Most of you fine folks probably know me for my ever-present, ever-consistent positive posts on various and sundry 1950s to 1980s Cadillacs, Lincolns, Oldsmobile Ninety-Eights, Buick Electras and Mercury Marquis Broughams. It is indeed true that I have a serious soft spot for those land yachts, with their Broughamtastic power options, Sierra grained leather or crushed cranberry red velour, landau tops, opera lamps, opera windows and heraldic crests, but believe it or not, I do like other cars. Really!
I’m not going to delve too deeply into VW’s history in the ’50s, or in the Beetle in particular. You all know the story. In the early 1950s VW sent Ben Pon to the US to get some import sales moving. It was a pretty dismal failure. Even that import dealer genius, Max Hoffman, gave it a shot, sold about 2,000 VWs and was dumped by VW. But then magic happened.
Despite its dated platform and negligable performance, the VW took off after Wolfsburg set up a U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. People started buying them, word got around that they were robust and well assembled, sales snowballed, and the rest is history.
Yep, despite having an approximately 20 year old design as the Sixties approached, with running boards-running boards, for Pete’s sake!-VW was on a roll, in Europe, in the U.S., and in many other countries.
By 1958-59, despite looking remarkably similar to its late-1930s iteration, many changes had been made. Heinz Nordhoff, VW’s chief at the time, had decided that regular improvements were necessary, but there should be no change simply for the sake of change. So the cars themselves did not look drastically different.
But despite its resemblance to the prewar Kdf-Wagen, the 1959 Volkswagen sported many improvements. In the United States, MSRP for a Beetle sedan was $1545. The Karmann convertible, a much flossier model with fully insulated top and plusher interior, set you back $2045.
All those invisible changes were there though, for those who thought to look or read the dealer brochure. Among the various and sundry upgrades were larger rear window and windshield for better visibility, widened brake drums and shoes for improved stopping power and a revised engine lid.
Today’s featured cool old car was spotted on Arsenal Island in July of 2014 by yours truly. I believe it is a 1959 model, but a Euro-spec variant, as the fender-top turn signal lamps were absent. This car still had the semaphore style turn signals housed in the B-pillars.
I was visiting the very cool Arsenal Museum at the time, and the VW just happened to be parked in the same lot. I had my mother’s 1995 Jag XJS out for a run, and it was cool to see a fellow non-beige combover-type motor vehicle in the lot! The vintage luggage rack and period correct luggage were a happy bonus. Brougham, VW or otherwise, old cars are cool. And fun! Remember, don’t drive boring!