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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.