The Legacy Of The Volkswagen Beetle
VW entered the US market in 1951, selling only 390 units in the first year. Most American buyers disliked the unique compact with its puny little engine. With images of World War II still fresh in their minds, most believed the Bug had no place on the American street. (My grandfather used to tell me that he wanted to ship every VW back to Germany). Even with a low price of $1295, few VW Bugs sold the first few years.
The tepid reception that VW received changed in the late 50s. As sales began to climb, a national ad campaign encouraged potential customers to “Think Small.” Instead of competing against the massive engine power from V8s that most domestic car companies were producing, VW took a more rebellious, anti-establishment attitude. The ads worked, and sales of the quirky little car took off. Sales were best during the 1960 - ‘65 model year, but by the early seventies, over 4 million Beetles were parked in American driveways.
The Features Of The 1972 Super Beetle
VW offered the “Super Beetle” as a larger version of the standard beetle in 1971 to counter slipping sales. The new, more extensive Super Beetle line was continued for 1972 and would be a part of the VW family until 1979. The new car was 2 inches longer with a 1.4-inch wider stance. The Super Beetle had a convertible option, which was not included in the standard Bug. (All ‘72 Beetle Convertibles are Super Beetles). In addition, VW produced a special edition Beetle they dubbed the “Super Beetle Baja Champion SE” to commemorate their win as the most-produced car in history. The Baja was painted in marathon blue and given a unique 15-inch wheel treatment.
The sales brochure for 1972 encouraged Americans to look past the Bug’s exterior design and focus on the countless ways the automaker was improving the car. The brochure told buyers, “This year, we made a lot of improvements to the Super Beetle, but despite everything we’ve done, it doesn’t look any more beautiful.”
The ‘72 VW Super Beetle was powered by a 1600cc flat-four air-cooled four-cycle rear-mounted engine. The engine produced around 60 horsepower. The car didn’t set any land speed records (it took the Super Beetle 19.5 seconds to go from 0 - 60 mph), but it was capable enough to move people around. The top speed of the VW was around 72 mph with a tailwind, even though the speedometer went all the way to 90.
The engine was cooled by an air fan, which was thermostatically controlled. The downdraft carburetor with automatic choke and a new air cooler had been improved the year before when Volkswagen replaced the 1500 cc with the 1600 cc motor. In 1972, VW added a diagnostic socket on the Beetle, allowing service technicians to hook up their computers when trying to determine specific issues.
In addition, the engine cover was made with four louvered slats to help improve airflow to the engine, and VW re-engineered the exhaust valve seats to handle the growing use of unleaded gasoline.
VW offered a four-speed manual transmission throughout its production, but in 1968, the German automaker introduced the three speed fully synchronized “semi-automatic.” The innovative, automatic stick-shift gave drivers the best of both worlds, allowing them the lift their foot off the gas, shift the car into a higher gear, and cruise away. With no left-foot clutch pedal, the car was easy to drive.
The most significant change for the 1972 Super Beetles was that VW increased the rear windshield by 11% more than previous models. The Super Beetle retained much of the look of the basic Beetle with its flat windshield, curved fenders with rounded headlights, and parking lights situated on top of the fenders.
The front hood luggage area offered new storage space, resulting from the new front suspension (Regular Bugs did not have the front suspension). The front bumper and rear bumpers were straight chrome bars with a black accent strip.
The only way to get a convertible was to order the Super Beetle in 1972. While the standard Beetle had an option for a sunroof, it did not offer the drop-top as an option.
Inside the ‘72 Super Beetles, VW added some safety features, including a shock-absorbing steering wheel. The wiper controls were moved to the end of the turn signal stock to make it easier for the driver to operate them. The car was equipped with new intermittent wipers, an option never offered on Volkswagens before.
The seats were basic cloth with leatherette trim with levers on the sides to allow passengers to access the back seat. While the back seat area was supposed to be large enough to sit two adults, it was more than a little cramped for anyone unfortunate enough to sit back there.
The dashboard offered an easy-to-read large center speedometer containing the fuel gauge, odometer, battery, and oil pressure warning lights. Available options included an AM/FM with Cassette, air-conditioning, floor mats, and a bolt-to-frame trailer hitch.
The fuel economy for the 1972 Super Beetle is 22.9 combined. The car was a direct challenge to the Big Block motors of the day. The gas tank held 10.6 gallons which range about 250 miles. The engine was modified in 1972 to take unleaded fuel, which was becoming the norm.
VW sales rebounded somewhat in 1972, with over 335k Beetles and Super Beetles sold. Even though buyers seemed to be moving back toward Volkswagen, a publication released in the fall of 1971 exposed the safety concerns of Volkswagens. The book, Small - On Safety: The Designed-In Dangers of the Volkswagen was a treatise on how unsafe the VW Beetle and Microbus were. The book was based on a 1971 extensive research study, and they concluded that the VW Beetle was the most unsafe car on American roads, and the Microbus was too dangerous even to drive.
The book impacted federal legislation when the government required manufacturers to provide free repairs for any recall. Until then, many automakers like VW had been making customers pay for the recall repairs for their vehicles.
What Happened To The Super Beetle?
Any student of automotive history knows that the muscle car era was over by 1972. With new emission regulations coming down the pike, automakers were forced to make significant modifications to comply with the new laws. Eventually, the production moved to Mexico, and though the Beetle would soldier on for another few years, it never regained the immense following that it enjoyed in the early sixties.
The Specs Of The 1972 Super Beetle
The specifications for the 1972 Super Beetle are listed below.