COAL: 1962 Volkswagen Beetle Canadian Standard – Another Canadian Market Oddball

So here is my one only air cooled Volkswagen story, which as usual has a bit of unique Canadian flavor to it. A few years back a co-worker of mine mentioned that he had an old Beetle sitting in his driveway that available for a good price. The year was known only as something vaguely 60s and there was a hint of a memory concerning a mechanical issue that took it off the road a couple decades ago. There was also mutterings that engine had been rebuilt as well. It didn’t run and had been off the road for years but most of my vehicle purchases don’t come home under their own power so that was no big deterrent. Besides I had not yet owned a German car, rear engined vehicle, nor a flat four cylinder engine, so this nailed three things off my ownership checklist.

The checklist is more of an ownership ideology and consists of trying to own as much automotive variety as possible while living within a small budget. So cars of different types, from different countries, drive wheels, engine types, etc are desirable. So for example a Beetle would be a classic and economy car from German/Europe with rear wheel drive and flat four cylinder engine mounted at the rear. Up until this point I’d owned at least one of the following: V8, V6, inline six, inline four with front, rear and four wheel drive. Countries represented were United States, Japan, Britain and Korea. I’ve added a few more since but I figured the Beetle added so much variety how could I not buy it.

So predictably I did buy it with minimal research and recruited the family minivan, a rented tow dolly and a few friends into getting it home. Took a rather good shove to load it onto the tow dolly as the brakes seemed a bit stuck. By the time I got it home the brakes had freed themselves so much that only the handbrake worked. A bone dry brake cylinder will do that!

Now to examine my prize. I found the old registration and some bills which indicated it was a 1962 model. This didn’t seem to jive with research I’d done thus far. Everything seemed to say all 1962s had fuel gauges which mine did not. Instead I got a dip stick sort of thing and a reserve tank. The theory being when your engine started to starve and splutter you’d flip over to the reserve tank.

Other things were just not adding up either as my Beetle had the old style steering wheel and a lack of chrome trim. Now here comes the Canadian twist I know you have all just been dying to hear about. Further research showed that Canada had received a stripped down version of the Beetle known as the Canadian Standard. As of 1963 they changed the name from Standard to Custom as perhaps Standard sounded too downmarket. It was mildly more flashy on the outside than the European Standard model and received the “export” 40hp engine but gave Volkswagen a way to offer a lower priced version in Canada to compete with the mostly British sedans at the bottom of the market.

Exclusive features of the 1962-ish Canadian Standard are:

Small standard headliner
No chrome trim on dash or door panels
No chrome on running boards
No chrome in the window rubbers (body coloured painted vent windows trim)
No interior chrome
Deluxe bumpers
Deluxe body side and hood chrome
No door panel pockets
No fuel gauge but reserve tank and lever
No arm rests
Pre-1958 steering column and wheel
Small signal lever
black interior knobs
Dimmer switch on floor
Silver-beige knobs and window cranks
Current engine offerings
No door panel pockets or arm rest
T-handle deck lid
Dealer installed gas heater

The gas heater was an interesting accessory. Given that most air cooled cars don’t give off enough heat in winter to warm the cabin, Volkswagen wisely equipped it with a gas heater for Canada. It drew gasoline from the regular tank but I was never brave enough to test mine out. Another cool feature was the windshield washer pump which used air pressure from the spare tire. Great low cost engineering there although I think a manual pump like I had on my Triumph Spitfire works even better.

The U.S. style Deluxe model was also offered in Canada but the Standard/Custom seem to have represented about a quarter of Canadian sales of the 60s Bugs. As time went on they added more and more features before the practice was discontinued in the early 70s. Survivors are decently rare and they are actually quite prized these days in the air cooled circles. For the right buyer they command a modest premium over their more deluxe counterparts.

The partial headliner of the Canadian custom or standard

Having no garage, only a gravel parking pad, meant that a full restoration was out of the question so I proceeded to putter around fixing things up on it. First thing to do was give it a good clean. Removing several decades of dirt brought the interior back to a very decent state.

The electrics didn’t work at all even after a new six volt battery (old one had exploded, making a mess under the rear seat) so I methodically cleaned every single electrical connection and replaced any suspect looking fuses. This took a while since it was done almost solely on cold, dark winter evenings. I was rewarded with a nice, clean looking electrical system that still didn’t work. After tracing every wire again I finally tracked down a wire under the driver’s seat that was grounding its self. From what I remember it was for some sort of heating fan. With that fixed all the electrics worked just fine. Car even cranked over.

I sure wish I had a garage back then … bulky winter gloves and working on cars do not mix

A few other low buck repairs were carried out like painting all four wheels to match. Brakes were adjusted and bleed.

Next was the gross fuel system which I hoped once remedied would allow me to start the car. I pulled the tank and tried the low budget cleaning approach first. The reserve tap was cleaned up and looked serviceable. The exterior got some Simple Green, rags and manual labour while the interior was first filled with some gravel then shook vigorously. With the gravel was drained I rinsed the tank with fresh water. After a short while to dry out I filled it with new gasoline to avoid any rusting.

While I offer no warranty if anyone else uses this method it worked great on the Beetle. I added a generic fuel filter after the tank as cheap insurance but didn’t seem to be necessary. After the fluids were changed the engine fired up and ran like a champ. Brakes worked too and it drove great in first gear. After first not so much. Changing into any other gear caused it to lug and stall.

Sadly at this time the wife was getting after me for a vacation and I was a bit frustrated as I could not figure out the stalling issue so in a moment of weakness I put the car up for sale. After a flurry of interest she got her vacation and I was classic car-less for a time. The guy who bought it from me was able to determine that it was just the linkage at fault and all gears except for first were ending up selecting fourth. Live and learn, I guess but at least I’d checked off a few more items on my automotive variety checklist and left the car better off than when I received it. The new owner later shared a photo of the car showing that he had lowered the car in the way that seems to be the style for old Beetles. Seems a bit of a shame for such an original car but probably easily undone.

(originally published 11/30/2011, but it now fits into David’s current COAL Series at this point)