The first new Volkswagen Beetles went on sale in the United States in 1949, cable-operated brakes and all, and Americans could buy brand-new air-cooled Beetles here until the very last 1979 convertibles drove off the showroom floors. Volkswagen of America’s best period for Beetle sales was 1968-1970, with well over 350,000 units sold each year, and today’s Junkyard Gem is a once-cheerful Type 1 Convertible from the time of that VW high-water mark, found in a Nevada self-service car graveyard last fall.
At first glance, I thought this was a Sawzall roadster, with its roof sliced off using a reciprocating saw and/or cutting torch in some back yard. In fact, it’s one of the 11,432 genuine factory-built 1970 Beetle convertibles sold in the United States.
These cars are much in demand by enthusiasts, and nice ones can fetch real money. This one, however, spent decades sitting outdoors in the Nevada high desert with no top, and it would need a firehose of cash sprayed onto it to even approach nice.
The interior has a fascinating assortment of animal feces, at least in the areas where the floors weren’t completely dissolved by rust.
The body itself isn’t so rusty, but air-cooled Volkswagens get nasty floorpan rust even in dry areas.
These aftermarket slotted mag wheels were the hot Beetle ticket in the 1970s. Note the completely decayed rubber.
The engine in the 1970 Beetle was an air-cooled boxer-four displacing just under 1.6 liters and generating 65 horsepower. The horrible “Automatic Stick Shift” transmission was no longer available in the U.S.-market Beetle for 1970, so the only transmission you could get for your VW convertible that year was a good old four-on-the-floor manual.
This may or may not be this car’s original engine (air-cooled VW engines tend to get swapped as frequently as some people change their socks), but all those years sitting outdoors with no carburetor have seized it good and solid. When one of these engines can still be turned by hand in the junkyard, it tends to get purchased right away.
Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that this car has a generator instead of the newfangled (and far more effective) alternator that most manufacturers began using nearly a decade earlier. At least VW was using 12-volt electrical systems by 1970, because 6-volt car life is miserable.
We’ll never know if this car had 75,596 miles or 375,596 miles at the end.
The MSRP for this car was $2,249, or about $17,800 in 2023 dollars (the regular Beetle sedan was a mere $1,839, or $14,555 after inflation). You’d think there’d be no way for anyone else to sell a cheaper convertible, but Fiat was selling new 850 Spiders for $2,168 in 1970 ($17,159 now). Americans could also buy a shiny new MG Midget or its Austin Sprite twin for 30 bucks (237 bucks today) more than a Beetle Convertible that year.
Come enjoy the open road.
How long will that 1600 engine last?