20 May 2015

The oddest VW Beetle accessories of all time

The original air-cooled VW Beetle was in production from about 1946 until the early 2000s when production finally wound down in Mexico. Throughout that time, the differences in appearance were subtle at best. VW’s own ad campaign made light of the fact that the annual model year changes mainly brought refinements under the skin that were nearly invisible. As a result, owners personalized the cars with accessories and options, some of which were factory authorized and some decidedly not. Here are some interesting ones:

  1. Giant Roof Rack: One of the accessories that seems to show up on every Beetle that sells at a classic car auction is a massive roof rack. Exactly what one would haul around on it with a car that generally had between 36 and 40 hp isn’t clear, but some people certainly seem to like the look and the at-least-theoretical ability to haul a mattress and box spring on the roof of their underpowered classic Beetle.
  2. Gasoline Heater: Beetles had notoriously feeble heaters and defrosters. Air was heated by a special part of the exhaust system called a heat exchanger and then ducted into the cabin.  When all was right, it provided heat that was roughly the equivalent of a St. Bernard panting on your elbow. When it wasn’t, the system became adept at routing carbon monoxide into the car.  VW offered a gasoline-powered heater that offered blow-torch-like heat that was either on or off. Even though it was quite safe, few owners opted for it, perhaps put off by the notion of being heated by something that sounded like a Molotov Cocktail.
  3. Rolls-Royce Grille: While irony wasn’t invented in the 1960s, it does seem like it became an art form.  The Beetle was conceived as a “people’s car,” while the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was a car for a different kind of people. Thus, the irony of replacing the trunk lid (the front hood on an air-cooled Beetle) with something that looked like the Parthenon-like grille of a Rolls-Royce made an interesting statement.
  4. Fender Skirts: Like the Rolls-Royce grille, rear fender skirts were a stylistic device that tended to be used on large British and American luxury cars of the 1950s, but some thought they looked downright silly on the Beetle. Like the giant roof rack, they tend to show up on dolled-up Beetles headed for classic car auctions.
  5. A Ford GT40 Body: This might be the most extreme “accessory” on the list but it was actually quite common in the 1960s and 1970s when a company called Fiberfab built huge numbers of Ford GT40-like fiberglass bodies that were made to accept the components from  Beetle donor cars. For the record, it was called the Fiberfab Avenger GT-12. And since it was 300 pounds lighter than a Beetle, its performance went from theoretical to merely embarrassing.

32 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Baron Oregon May 20, 2015 at 16:12
    please post photos of the accessories. Would love to see them.
  • 2
    Jack Valancy Cleveland Heights May 20, 2015 at 16:30
    Tony Olmo's 1956 VW sedan & convertible both have factory fender skirts & other rare accessories. A quick Internet search will find articles & photos of his prize-winning VWs.
  • 3
    al zim Ft. Worth Texas May 20, 2015 at 16:49
    Everything your author said about the heating system in the VW is nor correct. Did he forget the fresh air heating system that millions of vw's used in all their models.
  • 4
    G. Ogan West Texas May 20, 2015 at 16:55
    I forget the name of the movie, but it had a character named "Willy-Mays Hays" who said he "ran like Hays and hit like Mays!" In the film he drove a Beetles with the Rolls-Royce Grille and Fender Skirts to the try outs with the Cleveland Indians. (-;
  • 5
    Ed Price Chula Vista, CA USA May 20, 2015 at 17:14
    By far the oddest after-market accessory for the Bug were those huge, decorative keys that could be mounted to the engine cover, suggesting the car was spring-powered. Coming in a far second place were the small fake propellers that mounted to the rear bumper, making a joking allusion to VW's claim that the bodies were so watertight that they would float (for a while).
  • 6
    Andy Cotton Albemarle, NC May 20, 2015 at 17:49
    My family purchased a VW such as the one here in 1963 and took delivery in Belgium. We were camping and we had purchased a large tent, camping table, and other camping gear. It took 2 taxicabs to go from the train station to the dealer. We were able to put all our gear in the "giant roof rack," behind the back seat and even on the seats. VW had a photographer come and show the progress and the results. Yes the "giant roof rack" did have its uses!
  • 7
    Jim Price United States May 20, 2015 at 18:23
    What about obvious options such as outside mirrors, rear windows that opened, a parcel shelf that fit between the front wheel indentations oh and fiberglass inserts in the rear wheel wells to keep rocks from creating dings in the fenders. And of course a Saphire radio. I purchased a new VW in 1965 with all these options.
  • 8
    Greg Buchwald Chicago area May 20, 2015 at 18:34
    My father was a mechanic and shop foreman for a couple VW dealerships in Wisconsin. We grew up around VWs. The gas heater was fantastic; we had them in nearly every second hand VW we owned. It even heated up our 1967 micro bus to a wax-melting, toasty temperature; wish I still had that red and white bus. We also had a giant roof rack on a 1957 bug that was later transferred to a 1960 bug. Probably the coolest item, not mentioned in your list, was the small glass beetle bottle that came in the glove box of some late-1950's VWs. The bottle was an ad campaign; it was to hold 8 oz or so of gasoline. The story was that you filled it up and placed it in the glove box. If you ever ran out of gas, that would get your to the next station. Now, back then, VWs had "reserve tanks", which was nothing more than a lower pick-off point on the tank and a valve to choose the pick-off point. That final gallon would get you to a station. But, VW wanted to make a point that the car was so stingy on gas that, if you still ran out, you could dump in that last cup of gas and go buy some more. Problem was it was illegal to carry gas in a glass container under federal law...even back then. So, VW had to warn people not to actually use it! I still have mine on display at home; my dad gave it to me when I was about 5 years old.
  • 9
    Chuck Minn. May 20, 2015 at 18:46
    My brother owned a beetle in 1963. He was able to make the gas heater backfire at will. I went with him to a drive in to eat. The motor was running, the trans. in reverse and the emergency brake was on. When waitress came out to get our order he backfired the heater making yellow fire under the right front fender and popped the clutch making the car jump up in back. Naturally, the waitress got a scare. Since then I've had five beetles and one van and had lots of fun, but how VW got a reputation of being reliable is beyond me. I still like them though.
  • 10
    Will Owen Pasadena, CA May 20, 2015 at 19:27
    In the winter of 1964-65I had a rack-delivery route for the Anchorage Times. My official vehicle was a Beetle with just the driver's seat and a raised plywood floor with my 350 or so papers stacked in. With the aid of that gasoline heater the cabin was toasty, even when it was well below zero outside. Too bad it did nothing to heat the steering box or the brake cylinders, as on a long straight run the brakes would lock on if used incautiously and the steering would be too stiff for countersteering. That happened as I hit a patch of ice one day; nothing awful happened, but I never let it happen again!
  • 11
    J. K. Salser Garland, TX May 20, 2015 at 19:40
    My comment is "ARE YOU KIDDING?" On those same roof racks, I have hauled a water heater, still in the packing crate, ladders, childrens' school project boards and much, much more. Not only were the racks strong but the roof of the Beetle is extraordinarily tough with its rigid construction. Every roof rack owner can give you many stories of having hauled the family's goods there--literally! You demean the Beetle's heating system. With the stock system, you can burn the hide off your legs if you are sitting in the back seat. The reason that people had any problem with the heating systems was due to lack of understanding of how it operated (use the vent windows for circulation--especially to defrost) and be sure that your heater cables are properly installed, etc. When all is unmolested, it would run you out of the car on the coldest night as the ice formed on the outside of the car. If you think that I am lying, you can ask our children who rode with my wife and me for hours in freezing drizzle, so bad that we had to have assistance to thaw the ice from the doors so that we could open them. We 4 and the dog were perfectly comfortable for the entire several hundred mile trip. We still own two vintage VWs after almost 40 years of them and have yet to suffer from CO! jk salser
  • 12
    Will Davis Mobile, AlAbama May 20, 2015 at 19:53
    In the military, there were multiple moves, including cross country. In addition to a roof rack on our 😊 beloved '64 beetle, we also had a tow hitch, & towed a small U-haul crammed w/ stuff (just had to be patient, avoid tall mountains, & (especially across Texas in the summer) be content w/ modest daily mileage). (As for heat in the winter in cold climes, we had our BWW ('Beetle Winter Wear.') (Nowadays when it comes to such things as important objectives of national policy, we'd like to see restoration of the draft; people looking at & talking w/ one another over a den coffee table, rather than staring up at a screen; & the ol' classic bug put back in production.)
  • 13
    Walt Virginia May 20, 2015 at 21:31
    Another body accessory I remember well was a huge wind-up key attached to the rear engine-cover (trunk) lid. I noticed one in particular when stuck in traffic leading into the Lincoln Tunnel on the Manhattan end around 1969, and being able to count seven VW Bugs in my immediate view. Another one in this group had the RR grille. VW Bugs were really a big part of all streetscapes back then.
  • 14
    Gary NJ May 20, 2015 at 21:58
    The VW Beetle introduction contains false information about the vehicle. The Beetle's original production began in 1938 not 1946. The author's should do their research before submitting articles!
  • 15
    David knowles mt Shasta calif May 20, 2015 at 22:00
    I have a 73 super beetle with a 40 ford lid on the front, looks really good and every just stares at it.
  • 16
    A. Kalker Dallas, Texas May 21, 2015 at 17:50
    I had a 1970 VW Camper with an underpowered 57 horse motor. I was enchanted with a dealer item available for the Beetle in 1971; a tent with a full size mattress for 1 or 2 people, a folding ladder, windows, bug screen, storge pockets and a "door" all of which clamped to the gutters and folded flat for travel. It was made of steel with a wood floor and took two to mount it on either the Beetle or the Camper van. Driving the Camper with the tent on top assured me that the motor would burn up if the tent was on top for very long! I still have the tent. I later used it on the 1975 Dodge van that I still own. Mostly, it sits in a closet and gets vacuumed and aired out every few years. There are photos of those tents on top of Beetles on the Internet. They are sought after. Made in Canada or at least a lighter weight version that came out a few years later was made there.
  • 17
    Buz Boston, Ma. May 21, 2015 at 06:58
    Those roof racks howled like a sick Basset hound at any speed over 30mph. It was hard enough to carry a conversation in those things and impossible with a rack. Not knowing what they are now worth, I tossed the one that came with my 1960.....
  • 18
    Bill Skoros NY May 21, 2015 at 07:21
    How could you miss the towing attachment that mounted on the roof! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BNMvBnm14o
  • 19
    JPL Ohio May 21, 2015 at 07:50
    Recently obtained a "65" VW "Bug" - Sunroof (crank hard top) model. I love the look of the roof rack but you failed to mentioned the matching "engine hood" (rear) luggage rack which was available and many match with the "roof rack". I think they both (although as your stated not sure what you would haul - maybe a case of Beer) look pretty cool. The other so called "accessories", like the Rolls - Royce grill and Ford GT40 "body kit"., to me those were custom make overs and not truly "accessories", but they were available and you do see them around. Appreciated the article, the focus in on the "Bug"., I think mine and others are cool (air cooled matter of fact) and make great, somewhat inexpensive (unless you do a complete re-do, then they bring as much as other classics) classic car. Easy to work on, easy to store (don't take up much space) and a blast to drive. Thanks for the article.
  • 20
    Bob OHaus NJ May 21, 2015 at 09:13
    I appreciate any time an air cooled VW is mentioned in your publication. And although your reporting and stories are usually complimentary to a car as significant as the Beetle (and as old, in many cases), I'm afraid this article on the 5 Oddest Beetle Accessories has let me down because it seems to poke fun at the Beetle - instead of the "odd accessories" in the title For example, the Rolls Royce kits (and other kits for other car styles) may have been an accessory for the VW but they were not sold by VW. Rather, they were marketed as ways to customize the VW by other companies. You totally miss the mark in your discussion on the large roof rack by attempting humor at the capacity exceeding the car's low horsepower rating. In fact, the Bug was designed to carry 4 people at 60 MPH and get good gas mileage doing it. Simply put, because of it's size, the 40 or 50 HP motors were more than ample of doing this and if the requirement was to occasionally carry luggage, lumber or whatever, the rack offered a bit of utilitarian options. It never was meant to be a 1/2 ton pick up. And, your description of the poor heating capability of the Beetle is also off the mark. Yes, the heat worked best while at motion and yes, the gas heater accessory amplified the heat output somewhat, but a standard and properly functioning VW heating system can work very well even in the most extreme cold. Though a rusted out heat exchanger could feed exhaust into the passenger compartment, the odor and lack of heat would tell the owner that a repair is in order. Fix the problem and the heat is back on. This would be the same situation in any car should an exhaust pipe break or if a water cooled heater core, water pump, thermostat or radiator sprung a leak. Please don't think I'm being over sensitive. I've been an avid air cooled VW fan for years and I've heard it all. These old cars are unique in many ways and there are always areas that we can laugh about regarding them. However, they are also uniquely engineered antiques (in many cases) that impacted the world of autos in many significant ways, so they do deserve a little respect. Thanks.
  • 21
    Danny Kennedy West Virginia May 21, 2015 at 09:28
    Don't tell me about these and only show the first one. I would like to see the Avenger GT-12.
  • 22
    Mark Herzog St. Louis May 21, 2015 at 10:09
    The gas heater was more adapted to the bus than the bug. While it took quite a bit to heat the interior of the bus, the bug would heat up to incinerate. At least the windshield would be defrosted.
  • 23
    Laura Lamoureux United States May 21, 2015 at 11:20
    Like the Rolls Royce front there was also a 1940 Ford front and I believe a rear deck replacement that made it more of a humpback.
  • 24
    TheOtherDave Portland Oregon May 21, 2015 at 00:10
    In 1979 I bought my wife a 1972 Beetle with a 1940-like front end, custom grille and hood. She crashed it almost immediately, t-boning a hapless Impala driver at low speed because she was in a hurry and couldn't take time to obey a stop sign. It was reaired using stock VW parts and later sold to one of her friends. I traded her in for a newer model sometime later.
  • 25
    Dave Keillor United States May 21, 2015 at 12:45
    Meyer Manx dune buggy body.
  • 26
    Marty Gibson South lyon, Mi May 22, 2015 at 21:44
    I have to agree with the other posters who say this was just a poorly done & poorly researched story on the Beetle. None of the fiberglass body conversion kits was ever sold by VW and really would never be considered a "accessory". The production of the Beetle ran from 1936 thru 2004. In that time VW made about 24 million Beetles, far surpassing any other car ever made. The roof rack was a popular accessory and continues to be so for restored Beetles. VW also made a few more accessories not mentioned. The ever popular bud vase, a locking gear shift, various levels of chrome trim, and "Artic package" for cars destine for cold climates and a swamp cooler that hung off the passenger window that provided "air conditioning". The Beetle provided good basic inexpensive transportation. The cars were as reliable as any other, provided the owner kept up with maintenance. I currently have a 1966 Beetle that is a ball to drive. Every time I'm out and about with it someone will come up to me and tell me stories of the Beetle that they or a relative own. I have even had people ask me if they could sit in the drivers seat. That's a hard to beat experience. Next time you do a story on the Beetle,write a story that doe the car the justice it deserves.
  • 27
    John Anderson Denver May 26, 2015 at 15:28
    The Rolls-Wagon hood/grill was one thing, but the one that really caught your eye was the 1940 Ford hood/grill combination. They even produced headlight buckets and trim rings to finish it out! There were lots of people taking advantage of these kits, using faux paint to creat a Woody effect, adding continental tire carriers... And some actually looked pretty good too!
  • 28
    KB new york May 27, 2015 at 14:28
    I create American jobs when I spend my money. It's the only way to create American jobs. Foreign crap takes our jobs. You people must be morons to think you were helping our country. Absolute morons.
  • 29
    Diane Brandon Oregon May 27, 2015 at 15:23
    I still own, and drive, the first new car I ever bought, my 1965 VW sunroof sedan, in Sea Blue. I ordered several dealer-installed accessories available then and didn't see them included in your article about early Beetle accessories. Many of the items listed were after-market cheapo things, not honest VW accessories. My car was delivered with a Blaupunkt AM FM/Marine Band radio ($35 extra), folding chrome door pull handles used to pull doors closed from inside, "rim embellishers" slotted chrome wheel rings that encircled the hub caps, rear fender mud guards (mud flaps) made of very heavy rubber with "VW" in raised lettering and painted blue to match the exterior, a tiny bottle of touch-up paint, locking engine lid push button handle, cigarette lighter, metal tool kit that fit inside of the spare, chrome fender guards and as a surprised and tucked in the glove compartment a "gift for you" from the dealer, a red plastic bubble-type compass to mount on the dash--something I never added but I still have. I always have to laugh when I hear people spread the story that VW bugs had poor heating/defrosting systems. Not so, as a previous commenter said, if the car was well maintained the heater and defroster were more than adequate, if underway, a vent window was open just a crack to enhance air flow. The heater tubes were not much more than heavy cardboard and would eventually deteriorate and need replacing every few years. If all was maintained, the bug was snug as a, well, a bug.
  • 30
    gw Minnesota June 1, 2015 at 22:37
    The number one accessory for many of us that needed the gas heater but didn't opt for that option was a hand window scrapper for inside cabin use.
  • 31
    Jerry Johnson city TN\ January 28, 2016 at 15:09
    Will fins on my pulley make a difference in helping cool my engine?
  • 32
    Chuck Minn. February 23, 2016 at 13:23
    I notice some comments about VW factory heaters being so good but none of them mentioned about how poor the heaters actually were in stop and go driving. The heaters were great at highway speeds but were terrible in any driving at slow speeds. I have had five beetles and one bus and all were the same results. The gas heaters were a much better choice.

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