Welcome to the BugShop FAQ

The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

This text is copyrighted and duplication, re-distribution or publication is prohibited without consent of the author.

Article: "The Years"
Last updated: 11/1/01

"The Years"


A long time ago, this article was intended to be a part of the "What to Look for When Buying" article, but it just got too big to manage, so I split it off as an objective discussion on the year-to-year differences in Beetles. Then, and active participant over at the newsgroup supplied me with an exhaustive listing of year to year changes that was much more complete than mine. So I coded it into a table and put it up over a the "Reader Contributed" section of the BugShop. All the while, visitors had pointed out a few inaccuracies within this article, so I decided to correct and "merge" any info that I had in this article, with Rob Boardman's table. What remains in this article is a discussion of the year to year changes, the clever little list on "How to impress your friends" by identifying years from a distance, and (I hope to add) a "Parts Classes" listing that will help answer questions like "For what range of years were the hoods interchangeable?".

If you are reading this article to gain insight prior to looking for a Beetle to purchase, you really should read the "What to Look for When Buying" article as well. In my opinion, that is the most useful article on this site, at least to novice Beetle enthusiasts.

About every month, I see a posting on USENET where somebody asks "what is the best year?" or "what should I look for?" or "how much is it worth?". At first I want to jump right in and start spewing my thoughts and help out, but usually I realize three things:

  1. People are attracted to Beetles for different reasons, it's a personal thing, and I would just be presenting my personal views.
  2. Worth, value, etc. are all very relative things. Something is WORTH what someone else is willing to pay for it- THAT'S ALL. Never mind what the seller is telling you, or some book says.
  3. It would take me a lot of writing to capture all of my "advice" and in order to keep up with posts in a newsgroup, you can't afford to reply with 12 page dissertations on the after-market Beetle market.
But I thought the BugShop's technical section deserved some kind of semi-objective assessment on the "years". I have found that the thing that really has driven my preference in years is what I want to use the car for. I will admit, that as I have grown older, my appreciation for true, correct "old" Beetles has risen. Seeing a '56 cut up and made into a Baha makes my skin crawl. And while just a few years ago I would have had no problem using a '72 as a beater and sawing it and modifying it anyway I saw fit, today I would have a problem doing that. But of course, this article is peppered with my own biases toward the "best year" for the Beetle.

If you discover something that you think is wrong, feel free to E-Mail me. Be specific, polite, and cite your reference(s). I may wish to research it further as I have already found discrepancies between widely excepted publications regarding the year to year changes. This information is relative to U.S. Beetle offerings only.

What are the years?

As for the years, I will note some technical changes, and TRY to be objective . I have found it helpful to make several "cuts" at differentiating the years by model changes (this data is for the US market, offerings elsewhere may have been significantly different. Sources: VWoA publication "What Year Is It?"; 1971 ed., John Muir idiot book, chapter XVI "Know How", 13th ed, 1988. There WERE some discrepancies between these two, by the way)

How do they do that!? (impress your friends and family)

So maybe you have a friend who is a real bug nut and gets a quick glance at Beetle in a parking lot while passing at 50mph in your car he says "cool, a '64". "How did he do that?" you think. Well it is not that hard. Even my wife can now spot the major "family" years like ovals and old vs. new and supers (and she is not exactly an enthusiast). Well, let me help you impress your friends and family and give you a quick course on "telling the year at a glance". I can't get you to a single year in the later models, but the early years I have mostly down pat.

Unfortunately, I cannot produce a flow chart that will be guaranteed to replicate in all the ASCII and HTML viewers that this text might be viewed in, so I will tell you how I do it using indention of the following short lines. You might need to widen your window if you are using a windows app to read this. Notes are astricized * (I just made that word up) where the text would make the line to long to be sure that the indentation was constant in most all readers.

First cut "OLD" or "NEW", look for the "towel bar" bumpers

  1. Another way to differentiate these very similar years is the speedometer. The '68 speedo had numbers that were oriented along the radius of the circle. The '69 numbers were all vertical. I think the face was a darker black too, but that might just be my imagination.
  2. Word was that there were quite a few "black market" '67s around that were made up of old '66 parts and actually had the bubbled lenses. Another source says that the "flat" lights were a mid (very early) '67 model year change and that the first '67s actually had the bubbled covers.
  3. There is no way that I can find to tell a '56 apart from a '57 from the outside. You must look inside at the front heater outlets. If they are about 5" from the door pillar, it's a '57; if they are about 5" from the firewall, it's a '56.
  4. Looking from the front of the car, 25 ft away or more, you can easily see the sway bar if it is there.
  5. There is no way that I can find to tell a '60 apart from a '61 from the outside. Look under the front hood, if the gas tank makes for a "flat" floor in this area, it's a '61. The '60 had the tank with the big hump side to side.
  6. This is tricky, but it's the way I tell these years apart. You have to have a pretty good visual "profile" image of the "thick" and "thin" versions to be able to make the call when just seeing one car.
So that's how it is done. Practice, make a copy of this list, reduce it and paste it on the back of your visor in your car. When you see one "make the call", then check your list to see how you did (but pull over and stop first) Keep score by how close you were, post graphs of your progress on you living room wall. (can you tell that I am a bug nut?) These "specs" assume of course that the car is ORIGINAL; I mean it's not like you can't put a sway bar on an older model or replace rear fenders with ones that have bigger taillights.

So Which One to Buy?

Well again it depends on what your intentions are. Somewhat objectively below I have "classed" intentions based on vintage "value" and driveability. At the end, in brackets, I have added my "if I could pick any year" pick for the described intentions.

Vintage= HIGH Driveabiltiy=LOW

For true "vintage" character and maximum investment protection: '66 and earlier. You won't drive this car a whole lot. Really the older the better, but parts cost and availability goes up with age. Heavily modifying a complete "old" Beetle into anything but stock is grounds for horsewhipping in many states. [if I could pick a year: easy, a '49]

Vintage= MED/HIGH Driveabiltiy=MED/LOW

For "old Beetle charm", investment protection and some driveability: any '58-'67 Beetle. '65 and up will get you better parts availability and (parts) price, but loose some "vintage" value. But parts interchageability in the '58 - '66 range is very high and there are no real hard-to-finds. You can modify suspensions, brakes etc. to improve driveability, but don't perform and irreversible modifications (see "horsewhipping", above). [if I could pick a year: hmmm.... prolly a '63 sunroof, it's a nice compromise between old and really old, I would be tempted to put a ball joint front end on it though]

Vintage= MED Driveabiltiy=MED/HIGH

If you want a true "daily driver", I'd recommend a '67 to about '71 (non Super). They have all the useable improvements of the "new" Beetles, but are simple and parts for this range are most plentiful (except the '67 for some parts). Investment protection should not be an issue here. After '71, VW made SOME models complicated with fuel injection and McPherson strut front ends (Supers). Accessories, wiring and dashboards got more complicated too. [if I could pick a year: 67, but only if I only had to drive it in good (no salt) weather, other wise '68]

Vintage= LOW Driveabiltiy=HIGH

This would be what I would call a "beater". You just want to drive a bug, you don't care about vintage anything, you will modify anything you want to make it work, you will drive it year round in some less than ideal weather for cars. My recommendation for years is the same as above, except leave the '67 out, it is too special of a year. '68 to about '73. Parts are readily available and yet the design is still straight forward and simple. [if I could pick a year: 68, just 'cause I like the swingaxles]

So that's it folks, hope I've offered something (I did enjoy writing this). Remember be realistic about what you expect from the car and what you want to do with it; long or short term. They are great cars, simple and fun to tinker with. AND, they just ain't makin' them anymore. So keep your eyes open, and don't be afraid to pull a "U-ey" one your way to the in-laws one Sunday when you see a dusty old "complete" looking '62 rolled out in front of a house you've passed 100 times before. Knock on the door, you might have a shot at a real sweetie......"Excuse me, but I was just passing by, and....."

Copyright© 1999; John S. Henry 

[back to FAQ Index]