Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival
Saturday June 2, 2018
The switch to unleaded gasoline in 1971 was a distinct turning point in the history of car design. While widely considered a very good idea to not spew lead into the atmosphere, this new regulation and the host of other efficiency and emissions restrictions that would follow, spelled the decline of the mighty land yachts that Americans had enjoyed for the previous several decades.
While many American car models needed to get smaller and less powerful to comply with the law, the Volkswagen Beetle had plenty of room to grow. 1971 saw the introduction of the VW 1301, or more commonly known as the Super Beetle. It was a bigger and more powerful car by almost every measure compared to the original Beetle.
The Super Beetle’s increased size was a product of a modernization of the original Beetle’s front end, replacing its bulky dual parallel torsion bar beam suspension in favor of a modern MacPherson strut setup. In doing this and extending the hood a bit, VW not only made a car that handled better, but boasted 80% more trunk space and a tighter turn radius despite having a longer wheelbase.
During the Super Beetle Sedan’s short 4 year lifespan it continued to introduce new technologies and conveniences to a model that had remained largely unchanged since the 1940’s. In ’72, VW made the rear window 11% larger and added a proprietary diagnostic socket. In ’73 a curved windshield was added and the Super Beetle came available in a “loaded” (for a Beetle) trim called the “1303/Big,” which is an objectively fantastic trim designation. In ’74 VW revamped the front suspension yet again. And in the final year of the Super Beetle Sedan’s production, 1975, Air Flow Control (AFC) Fuel Injection was implemented on the Super Beetle’s air-cooled four-cylinder, a system similar to Bosch’s Jetronic injection.
After 1976, only the convertible version of the the Super Beetle remained in VW’s lineup and stayed pretty much unchanged until production widely stopped a few years later (though it was still produced in some markets until as late as 2003). During this time, several special editions were made of the Super Beetle convertible, fantastic collector cars like the “Champagne Edition” and the black-on-black “Epilogue Edition” which honored the early Beetles, that come only available in this color scheme.
The Super Beetle is, by today’s standards, a diminutive and lightly-equipped vehicle, but by Beetle standards it was a leap into the future. Collectors seek them out today, because it brought the beloved Beetle into the second half of the 20th century, extending the life and relevance of one of the most influential cars of the 20th century.
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