One of the trends in classic car collecting that never seems to run out of steam is the fascination with air-cooled VWs. Beetles from the early 1950s to the late 1970s become more collectable with every passing day, while VW buses, known in South Africa as “Kombis” are off the charts in terms of their desirability.
Why is this so? Probably the main reason is that the VW Kombi and Beetle were such reliable vehicles that even today, many youngsters have an early childhood experience of a Beetle or Kombi in their lives. These darned bugs were survivors! And as we all know, those early impressions stay with you for decades. All over the world, including South Africa, Beetle and VW Bus gatherings are held on a regular basis and they are very well attended.
The Classic Car Show regularly draws up to 50 Beetles and buses and as a service to show-goers we thought a quick-guide to the major model differences between the various Kombis and Beetle versions of the years would be handy.
The Volkswagen Beetle Spotters Guide
An interesting fact is that the original VW Beetle was never badged as such. It’s a nick-name, because the rounded-off little car so obviously resembles a common-and-garden Beetle or Bug. Here’s a quick guide to major styling and mechanical milestones.
Early Beetles in South Africa
The first VW Beetle rolled off the production line in Uitenhage, South Africa in 1951, about six years after it became generally available in Europe. The first-generation VW Beetle had an 1100 cc flat-four air-cooled engine that produced about 22 kW.
Split window, 1951 to late 1952: The first-generation VW Beetle, built here between 1951 and 1952, is known as a split-window, because the tiny rear window is split into two sections. These are the rarest Beetles in South Africa, because so few were built, and only a handful survive. If you see one at Nasrec on November 11, consider yourself to be very fortunate!
Oval Window, 1953 to 1957. The second major evolution of the Beetle saw a small oval rear window replace the split window rear screen. The engine size had also increased to a 1200, although many people mistakenly still think these engines are 1100s, because, like the originals, they feature a generator mounting cast in one piece with the crankcase. Later post 1950s Beetle engines had a generator mounting bolted to the crankcase.
1958 Model with semaphore indicators: The 1958 model Beetle was the first with a larger screen rear window. But for one year only, 1958, this large-rear-windowmodel still had the pop-out indicators on the door posts, known as semaphores, or trafficators, as fitted to the 1951-1957 Beetles.
1959 to 1965: These years comprise the 1200 model, with rounded bumpers and railings. These Beetles generally comprise the classic 1200 models of the early 1960s.
1966: The 1300 Beetle. For this year the engine size increased to 1300 and the cars were badged as 1300s, the badge being affixed to the rear engine lid.
1967 Disc brake Beetle. One of the rarest Beetles in South Africa, as it was a 1500, with flat hubcaps and front disc brakes. This was the only year that Beetles were produced here with disc brakes. And disc brake Beetles were only built for part of 1967. Later in the year they reverted to drum brakes and the classic round Beetle hubcaps.
1968 to 1970 Beetles: These models were available with the excellent 1500 motors, and smaller rear tail lights, but newer, flat-pressed bumpers.
1970s Beetles. In the 1970s, Beetles were produced here with 1300 cc and 1600 cc motors. Early in the ‘70s, the tail lights grew to very large, round proportions. The bumpers had already changed to flat-section pressed steel items, not as attractive as the old rounded bumpers of pre-1968.
The final decade changes: Other changes in this final decade of Beetle production included cars fitted with sporty Rostyle rims at the factory, a sporty twin-carb SP Beetle with 14-inch Rostyles and side-stripes, and late in the production cycle, the so-called S model which was the only Beetle here to feature a curved front windscreen and a dashboard covered in vinyl and fake wood trim. In the final production years there were also various “special” trim variants, such as the Fun Bug and the Jeans Bug. The last Beetle in South Africa was built in January 1979, by which time it was effectively replaced by the front-engined, water-cooled Golf.
First-generation, built in SA from 1955 to 1967: The correct term for these VW buses is “Microbus” or “Transporter”, but everyone here calls them Kombis, which was in fact a German name for a combination vehicle. And some of the early VW buses assembled here were officially called Kombis by VWSA.
These first-gen Kombis are today known as “Splitties”, referring to the front windscreen that was split in two halves. The early buses had a 1200 cc Beetle-type engine. In the early 1960s, this engine for the Kombi grew to 1500 cc to provide a little bit more power.
Early Splitties came in closed-panel van guise, Kombi bus guise, as a single-cab pick-up, and as the lovely Delux Microbus, which had either 21 or 23 windows, some of these windows being located in the roof!
Second-generation, 1968 to 1980. This is the so-called Bay Window model, because the single-piece front windscreen is curved and protrudes a little ahead of the bodywork. These much larger models came in van style (transporter) bus, Delux bus and also in the very collectable Westphalia camper style. They had engines ranging in size from 1600 cc to 2 000 cc. And some were also offered with an automatic transmission.
Fleetline Kombis, 1975 to 1976: This is a very unusual VW bus in global terms, in that it was produced here in South Africa for just over a year from kits imported from Brazil. The idea, in the mid-‘70s, was to offer a cheaper “KombI” than the Bay Window bus, which came into production here from 1968 onwards. The Fleetline bus resembles an early first-generation split-window bus, but there are a few tell-tale signs that differentiate it from a genuine German-orientated split window bus. One of these differences is that the budget-orientated Fleetline bus had the large VW badge pressed into the metal on the nose, whereas earlier German-spec split-screen buses (assembled here in South Africa between 1955 and 1967) had separate large VW metal badges affixed to the nose.
Apart from the VWs, there will be a huge number of muscle cars, hot rods, Britsh classics, French classics and much more at The Classic Car Show at Naserc on Sunday, November 11.
There will also be a special Family Day feature at the show, catering to young children. Other entertainment to look out for includes:
• Flea Market
• Beer Garden
• Live Music Entertainment
• Kids Entertainment
• Helicopter Rides
And as at previous Classic Car Shows, a Prawn Festival will also provide some amazing culinary enticements for those who are not merely feasting on all the visual automotive delights.
Opening times at Nasrec on Sunday, November 11, are 7 am for exhibitors. Owners of classic cars will be granted free admission, as well as one passenger per car. Classic car owners are advised to get their cars into the display areas as early as possible on Sunday, November 11.
Gates for spectators open at 8 am. Spectators will be provided with ample parking at a price of R20, with access to the show via the gates on the south side of the expo centre, close to Nasrec Road.
Admission prices are R60 per adult and R20 for children under 12, if booked via Computicket.
Entry prices at the gate on November 11 are R80 for adults and R20 for children under 12.
For more information visit www.classiccarshow.co.za, or contact Paulo Calisto on 066 053 5425.
Nasrec is located just off the N1 Highway South West of Johannesburg, and is simple to access via the Rand Show Road off-ramp.