1974 Super Beetle: Exploring Volkswagen's Timeless Classic

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After an oil embargo sent gas prices soaring, Americans needed a reliable people mover that sipped gas. VW offered them the 1974 Super Beetle.

The 1974 Super Beetle was a two-door compact that was produced by Volkswagen. It was powered by a 1600 cc engine that produced 60 hp and had a top speed of 86 mph. In a time of gas shortages, the VW Super Beetle provided many families with an economical vehicle for their needs.

With gasoline rising 35% almost overnight due to an oil embargo from OPEC, VW saw an opportunity to increase sales through its dependable Beetle lineup. Since its introduction in 1971, the Super Beetle had slightly boosted sales, helping the German automaker fight the rising tide of Japanese imports. While Americans were buying more cars from Japan than Germany, and Volkswagen continued to see its market share dwindling, they promoted the classic Super Beetle as the answer to the oil crisis. Let’s examine the 1974 Super Beetle in more detail to see why many American families used them to stretch their family dollars.

Table of Contents


The Power Of Oil

The Arab oil embargo in retaliation for the US backing Israel was a wake-up call for most of the nation. Long lines at filling stations, service centers running out of gas, or stores limiting purchases were the norm. American families reeled under the effects of inflation as it almost doubled in months (from 6.22% to 11.04%). The fuel cost affected the price of everything, as most commodities that families depended on were hauled by truck. The public didn’t just pay more for gasoline for their cars. They paid higher prices for everything.

Volkswagen had been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis during the early 70s. While Americans had snatched up the cute little Bug during the sixties, sales had slowed. Americans had grown tired of the standard Beetle, its rounded egg shape, and lack of amenities. For the first time in their history, Americans purchased more imports from Japan than Germany in 1973, and this was cause for great concern for the corporate heads of VW.

Advertisements touted the ability of the Volkswagen Beetle to get 25 mpg, with clever advertising like “If gas pains persist, try Volkswagen.” (If you lived back in the 70s and watched your buddies pushing their friends big blocks into the gas station, you’d know how effective that ad was). Volkswagen wanted to reclaim its rightful spot as the number one import since, only a couple of years before, it had earned the claim of the most-produced car ever.

The Features of the 74 Super Beetle

For 1974, VW once again offered two types of Beetles (the standard Beetle was labeled “Basic” and the premium Super Beetle). Even though both were powered by the same engine and shared almost identical exterior features, the Super Beetle did offer more comforts. The SB was offered as a sedan or convertible with a padded vinyl roof.

The VW received the required safety updates mandated by the government (5 mph crash absorbing bumpers), which added an inch to the length of the car. In addition, the steering knuckle and front strut were modified to aid in how the vehicle handled in emergency situations. Other than that, there weren’t a lot of changes in the VW Super Beetle from the previous years since its introduction in 1971.


The 1600 cc four-cycled air-cooled engine was mounted in the rear, producing 58 hp (although the government mandated net hp ratings after 1972, so the company was forced to report 46 hp instead in their dealer spec sheet). The engine produced 72 ft-lbs of torque, enough to give the Super Beetle a top speed of 81 mph (78 mph with an automatic). Even though it took 20.5 seconds for the SB to work up to 60 mph, it was fast enough to transport people from place to place.

Another advantage of the smaller four-stroke engine was that it didn’t need quarts of oil to be lubricated. VW quickly pointed out that their frugal little engine needed pints, not quarts. (In a time of oil scarcity, this was an advantage). Since the engine was air-cooled, there was no need for antifreeze, or water (no coolant leaks). The small engine was easy to maintain, could be dropped by removing four bolts, and sounded like a high-revving sewing machine when operating. Other changes were a new cylinder head alloy for better heat dissipation and improved diagnostic read connections.

The air-cooled engines were becoming a problem for Volkswagen since they released a ton of hydrocarbons into the air. Sensing they were living on borrowed time, VW launched the Rabbit in ‘74 (as a ‘75 model) with a water-cooled engine.


The flat windshield that had been so characteristic of the SB’s early years was replaced in ‘73 and carried over for this year’s model. The windshield of Super Beetle had been replaced with a curved front window in 1973, and was carried over. The new windshield was cut farther into the roofline, which allowed more light into the cabin, improved visibility, and provided a more airy appearance. The ‘74 still employed the famous egg-shaped body with curved fenders, rounded headlights, and 15-inch wheels.

VW offered seven color choices for the Super Beetle (white was only available on the Basic). The exterior paint colors were Black, African Red, Marina Blue, Bright Orange, Rallye Yellow, Tropical Green, and Sahara Beige.


For the ‘74 model year, VW improved the suspension of the Beetle again, redesigning the steering knuckle and the contact point for the negative kingpin axis. One of the complaints of the VW for a couple of years had been that the Beetles were unsafe to drive due to their lack of ability to steer in a crash. (A considerable study had been done a couple of years prior, which VW spent millions of dollars trying to discredit).


The VW Super Beetle's interior saw significant changes, with newly contoured seats, an improved dashboard that was shifted forward, and more interior room for front-seat passengers. (The back seat was as cramped as ever). In addition, the headrests for the front seats were reduced in size to provide better line of sight vision out of the rear window.

The customer had their choice of cloth or leatherette seats, but there was only one option for color with a particular paint choice. (For example, if you ordered your SB painted black, it came with a red interior.

The steering wheel was made softer to minimize the impact a person might have in a frontal crash, and the seat belts were improved with new interlocking mechanisms to keep drivers planted in their seats in the event of an accident. The dashboard contained the same center circle including an easy-to-read speedometer, fuel gauge, and odometer. Warning lights for the brake and seatbelt were combined, and there were idiot lights for the battery and oil pressure

Special Editions

1974 saw the addition of some unique models that could be ordered by the customer. The Sun Bug was a limited edition model that could be purchased as a standard Beetle or Super Beetle. The car was finished in gold-metallic paint, with side stripes, special sport wheels, and a steel sliding sunroof on the Super Beetle. The Sun Bug was not very well received, and only about 300 were pushed through dealer showrooms.

In addition, during the mid-year, the limited edition “Big Beetle” was introduced (literally a modified Super Beetle in the US). The VW featured unique metallic paint schemes with corduroy interiors and wood grain on the dash. The “Big” Beetle sat on specially made Pirelli sport tires.

VW brought out a “Love Bug” (to match the Sun Bug), but it was based on the Basic Beetle and was priced below the Basic in the VW lineup.


As much as Volkswagen had hope for better numbers, only 226,098 Beetles (both basic and Super Beetle) were sold in the US (5,730 of those were convertibles). VW sold less than a million units worldwide for the first time in years. When sales dipped even further the next year to 82,030, it was clear that Americans were just not in love with the Beetle anymore.

The Specs Of The 1974 Super Beetle

The specifications for the 1974 Super Beetle are listed below.

1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle Specification
Production 335,446 (Beetles and Super Beetles)
MSRP $2,849
Seating Capacity 4
Doors 2
Engine 1600 cc Flat Four-cylinder
Cooled Air-cooled
Transmission 4-speed manual (standard)
3-speed Semi-automatic (optional)
Weight 1,844 lbs
Length 164.8 inches
Width 62.4 inches
Height 59.1 inches
Wheelbase 95.3 inches
Ground Clearance 5.9 inches
AirConditioning Optional
Interior Seats Cloth or Leatherette