When VW Beetles were $50 - Morley's World

By: Dave Morley

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When Volkswagen Beetles were $50 and the second one was free

At the risk of being accused of objectifying women (and if you knew the women in my life, you’d know I couldn’t be that stupid: You’d be a collection of body parts in a barrel before you knew what hit you) I have at various times become unwittingly engaged in a front-bar round of `What do you find attractive in the opposite sex?’ My mates have either taken the moral high road or, far more commonly, the low road. Some have been more honest than that, quoting the ability to help move the lounge or handle a trolley-jack as a huge boost to attractiveness.

Me? What do I find attractive in a potential partner? That’s an easy one. My answer: Attainability.


This one cost more than $50

Let’s face it, without that element, the relationship – regardless of physical or emotional aspects – isn’t going to get far is it?

Now, swap ‘partner’ for ‘car’. While ‘big lungs’ and ‘long legs’ might still apply, so does attainability. And for the same reasons. There’s no point your Y-fronts screaming ‘Lamborghini Miura’ if your wallet is mumbling ‘Lada Samara’. Okay, we can all dream, but when I was a kid, dreaming was another word for walking home. Daryl Kerrigan knows what I mean.


Early Volksys are gaining value rapidly

Perhaps this degree of pragmatism explains my passion for air-cooled Volkswagens. Actually, I don’t know why I even qualified that with ‘air-cooled’, because when I was a tacker, there was no other kind of Volksy. (Tautology wasn’t lost on us young ’uns, I tell ya.) Anyway, the point being that we all had VWs either as our first road car (and our second, third and fourth, as we slowly came to terms with swing-axle handling) or as – ahem – shooting buggies in which we’d tear around back-yards and farms, laying waste to topsoil and gate-posts.

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And why did we have VWs? Because they were sophisticated? Because they offered superb performance and handling? Nope, because the buggers were lying in paddocks and carports all over the place and because they were just about free. And that’s attainability, right there.


GT has rescued a few

Negotiations for a new Dak-Dak usually began with approaching the owner with a view to helping him clean up his paddock. Eventually, you’d get down to tin tacks and the car would be offered to you for – usually – fifty bucks. And if you dig it out yourselves, you can have the one next to it for nothing. Bewdy.

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Once you’d raised the victim from its hub-cap-deep grave, you could pump up the cross-plies, stick a battery under the rear seat, gap the points with a Tally-Ho paper and pour a splosh of fuel down the carby. And 99 times out of 100, the old bugger would splutter to life and pepper the young shins of the throttle-man (standing at the back to tickle the carby) with high-velocity rust as the muffler disintegrated in real time under the onslaught of 36 rampaging ponies. If you were keen, you’d change the oil and maybe throw on a new fanbelt before pretending it was roadworthy and driving it home on the park-brake.


Chris Ma sent us snaps of this split window back in 2015. Was it rescued?

I’m not sure why old VWs are so keen to fire up after four decades of lounging around in a field. Maybe it’s the lack of coolant to leach into everything and corrode. Maybe it’s the sheer simplicity of the design and air-cooled tolerances. But whatever it is, it taught a whole generation of kids like me about bringing dead cars back to life.

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But sadly, that situation is no more. Why? Because just like gentleman race-drivers, trustworthy politicians and 10mm sockets, attainability as it once applied to old Beetles can no longer be found. I know this, because I look at classified adverts. At first, I thought I was looking at a mis-print; 20-grand for a Dak-Dak? Can’t be right. It wasn’t…it was 25-grand. The what now…? Oh, and I’ve seen them with an asking price that starts with a four.


GT has rescued a few

Turns out, old Beetles aren’t festering away in paddocks any longer. Nor are they to be found under tarps in driveways. Well, not very often anyway. And even though the Germans inflicted eleventy bazillion of the things on an unsuspecting world, seems like there aint too many left. Who’d have ever thought that? Mind you, that genius piece of design that placed the metal-framed, horse-hair-filled back seat (fuel supply) over the battery (ignition source) certainly took care of a few Beetles over the years. As did the fuel line that was a push-fit into the carburettor and the engine-driven fuel pump that kept on blurting fuel everywhere as long as the wheels were turning and the car was in gear, regardless of whether it was already on fire or not.

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Even so, it still strikes me that prices have only really gone stupid very lately. Sure, they were ratcheting up along with inflation, wages and the consumer price index (whatever that is) but it seems to me that Covid has added a zero to everything. Jobseeker has seen a whole bunch of people with more money per fortnight than they’ve ever seen before, while others have raided their superannuation to arrive at the same unfamiliar point on the fiscal map.


Fastback VW was considered exotic

But even with that in mind, having just spent a few days underneath my own 75 Beetle with a view to getting it roadworthy (by which I mean, not having to drive it on the park-brake) I cannot, for the life of me, explain why these humble little arse-about nuggets should be worth any more than the original fifty-buck ask.

It’s not like there’s a huge mob of tech in them. Or lots of exotic materials. Or lots of anything, really. Fact is, your air-cooled Beetle has about three moving parts. Two, if the wiper-motor is seized. And even though they were well-made in the day, six decades have still taken their toll in terms of rust, crash damage and general worn-outed-ness. Oh sure, you can buy just about any part for them nowadays (thanks to a monster of an aftermarket scene in the US) but even then, restoring one is not going to blow-up the bank like changing the brake pads in an E-Type. They just shouldn’t be so expensive.


Beetle prices have clearly shifted since this 1991 issue of Unique Cars

Then again, given that I’ve just seen an ad for an $80,000 HQ Sandman, anything’s possible. Apparently. Now, let me tell you about old Holdens dumped in paddocks in the good old days…


From Unique Cars #448, January 2021

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