The Factors Surrounding the 1973 VW Super Beetle
Even though sales of the VW Beetle were pretty consistent during the early years of the seventies, it doesn’t mean that the German automaker wasn’t facing challenges. A scathing consumer report published in the fall of ‘72 concluded that the Beetle was the most dangerous car on the road and that if you were involved in an accident, you could kiss your butt goodbye. In addition, the rising tide of Japanese imports grew as Americans turned toward more stylish fuel-saving cars. Little did the company know it would face an even more significant challenge in a few short months, as an oil embargo would devastate the American economy. So, could the Super Beetle bring back buyers? VW hoped it would.
The 1973 Volkswagen Beetle
For the model year 1973, VW continued to offer two versions of the Beetle, a Basic standard model, and the Super Beetle, which offered more premium features. The sales brochure trumpeted the quality of German engineering by claiming that “all small cars are not created equal.” While VW did make some adjustments to the Super Beetle, the basic design was the same as it had been for the two years the car had been in production.
The 1600 cc four-stroke engine was carried over from the previous year's model. However, there were some minor changes made to it. The 1974 Beetle engine suffered from new reporting standards for horsepower, which lowered the power output to 58. In addition, the engine received new intake pre-heating (to help with startups in colder weather), a new fuel pump with a cutoff valve, and an alternator that replaced the generator in the mid-year. VW also reinforced the engine case to prevent cracking due to overheating.
While the engine could only produce 58 hp, it was pretty efficient. The Super Beetle had a top system of only 81 mph and took 18 - 19 seconds to run 0 - 60 mph. The car wasn’t powerful enough to win any street races, but it could comfortably handle a couple of adults down the road.
The air-cooled engine VW used was horrible for the environment since it released a horrible amount of hydrocarbons into the air. As more Americans began to realize the impact driving them had on their carbon footprints, they shunned the Beetle. New impending emission controls would eventually spell the end for the Beetle, but for the present, VW seemed content to continue to sell the smog-making compact.
The standard transmission for the 73 SB was a four-speed manual transmission, but a new Porsche-style pressure plate was installed for this year's model. The result was a “softer clutch,” which drivers loved. An optional three-speed “semi-automatic transmission was offered, which was really a manual transmission where the driver lifted their foot off the gas to shift.
The new curved windshield was one of the most significant modifications for the 1973 Super Beetle. The previous two years had a flat front window pane, but the ‘74 Beetle offered a 43% larger front glass. (Volkswagen cut higher into the roofline to provide additional visibility and light into the cabin. The new windshield also impacted the size of the front trunk lid, which was smaller than the previous model).
Exterior refinements included new “elephant-foot” style taillights, which required the rear fender to be redesigned. The increase in size also increased safety. Other changes were a two-finger door trigger and more substantial bumpers that could hold up better in a crash.
Volkswagen offered seven exterior colors for the Sedan version of the Super Beetle (only six were allowed on the Convertible). The color choices were Biscayne Blue, Marina Blue, Kansas Biege, Sumatra Green, Texas Yellow, and Kasan Red.
Several interior changes occurred during the 1973 Super Beetle. The dashboard was moved forward slightly to assist with the interior room and enlarged with new padding. (The dashboard had been metal since 1958). VW knew that the new “airbag” technology would find its way into many vehicles, so the larger dash anticipated the upcoming developments.
For driver's convenience, a new raised speedometer was fashioned for easier visibility. Rocker-style toggle switches were included, making it easier to install after-market products, and a new side window defroster was built into the top of the dash.
New front seats were contoured with side supports for a more comfortable fit for the driver and front passenger. The seat fabric was offered in cloth and leatherette in beige, black, navy blue, and silver grey.
The seats continued to have release handles built into the side, which, when lifted, gave access to the rear seat area. (The back seat wasn’t any more extensive, and it was very cramped for adults).
Interior lighting was modified with more accessible switches. VW took full advantage of the new interior dimensions by encouraging customers to “Think Big,” which an average person might not do on a small car. Another ad led with a caption of “Sitting Is Believing.” It is clear from the early ads that VW was trying to address the negative stereotypes of a small car.
Several options were available for the 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Options included mag wheels, a ski rack, a luggage rack, air conditioning, and an AM/FM radio with an 8-track tape player.
For the North American market, the Super Beetle Sports Bug was offered. The variant was available in Marathon Blue Metallic or Sun Yellow, featuring red and black striping down the sides and in the middle of the front trunk lid. With blackout bumpers, black accents around each headlight, and specialized Perelli sport radial tires and sport-styled rims, the Beetle was a distinctive option. The interior featured black corduroy seating surfaces with a three-spoke steering wheel.
Sales for the 1973 Beetles rebounded to 350,357 units in the USA, with VW selling over 1.2 million Beetles worldwide. The MSRP for a 1973 Super Beetle was $2,449. (The price was about $300 more than in 1972).
Even though sales showed signs of improving, the fall of 1973 would pose even more severe challenges for the company, and by the time the year was through, more Americans had purchased Japanese imports than from Germany for the first time. Within two years, production for the Beetle would fall to 82K units. Customers did not want to spend much higher prices during times of economic uncertainty.
The Specs of the 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle
What’s the Value of a 1973 Super Beetle Today?
According to Hagerty, the value of a restored ‘73 is $13,200. The advantage of this kind of restoration project is its availability. Since over 4 million Beetles were sold in the USA from 1950 - 1979, plenty of these cars are still on the road. A strong aftermarket community has grown up from it, so restorers can often find advice and answers to their questions online. The Volkswagen Club of America is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving VWs, and many state and local chapters are available.