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.

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