- Associated Press - Friday, July 4, 2014

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Few cars have exemplified minimalist motoring better than the Volkswagen Type 1 - better known as the Beetle.

The bubble-shaped, rear-engined runabout has sold millions since it debuted in 1938 during World War II. The car itself was a project developed by Ferdinand Porsche and commissioned by Adolf Hitler himself. The idea involved a car that could cruise Germany’s new autobahn roads at high speeds while still getting commendable fuel economy.

Despite its origins, the car has a huge cult following, and seeing at least a couple at a car show is a given.

Bill Armstrong has owned a Beetle for a couple of years, but it’s definitely not his first. Years ago, he got his hands on a pair of Beetles in a trade he doesn’t really want to talk about.

“If I told you what I traded for my first Beetle, you’d think I’m nuts,” he said.

Still, he’s owned several over the past few years, and this 1972 example is a peach. It was originally an Arizona car, which is significant because vehicles bought in northeast New York, where Armstrong lives, tend to disintegrate in as little as 10 years.

There are a few extras, like large dual single-barrel carburetors, new wheels and a pistol-grip shifter. While many Beetles suffer from acceleration that could be outpaced by continental drift, this one jumps off the line with surprising gusto. Armstrong said the dual carbs help with the lack of power but don’t do much for gas mileage.

“I never did get good gas mileage, no matter what I drove,” he said.

As for what’s under the hood . err . trunk . err whatever, he’s not quite sure. It could be the 1,600 cc pancake motor, or it could be the 1,500 cc variety. Still, the flat four is highly customizable, and it can be massaged for as much power as you have the budget for.

The cars have a surprising amount of head and shoulder room, considering their diminutive size. The footwell in the driver’s side, however, left much to be desired. The aftermarket pedals crowded much of the compartment, and smooth operation of the car for taller drivers was a bit tricky.

Since its raison d’etre is minimalism, it’s free of most creature comforts. There are no air conditioning or power windows, and switches are placed wherever there’s space. The heating and air controls sit between the seats on either side of the handbrake.

The brakes and steering are all manual, and it takes a firm grip on the wheel when the car’s parked to get the wheel turned. But when it’s in motion, you hardly miss the lack of power steering. Without the weight on the front wheels, power steering is really not an issue.

Armstrong plans on selling it.

“I’m thinning ‘em out,” he said. “I wanna cut back.”

Right now, he owns the Beetle, a ‘63 Impala, a ‘40 Chevy coupe he’s working on and a ‘71 Buick Skylark that he’s just about to get on the road. Before long, he wants to sell the Impala, too.

Still, it comes down to one short sentence that explains his affinity for the Bug.

“It’s fun to drive,” Armstrong said.

___

Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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