Rides from the Readers: 1963 VW Beetle

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1963 VW Beetle reader ride vintage photo cars
Martin Van Pelt

Hagerty readers and Hagerty Drivers Club members share their cherished collector and enthusiast vehicles with us via our contact email, tips@hagerty.com. We’re showcasing some of our favorite stories among these submissions. To have your car featured, send complete photography and your story of ownership to the above email address.

Today’s featured car is a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. 1963 was a good year for the Beetle, particularly in the U.S. market. Sales were so strong, in fact, that VW’s assembly lines scrambled to keep pace, and the company chose to delay introduction of a new 50-hp, 1500-cc Beetle until 1965. Changes from the 1962 model year were minimal but practical: VW routed oil fumes into the air cleaner instead of venting them into the air, fitted plastic caps on spark plug terminals, and added larger intake ports to the 40-hp engine tucked in the Beetle’s rear. You can visually distinguish a 1963 from its predecessors by peering closely at the hood badge; 1962-and-earlier models bear the Wolfsburg crest. 1963 was the first year the Beetle wore the VW logo up front.

This particular Beetle entered the ownership of Martin Van Pelt in 1972 for $85 outside a youth hostel in West Germany. It was common, in the mid-1970s, for American tourists to buy used cars in Europe, drive them during the summer, and sell them before flying home in the fall. Van Pelt was 24 years old and fresh out of college, and snagged the Beetle from just such a pair of home-bound tourists. Off he and the Beetle went to a tour of twelve countries, including a foray across the Berlin Wall. In France, Van Pelt drove the Mulsanne Straight, before the chicanes were added, “at a heady sixty mph, wondering what it was like at four times that speed … at night … and in the rain.”

It’s a good thing he didn’t pass through Le Mans in the rain, either, because Van Pelt writes that the Beetle’s brakes “were horrific when wet. One rainy afternoon in Normandy I pulled into a country gas station, sailed past the pumps, and back onto the highway without stopping.”

Thankfully, no harm befell the two and Van Pelt eventually sold the VW to a U.S. serviceman in West Berlin for $110 before heading back to the U.S.

“You don’t see Beetles around anymore,” he writes, “but I have a neighbor whose hobby is restoring them.  He has a nice 1968 Bug … When I hear it start up outside I’m instantly transported back to 1972 and my wonderful drive around Europe.”

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