1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s Website
Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Mike Schlee

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1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

While in Santa Monica, California last month for the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible first drive, I had a truly unique driving opportunity. I finally got the chance to scratch ‘original Beetle’ off my car bucket list. It is true; I had never driven an original Beetle. Yes, yes, I know, many of you reading this probably owned a Beetle or three back in the day, but I was a product of 1980 and didn’t start driving until the mid-1990s; long after the Beetle’s glory days.

So, when Volkswagen Canada offered a drive in one of three original Beetles on this trip, I couldn’t say no. The Beetle in question was a 1980 German unit and although it may not be a true original from the 50s, or even 60s, it was still an air-cooled, engine-in-the-back people’s car. I figured this was a great year to test out as I could see if this Beetle has aged as well as the driver.

After taking it for a few spins, the VW rep asked how I liked it. I replied with “It was a lot of fun. It would make for a great Final Drive article,” to which he cringed (I don’t think he has gotten over my ‘review’ of Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony’s 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon). So, read on to see me pick on a 32-year-old car that was designed over 60 years ago.

0 km – I have the fully loaded version; it has front and rear fog lights. Appears to also have the world’s most confusing HVAC system

0 km – I roll down the window and adjust my one and only exterior side mirror. People say technology has advanced over time? Pfffft! The Beetle is twice as efficient as my car, in which I have to manually roll down TWO windows and adjust TWO mirrors by hand.

1 km – I can’t get the vehicle into reverse. After consulting the lightning bolt shift pattern diagram on the dashboard, I still couldn’t find reverse. Causing a scene in front of fellow car reviewers, I discover the gear lever had to be pushed down to engage reverse; I get the sense Beetle owners everywhere are also laughing at me.

2 km – The front seat feels comfortable enough in the best slap-some-vinyl-on-springs-and-foam tradition.

5 km – I got my hopes up that there is air conditioning, but realize the ‘air’ knobs are a bit more literal; they simply allow air into the car.

1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. Click image to enlarge

6 km – Windows are fogging up on this warm rainy day. I attempt to change the temperature and fan speed with the levers by the parking brake and dashboard knobs. Airflow is emitted randomly from the various vents, including the completely useless dime-sized dash vents. I think I end up engaging the heater and vent fan (which are completely separate) to no avail. I just roll down the windows – problem solved.

10 km – Gear changes are approximate; the shift lever needs to only be within the vicinity of each gear, and can still wag around like a happy golden retriever once engaged.

14 km – Starting to realize the front seats are from a time before lateral support mattered.

19 km – I’m figuring out the Rubik’s Cube HVAC controls and crank the vent fan to high. It flows as smooth as a shot of moonshine mixed with Tabasco sauce.

26 km – Convertible chassis flex? Yup, present and overachieving.

33 km – I’m realizing there is no clutch feel, but who cares; it engages.

39 km – At any stop over 5 seconds, I begin to get asphyxiated by a cocktail of raw gasoline vapours and who-cares-about-emissions exhaust fumes that would give Al Gore a conniption fit.

1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. Click image to enlarge

48 km – The radio does not work and only makes a faint buzz emanating from some sort of sound device hidden somewhere within the car. Both radio dials are as useless as racing stripes on a tank.

57 km – Driving downhill, panic sets in as I discover the brakes are downright scary. Step on the brakes, and nothing. Step a little harder – still nothing. Give ’er all you got, put your foot through the floor, and the Beetle begins to reluctantly slow down.

59 km – Sitting at a stop light, the rain has stopped. I hop out and quickly lower the roof. I re-enter the bug by stepping on the running boards. Yeah, how nice… these things need to make a comeback on more passenger cars.

66 km – Time to climb back up the hill. I hit the gas hard and an eruption of NVH occurs. I think people in Moose Jaw, SK heard me under wide-open throttle in California.

68 km – If you can’t hear or feel the NVH, fear not. The whole dashboard creaks, moans and vibrates during any vehicular operation.

79 km – It’s official, the car has no power. Sure is a loud little thing, though.

83 km – Now entering some twisties, it’s time to test the Bug’s handling. Wait, handling; what handling? I admit, I was not brave enough to throw this 32-year-old classic-vehicle-on-bicycle-tires hard into the undulating, wet, guard-rail-less mountain roads around Santa Monica.

92 km – I believe I have now mastered the brakes, just as an inattentive driver begins to leave a driveway right in front of me. I stab the brakes too hard, which results in immediate front-wheel lock up that may have scrubbed 0.1 km/h off my speed. As I slide by, at a constant 30 km/h, the driver has time to roll back in their driveway, wave me a quick ‘sorry about that’, get out and check their mailbox.

1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
1980 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. Click image to enlarge

99 km – So, the rear seat appears to be actually quite usable, as long as you don’t care about luxuries like seatbelts or legroom. You do however get an ashtray on each side of the rear seats. If you’re going to die in an accident, might as well have a smoke first, right?

100 km – After finishing my drive I conclude this is the coolest car I have ever driven. I got big smiles everywhere I went. Then again, I was in the capital of VW Beetle-mania – California. Regardless, I want one.

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