Time to wave goodbye to the Volkswagen Beetle

Time to wave goodbye to the Volkswagen Beetle

Contemporary reincarnations of retro items. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they flop harder than the sleuthing efforts of our Twitter-happy police minister, the floundering Fikile Mbalula. When Volkswagen revived the Beetle just before the turn of the new millennium, it was undeniably fashionable — for about 20 minutes.

It had a flower vase mounted on the dashboard, it had bulbous, cutesy looks and buyers could pick from a lively palette of shades. Maybe it was this over-the-top, trying-too-hard execution that sealed the reinvented Volkswagen’s fate as a passing fad.

Spotting one is rare these days, but the occasion is a sorry one: it just looks like a sad and bloated anachronism. In contrast, the BMW Group proved how successful contemporary throwbacks could be with their recreation of Mini. So did Fiat, when the cheeky Cinquecento sauntered onto the scene.

So when Volkswagen made another attempt in 2012 with a new, new Beetle, it might have been too late to regain traction in this niche. This is sad, because they managed to do a pretty good job.

Herbie leaves town:

But, here we are today, bidding adieu to the Beetle in South Africa. Sales have dwindled, nobody wants this Bug and, as a last blast, the manufacturer introduced 50 units of the R-Line to the market. A bittersweet Sunday morning breakfast run proved, however, that while the Beetle might be gone, it will never be forgotten. The appreciation for all things air-cooled and German will remain fervent: just take a gander at the impressive trajectory of classic Bug prices.

The price of this R-Line is also … impressive. You will have to shell out R419 500 to own this slice of automotive reversion. Not cheap. But passers-by will notice that this is not an average Bug, if that is any consolation. Amusingly, the pump attendant at the local Caltex wanted to know if there was “vrr-pha” potential from the Beetle – having spotted the “R” lettering. He was disappointed to learn that it is powered by the familiar 1.4-litre TSI engine; with an output that is nothing to write home about. Performance is effusive, nothing more, nothing less.

Old School:

What else do you get for your money? A beefier bodykit, 18-inch alloys and an upholstery type dubbed “Kyalami” by Volkswagen. Three colours are available: two variations of white and one dazzling red. But the authentic old school is always going to come out on top. And the dark green 1957 oval window seen here wields a charm that any aficionado would be powerless to resist.

Fortuitously, I met its owner three days before this shoot: following him like a not-so-stealthy stalker in the R-Line before striking up a conversation as he played fetch with his Weimaraners in the park. Turns out Gavin has a bit of a thing for classic Volkswagens. He graciously shows us around the garage, housing a couple of Bugs, examples of the iconic T1 as well as a dormant millennium Bug sitting beneath a layer of dust.

Friendliness from a fellow car enthusiast never fails to warm the cockles of the heart. We all know about the slightly macabre history behind the beginnings of the Beetle, the brainchild of a certain moustached madman. As I listen to the puttering of the classic’s 1100cc boxer engine, I doubt that anyone would have imagined this juxtaposition of old and new —and different hues – when the old Bug rolled off the Uitenhage production line 60 years ago. – Brenwin Naidu