The Volkswagen Beetle was introduced in Germany in 1937. A design put forward by legendary car builder Ferdinand Porsche, it was to provide transportation for the masses. Translating into “people’s automobile”, it was a simple, reliable and affordable vehicle initially for the German people, but it eventually made its way to Canada in 1952. While the ’50s was mostly about style and horsepower, there was also a segment of the market that looked towards economy and reliability and, in those respects, the imported Beetle shone above many others.
Constructed on a unitized floor-pan, the suspension and powertrain are contained in a sub-assembly that could be used in various body configurations. Along with the coupe, there was the introduction of a cabriolet in 1950. Manufactured in Wolfsburg, West Germany, the cabriolet models were constructed by Karmann and lent a dab of sportiness to the otherwise utilitarian coupe.
Between its inception and 1958, the Volkswagen had not changed much. The coupe’s rear window grew from an oval to a rectangle and the semaphore or trafficator turn indicators moved from the B-pillar to actual lamp housings atop of the front fenders. The wheelbase continued at 94.5-inches and the rear-mounted, flat four-cylinder, air-cooled powertrain produced 36 horsepower at 3,700 r.p.m. and 56 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,000 r.p.m. The electrical remained a six-volt system. With a curb weight of 1,764 pounds, both performance and fuel economy were very good.
For Winnipeg’s Doug Ennis, his 1958 Volkswagen Cabriolet was first purchased from its Osborne dealership by his stepfather Jerry Baker. Driven as his daily car until a front-end collision in 1971, the bug then resided in a field on the family farm just east of Winnipeg. When Ennis turned 16 in the late 1970s, he and Baker took the Beetle on as a project.
“It gave me an opportunity to bond with him,” Ennis says.
“With each passing year, we would compile a list and Jerry and my mom, Gail, would go south for the winter to San Diego and purchase the parts we needed,” says Ennis.
A new hood, front fenders and bumper were installed and the car moved to a body shop on Logan Avenue for the final prep and to apply a bright white paint finish. A new black convertible top was installed along with a new black carpet. New brakes, clutch, bias ply tires and muffler were installed, but the original 60,000-mile engine and transaxle were left. Also on board is the original red vinyl interior upholstery and the original ignition key. The only option found on the car is an AM radio.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the Cabriolet saw many shows and meets and was used sparingly as a summer driver. It even took top honours at the 1986 World of Wheels show in Winnipeg. Today, it remains a well-maintained summer car and can be seen at several shows. Over the years, Ennis has entertained the idea of selling the Beetle, but falls back on its sentimental value.
“Jerry passed 23 years ago but, if it wasn’t for him, the car wouldn’t be here,” Ennis says, “so I had Cruisin’ with Jerry painted on the dashboard, as a tribute to him.”
Even with all of the hot rods and muscle cars, the Volkswagen Beetle is right at home at car shows and show and shine events. Their longevity, thanks to the ease of maintenance and readily available parts base, makes them an ideal candidate for a classic ride. In all body styles the Volkswagen was a successful import and 451,528 were produced in 1958. While those numbers may have diminished, they still have a great following and value. Although not as high as other collector vehicles, they remain steady, with good appreciation potential.
Phased out of the North American market after 1976, the Beetle was replaced by the Rabbit or Golf model as it was later known by.