Saturday, July 14, 2012

My 1973 VW RESTORATION: German vs. Brazilian Bug.

History.
Wolfsburg Beetle Plant
Volkswagen (VW) Bug sales began dropping off in the mid 1970s due to stiff competition from more modern Japanese economy cars in the North American and superminis in Europe. To cope with the changing  market and business climate, Wolfsburg production lines  switched in 1974 to the new water-cooled, front-engined, front wheel drive Golf (Rabbit in North America), which is of course significantly different in many ways to its iconic predecessor. Beetle production continued though in smaller numbers at other German factories until 1978, but mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico. Hence, the discrimination and never ending debate on German vs Brazilian/Mexican made Bugs.
VW Fun Facts:
The VW Beetle was introduced to Mexico in March 1954 inside the exhibition "Alemania y su Industria" (Germany and its Industry) in an exhibition at the Ciudad Universitaria in Mexico City. To address doubts on the Beetle's long-term reliability, Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe of Mexico City, entered seven VW sedans in 1954's Carrera Panamericana competition. All of the Beetles finished the 3211 km race. This led to the creation of the company Volkswagen Mexicana, S.A. and the Distribuidora Volkswagen Central, S.A. de C.V. (Central Volkswagen Distributor) as Mexico's 1st VW dealership.

Just to get a good perspective on what my 1973 bug really is, I surfed the net for local information. When VW started in my country (Philippines), all the bugs came from the assembly plant in Germany. During those times, US had a big influence in the country’s politics, economy and culture- including it’s fascination for the bug. Because of this, Beetle enthusiasts were still able to follow the year to year bug changes in the US market through easy importation of a good range of US after market VW parts and accessories via mail order companies or personally brought home from the US.

This changed in the ‘70s when local dealers started getting all their VWs from Brazil.
Returning to its roots: The simple, inexpensive 1981 Volkswagen
Beetle 1300 was produced at Volkswagen's Brazil factory for sale outside the U.S.
from How Stuff Works
For many years, the Brazil bugs sold in general maintained the same look with no year to year model changes even with the bug modifications and customizations taking place in Germany and US. To explain this change, I came across a very good example from one of the local forums saying: with a 1963 VW bug during that period, one can use a US catalogue and restore the ‘63 faithfully using that catalogue guide.  However, if you tried to restore a 1970 Brazil Beetle using a US catalogue, you will find that the 1970 US Bug is not the same as your same year model Brazil bug. This developed the bias by serious VW enthusiasts towards German made beetles- most of these purists restore only German bugs and paid no attention to the Brazil Bugs.

Differences.

To the general public, there were only subtle differences in the way Beetles were manufactured year to year so it is not that easy to tell year models apart especially if you are not an enthusiast.  The common differences I discovered from several international and local forums are in such areas as the windows, deck lids, door handles, lenses, etc. Below are some examples:


1. Body  structure- where the more obvious differences can be seen
a. Design- Brazilian bugs copied the design of the early German beetles but there were differences in the fender and hood.
b. Body metal- through the years it was commonly noted that the body metal sheet used by German VWs were sturdier and lasted longer (minimal or no rusting) compared to that of the Brazilians.
It should be noted though that this German “advantage” is usually negated in the long run with the constant bug restorations as sources of the sheet metal used will vary affecting the “purity” of the original German body metal.

     VW Fun Facts:

    • Not widely known is that magnesium from Norsk Hydro is one important ingredient in the Beetle with a large 
        magnesium production plant at Herøya, near Porsgrunn in Southern Norway, in the 1950s 
    • it was literally built up on the ruins of facilities bombed during the war. 
   • Around 20 kilos of magnesium was used in each car, and half of this came from Porsgrunn. 
   • From 1951-81, VW purchased 60% of Hydro’s total magnesium production. The collaboration continued until 1990.
   • A significant part of magnesium production is for the aluminium industry, where it is used as an alloy additive.

c. The Brazilian version retained the 1958–1964 body style (Europe and U.S. version) with the thick door pillars and smaller side windows. You may see the other subtle differences on the notes in the pictures below.

German 1973 bug

1981 Volkswagen Beetle 1300 was produced at Volkswagen's Brazil factory for sale outside the U.S.
2. Production Year.
In general, if the beetle is from 1939-1973 its German; 74 onwards Brazil. You can verify the production year by looking for the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) plate which shows the body/chassis number. VINs are critical pieces of information for identifying the exact VW you have and the engine that was put into it when it was built. It is the automotive equivalent of human DNA. It should be near the firewall (on top of the transmission tunnel under the rear bench seat) or the front luggage area. This will have some codes like BKRET18980, etc. Each letter stands for something there. One letter is for country, other for plant and so on. 
from thesamba.com

Each chassis number is the last vehicle produced in that month. Beginning in the 1965 model year (August 1964), the VIN/chassis number begins with the 2 digit model number, i.e. 11. The first two digits identify the model as a Beetle (11) or a Karmann Ghia (14). The third digit is the last digit of the year, for example 5 would indicate 1965 and 2 would indicate 1972. The last six to seven digits are the chassis serial number. 

You can search your VIN numbers at the samba.com for verification of your beetle. 

Verdict.

To the serious enthusiast, there are a lot more to consider before a verdict can be given if my bug is a German or Brazilian. Based on my limited information above and comparing it with what I know with my bug, here is what I have:

1. Body Structure:
        a. Body metal- sturdier and solid
        b. thinner door pillars and bigger side windows (compared to a Brazilian bug)
2. Production Year:
       a. Based on the VIN plate, the Serial/Chassis number 113 2 427xxx which means-
               11- first two digits identifies the model as a Beetle
                3 - third digit is the last digit of the year- 1973

       b. Based on my VW Car Registration alone:
                 1973 VOLKSWAGEN 2 door sedan.
                 Motor number: AB-8138xx
               Serial/Chassis number 113 2 427xxx


Conclusion:
I have a 1973 German Volkswagen Beetle.


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