Car of the Week: 1946 Volkswagen Beetle

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Few people who were alive at the time of the Beetle’s rise to prominence need to be reminded of its appearance. Many described the two-door sedan, with its rounded profile, as an “ugly duckling.” Volkswagen would later capitalize upon the image, rather than attempt to dispute it. As everyone would eventually realize, the shape of the Beetle would change little over the next three decades. Volkswagen still promoted a continuous sequence of mechanical and detail improvements.

For 1946, the engine size was increased from 985 cc to 1131 cc. This 1.1-liter power plant was used from 1945 through1950. The sealing tubes for the engine push rods had new corrugated tube ends. Early engines were rated 24.5 hp and often referred top as “25-hp” models. The 25-hp Standard version was actually introduced during 1945 and 1,785 cars were made in that calendar year. An unsynchronized four-speed gear box meant plenty of double clutching was required to change gears, especially when downshifting. Next to the gearshift lever was the manual choke button.

Early Volkswagen models had a split-oval rear window with a rather thick pillar between the tiny panes. American cars had abandoned running boards before World War II, but Volkswagen kept them — though they weren’t the kind that anyone could stand on. A notch below the rear bumper permitted insertion of a hand crank.

Characteristics of early cars included a rear axle with single-acting shocks (1945 to 1951), a T-shaped luggage compartment handle (1945 to 1949), pull-out door handles (1945 through 1959) and a license plate pressing on the rear engine cover (until 1949). Early examples wore nipple-shaped chrome hubcaps. The gas tank, which was mounted higher than on earlier models, sat under the hood. The hood had to be raised with each fill up. Lighted turn-signal semaphores were activated by a switch on the dashboard. Also on the dashboard sat a pair of glove boxes, neither of which contained a door. There was no gas gauge, but when the driver noticed evidence that fuel might be running out, he could reach down to the firewall and turn a tap to open the reserve tank, which held an extra gallon or so.

Lack of body insulation contributed to a noisy-running car. This trait actually helped endear early Volkswagens to their owners. These cars had the front lubrication fittings on the inner track rod joints and they no longer sat at right angles to the track rod. The brake cable had a new lubrication nipple. The early 4.50 x 16 tires were replaced with size 5.00 x 16 rubber. Some efforts were made to reduce engine noise, such as the use of cardboard insulation in the engine compartment.

There was a lot going on in Germany, and the rest of the world, at the time the Beetle evolved.

Allied forces entered the area of the Volkswagen factory on April 10, 1945. A total of 17,109 people lived in the town, then called KdF-Stadt, and nearly half of them were auto workers. Around 336,000 workers (called “Volkswagen Savers”) had put 267 million German Reichsmarks into a special account to earn a car. The account was administered by the German Labor Front.

Volkswagen’s rise from the ashes was not a smooth or easy journey. As Motor Trend noted in its 1954 Worldwide Automotive Yearbook “Nine years ago (1944) British auto manufacturers refused to give consideration to the possibility of getting the British Zone Wolfsburg plant for the ‘people’s car’ back into production. Located less than 15 miles from the Russian-occupied East German sector, 60 percent of the plant had been destroyed by Allied aircraft bombings. Rain and pilfering had added to the loss, so that in late 1945, the possibility of converting the bomb-pocked rubble into a successful business seemed extremely remote.”

At its first meeting in late May, the town council voted to name the town, then under British military governance, Wolfsburg. For a time, the assets of the auto company were seized and it was renamed Wolfsburg Motor Works. Near the end of spring 1945, car building began on a limited basis and 1,785 vehicles were manufactured, primarily for use by the occupying British and French forces. Some government vehicles, such as postal vans, were also constructed. In addition, repairs were made to British military vehicles.

On October 14, 1946, the 10,000th Beetle produced since the end of World war II rolled down the assembly line. The early Beetle required a full 39 seconds to move from 0 to 60 mph. Its top speed was a reported 65 mph. It delivered 35 mpg fuel economy.

PRODUCTION
Model #      Body/Seating       Weight         Production Total

11                2d sedan               1,600 lbs.    10,020

ENGINE
Base Four: Horizontally opposed, overhead-valve four-cylinder (air cooled). Light alloy block with cast-iron cylinders. Displacement: 69.0 cid (1131 cc). Bore & stroke: 2.95 x 2.52 in. (75 x 64 mm). Compression ratio: 5.8:1. Brake Horsepower: 24.5 at 3000 rpm. Torque: 51 ft.-lbs. at 2000 rpm. Solid valve lifters. Downdraft carburetor. 6-volt electrical system.

CHASSIS
Wheelbase: 94.5 in. Overall length: 160 in. Height: 61.0 in. Width: 60.5 in. Front tread: 51.0 in. Rear tread: 49.2 in. Standard tires: 5.00 x 16. Turn circle: 37 ft. Turns lock-to-lock: 2.4.

TECHNICAL INFO
Layout: rear-engine, rear-drive. Transmission: four-speed manual (unsynchronized). Gear ratios: (1st) 3.60:1, (2nd) 2.07:1, (3rd) 1.25:1, (4th) 0.80:1, (reverse) 6.60:1. Standard Final Drive Ratio: 4.43:1. Steering: worm and cap nut. Suspension (front): king pins with transverse torsion bars and upper/lower trailing arms. Suspension (rear): swing axles with trailing arms and torsion bars. Brakes: mechanical, front/rear drum. Body construction: steel unibody on stamped steel floor pan. Fuel Tank: 8.8 gallons.

COLLECTIBILITY

The upcoming release of the digitally remastered catalog of the songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo has everyone re-visiting "Beatlemania." But Volkswagen’s Beetle has had a consistent mania towards it since its
inception in 1938 as Germany’s "people’s car," envisioned to be built economically for the masses in the same way the Model T Ford put American on wheels decades earlier. The earliest version of the Beetle available in the United States in the late-1940s did not sell in large numbers. The earlier Beetles, known as "split-window" Beetles through 1952 due to their sectioned rear window, were mainly brought into the United States from servicemen returning from their military duties overseas. To find a Beetle from the 1940s in any condition is difficult, but one in pristine condition will attract $25,000-$35,000.

COLLECTOR PRICING
1946 Volkswagen two-door sedan
No. 1 condition: $25,000
No. 2: $14,700
No. 3: $9,450
No. 4: $4,200

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