the view through the windshield
1967 Volkswagen Beetle sedan: Continued Improvement of the People's Car

Let's all acknowledge that the Volkswagen Beetle story is so ridiculous that it sounds like the script for a Mel Brooks movie:

Adolph Hitler orders a car for the German masses. The Nazi high command has it designed and prototyped. Hitler calls it the Peoples' Car. Only a few examples are made before World War II begins. Germany loses the war. The tooling for the car is offered to Henry Ford II who laughs and turns it down, believing the car has no commercial future. Germans begin to assemble the car in the ruins of a bombed-out factory.

The factory manager hires a Dutchman who knows little English to introduce the car to America. The design is now over 10 years old. The car looks strange and ugly by modern postwar standards. It is underpowered. It doesn't even have a gas gauge. It has lots of other little quirks including an ineffective heater. They don't even change the name - it's still called the People's Car. America falls in love with it anyway.

Soon, the Volkswagen began to catch on. Only two VW Beetles were imported to the United States for the entire 1949 model year. By 1953, U.S. sales reached 1,000 per year. In 1954, 6,343 Volkswagens were sold; in 1955, the number rose to 31,000. In '57, almost 80,000 VWs found homes in the U.S. In 1959, over 150,000 were sold in America. During the summer of 1960, Volkswagen imported the 500,000th Beetle to the U.S.

For several years, there was a three-month waiting list to buy the little German wonder car. The strange design remained basically unchanged for over 30 more years. Many of the original quirks were still there decades later.

By 1961, Volkswagen had 87% of the imported vehicle market. VW's U.S. sales peaked in 1970, with 569,696. Volkswagen had captured 7% of the U.S. car market and had over a thousand American dealerships. It eventually broke the long-standing sales record for a single model held by the legendary Ford Model T.

Beetles were not perfect cars but they offered a simple, honest design and were well-constructed compared to American cars of the period. It taught American consumers that low-priced, reliable cars could be produced with a high quality of fit and finish.

In 1967, Volkswagen sales in the U.S. reached 443,510 vehicles, most of them Beetles. VW sales increased 6% over 1966. The diminutive VW was the biggest selling import in the U.S. by a long shot. Opel had the number two rank with only 51,613 automobiles sold. Toyota ranked third, selling 36,002 vehicles. Imports now commanded 9.3% of the U.S. auto market. In 1967, the Volkswagen brand outsold Mercury, Rambler, Chrysler, AMC and others.

The 1967 Volkswagen sedan shown in the sketch featured a larger 1493 cc. engine with 53 horsepower (first offered in '66). It would do 0-60 mph in a little over 16 seconds. It was the first Beetle with single-unit (non-glass covered) headlights as well as glass-covered backup lights in rectangular chrome pods.

It also had a 12-volt electrical system and a dual brake system. The heater system was better than the '63 model; the car even had a center dash defroster outlet - a feature introduced in the 1966 models.

1967 models featured push-button door locks, replacing the 1930-style swing handle found on earlier models. It also had two-speed windshield wipers, an auxiliary rear-axle spring for softer ride and more controllable ride, recessed door and ashtray handles and twin backup lights. Weight was 1764 pounds and the car had a top cruising speed of 78 mph. The base price of the sedan was $1,692.

Our 1967 Beetle sedan was probably the most durable car we've ever owned. We purchased it new and kept it for 28 years, the longest of any vehicle we've owned, and registered it in four states during its time with us. We purchased it in Pennsylvania. When we moved to New Jersey, the Beetle came with us. We brought both of our newborn kids home from the hospital in it. I installed the aftermarket rectangular fog lights on it a few years after we purchased it to deal with the oft-seen late night fog on the NJ Turnpike.

I took the '67 Beetle on many business trips. I remember a winter drive to Agawam, MA where I gave a talk at a Society of Plastics Engineers meeting. After a few post-lecture rounds of drinks at the bar, I walked to the parking lot and found that my VW Beetle cranked so slowly that it barely started. A few minutes later, the radio announced that the local temperature was minus 22 degrees. But the little Volkswagen did fire up and I chugged back to my motel in the crisp snow.

When we moved cross country, we towed the Beetle; the odometer passed the 100,000 mark as we were passing through Burns, Oregon. The car was registered in Oregon and later, Washington state.

Over the years, we put over 156,000 miles on our Volkswagen. We never rebuilt the engine (it did have a valve job at 88,000 miles - 6/77). The original clutch and pressure plate lasted for over 130,000 miles.

In the summer of 1995, we sold our 1967 Bug to a collector for more than we paid for it new. It was by far the most cost-effective vehicle we've ever owed. (1/28/16)

Remember When: 1967
auto blogIn 1967, the continued presence of American troops in Vietnam increased further; a total of 475,000 were serving in Vietnam. President Johnson asked for a 6% tax increase to support the Vietnam War. Peace rallies multiplied as the number of protesters against the war increased.

Boxer Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army.

Thurgood Marshall becomes the first black justice on the Supreme Court. And Elvis Presley got married in May.

In the Middle East, Israel also went to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the six-day war and when it was over Israel controlled and occupied a lot more territory than before the war.

During the summer, cities throughout America exploded in rioting and looting the worst being in Detroit in July when 7,000 National Guard were bought in to restore law and order on the streets. 2,000 people were injured and 5,000 were left homeless.

Expo 67, Montreal's World's Fair, opened in Canada at Ile Ste-Hélène on the St. Lawrence River. The centerpiece of this 1967 fair was the U.S. pavilion - covered by a gigantic, 20-story, see-through Plexiglas geodesic dome, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller. The fair hosted over 50 million visitors in six months.

Apollo 1 was destroyed in a flash fire in the command module while on the launch pad, killing 3 astronauts.

The first Boeing 737 took its maiden flight. The world's first heart transplant operation was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in South Africa.

In England a new type of model became a fashion sensation by the name of Twiggy and mini skirts continued to get shorter and even more popular with a short-lived fashion being paper clothing. Coca-Cola launched Fresca. Amana offers the first compact microwave oven, with a price tag of $475. New words include body stocking and boutique, hippie, scam, swap meet, teeny-bopper and think tank. Maytag introduced its lonely repairman commercial, starring Jesse White.

In 1967, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was created to regulate the safety of passenger automobiles. American Motors Corp. lost $76 million due to poor sales. Dodge dropped from 5th to 7th place in U.S. auto sales, despite restyled compacts and intermediates. Shelby Mustangs could now be had with a 428 cubic-inch V8 engine. Three Mustang competitors - the Mercury Cougar, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird - made their debuts. Cadillac introduced the handsome front-wheel drive luxury coupe, the Eldorado.

Chemical manufacturer Rohm & Haas introduced a concept car, Explorer IV, featuring applications of the company's chemical additives and plastic products. It was built on a Buick Riviera chassis.

New television shows included 'The Fugitive', 'The Wild, Wild West', 'The Dean Martin Show', 'A Family Affair' and 'The Monkees'.

Top songs of 1967 were 'To Sir With Love' (Lulu), 'The Letter' (The Box Tops), 'Ode To Billy Joe' (Bobbie Gentry), 'Windy' (The Association), 'Light My Fire' (The Doors), 'All You Need Is Love' (The Beatles), 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' (Procol Harum) and 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' (Frankie Valli). 'Up, Up and Away' by the 5th Dimension won several Grammy awards. The Beatles' first concept album, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', made its debut.

Top 1967 movies included 'The Graduate', 'Cool Hand Luke', 'Bonnie and Clyde', 'The Dirty Dozen' and James Bond's 'You Only Live Twice'.

Deaths included nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, soprano Geraldine Farrar, author and poet Carl Sandberg, humorist Dorothy Parker, jazz musician John Coltrane, singer Otis Redding, bandleader Paul Whiteman, comic actor Bert Lahr, bosomy actress Jayne Mansfield and actor Spencer Tracy.

In the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox after seven games. 4-3.


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Disclaimer

The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.

If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.


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