Final Parking Space: 1970 Volkswagen Beetle Sunroof Sedan

Murilee Martin

The Type 1 Volkswagen first went on sale in the United States in 1949, and two were sold. After that, VW dealers here did increasingly well with the Type 1—eventually known as der Käfer or the Beetle— with each passing year, with the American Beetle sales pinnacle reached in 1968. These cars have become uncommon in car graveyards in recent years, but I found this fairly solid ’70 in Colorado last winter.

Murilee Martin

For the 1970 model year, Volkswagen of America offered five models, all built in West Germany: the Beetle, the Karmann Ghia, the Fastback, the Squareback, and the Transporter (which was pitched as the Volkswagen Station Wagon at the time).

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find roof
Murilee Martin

The 1970 Beetle was available as a convertible, as a two-door sedan, and as a two-door sedan with sunroof. Today’s FPS car is the latter type, which had a list price of $1929 when new (about $16,001 in 2024 dollars). The non-sunroof sedan cost just $1839 that year ($15,254 after inflation).

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find door jam
Murilee Martin

The Beetle wasn’t the cheapest new car Americans could buy in 1970, but it was a lot of car for the money. The 1970 Austin America (known as the Austin 1100/1300 in its homeland) had an MSRP of $1815, while American Renault dealers offered a new 10 for a mere $1775. The 1970 Toyota Corolla two-door sedan had an astonishing list price of $1686, which helped it become the second-best-selling import (after the Beetle) in the United States that year, while Mazda offered the $1798 1200 two-door. For the adventurous, there was the motorcycle-engine-powered Honda 600, priced to sell at $1398, and Malcolm Bricklin was eager to sell you a new Subaru 360 for only $1297. How about a 1970 Fiat 850 sedan for $1504? The Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega debuted as 1971 models, so the most affordable new American-built 1970 car was the $1879 AMC Gremlin.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find interior roof upholstery
Murilee Martin

The first factory-installed Beetle sunroofs opened up most of the roof with a big sliding fabric cover, but a more modern metal sunroof operated by a crank handle replaced that type for 1964.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find interior
Murilee Martin

The final U.S.-market air-cooled Beetles were sold as 1979 models, which meant that Beetles were very easy to find in American junkyards until fairly deep into the 1990s. You’ll still run across discarded Beetles today, though most of them will be in rough shape and they tend to get picked clean in a hurry.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find front three quarter
Murilee Martin

Volkswagen introduced the Super Beetle, which received a futuristic MacPherson strut front suspension and lengthened snout, as a 1971 model in the United States. Most of the Beetles you’ll find in the boneyards today will be of the Super variety, which makes today’s non-Super an especially good find for the junkyard connoisseur.

Murilee Martin

I’ve owned a few Beetles over the years, including a genuinely terrifying ’58 Sunroof Sedan with hot-rodded Type 3 engine that I purchased at age 17 for $50 at an Oakland junkyard. It acquired the name “Hubert the Hatred Bug” due to being the least Herbie-like Beetle imaginable. Later, I acquired a 1973 Super Beetle and thought it neither handled nor rode better than the regular Beetle; your opinion of the Super may differ.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find interior
Murilee Martin

The Type 1 Beetle was obsolete very early on, being a 1930s design optimized for ease of manufacture, but it was so cheap to build and simple to maintain that customers were willing to buy it for decade after decade. Beetle production blew past that of the seemingly unbeatable Model T Ford in 1972, when the 15,007,034th example rolled off the line, and the final Vocho was assembled in Mexico in 2003. That means a last-year Beetle will be legal to import to the United States in just four years!

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find speedometer
Murilee Martin

The first water-cooled Volkswagen offered in the United States was the 1974 Dasher, which was really an Audi 80. It was the introduction of the Rabbit a year later (plus increasingly strict safety and emissions standards) that finally doomed the Type 1 Beetle here; Beetle sales dropped from 226,098 in 1974 to 78,412 in 1975 and then fell off an even steeper cliff after that. For the 1978 and 1979 model years, the only new Beetles available here were Super convertibles.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find engine
Murilee Martin

The original engine in this car was a 1585cc boxer-four rated at 57 horsepower, although there’s plenty of debate on the subject of air-cooled VW power numbers to this day. These engines are hilariously easy to swap and were once cheap and plentiful, though, so the chances that we are looking at this car’s original plant aren’t very good.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find engine
Murilee Martin

This is a single-port carbureted engine with a generator, so it could be the original 1600… or maybe it’s the ninth engine to power this car. Generally, junkyard Type 1 engines get grabbed right away these days, but this car had just been placed in the yard when I arrived.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find interior shifter
Murilee Martin

The hateful Automatic Stickshift three-speed transmission was available as an option in the 1970 Beetle, but this car has the regular four-on-the-floor manual.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find shift pattern
Murilee Martin

To get into reverse, you push down on the gearshift and then into the second-gear position (this can be a frustrating process in a VW with worn-out shifter linkage components).

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find door sill body corrosion
Murilee Martin

By air-cooled Volkswagen standards, this car isn’t especially rusty. I’m surprised that it ended up at a Pick Your Part yard, to be honest… and now here’s the bad news for you VW fanatics itching to go buy parts from it: I shot these photos last December and the car got crushed months ago. I shoot so many vehicles in their final parking spaces that I can’t write about every one of them while they’re still around.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle junkyard find interior radio
Murilee Martin

It even had the original factory Sapphire XI AM radio.


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    My parents bought a brand new beetle in 1964. No radio. Java Green. It became my first car in 1972 after my two older brothers moved on to newer VWs. By then it had a light green door, a gray fender and a gaping hole where the battery sat. Ran forever.
    Dad bought a used ‘72 Super Beetle convertible in 1977. Nice car except for the automatic stick shift. Awful.
    In college I had a ‘72 orange Karmann Ghia which I eventually traded for a ‘67 beetle convertible.
    Hindsight is certainly 20/20. 🥹

    gawd it hurts seeing these cars.

    i’m most likely mentally tilted when it comes to these articles. murilee, every car you’ve written about appears to be in a condition it wouldn’t take an exorbitant amount to make sea, i mean road worthy. but then, i’m old and most would never consider having one of these as a daily, let alone a weekender in a stretch.

    ok, my personal story. my dad bought his 1st new beetle in ’67, then ’70, then ’73. he drove 30k mi/yr and thought it a waste of $$ to fix an old car. i convinced him to get his ’73 fixed (kept blowing out engine seals). a friend at his work rebuilt the engine for $360 total, then found out the pcv strainer was plugged up. had almost 500k mi when i sold it for him for $900 in ’87. the buyer’s mechanic, not knowing its history, thought it was a decent runner, gave it the thumbs up

    thanx for these articles. as a picapart aficionado, i thoroughly relate to, and enjoy, your subject matter

    The Automatic Stick Shift has shown to be relatively robust and reliable over time. I sold my ’71 Ghia convert back in the ’80’s over my unfounded fears about the reliability of its Auto Stick.
    Sunroof bugs are a big premium in desirability over regular sedans. Depending on how bad the heater ducts were rusted, this one looks as if it should have been saved.

    Ive talked about this before in the comments, but I’m going to repeat it. I basically learned to drive in a ‘58 Beetle my dad bought for $50 in 1964-ish. Still German for the most part. Drop down signals out of the pillars welded up and replaced by signals screwed onto the rear fenders. Oxidized puke green. Big dent in the roof filled in with Bondo (and cracking out). But I loved it! (It was funny watching a passenger’s face when they saw the speedo hitting 100 not knowing it was reading kilometers per hour or not knowing there was an auxiliary gas tank when the gas needle was hovering near empty😂).

    My next car

    As a disabled driver, whose left leg has been paralyzed since losing a battle with the polio virus in 1954, I have to take issue with the characterization of the AutoStickShift as being “hateful”. Just the opposite, thanks to the beloved AutoStickShift, and it’s Porsche sibling, the Sport-o-matic, I have been able to drive the hell out of, and thoroughly, a number of semi-automatic equipped German legends, including air-cooled Beetles, Karmann Ghia convertibles, and air-cooled 911’s.
    These semi-automatic trannies are excellent examples of enlightened and impeccable German engineering. For the uninitiated, the tranny itself is the same one found in the manual versions of these buggies; with two exceptions. First gear is removed from the stock transmission, leaving all of the remaining gears in place. The clutch, pressure plate and throw-out bearings are all the same as in the manuals. The major change is that a torque converter is added between the engine and the gearbox. So you start driving in what was 2nd gear. For subsequent shifts, there is a micro-switch in the base of the shift lever. As soon as the shifter is moved a fraction of an inch, it closes a circuit, which activates a vacuum operated servo, which in turn disconnects the clutch. Easy and very reliable. Having owned six of these trannies over the years, I NEVER had to repair one. As a matter of fact, since this set up eliminates any sloppy use of the clutch pedal by the driver, the clutches in these buggies tend to last much longer than they do in the manual versions.
    So please stop dumping on these brilliant transmissions, and recognize them for the mechanical marvels that they really are. Not to mention they allowed so many disabled drivers to enjoy the joys of manual shifting despite being only able to drive two-pedal cars.

    That’s a good point. I helped swap a coupe of Automatic Stickshift cars to 4-speeds back in the early 1980s, but didn’t consider the advantage for someone who couldn’t work a clutch pedal.

    My first car was a used 1961 Type 1 with a sunroof. Being young and stupid we thought is was great fun to take the lights off of a construction barrier and hold them up through the open sunroof. It was purely a look at me stunt fueled by beer. Met this girl that had a 1965 type 1. I was impressed by the fact that this girl not only had a driving license she could drive a manual. Married her. Traded in her car for a used Porsche 356B Cabriolet. Then bought another 1965 Type 1 as a second car. This one tended to scoop up gallons of water while driving through a rainstorm. Some hard braking would force the water forward where it would exit the car through the holes in the floorboard. It probably should have scared me to see the pavement whiz by under my feet, however, I wasn’t quite through with “Stupid” yet.

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