For lovers of classic VW beetles, the 1952 stands out as the most desirable, or at least it did back in the day when I was into VWs. I had such a hard on for a split window Beetle, but they were either in the hands of those that got them first, or they were too decrepit to bother with (someone would of course eventually). And what made the 1952 so especially desirable?
In the few short years from the first post war 1946 (above), the Beetle evolved from its original KdF pre-war configuration and technical details to a considerably more refined car, especially the deluxe “Export” version sold in the US. But it wasn’t just the chrome trim on the windows and nicer interior trim. Starting in 1950, when the VW’s future was secured, Heinz Nordoff embarked on a rigorous program of constant improvement, the most critical element in keeping the Beetle competitive for as long as it did.
This started with a number of small changes each year, as the details of its design and construction was now already some 15 years old.
And this culminated in 1952, when the VW reached maturity, at least for the time being. Every little detail that was considered to be sub-optimal had been changed. The transmission was now synchronized (except for first gear), the suspension revised, wheels were now 15″ instead of 16″, brakes improved, and the dashboard, steering wheel, heater controls and just about every other detail in the interior was new or different. Although the engine was still essentially the same 30/25hp 1131cc unit as had been first used on the Type 82 Kübelwagen, there were numerous refinements. The ’52 was the seminal VW with which it would conquer the world.
Of course there were things that weren’t changed, most importantly much of the body, although even there a number of changes had been made, including a different engine cover, license plate light and the brake lights. But the basic body dies were still the same, and that was most conspicuous in its split rear window, very much an artifact of the 1930s. So the 1952 was the best of the old and the new, which explains its special status.
And in 1953, it was gone, replaced by a single oval window. Of course oval window VWs were the second-most desirable, and I really wanted one too. I almost saved one that had been abandoned in the woods on someone’s farm, but thought the better of it. But after my accident in my ’63, I did go back and retrieve the hood and bumpers for it.
Needless to say, split window kits have been available for many decades now. So even if you see a “splittie”, look for the other signs of it being genuine.
And of course, much of the basic body shape would go on right to the end, although seemingly small but many changes altered more and more of the details. It is said that a running board of a KdF wagen will interchange with any Beetle, right up to the very last one made in Mexico in 2003, (above) but that’s the extent of it. Not bad for almost 70 years of production.
A small sampling of our VW CCs: