Monday, October 25, 2010
At last, a drive in a Bug that isn’t a rolling piece of Scheiße.
According to owner, and, judging by the way it looked/drove, this is probably the closest thing to a brand new 1971 Super Beetle available in the entire state at this point, if not the entire country. Bone stock in every way, right down the non-retractable seatbelts. My expectations were very high.
Which is why I was so disappointed. I had always assumed that my late mother’s 72 Bug (which, by the way, I have seen driving around every so often with its new owner) was so crappy feeling because it was old, worn out, and hadn’t been taken care of. Well, it turns out they felt like that when they were new, too. The closest thing I can liken it to is a 1940s farm tractor, which, if you think about it, is what the Type 1 really is. A Chevrolet Aveo is a Mercedes S-Class in comparison, and, amazingly, that is not even the slightest bit of an exaggeration.
It seems almost useless to make objective measurements in comparison to anything even vaguely modern, as the levels of unrefinement are so wildly off the charts. What bothered me the most was that, at any given time, it sounded and felt like the thrashy little engine was sitting right next to you. In the past, I’ve made snarky comments in my reviews of modern economy cars about how it seemed like there was no insulation anywhere on the body at all. With the Bug, there literally isn’t any insulation on the body at all. In all but steady cruising in 3rd or 4th gear, it is difficult to hold a conversation with the passenger sitting right next to you. I honestly couldn’t tell you if there was any road or wind noise, the damn engine was so ear-splittingly loud.
On the other hand, it did ride better than I expect, thanks to generously sized tires and a softly sprung suspension. The steering wasn’t half bad either, and despite being manual the effort was almost equivalent to an overboosted power unit you would find an old Lincoln. I can only assume this is due to there being almost zero weight over the front wheels, with both the engine and driveline being placed out back. The brakes… yikes. Manual, no-antilocks, coming to a stop was an event every time.
As a whole, driving just a couple blocks took an intense amount of effort. Rather than the car being an entire unit that effortlessly worked in harmony, each part of the driving experience – steering, brakes, clutch, throttle, shifter – had to be closely monitored and kept in check at all times. This is in contrast to most modern cars, where two of those variables are removed altogether and the other three are largely taken care of by the car itself, with only slight inputs from the driver. It really is a whole different world.
I can’t see how a car like this would make a plausible daily driver. If it took that much effort (and fear), to a go a mile or two, I can’t imagine what it must be like for thousands. At least it helped renew my appreciation for the technology we have now. I think I’ll leave this one to someone else, and admire it on the road and in parking lots rather than in my own driveway.
Posted by Max P. at 10:20 PM