VW Beetles through the ages

As one of autodom's most iconic cars gets its latest makeover, here's a look at its evolution over the last 75 years.

Meet the Beetles
Meet the Beetles
Like many members of my early baby boom generation, my first car was a Volkswagen Beetle. My Vermont college campus was blanketed with them, which made it an easy call. The hip, utilitarian image created by VW's innovative advertising fit my own self-image, and the price was right. Right after I turned 21 and was allowed a car on campus, I paid $600 for a black 1961 Beetle . (What an investment that could have been! A black '61 was recently advertised for sale at $14,500).

Beetles of that era came in two body styles -- hard-top and cabriolet -- and with one powertrain option: air-cooled, rear-engine, three-speed manual transmission. The flipper turn signals had finally given way to more conventional lights, but there was still no gas gauge. Like other drivers I relied on the emergency tank, silently praying that I had remembered to fill it every time I made a changeover.

That black Beetle served me nearly flawlessly until I passed it on to my brother and graduated much less successfully to a 544S Volvo. Little did I suspect that the Beetle would remain alive as long as I have. The original rear-engined Beetle, produced from 1938 to 2003, is the longest-running and most manufactured automobile in history. Its immediate successor, the 1999 New Beetle, is less historically significant but equally iconoclastic. Recently, I got a chance to drive the latest edition of this automotive epic, the 2012 Beetle, and it made me think about all its incarnations over the last three quarters of a century.

By Alex Taylor III, senior editor-at-large - Last updated November 02 2011: 5:49 AM ET
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