Assessment of the VW 1500

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91

Sir,

I was extremely interested to read your September account of the VW 1500 Estate Car and to compare your impressions with my own, having had one of these vehicles since March. May I endorse some of your criticisms:—

1. The brake and clutch pedals are certainly awkward; in particular. I dislike their long travel and have to raise my knee sideways to avoid the edge of the low-set steering wheel.
2. The gear-change is distinctly woolly (especially compared with my 1956 Beetle) although the synchromesh is faultless and the ratios appropriate. Mine has also developed a rubbery squeak somewhere in the remote control that takes the pleasure out of changing.
3. I had no idea that I was in such good company in having my safety catch shear and the bonnet blow up—it could have been dangerous, but at least there was no quibble about the warranty.
4. I, too, rind the brakes hard and almost inadequate, especially when fully loaded, and have been wondering whether to fit a vacuum servo.
5. In principle, I admire the compact switch unit (though not as much as the trafficator/headlamp lever) but find it very fumbly at night, and the loose bundle of wires underneath it seems rather out of character.
6. The seats were rather hard when new, but are bedding down now. I suspect that the pain you experienced in your leg may have come from the awkward action in operating the pedals. Incidentally, there is nowhere to rest one’s left foot.
7. The tendency to stall (for which I suspect heat in the confined engine room) is more than occasional and the gremlins always contrive to arrange it at he most inconvenient times. One is then left cursing the device that insists on having the ignition switched off before one can re-start.
8. The “characteristic clutch squeal” was very persistent and particularly annoying when coupled with the squeak in the gear-change. Plaistow have just installed a new clutch, which seems to have done the trick.

In addition to these endorsements, I should like to pass on some criticisms of my own:—

1. The throttle control Is stiff and “lumpy,” especially in the early movement, which makes it difficult to achieve a smooth take-off.
2. There has been a bar crop of electrical trouble—bulbs and fuses blowing, trafficators slowing to a stop, lights not properly earthed, etc.
3. The steering developed a partial bind in the turn, until the horn gave out—a loop of wire passing the universal joint had been fouling the adjacent panel. (Oh, for the simple carbon brush on my first Beetle.)
4. The front suspension has displayed some nasty noises at times and had me standing on my head in the rain, trying to find the cause. They went away after a good greasing—one wonders whether 3,000 miles between servicing is all that clever.
5. In order to obtain rear windows that open, I was obliged to take the higher payload version. In a very short time, the “extra rear spring” broke, causing more odd noises that took some tracing. This was replaced on warranty, but its plungers sometimes cause a curious squeak, especially on light load. (Is this spring really worth having in a family car?)
6. The knobs on those rear windows came off, as some grub screws had not been tightened up, and a part was lost in the process. Unless the knobs are wound up very tight indeed, they do not keep the windows open.
7. One of the neat little recess fittings of the door handles tell off one day, owing to loose screws.
8. The safety lock on the seat-back requires occasional adjustment, or it will stay locked.
9. The interior mirror is excellent, but creates a bad blind spot when one turns a left-hand corner.
10. The paintwork has an orange peel finish that would pass for many a British car, but I gather that all the Dutch-built VWs are like this. The parts that have been resprayed at Plaistow are much better.

With this list of faults, it may begin to sound as though I regret my choice. They have been annoying—or rather, I should say, disappointing; as if one has been let down by an old friend, whom one thought trustworthy. I am left with the impression (which others seem to support) that the modern VW, coming to us from Holland, lacks the flawless reliability and finish of the Wolfsburg product in its vintage years. It is reasonable to question what, if the car is not completely reliable, is left to make it worth having.

What is left? Is the VW 1500 Estate a sound proposition? There are comparable estate cars on the market which are cheaper and may be roomier or faster, so why choose this one?

Despairing of waiting for the arrival of the 1500, and finding my Beetle rather cramped for the family, I had a Hillman Husky for a year. I cannot deny that it served us very well and gave no trouble, but I could never feel proud of it, and there were many little things that were nasty in one way or another.

I liked the look of the Victor, but people I know with these seem to be afflicted with petty troubles, which are not so petty as mine, and I am convinced that my car will still look fresh and up-to-date when theirs are tired and passe.

Before the final choice of the VW, I was persuaded to try the Saab. In a few ways I quite liked it, and will concede that it has something to commend it, but it all felt too strange to be worth the effort. Moreover, the Saab Estate must be one of the ugliest cars in production.

On the day that I took delivery of the VW, the Ford Consul Cortina Estate was released; this somehow typifies the choice. It is cheaper, at first sight attractive in appearance, possibly slightly roomier, and might be faster for all I know or care. Look, however, at the details and finish on these two cars and make an honest comparison. If you value quality of feel and a sense of fitness for purpose, I doubt if you would hesitate.

Put yourself in my position—a young to middling man, who has tasted the VW flavour, but has to accommodate three small children, a golden retriever and occasional in-laws—and what do you choose? An estate car, roomy but compact, fast but economical, sporting but reliable, a hack that you are proud to call your own. I looked for a car that came nearest to having all these conflicting qualities and I believe that I found it. The VW 1500 Estate has its faults (mine certainly has) and may seem expensive, but I put my faith in getting five years’ pleasant motoring out of it. The result should cost no more per annum than one of the other candidates, which I would have kept for about half the time. It is also incredibly compact without being small and (I must say it again) has that essence of quality and fitness which I consider as important as speed or economy.

It was an interesting coincidence to see the Peugeot in the same article. We had already anticipated this as the next replacement, when the growth of the children had its effect in say five years’ time your enthusiastic report is encouraging. Until then, we have four and a half years to go with the VW. Let’s hope the teething troubles are over and that my confidence has not been misplaced.

G.M. Maclean.
London, S.W.4.