VW Beetle History and Tuning Review

Welcome to the Tuning Guru guide to the VW Beetle history and tuning projects. Here we will highlight important moments throughout the history of this beautiful automobile, as well as impressive tuning projects towards the later part of the review.

The Volkswagen Beetle has been a name plate that’s been resonating with the automobile industry for entire decades. Being one of the oldest car models, as well as the best-selling car of all time at some point, it managed to bring to its wheel over twenty million drivers during its period of peaking glory – and that’s in the USA alone.

Said period of glory was between 1950 and 1977, a year after which production for the Beetle halted and was only resumed a couple of decades later in 1998 when it also got a significant makeover. The general audience probably knows about the VW Beetle history and that the Beetle officially rolled out of the production lines and went on sale in 1947, but there was a precedent of people attempting to build the vehicle even before that.

The first batch of Beetles was finished in the earnest year of 1938 in a pre-war Germany. Understandably, we suppose, the builders didn’t go beyond those efforts and most likely chose to channel their efforts into the upcoming battle that the Nazis were pulling the country into. As a result, the hopeful factory built specifically for the construction of Beetles became one of the many war casualties and was nearly obliterated during Allied forces air-bombing.

VW Beetle History

With the war officially over, the rebirthed Germany returned to the factory and picked up the production where it was left off, releasing the first marketable Beetles in 1947. Albeit, the only reason the production was resumed to begin with was because the Allied troops needed some sort of transportation means to get them across the country.

And, as the saying go, the rest was all history. The Beetle’s popularity spread like wildfire and, for several decades, it was one of the prime selling vehicles in the USA. Even after production went on an indefinite hiatus in 1977, the car continued to be sold outside of the US in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. We know the rest is history, but what history are we exactly talking about? Join us as we take a journey through the fascinating VW Beetle history.


This year marked the end of the greatest wars in human history. While the door to strife and chaos was closing, a new one was opening – more specifically, the gates of the newly restored Volkswagen factory. At the time, however, the production didn’t include any civilian models since the factory was mostly used to procure war munitions and vehicles able of transporting American soldiers from point A to point B.

 In fact, one could argue that this was the first contact that the United States had with the Volkswagen name, one that was achievable through the stationing of American troops on German territory after the end of the war.

1949: Beetle Cabriolet

Heinz Nordhoff, a previous Opel executive, took charge of the Wolfsburg factory in 1947. Ever since, his main goal was the expansion of the Volkswagen name through export. This could have come off as a paradox, especially when considering the fact that VW sales were really booming on the internal market. Unfortunately, though, German currency didn’t carry the necessary value to continue production and to support the factory.

As a result, Nordhoff’s efforts were geared towards capturing the attention of external markets. One of the first models was shipped off to the Netherlands in 1949, but his biggest dream was to bring the VW dream over to the USA and write VW Beetle history. Both him, as well as several other associates, made a few attempts to herd the car towards American markets, but the biggest impediment for it to become a reality was represented by the strong, unwavering anti-German feeling. Not once had the factory representatives returned from across the ocean with unsold pieces and cars.

However, despite the apparent stagnation, the factory managed to push forward and was able to construct the first civilian VW car, a Cabriolet model built by Karmann. It was initially known simply as “The Volkswagen” and it grew to earn its name through a series of misspellings and associations with The Beatles, who were on the rise at that time. The main particularity of the car throughout VW Beetle history is that it’s earned plenty of nicknames. Most of them are simply translations of the word “beetle” in other languages (such as “kafer” in German and “vocho” in Spanish). The Americans, on the other side of the world, somehow decided on calling it the VW Bug. Of course, there was also the British instance, where the car was actually known as Type 1 and kept the name until Type 3.

1951 – 1954

For the next few years, the main focus of the factory was to introduce new features and to upgrade the ones already present. Some changes were minor, while some completely altered the look of the Beetle generations to come and the course of VW Beetle history.

The original Type I underwent some changes in its cable breaks, which were swapped for hydraulically operated drums. Later, in 1952, the transition hit the Volkswagen’s transmission’s second, third, and fourth gears by fitting them with synchromesh. Finally, one of the most noteworthy changes was represented by ditching the split rear-window look that is so hotly sought over by Beetle collectors. In its place, we got a more simplistic single-piece oval window.


We continue the VW Beetle history timeline and skip to the beginning of the 60’s when Volkswagen managed to break through with a rather innovative advertising tactic. Whenever you looked at a poster or article that flaunted the Beetle, you would be able to notice an undertone of self-deprecating humor that became strongly characteristic throughout the years.

Volkswagen Beetle ’60 – ‘69

Many engine changes occur during the sixties. Towards the end of the decade, Volkswagen introduced an innovative automatic stick shift which provided the prototype of a semi-automatic transmission. This technology was shared only by Porsche, though the Beetled benefited from a unique automatic decklid badging that made it all the more interesting.

Despite the rocky start, the VW bug of the sixties was on an ascending path to popularity, a peak in the VW Beetle history, becoming the number one import car sold in America with sale numbers triple the ones owned by the second place, Renault.

Aside from the semi-automatic transmission earlier mentioned, the Beetle suffered numerous changes. Its button-push type door opening system was traded for a simplistic door handle pull. The engine continued the growth tradition from the past few decades and received an upgrade that boosted it to 1200 cc. The location of the fuel pump was shifted to the right of the distributor while the generator diverged from the block. The typical tail-glass was gone and shifted for the safer alternative, plastic.

  • 1966: Along with the new yearly model, Beetle lovers received a new updated engine whose number had been now elevated to 1300 cc. The previously mentioned swap between handles and buttons was nullified when the latter made a return midway through the decade.
  • 1967: The engine continued to grow, reaching now an astounding 1493 cc, which could sustain 53-hp. Among the many other upgrades, the other highly noteworthy one was represented by a newly-introduced dual brake cylinder system.
  • 1968: The VW Beetle history was altered and the lives of Volkswagen Bug drivers was made a lot easier during their gas station stops through an upgrade that introduced an external gas pump, which removed the need to constantly lift the hood to fuel your car.

The Love Bug

The VW Beetle’s fame reached completely new heights when a 1963 model featured as the star in a Disney-produced motion picture. The Love Bug was about Herbie, a sentient Bug who had just about as many feelings as it had a conscience. Needless to say, any model from then own that borrowed the looks from Herbie the Love Bug was an instant hit among VW Bug fans. Despite the mixed reviews, Disney brought Herbie back for a total of six movies and incorporated it in VW Beetle history.

1970 VW Beetle History: The Super Beetle

One of the many things that were really “super” about the Super Beetle was represented by the multitude of changes introduced at the dawn of the seventies. While in 1969, the Beetle’s rear suspension received some updates, a couple of years later it was the turn of the front suspension to undergo its own changes.

The Super Beetle benefited from a larger hood, more rounded fenders, and an altered front valance. The really practical new feature implemented was actually in the trunk, which now was 83% more spacious and storage-friendly. This feat was achievable through some changes, some of which a bit more complicated and engineering savvy than the others. A surprising saving solution was the horizontal arrangement of the spare tire, a turning point in VW Beetle history.

The VW Beetle Convertible

Around the middle of the seventies, the Wolfsburg factory wasn’t exactly at the peak of its productivity, something that ended up essentially dooming the Volkswagen Beetle sedan in the process. Despite that, the convertible continued to live on and so did the VW Beetle history. The first time a convertible Beetle rolled out of the factory gates was in 1953 and, for a great length of time, it continued to be imported to the USA until 1979.

An estimated 330,000 convertibles were built since the first batch was constructed at the Karmann Osnabruck facility. After the plug was pulled out of the convertible production as well, the only places left for its export and production were Brazil and Mexico, the former having taken a hiatus before bringing it back by popular demand. VW Beetle history was still being written.

The Decline

Competition from Japanese and American cars started to take its toll on the Beetle. During the seventies, the brand was met with a decline in sales like never seen before, which eventually led to a public announcement that revealed the greatest financial loss in VW Beetle history.

The last Beetle sedan was finished in 1974, though unofficial production continued beyond Wolfburg’s doom, especially in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. In fact, most of the efforts had been geared in the direction of the Volkswagen Beetle convertible, which continued to be manufactured all the way to 1979.

1999 VW Beetle History: The New

Towards the end of the second millennium, the New Beetle was about to make its debut. It combined the retro craze look that was characteristic to the 90’s with the look of the classic Beetle and managed to appease VW Bug fans with a freshened look. Above all, this was a signal that the Beetle wasn’t truly dead, even though it was hardly the car that had been announced as the Car of the Century not too long before.

The New Beetle wasn’t a speedy car, flaunting an 115-hp engine, but it was definitely aesthetically pleasing in its cute minimalism. One noticeable feature was the fact that the designers really went all-in with their semi-circle thematic, which could be found everywhere in the looks of the New Beetle. Some argued that this made the car resemble an upside down fishbowl.

Later on, the New Beetle would continue getting produced with small design and engineering changes, some of the most notable being attributed to the 2003 VW Beetle.

VW Beetle History Becomes Present

After the revival, the VW Beetle history continued to be written in the shape of the New Beetle. In 2003, we were given the return of the VW Beetle convertible, which turned out to be a real hit among fans. In 2006, we were given the New, New Beetle, which kept the essential outlines of the 1999 version but included new features and upgrades. In 2012, people have grown tired of waiting for a remodeled New Beetle to go out. Instead, Volkswagen gave us another redesign that had the old Beetle name plastered on in honor of the similarity to the classic car. The following year, this particular VW Bug would get its own convertible version as well.

The 2016 VW Beetle continued to give us more improvements in terms of design over boosts in the car’s practicality. Even though the Beetle Dune was advertised as a desert-friendly ride, it’s hardly off-road ready. Regardless, it’s to be appreciated that it refuses to ditch the cute, retro look notable throughout all VW Beetle history. However, this is exactly what sets it apart even today.

VW Beetle Tuning

These days, being a classic Beetle owner means that you are essentially granted an instant membership for the multitude of groups and gatherings that bring VW Bug loyalists together. This is a good thing because, in the eventuality that you have some tunings on your mind, you need a good place to swap ideas and to get some advice.

Statistically, there are several options that most tuning-friendly Beetle owners choose to go for, filtered by how often approached and rather easy it is.

  • FIRST STAGE: Exhaust, remap, panel air filter, lighter flywheel.
  • SECOND STAGE: Fast road cam, ported and polished head, power clutch, fuel injector and fuel pump upgrades.
  • THIRD STAGE: Internal engine upgrades (valves/pistons/head/), engine balancing, adding/ upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), sports gearbox, competition cam.

Naturally, the order of the execution isn’t the same for everybody and you definitely don’t need to go through the first couple of stages to get to the last one, for example. As a general guideline, though, it’s highly recommended that brake polishing and upgrading should be among the first modifications. But since we’re on the topic regarding the last stage, we have some engine-related tips worth mentioning.

The typical engine choice in the past was the NASP 1.8, which should be forgotten altogether when considering tuning. It’s considered to be a pretty vapid and dull mechanism and its only salvation would be getting swapped for a Turbo. Instead, the 1.8T is what you should go with. It’s a particularly good choice for first-timers in the tuning world specifically because it’s pretty easy to modify and because it doesn’t require any special or complicated mods.

There are many other things that you should know about tuning, so make sure that you are well informed before diving into car modifications. You can do that by checking some of our other articles on the matter.

Beetle Convertible R-Line

The model is a tuned version of the 2014 Beetle Convertible Turbo, which managed to turn the already impressive array of features of the original into an upgraded, boosted version. One change you might notice is that the seasonal tires are now of lower profile, garnished by 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The original Beetle Turbo already had sports-tuned suspension, which now provides a combo of dynamism and speed through the tire alterations.

VW Rallycross Beetle

Pulled straight out of a Pimp my Car episode, this Rallycross Beetle proves that, with the right changes, you can make even a car that was considered typically feminine appealing to men all over the world. Admittedly, this wasn’t the main goal of those who brought upon the changes. The main goal was to alter the VW Beetle history as we know it and make the Bug into a car able to whiz through the tracks of a race.

All of the transformed Rallycross Beetles will flaunt all-wheel-drives and purr at 560-hp, a pretty incredible achievement and change from the typical Beetle engine.

Pink Barbie VW Beetle

Did you think that all of the VW tuning is geared in the direction of performance increase? Try telling this to Volkswagen, who went out of their way to modify a New Beetle for the sake of celebrating Barbie’s 50th anniversary.

The rearview mirrors were embellished in sparkly stones and the outside of the car was sprayed with over six different shades of pink. Some of the color even stretched as far as to cover the engine, albeit it was in a special kind of Pepto-Bismol.

2000 VW Beetle Kid Rock

Jeff Donnelly, a technician who’d been recently gifted a 2000 Beetle, used the birth of his son as inspiration to alter the car. It wasn’t an easy task, as he claims so himself, having been stuck in a loop of build, take down, rebuild for quite a while. The first thing he did was to swap the 1.8T for an E05 Turbo then he went even further by including a four-bar fuel pressure regulator. For gas flow, he settled on crafting a custom made air intake.

It seems that, design wise, Donnelly wanted to tone down the cute and adorable trademark look of the Beetle, opting to take off the rear wing of a Beetle RSI and to mount them on his modified vehicle as a means to give more of an aggressive edge to it. Top this off with a newly-installed carbon hood and a classy, yet hardcore, black-and-white color scheme and you’ll be able to say that you’ve managed to take away some from the Beetle’s characteristic innocent look.

Now that you’ve read all about the VW Beetle history, it’s easy to say that it went through quite a lot of ups and downs in its existence. If you’re a Bug owner, you should value it even more than before. It had a pretty rough (but fascinating) life.

Scroll to Top