(first posted 5/22/2013) Walking to the the subway on a lovely May day, and a glimmer of chrome-on-powder blue in the distance hits me… it’s a Bug all right, a 1968, but what’s all that script on its rear deck? Could it be…
Yes, the (in)famous VW Automatic Stickshift, known casually as “Autostick”. And boy, is this a lovely example. And that utterly mod script on “Stickshift“? Very groovy, man! With that nod to that era, let’s talk Autostick.
The Bug never had a fully-automatic transmission. For some odd reason, around this time the minds at VW decided they needed something to improve their line while remaining (I’m guessing) in line with the “No major changes, except for improvements” policy in effect at VW GmbH at the tail end of the Heinz Nordhoff era.
Although the classic Käfer had arguably reached its zenith by model year 1966, the 1967 offered a few further improvements, in the “Progressive Refinement” tradition, in the way of 12-volt electrics, backup lights, rear anti-sway bars, a wider track, and the 1500 engine; sadly, however, the latter was coupled to gearing that lessened the lively feel of the 1300 cars.
But unlike most of VW’s major mechanical changes, the automatic stickshift wasn’t bulletproof. It could be very reliable…if it was properly maintained. And therein lies the problem: It wasn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” system. While it didn’t tarnish the VW rep big-time, it didn’t live up to the standards set by previous transmissions, nor was it as forgiving of poor maintenance–and it certainly didn’t enhance the performance of the slug-bug.
So why did it get out the door? Here’s my bet: Though Nordhoff (who was the driving force behind VW becoming a global phenomenon) was still in command of VW, at least on paper, he was pretty much out of the picture by mid-’67, due to the illness that would kill him less than a year later. In my opinion, the not-so-positive changes that occurred in post-’67 VWs might not have slipped through if he hadn’t been sick–a situation similar to when bizarrely-styled downsized ’62 Chryslers slipped through while Virgil Exner was dealing with his own illness.
Were the engineers trying to prove something once Nordhoff’s departure was sealed? Was it like Paul McCartney pushing the Beatles to “carry on” in the wake of losing Brian Epstein? Does that make the Autostick VW’s “Magical Mystery Tour?
I’ll guess that ostensibly, VW’s main reasoning was to deal with the increasing stop-and-go of American freeway traffic while maintaining market share among the other small cars with automatics. No matter what, they came up with this semi-auto, which was introduced in the U.S in ’68 and continued all the way to ’76 with only minor changes.
It’s a pretty simple affair, really; a two-piece shifter with an internal contact actuates an automatically-engaging clutch when pressure is applied to the shifter itself; the three-speed transmission (essentially the VW four-speed manual minus first gear) is coupled to the engine by means of a good old-fashioned torque converter, eliminating both the need to shift into neutral at idle as well as a clutch pedal. The torque converter took the place of first gear; L-1-2 were the same as a three-pedal VW’s standard 2-3-4. In fact, remembering my friend Kate’s ‘73 Autostick that we tooled around with in high school, I believe you could pretty much leave it in first (equivalent to third gear) most of the time you were in town. When it ran, that was. Sure did look pretty, though. Looked just like this one, but, um…more used up.
Wait a minute, you might be saying. Didn’t Chrysler have something like that in the ‘40s and early ‘50s? Something called…Fluid Drive?
Yes, Virginia, there was an earlier technology utilizing a fluid coupling in place of a standard flywheel on a manual transmission. Many say the Fluid Drive system was quite reliable, as it eliminated much in the way of mechanical wear among drivetrain components.
Now you might ask, “But wasn’t Fluid Drive a true semi-automatic? With a clutch, but some automatic shifts?”
No, actually. “Fluid Drive” referred simply to the coupling and not to the transmission. You could (and many did) get a three-on-the-tree with Fluid Drive, but you could also order it with the two-range, two-speed M-6 semi-automatic, which basically allowed for one up or down shift within each range (requiring manual clutching only between ranges), for a total of four speeds.
As per usual in the sexist Mad Men era, the system was marketed to women as a godsend for those frazzled by constant shifting…and to the men in their lives, by eliminating both the women’s wear and tear on the mechanicals and their propensity to scuff their delicate heels due to clutching(!). What a load of so much manure…Yeesh, this makes me sick.
As the son of a tough mama who changed insurance companies when her adjuster snidely asked, “Why would a 60-year-old-woman need a sports car?” when she registered her new Mazdaspeed3 (my mom is one hell of a leadfoot–and makes me, with my admittedly Milano-style city driving, look like an aged Floridian driving their Buick “Sunset Edition” Regal to the Publix at 15 mph with the left blinker on for two miles–the thought of women finding it “too complicated” to learn how to shift a manual is abhorrent. It’s hard to believe the level of sexism that was once attached to selling “conveniences” like clutchless shifting.
(For more info on early ‘50s Chryslers in general, with a bit about the Fluid Drive and related systems, check out Aaron Severson’s very-well-written essay at http://ateupwithmotor.com/family-cars/303-chrysler-forward-look-part-1.html.)
Contrast that with Doyle Dane Bernbach’s classic 1968 ad for the Autostick, which has no mention of women, or of anything besides the utility of the device–in fact, it shows a middle-aged white guy driving the Bug. Honestly, that’s pretty progressive for what could have easily been marketed as yet another “For Her” product, still the mainstream in ads in 1968 (it was also marketed to women; see Lady Bug ad further up – Ed.)
But I digress, again. So: The VeeDub idea was very similar to a three-speed Chrysler equipped with Fluid Drive, except that the vacuum-controlled clutch was actuated by hand via a 12-volt solenoid when pressure was put on the shifter, engaging a contact plate. (Don’t rest your hand there). You also couldn’t start it in gear, like the M-6 allowed. Though, apparently, you could push-start it if need be.
While Autostick is not as fast-shifting as a standard VW four-speed, it works well. However, it can’t rev quite as high, and the torque converter tends to kill any of the horsepower gains offered by the stock 1500 that was introduced in 1967 (53 bhp and 78 lb-ft of torque). 0-55? 25 seconds.
That’s 1960 territory, pardner.
One of my high school teachers had the same model year and color car (minus the extra chrome badging) that she bought new. She loved it and actually offered to sell it to me when she bought a Civic after her husband passed…I liked it, but didn’t want the expense of another car (I had my crumbling ’66 Galaxie ‘vert, which my mother derisively referred to as “the planter”, since it spent so much time gathering moss in the driveway when it wasn’t blowing starter motors and rocker arms). At the time, I remember thinking how lame the Autostick was, and that if it were a four-speed I would have bought it.
Now I regret that decision; my teacher’s Bug was rust-free and had been local since new, maintained by the now-defunct Essex Sports Cars, in Maplewood, NJ, one of the first VW dealerships in the region.
Even the interior is exactly the same. Shoot, it’s entirely possible that this is the same Bug…who knows? Sigh.
So what’s it like to drive one of these? Much the same as a normal Bug, except that you can’t really power-shift it, and you definitely need to watch the pressure you put into the shifter. It’s also pointless to do any serious modding with an Autostick, since it’s a relatively unloved transmission and doesn’t take well to revving. Any engine will fit it, but if you’re going to drop the engine, you might as well run the few extra lines and put in a nice new 4-speed, right? (It’s only a hundred bucks more than a rebuilt Autostick.)
I couldn’t get a clear shot of it, but sitting proudly in the middle of the floor is a HUGE brake pedal that is just as wide as the standard setup; I’m assuming this allowed utilizing some of the same linkage and other parts from the standard three-pedal job to save a lil’ scratch, but then why not just use one common pedal arm and make the pad smaller? It’s odd. Best seen here, in the manual:
Reverse is still locked out, but put into the traditional “first gear” position instead of the usual VW dogleg.
Interestingly, VW later inserted a “park” position in the normal reverse area; reverse was still where first would normally be, and I assume there was still a lockout there.
I’ll speculate that there were more than a few instances of someone used to the standard VW shift position accidentally putting the Autostick into reverse while thinking it was first…it would certainly explain why I don’t see many of these with the script still intact. They all were probably taken out when the driver backed into a ’70 Pontiac or something else with a Bunkie beak.
Of course, 1968 was a seriously evolutionary year for the VW. People tend to deride the styling of ’68-and-later models; I understand why. I do love the ’68, though; in its pre-Super, torsion-bar suspended form, it’s to me a not-so-bad evolution of the original design. Look at it without the updated styling cues and it’s any Standard Bug from ’58 up (aside from the cowl vents, of course).
The curve of the front end contrasts nicely with the blade bumpers introduced for ’68…some will call me a heretic, but I find this front end treatment to be, in a certain sense, truer to the original European design than the looped overriders of the pre-’68 “Export” (read: “Dumb Americans need lotsa chrome”) bumpers.
Of course, that year the bumper height was raised a little bit, too.
Compare it to my friend Mike Keller’s admittedly awesome ’54 Oval, though his has a European-style front bumper. (That’s my 1989 E30 in the background, at a house concert in Illinois.)
The Autostick-equipped Bug sported other evolutionary devices as well – and was the first Beetle with double-jointed rear axles (the rest of the line would adopt them over swing axles in 1969). Strangely, though, the rear sway bar introduced on the ’67 1500 was deleted on the Autostick model.
An external gas filler cap was also introduced this year–now that’s progress! At a gas stop, no longer would you risk spilling Ethyl all over your American Tourister!
I like the tombstone taillights a lot.
I also like that the interior still screams “1967”, with the flat, body-colored dash only slightly trimmed with vinyl. The 1968 did have a collapsible steering column. Also introduced this year was cowl-based fresh-air ventilation; you can see the vent knob below the radio delete plate. And wait, radio delete? In 1968??? So, the owner paid for the upgrade to an Autostick but opted to leave out the radio…weird. I guess hanging onto the grabhandle in tight turns is more than enough entertainment. (And this definitely isn’t my teacher’s former car…she had a Becker AM/FM, I think.)
Take a look at the dash of a ’67 for comparison: You can see that, aside from the vinyl and glove box lock, the only real difference is the integrated gas gauge/speedo. And while the ignition switch had been moved to the column, a locking ignition switch wouldn’t come until ’69.
The current owner has upgraded with a cupholder.
I was shocked to see what appears to be an original accessory luggage holder on top; it looks like it’s been there since new. I also couldn’t believe the overall original condition of the car. It is incredibly well-kept; however, it has obviously been well-loved and used.
Also new for ’68 was the “trigger” door handle, whose design is mighty clean, and safer as well. VW would continue using this basic design (albeit squared-off and black-finished) until the early ’90s.
The back seat of a Bug is not a bad place to be, with enough room under the dash that even a 6-footer can squirrel the front seat up the track enough to let another 6-footer sit reasonably comfortably. There’s actually more room in the back of any “old” Beetle than there was in the returned-to-VW-under-the-lemon-law-due-to-incredible-electrical-problems 2009 New Beetle my mom had for a brief time. And like the AMC Pacer featured on these pages recently, the Käfer was designed around the people who would be occupying it, rather than merely styled. I wish car companies would get back to that concept.
As opposed to this package shelf on top of the rear luggage compartment behind the folding back seat (which in our example houses a set of cheap speakers; I guess there must be a radio hidden somewhere), I really prefer the open rear luggage compartment of earlier Bugs.
For comparison, here’s a not-so-great pic of my pal Mike’s backseat. In Mike’s ’54, the back seat is a great place to be…there’s a nice bit of room (and a sweet lil’ chrome ashtray for your zigarren). Of course, in the days before seat belts, you could get away with a lot more, and in either model, one’s head is a little too close to the back window for comfort. Does anyone know how the rear seat placement changed over time? It looks to be further back on the ’54. I do know from experience with both vintages that it certainly FEELS more spacious in the Oval than in a ’68-up. Hmm.
I was lucky enough to see and hear this Beetle drive away; I attempted, less than successfully, to film it with my iPhone. So let’s all just imagine the pea-shooter sounds of a powder-blue Autostick Bug sloshing its way into the mean streets of NYC on a sunny day, shall we? As a consolation, might as well go for a lil’ drive in the country.
A very nice Bug! Makes me long for the ability to fix up an old Bug or two. I had such an opportunity years ago but then again, no yard and I can’t drive a stick. Bummer.
Rambler had a similar transmission called the “e” stick. Family had a 63 classic station wagon with it. three speed column shift, no clutch. I recall it broke down big time on a weekend camping trip towing a small fold down trailer, We where deep in the wilds of Allegheny Mountains in north central Pa. In a county (Potter) that had one, yes one! traffic light in the whole county. that was in the county seat of Kane. Fortunately there was a Rambler dealer there. Was closed at noon on Saturday, but owner opened up, and repaired the car. That feature didn’t last but a model year, maybe two. My old man could have contributed, as he drove stick shifts like first gear was a farm truck-like creeper gear. Therefore going through the gears waaaaay too soon, then cussiing a blue streak and stomping the gas pedal because the car was in high gear with not enough rpms. My mother and I always encouraged buying automatics.
I have a 1968 vw beetle automatic that needs to be completely restored floor pans up. Have towbar hasn’t been started in years. Everything’s there except radio.
Time to get to it then .
I well remember the auto/stick!
40 years ago, an air force buddy had a new 1973 Beetle with the auto/stick. In mid-May he went overseas for three months and left his car and color TV in my care!
I was preparing for getting out of the service late summer, so my avatar got parked and I drove his car to save gas money. This was the infancy of the first gas shortage that originally hit in March and would really go over the top in September.
Well, as I was set to get out of the air force on August 13th, the previous Sunday I was out for a drive and when I stopped at an intersection in the middle of nowhere, I noticed the Bug’s engine running VERY rough. A nice day spoiled, I drove back to base, got my tools, pulled the plugs, examined everything, gave up and took it into the VW dealer in Yuba City on Monday and hitched a ride back to base.
Next day I called the dealer and got the bad news: burnt no. 3 piston. Fortunately, the car was under warranty and it was fixed at no cost to me other than pride – I was so used to droning along in my Chevy and had no experience driving VWs that I didn’t know you had to keep the revs up to cool the engine! Duh!
By that time, I had sold my car (sniff…), was pretty much packed up, picked up the car on Friday and drove to Sacramento one last time…
On Monday, I was discharged by 8 am and had a whole day to kill before I got my ride to the airport to go home. So, I took one last ride through town in that Bug, taking it all in, feeling I would regret leaving California – boy, was that ever true…
When back in the barracks, I put my friend’s TV back in his room – he was returning late Tuesday – I would miss seeing him – wrote him a letter explaining about the car and leaving the paperwork, locked the car, got my stuff in order and listened to the radio until my ride arrived.
That was the only time I experienced the “joys” of VW “ownership”!
“The Autostick-equipped Bug sported other evolutionary devices as well – and was the first Beetle with double-jointed rear axles (the rest of the line would adopt them over swing axles in 1969).”
Interesting comment, considering I had a 67 that had double jointed rear axles.
I hate to dispute your memory, but the ’67s didn’t have double jointed rear axles. They did have a wider track than the ’66, and an anti-sway bar/camber compensating device, but not a double jointed rear axle. I say this from extensive exposure to ’67s (used to work on them), as well as familiarity with VW’s technology and reading lots of literature.
The ’68 Automatic Stickshift was the first use of the double jointed rear axle. The regular manual cars didn’t get this new axle until 1969. The ’68 sticks had the same rear axle as the ’67s.
And in Europe, the double jointed rear axle wasn’t available at all (except Autostick) for a number of years. German VW fans eagerly bought US-versions of the 68-70 Beetle from US servicemen stationed in Germany, just to get their hands on the better rear axle.
Maybe your VW had its whole pan changed out? Or?
Thanks… I stand corrected. It was 6 to 7 years old when I got it with newer engine transplant. I guess a lot more got transplanted than I was told at the time.
Paul – is that you, from State Street in Alton?!?
No. Must be another PN.
There are generations of women who never learned to drive a stick. My mom didn’t learn to drive until she was 32 – not at all uncommon in her generation. By that time slush boxes were ubiquitous. Younger generations of women have never even ridden in cars equipped with a manual transmission.
So, as sexist as it may appear to modern eyes, advertising the “auto” to women was a sensible thing to do. I bet by ’68 VW had realized they were loosing a lot of potential sales because women could not, and would not drive a car with a manual transmission.
I wonder if advertising to women also allowed the man of the house to get an automatic ? Sort of a self-interested chivalry. The man wants an auto, but it’s a pricey option just for a little convenience – ah, it’s not for me, had to get it for the wife.
Also, in the days of mechanical clutches, many women had a hard time pushing what was sometimes a very stiff pedal…and without adjustable pedals or telescoping columns, short women sometimes had a hard time pushing tbe pedal all the way down. (My 5′ mother needed a block on the pedal of her Corvair, her husband’s Chevy van, and a stick-shift VW.) Even her Omni had a fairly-stiff clutch.
“…many women had a hard time pushing what was sometimes a very stiff pedal…”
I remembered talking to a car salesman who, back in the 1950s and 60s, convinced women to buy the extra-cost automatic transmissions.
He asked the women if they minded having a left leg bigger than the right from all that exercise pushing in the clutch. Most women didn’t like the picture he presented and bought cars with automatic transmission.
Re: Women and fluid drive. Save the indignation. That IS how people thought seventy years ago. Men and women. And they were quite comfortable with it. Both sides.
I get so tired of our insistence of looking at history thru modern sensibilities. There’s no way we can understand history (any period) if we refuse to acknowledge the mode of thought at the time.
People forget that, in the “good old days,” driving was a lot harder than it is today. Power steering wasn’t introduced until 1951 (Chrysler), and it took years before most cars were equipped with it. Parking a car with manual steering, and a stick shift, could be quite a chore.
And, like it or not, women have less upper body strength than men (although, obviously, that has nothing to do with using a clutch). That is why many advances, starting with ignition systems that eliminated the need to crank the engine, were aimed at women drivers.
When my grandfather died in late 1964, one of the first things my grandmother did was get rid of their Studebaker for a used 1962 Ford Falcon, primarily because the Studebaker did not have an automatic transmission. She could no longer rely on him to do the driving.
I honestly don’t see the big deal. I’ve driven many vehicles with manual steering…my mother’s first car with it (Dodge Omni) was bought in 1987. I just don’t see the big deal with manual steering.
It’s a weight issue. In a car as light as an Omni, or an Aries for that matter, power steering really doesn’t help much. In a much larger, heavier car, such as a GM B-body, power steering is a real help at low speeds due to the size and weight of the car.
I guess…I never drove anything more than about 32,000lbs with manual steering. Up to that point, it wasn’t a big deal.
The Omni DID have power steering-the dealer didn’t have one without it.
I had a ’78 and ’88 Horizon. First with manual steering, second with power. Yes the ’78 wasn’t that hard even when parking, but the ’88 had fewer turns lock to lock and was better. There is a reason why almost nothing doesn’t have power steering now.
Back in the pre-PS days cars had enormous steering wheels and 5+ turns lock to lock. More like piloting a ship than what we think of as driving.
I love Chrysler’s fast-ratio manual steering. It’s a 16:1 ratio (same as the power box), originally a NASCAR setup. Sadly, it is little known except for Mopar guts. Lots of fun in something with good handling.
My mom was NOT comfortable with the gender roles of 1949.
BTW, let’s not let Doyle Dane Bernbach off the hook for not bowing down to using misogyny to sell cars. This ad is from 1964 and ran in Life magazine and elsewhere, opening with “Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things.”, explains how the Bug’s cheap parts keep you from having to pay to much to fix the car your wife (*everybody’s* married in 1964) just crashed because women can’t drive. It closes “You can conveniently replace anything she uses to stop the car. Even the brakes.” Har, har……
Ugh, I’d forgotten about that ad. Truly awful stuff indeed.
My mother was in prime car-buying years when these were out. She certainly could shift gears, but preferred not to. I think there were a lot of people like her in this regard.
I never understood what these were until years later. When I read “automatic stick shift” I thought it meant an automatic on the floor like was in our 64 Cutlass. Wrong. I knew several people with VWs, but all were regular stick shifts. A fascinating mechanism, but then early attempts at automatic gear shifting intrigue me.
Actually, I think this unit was quite a bit more advanced than Chrysler’s Fluid Drive. Chrysler used a plain fluid coupling, while VW used a torque converter which is a fluid coupling that also provides torque multiplication via recirculation of the fluid. Also, the ability to shift through 3 gears instead of just two in the semi-auto Chrysler (and the elimination of the clutch pedal altogether) made this an Almost Automatic.
A very nice find indeed.
My first wife was the same way. Fiercely independent, self-sufficient, etc. However, she had absolutely no love for automobiles, treated them as an unfortunately necessary applicance, but was smart enough to not skimp on maintenance. And would never consider a manual transmission. “Why should I do it the hard way, when the easier alternative is available?”
This reminds me of my first car – a 1952 Chevy Deluxe. Nothing “deluxe” about it! A true rust-bucket.
One day I missed my school bus – we weren’t allowed to drive to school, as it was, my school was 25 miles away!
I drove my car and mom had to drive it home! She wasn’t happy about that as it was 6 years since she drove our miserable 1953 Dodge stick shift.
Modern cars, modern conveniences, she never looked back.
Being a aircooled VW guy, these are interesting but I have zero desire to ever own one. Too much to worry with and robbing the already limited performance.
And the whole women and automatics thing was something I didn’t realize was typical until I was probably a teenager when my friends and I started driving. In my childhood 1980s-90s, my mom drove manuals, so did all of my aunts and I even remember my grandmother on my dad’s side driving my Dad’s 5-speed Mustang to work when something was wrong with her LTD. The only person I knew who couldn’t drive a manual was my grandmother on my mom’s side. I thought it was something that nearly everyone did. Of course, I also thought that the man of the house fixed the car when it broke, like my dad always did. I didn’t know cars went to shops for things other than tires and alignments until my friends were driving age.
It was a good article until it started getting all preachy about how conveniences were sold to women, feel free to be “outraged” about it all you want, but automatic transmissions made it possible for more women to drive cars, simple. It might bother you in some way, why I don’t know, but deal with it.
I know somehow there is the prevailing thought among younger people that everything that happened before 1992 is somehow always racist, sexist, and politically incorrect, but it wasn’t .
Maybe automatic transmissions made it possible for women to drive who were too lazy or unwilling to learn to drive a stick shift.
Unless someone has a physical disability/injury that affects their ability to work a clutch pedal or the gear lever, anyone has the ability to drive a manual transmission with synchromesh.
My mom learned to drive stick on a manual VW Bus. Took her driver’s test in that thing, too.
My paternal grandmother also learned on a stick shift (probably some late 1930’s American car) and preferred driving sticks. She only went to an automatic transmission on her last car when she was already in her 80’s. Before that, she owned a Toyota Corolla wagon with 4WD, a Nissan Stanza…and a 1976 Chevy Nova, all with a stick, of course.
Her ex-husband (my grandfather) learned to drive on one of the first automatic GM cars and never could be bothered to learn how to drive a stick shift.
Well, you go girl. Great for them, the automatic made it easier for anyone to drive a car, the fact that most of those people were women I don’t have any control over.
Everyone is lazy, lights were for lazy people who don’t want to light candles, indoor plumbing was for lazy people who didn’t want to walk out to the s***house, Novocain is for people who are too lazy to endure pain…….
“Well, you go girl.”
I’m a 31 year old man, bro. Just an FYI.
I appreciate modern conveniences. That’s why my daily driver is a modern BMW.
But I also like to shift my own gears instead of outsourcing that function to an autotragic, and most of the women in my family feel the same way that I do (including my wife).
Well good for you.
(This is 1 of the unfortunate aspects of write-ups that are edited for updated and/or “recycled”)….you get the urge to “educate” folks who may have moved on.
My mother, and 1 of her 2 sisters (1 never learned to drive, at all) drove cars with manual transmissions up to the 1960s. At one point, my Mom’s car had 3 on the tree while my Dad’s car had an automatic transmission. My Mom finally put her foot down (no pun intended), after yet another close call with the car behind her at a traffic light. Like many small towns in Pennsylvania, my hometown had LOTS of hills. And trying to get a car away from a stop while trying to accelerate up a hill…AND trying not stall with a car load of kids…
“Unless someone has a physical disability/injury that affects their ability to work a clutch pedal or the gear lever, anyone has the ability to drive a manual transmission with synchromesh.” Not true – you are overlooking “mental blocks”, and perhaps other issues. I had a friend who was a VERY talented amateur athlete, and could play almost any sport well. But, he simply could not learn to drive a stick, no matter how anyone tried to teach him. An otherwise well-adjusted person, so it had to be a mental block.
Also, some people have very poor coordination, and driving a stick would be a very difficult learning experience for them.
I had a (brief) GF who had one of these. It was frustrating to drive, because I have always had the habit of keeping my hand on the shift lever on my VWs, since they need to be shifted a lot. THAT was a problem: every time my hand inadvertently touched the stick, the clutch would disengage. It made for a less than smooth ride.
I never could get used to it properly, having been so conditioned to driving VW sticks. And it was pretty sluggish, especially from a start. One could start in first gear, which helped some, but the whole affair put me off.
Frankly, I don’t get why VW bothered with this, since they also came out with a quite efficient three-speed automatic in 1968, used in the Type III, and later in the buses too. They should have just made it optional in the Beetle, even if they had to charge a bit more.
The fact that one still had to shift the AutoStick occasionally was probable still a negative to those that just wanted a true automatic. I remember hearing Autosticks roaring along in second (equivalent to third) on the Beltway, because the driver forgot to shift into high gear. Or the opposite: chugging along in town in high gear. I think these were in some way more confusing than helpful.
Agreed. It wouldn’t have been such tough engineering. I still think it was more engineering hubris than anything else; at any rate, it never accounted for more than 3% of Bug production.
Ever run across a Manumatic Paul? A friends uncle turned up in an Armstrong Siddeley so equipped it and the VW share a similar clutch action earth thru the gear lever. Ive ridden in one of each so the difference isnt there.
The brain isn’t there either.Joe.
IIRC, the automatic used in the Type III didn’t fit in a Beetle for some reason. I think you can make it fit but it involves hacking up the pan in some way.
A college room mate had a 74 with Autostick, which was also noteworthy for having intact heater boxes, a real rarity for a student owned Beetle in New York. Driving it was interesting, partly for the transmission and partly for how many minor controls were shared with my 78 Scirocco. As an aside you could get a 4 speed Autostick aftermarket, which was popular for racing applications.
Regarding women and torque convertors, Daimler also pushed its “Fluid Flywheel” in the 50s as an alternative to both manuals and the still common preselector boxes. Also my mother didn’t learn to drive stick until 1972 when she was 32 with 2 kids my father bought a BMW 2000.
A 4-speed autostick box? Never knew that existed. That would have been fun. I wonder if it had any relation to the gearbox used in the Sportomatic Porsche.
I am another reader whose mother didn’t learn to drive a stick-shift car until later in her life. She didn’t get her driver’s license until my parents bought a new 1950 Packard with Ultramatic. In 1961 when they got a new red Bug it fell to me to teach her how to drive it. Since she was an experienced driver and the Bug was exceptionally easy to drive, a few passes up and down some of our local back roads was all it took.
These were definitely strange beasts. I did mess with one once. I got a call that a car was stranded in a parking lot and found an Automatic Stickshift Bug when I arrived. It was something wrong with the Automatic Stickshift system but 30 or so years later I couldn’t tell you what. I do know after scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what it was supposed to do I somehow got her back on the road. I also seem to remember that there was some sort of access plate on the floor pan to get to the clutch actuator.
Hey, I just remembered something:
A local STL radio station, Kx-OK, sponsored a “Fun Fair” in the summer of 1967, and the new for 1968 VW Beetle was on display.
What caught my attention was a little booklet VW was giving out about the joys of owning and driving a Volkswagen Beetle. It was (and still is) a very humorously illustrated booklet by cartoonist Virgil Partch, known for his “Big George” comic strip in the newspapers.
I still have that booklet, BTW.
Johnny Rabbit and Bruno J. Grunyon?
Can you post pics of it or scan it in, would love to see it.
I worked on a VW auto lot in college Caviler VW in Arlington, VA back in the 80’s. I remember having a few autosticks on the used car lot. Wasn’t used to them, first time I tried to drive one I freaked out with the hand on the stick popping it out of gear thing, I thought the tranny was shot. They do have a certain touch to feel thing going on that you have to get used to, kind of like learning to drive a stick all over again, just not as complicated.
I was told these were a nightmare to work on compared to a regular bug, the mechanics at the dealer would bitch and moan when one would come in, more work than they wanted to do on a bug I guess.
I do remember the trigger door handle thing that started on these that went on VW’s till the early 90’s. HATED these door handles, remember getting the little piece of flesh between thumb and first finger pinched while checking the door handles of used cars on the lot, I don’t miss that.
My mom’s first five cars (including a ’38 Plymouth and two Bugs) all had manuals. She learned to drive from a truck driver friend and she still prefers a manual, but her last four vehicles have all been automatics, and in her current state of health an automatic is pretty much the only choice.
My mom had one of these in the mid ’70s. She loved it. Only drove automatics before or since. And I’ll never forget my dad spectacularly failing to teach her how to drive stick so she could drive his whichever strippo commuter he had at the time in a pinch; I subsequently remember being stranded at home with Mom all day every time Dad took her car in for service, despite a perfectly good 5-speed, at least until Dad finally started springing for automatic in his own cars.
Anyone catch the face of the owner/driver in that video of the 1968? Waxed and curled moustache…goateeuber kewel.
Anyway…I have to smile at the stereotyping here. First, I’m an older guy; so my experiences on this date back a bit. But my ex…she had never driven anything BUT a manual shift, up until the time I taught her how to drive my old Ford Econoline beater.
She was a normal young woman of the times…I actually did try to teach her basic car care, just as she tried to teach me basic cooking. Didn’t work, either way.
But…in her cocktail dress and heels…armed with Madonna cassettes…she’d go out to her TC3…and work the four-speed. Without a problem.
Her father…was a bit on the cheap side. And didn’t trust automatic transmissions…which almost made sense, back in the late 1970s. They’d only been around 25 years at that point; and their issues kept the AAMCO people alive.
So…no car he owned or had any involvement with, was ever gonna have one of those shiftless gearboxes. No WAY, Jose…
Hello Jeremiah, thank you for mentioning my car. Prior to 1968 VW had offered a somewhat similar system in limited production from 1961 to 1967 known as the saxomat. You can find some discussion and photos here: http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=462533
Hey Mike!! Cool to have this info!! Glad you dug it.
Hope to see you soon!
Ive seen this before in some repair literature I dont read or speak german so didnt realise what it al meant and having a KG pictured I dismissed it as I was creating a 59 Bug.
Dang, this discussion is making me miss the autostick ’71 Super Beetle I had about 22 years ago. I always tried to use all three gears even though you weren’t “supposed” to use it that way. Mine did not have a park position. I can’t remember now if I shifted to neutral when parking or left it in gear (applying the hand brake either way, of course).
I think that automating just the clutching/declutching function was a logical development step in automotive technology, viewed from the starting point of having only manual gearboxes, but a step that many carmakers bypassed because successful and affordable fully automatic transmissions were developed so quickly. Clutching/declutching is the part of manual gear selection that requires dexterity, but it is a means to an end, not an end goal in itself, so it made sense to find a way to automate it. Like the spark timing. Drivers used to have to operate the spark advance manually, and that function, likewise a means to an end, was automated. The VW Autostick and others like it (Sportomatic, Ferlec, Saxomat) show that it actually didn’t take all that much technology to operate a clutch more smoothly than many klutzy drivers.
Was Autostick made by VW or was it made by Fitchel & Sachs? My understanding is that Saxomat and Sportomatic were both made by F&S and were substantially similar, and I believe F&S made the unloved Mercedes Hydrak system in the late ’50s.
IIRC, it was either all or mostly VW’s. The transmission was the VW four speed, minus first gear (which explains why there are references to four-speed autosticks by swapping in the requisite parts, or whole transmission. The clutch might be F&S, or maybe licensed technology, but even that I’m not so sure of. And I suspect the torque converter was VW’s as they were also coming out with their own three-speed fully-automatic transmission at the time.
VW offered the Saxomat earlier in the 1960’s. So, some of the engineering for the ’68 Autostick was already done. The big difference was the torque converter. A Saxomat had all four gears and a centrifugal element in the clutch assembly. I have a feeling that the Saxomat was very jerky in operation, like today’s Ford DSG units.
My ex had a ’68 Autostick beetle in the same powdery blue as this car. What I remember most is having to disconnect the ATF lines in order to change the muffler. The ATF oil pump was an extension of the engine oil pump at the back of the engine, behind the muffler.
Hmm, that indirectly answers my question: I had forgotten that Sportomatic still had four speeds. The unit used by NSU, though also designed by Fitchel & Sachs, had a similar clutch/torque converter unit, but was hooked to a three-speed transmission with an overdrive top gear (0.79:1).
Automatics for women, really my mother woulda laughed she learned to drive in a 36 Chev Master coup’e, whatever strange conveyance dad could bring home she could drive it, My sister went to a Mercedes play day at a race track and her business partner was well impressed at how she could toss a big Benz sideways, I wasnt surprised I’d shown her that stuff decades ago at slower velocities on gravel in old Hillmans.
As I remember placing your hand on the shifter activated the clutch leaving the car in nutural. Which is every manual shifter usually left it.
VW still makes a man-u-matic think it is called AMT, which sounds much better in German. It is used in VW Up! As well as a few 3rd world countries.
Oh, by the way there is nothing macho sitting in your car for four hours to go 20 miles which is com men where I live. God bless automatics and A/C!
Wow, never I knew it existed! Definitely not in South Africa, where the Beetle was a bestseller for years!
My Dad bought a ’69 VW with the autostick, remember it well… bought it for my two teenage sisters and I to drive while we were in high school. That car could barely get out of its own way, while my friends drove their own bugs, with engine mods like larger Weber carbs, selectadrop front ends, stinger headers, replaced dashes with plexiglass and toggle switches, Porsche wheels, etc.
We used to turn the windshield washer nozzle around 180 degrees, pump up the spare tire that provided the washer stream to about 80lbs and then have fun at crosswalks when pedestrians would cross the street and usually could never figure out how the were getting wet under a clear blue, sunny sky.
I just wanted to say thank you. I just bought a 1968 auto stick . And I was amazed because my VW is the same color and has the rack on top. the only thing is that I have bumpers from a early model VW.
How much is a 68 vw autostick worth today? Yes it runs perfect.. Still have the original manuals and all oil change logs.
I had a 1970 VW Bug that always had a problem with the automatic stick shift shifter shaking itself silly. I repeatedly had to take it in to the dealer to have something replaced and was wondering what that something was called. If I recall correctly (I was 18 at the time) it had was something with the word “boot” in it. It only involved the shift mechanism and caused it to go crazy while driving and shake so hard it scared me (well, until I knew it was fixable). I adored that powder blue baby; even though I had 13 accidents and only 1 was my fault (my boyfriend backed into another car, stupid idiot. Once the driver side door was smashed it when a German Shepard dog ran into the side of it while chasing his erstwhile mate. How do you fill out that police report??? Anyway, does anyone remember a shaking shifter issue on vintage VW Bugs?
I owned a 1972 super bug with the semi-automatic stick, had it 1977-1982.
I got it because it was cheap, and the only stick I had driven, before that, was my Uncle’s 1950’s era pick-up truck, which I stalled about 100 times trying to drive around the block in his Phoenix neighborhood. So, when I found this bug for sale, it was relief to me, that I didn’t have to bother with a clutch. I loved that car. It was bright orange with a black interior. I was a poor college student at Arizona State, and I remember, after all day in clases, I’d return to my car and have to use my shirt to open the door, it was too hot to touch it, at 100 degrees plus. Inside, that black interior was almost hot enough to remove the skin from my legs! with no A/C living in Phoenix, I must have been crazy!
My cousin was artistic, and had done an amazing job on her bug, hand sewing beautiful fabric over the two front seats in her 1967 bug. She offered to do the same for my bug, but I declined when someone stole the bucket seats out of her car one night, while she was working a swing shift. She had to drive home on a milk crate!
I had a similar incident, someone stole the bumpers off my bug, while it was parked In the parking space at my mothers new townhouse.
What I didn’t know, until I was trying to sell that car, was that NO ONE wanted those semi-automatics, and that’s why I was able to buy it so cheap ($1000.00 in 1977, but I also sold it cheap, too… $1200.00 in 1982). In fact, the VW dealership in Portland OR, refused to make me an offer on it as a trade in, when I bought my new 1982 VW Golf.
My bug only had about 8000 miles on the newly rebuilt engine, and I had replaced the “contact points” that had worn out from use. The other downside to that car was the surprise, every time a friend came along for a ride, they would somehow hit the stick shift, and disengage the clutch “accidently!” That happened a lot!
As poor college student, (’77-’81), I remember pouring money into that car (rebuilt engine, new exhaust system, etc…), seemed like I was only working in college,
to support fixing that car!
I was glad to be rid of it, but wish I still owned it today, new cars are just not as well made!
Now that I live in OR the black interior and lack of A/C would not be a problem. That bug had a heater that worked well, and was great in the snow, too.
Now that my son is at OR state (go beavers!), it would be a perfect car for him to drive (Orange and Black), so I’m guessing a OSU student bought it, but I still look for it today, when I’m driving around Portland….
If you own this car, it had OR plates HPV – ??? Not sure what the numbers were….I love to see it again, and convert it to an electric car!!
Interesting seeing the US market badge… I didn’t know about those… Europeans just had “VW Automatic’ (as we had ‘VW1300’, ‘VW1500’ etc instead of ‘Volkswagen’). They were quite popular in Britain to convert to 1302/1303 Super beetle manual gearbox, as we never got the double-jointed rear suspension on any other torsion bar Beetle then the Automatic.
A fun article about a nearly-forgotten feature. At least they didn’t called the the Volkswagen ASS. As for the old stereotypes, Mom daily-drove two regular-shift Beetles without complaint throughout the 1960s. I don’t ever remember her complaining about scuffing up her shoes. 🙂
My uncle gave me this thinking I’d like it. I’ve had it for a long time, so he was right.
An elderly lady friend of mine was still driving her ’60 Fintail Mercedes, with a manual 4-speed column-shift, until she passed away in her ’80s. However, she did have an automatic ’80 Fleetwood she took on longer trips or when she needed AC.
OTOH, in the early ’60s, my Mom attempted learning to drive on a stick-shift, but wound up passing her driver’s test with an automatic. For many years, she wanted a VW type III Squareback, but had to wait until 1970, when she was able to get one with a real automatic. And I was able to practice driving and get my license in that car. Then learn to drive a stick later.
Several years after, I tried to teach her to drive my stick-shift Opel Kadett, but it was hopeless.
At least I didn’t scream at her like my Dad did years earlier, when he was trying to teach me to drive his stick-shift Beetle!
Happy Motoring, Mark
My grandmother had a ’68 Beetle with the Automatic Stickshift, and in the same Zenith Blue as the featured car. I always found it interesting that VW never offered a true automatic transmission in the Beetle,as they did in the Fastback and Squareback.
I always liked the idea of this transmission in a VW because of their agonising clutch pedal, which is even worse in right hand drive form. I’ve driven semi-automatics in Citroens and NSU and enjoyed them: Best of both worlds?
Oh and that is not an anti-sway bar on the back of a late swing axle bug, it has the exact opposite function to anti-sway, making the springing stiffer to load/bump than it is to roll.
Citroens? The semi-automatic DS’s would make another good topic for someone to write about. Here or at Jalopnik someone wrote about some kind of semi-automatic Fiat they rented in Europe a while back that the writer thought was the worst thing ever.
Yes. It’s a camber-compensating spring. I stand corrected.
I bet this was mentioned before: there was a safety switch that only allowed you to start the engine in Neutral. This could play a (bad) joke on the uninitiated. I.e. if the engine cut out and driver tries to restart…..and restart……and then calls for help. It could be quite embarrassing when the mechanic knocks it into neutral, turns the key and sends you on your way.
The other thing was that you could put it into L and keep your hand on the stick, rev the engine and let go of the stick resulting in a surprising jackrabbit start.
Someone on the CC about the GM Torque Drive mentioned that these semi-automatics had none of the benefits of either a manual or automatic transmission. That pretty much sums it up and it’s worth noting that after Chrysler’s great Torqueflite arrived on the scene, they never monkeyed around with offering a semi-automatic version.
I wonder if the later Bug had a higher seat cushion due to the 12V battery being slightly larger.
Honestly…these cars were horrible. The semi-automatic transmission turned what was already a slug into something that lost stoplight races to dump trucks and school buses. My mother had one…and her brother’s Fury would handily dust it, even with the air conditioning on, from any speed. Said 4000+lb C-body was powered by a fire-breathing…slant six. As a bonus…it did not use any more fuel than the VWs overworked, primitive engine.
“Does anyone know how the rear seat placement changed over time?”
The back seat didn’t move, the side windows got bigger. That gives the impression of the seat being further forward compared to the window.
The introduction of front seats with integral headrests made riding in the back seat of VW bugs very claustrophobic. Also the round shape of the car and very little knee room already made the back seat semi-claustophobic. All not like portrayed in the post.
The first edition of the retro Beetle had a stupidly sloped roof that made the back seat inhabitable for humans over four feet tall. I think the new one is OK.
Our Family had a 1969. There was a small wire at the base of the shifter which constantly fractured, disabling the car. Simply it could not be kept repaired, sadly we ditched the car.
Its amazing to see the quantity of responses this post generated!
I would like to point out that the Queen of England can drive a stick shift. A Land Rover stick shift.
My fifties mom had no problem with a stick, having learned to drive before they were around much. I taught both of my younger sisters to drive in the 70’s in one of the available cars, a 1955 Ford with manual steering and a stick, although there was an automatic car available. Had a fun time with both and they both learned quickly.
I had one driving lesson with my mother and I remember leaping out of the car and slamming the door and screaming something about how I would never drive with her again. Part adolescence, part bad teacher.
I would like to expound a bit on the design and function of the often misunderstood “rear anti-sway bars” introduced by VW on several 1967 models.
Recall that increased spring rates reduce body roll. Secondly, as I am sure many of you know, increasing roll resistance (through either stronger springs or stiffer anti-sway bars) at one end of the car will make that end work harder in a turn: stiffening the front promotes understeer; the rear, oversteer.
The Beetle, with its marked rear weight bias historically exhibited a tendency toward final oversteer. VW sought to improve handling by mitigating this tendency. Going by the textbook they fitted smaller-diameter torsion bars at the rear of the 1967 Beetles (21 vs 22mm) to reduce the spring rate. That produced the desired effect on handling balance; but with no other modifications, the rear suspension would be too soft to support the weight of two adults in the rear seat and the possibility of luggage stowed in the well behind the rear seat.
The solution was an overload spring. This came in the form of a single transverse torsion bar passing over the top of the transaxle. Instead of being formed into a U-shape like an anti-sway bar, the bar was shaped like a Z. In this manner, the bar is forced to twist only when both wheels move together in the same direction, as when encountering a transverse dip in the road.
In a corner, when one wheel rises and the other drops in relation to the body, the Z-bar does nothing. In essence, it is the exact opposite of an anti-sway bar.
Volkswagen didn’t invent this concept; it was Introduced in the mid-fifties by Mercedes Benz on their new single low-pivot swing axle design. Mercedes used coil springs at each wheel with a traverse horizontal coil spring at the center performing the overload function.
When VW moved to semi-trailing arm rear suspension with its superior camber control in 1969 (and ’68 autos) there was little need for the soft bar/Z-bar combination and they were therefore discontinued on all but non-N.A. swing axle versions.
As a side benefit of the ’67-68 VW suspension, models from these years are some of the most supple-riding small cars of the period, noticeably smoother riding than either earlier or later Beetles.
And about the “Automatic Stick Shift” moniker: The first automatic Beetles sent to the U.S. arrived with a large transparent sticker at the bottom edge of the rear window reading “VW Automatic” in red font. The engine lid badge likewise read “VW Automatic” as in all other markets.
It wasn’t until VWoA’s marketing department decided to go all-in with the “Automatic Stick Shift” nomenclature a few months later that cars started coming over with Automatic Stick Shift lettering on the engine lid. These cars also carried a revised rear window decal that read “automatic stick shift” in white font.
The Automatic Stick Shift engine lid badge only lasted through the 1969 model year. 1970 and later Beetles had air inlet louvers on the engine lid that left insufficient room for the relatively tall badge.
I too hated these when new, then I taught my self ow to properly adjust them because the local VW $tealer couldn’t be bothered and I never had any problems with them after that and rather enjoyed the several I owned .
My Ex Wife didn’t like to drive manual transmissions so I built her a dark green ’68 Autostick with low compression ratio engine, it worked flawlessly of course and in spite of a nearly stock single port 1600 engine ran just fine and had no problems keeping up with traffic .
My Son’s first purpose built race car was a 1968 # 117 (sunroof) Autostick Beetle, that was the second time I ever had to replace an Autostick clutch, I discovered it was one of the many built from new with a clutch cable tube and he converted it to a four speed and still has the car .
When I was a kid, I would see these and think to myself, “Automatic Stickshift? Is that anything like ‘Jumbo Shrimp?'” Thanks for the explanation.
The autostick Beetle could move along quite well if you treated it as a 3 speed, 35 in 1st, 55 in 2nd, then hit 3rd. But if you forget you don’t need to use the clutch, the end of the wide brake pedal occupies the spot the clutch pedal would be, and forgetting this shifting from 2nd to 3rd at 55 MPH will lock up the brakes and seeing the car that was behind you sliding sideways next to you with the brakes also locked and the driver shouting WTF? at you is very embarrassing. Ask me how I know!
My old ’73 Sport Bug super beetle had a factory luggage cover that folded againts the rear seat backrest and was good for hiding items from prying eyes, and if you filled the well with pillows and blankets and covered them with the parcel shelf the interior engine noise and heat was really reduced a noticeable amount.
The reason the ’68 auto stick had no rear sway bar is because this was only designed for the ’67 and later swing axle models, IRS models did not use this overload/sway bar, these late swing axle cars were decambered and had longer axles for reduced tuck under, and when loaded the bar also acted as an overload spring to keep the rear from squatting too far. By ’69 all VW’s were finally IRS.
A diagram of the z bar system to go along with commentator James Kraus excellent explanation.
Use this link for Z bar diagram.
I have a 1971 auto stick beetle. It’s lurching and jerking when in reverse. Any thoughts? Both forward gears work flawlessly. Thanking you in advance.
This is the most common Autostick complaint there is and it’s easy if time consuming to fix :
Take the shifter apart and _polish_ (NEVER abrade !) the contacts inside it then re asemble and adjust so the lever has to move more before the contacts make .
Now you’ll almost certainly notice the slot in the upper part of the shifter is no longer aligned for and aft, it’s at an angle, so loose the secondary (lower) adjustments and turn it until it’s perfectly aligned fore and aft and snug up and lock nuts, marvel at how your hip/thigh/leg to longer causes the auto clutch to rapidly judder when you twist to look behind as you’re backing .
This takes a while and I always remove the seat for easier access to the adjusting nuts .
When working well, this system is a joy to drive .
Most don’t realize that when new, an Autostick would always beat a stick shift Beetle in the 1/4 mile . weird but true .
Actually, y’know, you might just have something there. Consider: “automatic stickshift” has the same syllable count and scansion as “sitting on a corn flake”; “corporation T-shirt”; “stupid bloody Tuesday”; “yellow matter custard”; “crab-a-locker fishwife”; “pornographic priestess”; “semolina pilchard”, and “elementary penguin”—all phrases contained in the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus”, which is on the Magical Mystery Tour album. Coincidence? I think not!
(…and if you play it backward, well!)