The Beetle was never intended to be a Rolls Royce, rather to serve the working class. Over time, Beetles earned the reputation of being reliable, economical and long lasting. What I’m talking about, is the post war years before 1961, when car makers where struggling to make it in the marketplace. However, there where shortcomings. Some inherited by design, others by manufacture or even poor service. In this article we are going to take a look at some of these problems. To solve problems you need solutions, not excuses and advertising propaganda is like pulling a sock over one’s head. There are facts.
Let’s start off with the age-old problem of overheating.
Volkswagen says air doesn’t freeze and air doesn’t boil. That, in my opinion, is only sales talk. The important thing is how hot your engine gets, and subsequently the oil in it! All VW says is that the running temperature of the engine is 75 degrees Celsius, but they never talk about what the maximum temperature should be. You’ll reach 75 degrees Celsius within a few kilometers, depending on what the outside temperature is on that day. In Antarctica it would take longer than driving through the Karoo desert in midsummer, for instance.
Let’s say 75 degrees Celsius is the running temperature, then 76 degrees Celsius is already too much. Water cooled engines are too hot when they boil over (water boils at 100 degrees Celsius). When measuring oil temperatures on a Beetle, you’ll find that it can easily reach temperatures of over 130 degrees Celsius . The highest I have measured was 143 degrees Celsius, with a VDO Unit that can register 150 degrees Celsius maximum. (Don’t buy 120 degrees Celsius unit.) When Beetles get that hot they will show signs sooner or later, like: pre-ignition, pinking, oil burning smells, airlocks in petrol pumps etc. (Petrol boils at +- 70 degrees Celsius and would also start making bubbles when reaching this temp.) It all leads to oil leaks in the long run and eventually engine failure. The 2½ liters of engine oil in your engine are good for 5000 km under normal conditions; any increase in heat will shorten your oil life.
Bringing the temperature down is the answer, but to do that you’ll first need to fit a reliable meter. Driving with a partly open engine lid can bring the temperature down by almost 20 degrees Celsius. Fitting a proper seal between the engine and body helps as well, but to really solve oil cooling, you’ll need a mechanical solution, like a bigger oil pump, suitable oil cooler etc.
Most Beetle drivers who use temperature meters set their own maximum red line at 120-125 degrees Celsius.
Good oil also helps. I know of a 1972-1300cc, that has never been out of town and the engine has now passed 430,000 km and never been worked on. Then I also know of a VW workshop foreman, who took a crank and con rods along on his annual Christmas holidays to the coast !
On my Beetle, I get good results in performance, temperature, petrol consumption etc., but I have made numerous small changes that make a worthwhile difference. I’ve used my Beetle for higher speeds, sometimes up to 150 km/h, towing caravans and various trailers, pulling other Beetles by means of an A-frame, and in 1999 I took my then 1300cc, on a 7500 km marathon trip in 7-1/2 days. That is 1000 km per day average with no service in between, no punctures, no breakdowns and NO oil leaks, only using 1 liter of engine oil the whole trip. What I am trying to say is that my Beetle works for me, yours should too.