The early-21st century fad for retro-styled cars, including the PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR, Mini Cooper, and Fiat 500, got its start with the late-1990s introduction of the Volkswagen New Beetle (we’re still waiting for a Nissan model made to look like the Datsun F-10). Like most people (and especially like most who had ever owned a real air-cooled Beetle), I grew weary of the sight of these allegedly cute cars after a few years, and as a result I’ve been ignoring the many examples I find during my junkyard travels.
These cars make up an important piece of our collective automotive history, though, and I resolved that I’d shoot the first one I found on a recent wrecking-yard trip. Here it is, straight from the Denver U-Pull-&-Pay!
When I decided I’d been ignoring BMW E30s long enough and photographed the very first one I saw after that decision, it turned out to be a pretty unexciting ’86 325e with an automatic. Not so with the first Beetle I found after hitting the imports section: this is a turbocharged Sport model with manual transmission.
With the same 2.0-liter, 150-horse turbocharged four that went into its Golf GTI cousin, the New Beetle Sport was quick and fun, plus it got decent fuel economy for those long suburban commutes.
Because American commuters prefer to have their right hands free for eating, reading, applying makeup, and other crucial tasks while driving, nearly all of these cars were sold with automatic transmissions. Not this car, though — it has the five-speed manual. As my friend with a five-speed turbo New Beetle learned when trying to sell his car, the presence of a manual transmission makes most used motor vehicles impossible to sell, and this Beetle’s junkyardization was probably hastened by that troublesome third pedal.
Of course, affordable European cars tend to have not-so-affordable mechanical problems as they get older, and so the New Beetle and all its VW/Audi relatives aren’t worth much even with automatics and perfect interiors. Since this car’s interior wasn’t great and most Americans couldn’t drive it anyway, it’s a good guess that some $1,500 repair doomed this $900 car.
With the electronic odometer, I can’t tell how many miles were on this ’01 when it took its final tow truck ride. The worn-out seats suggest that it reached a respectable final figure. That tiny tachometer looks sort of useless, but this combination gauge fits nicely with Volkswagen tradition.
Très, très sécuritaire.
I am disappointed that we don’t get to see the drag race between mouth-breather in a Chevelle and wholesome couple in a Beetle Sport.
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