The Volkswagen from Germany, that unconventional yet essentially practical, air-cooled, flat-four 1.3-litre saloon, neither beautiful nor ugly, formed the subject of a road-test survey in Motor Sport late last year.
Recently we had occasion to drive this willing, easy-running 1,131-c.c. car again, over 400 miles one winter weekend, using it for fast main road driving and town pottering, laden with a full complement. of passengers and luggage. It certainly emerged with no loss of marks!
At the expense of recapitulating what we emphasised before, we must, confess to keen enjoyment of the VW's excellent handling qualities, unsullied by its rear-engine location, its comfortable riding, its convenient controls and its easy manner of covering the miles; speedometer needle habitually on the "sixty" mark and maintained thereat by a gearbox which encourages, frequent use of the lower ratios. The beauty of that gear-change, the lever flicking from one position to another by mere persuasion of forefinger and thumb, is something we miss very much when leaving the driving seat of a VW for those of other cars. Third gear is used more frequently than top gear in traffic driving, the latter being in effect an overdrive; the performance on this high third ratio is notably lively.
During our hurried weekend, spent mostly in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset, we came to appreciate the VW's excellently chosen gear ratios, about which a correspondent, Mr. A. G. Ryan, enthused in the last issue of Motor Sport.
The hydraulic brakes are amply powerful and free from tricks on wet roads, the pedal positions quite to our liking and the pull-out knobs controlling lamps, wipers (very fast-running and efficient. these) and choke very easy to reach. The simple hot-air interior heater (controlled by a big knob on the central tunnel through which the control-runs are ducted) proved fully able to combat the chill of a damp fog without, and the interior lamp, opening with the doors, is a useful feature. The little lever, extending to the left of the steering column like a Continental lamps-switch, which operates the non-cancelling direction-indicators could not be more convenient. The space in the well behind the back seat is really surprising, proving quite adequate for a full complement of weekend cases, coats, umbrellas and the usual odds and ends, the seat squab folding forward to facilitate loading and unloading.
Three children had ample room on the broad back seat, with its hollowed-out armrests in the side of the body, and here they are accommodated in a doorless compartment once their parents are aboard, With fixed safety-glass windows to set seal to their security. The presence of the motor-minded younger generation had one setback; the writer, in an unguarded moment, offered 6d. for each Volkswagen seen and, although suggestions that shop-window reflections of our VW counted were firmly suppressed, the experiment nevertheless proved a costly one!
This bears out a statement by VW's sales staff, who operate under Mr. Dear in the smart new VW showrooms, decorated in the modern manner, in Byron Rouse. St. James's Street. W. They tell me that sales are going exceedingly well in this country, especially since a price reduction lowered the figure for the de luxe saloon to £689 inclusive of purchase tax. Certainly, if you have never driven a Volkswagen your motoring education is incomplete; and once you have you set up a fresh yardstick by which to judge the VW's Competitors. Added to which, a very efficient spares service is available and the brilliant flat-four "freeze-proof" o.h.v. engine is expected to run 70,000 miles — admittedly it has a reasonably easy time in this lightweight car, pulling high gear ratios — before requiring its first rebore.
This winter Weekend of family motoring in a VW passed all too quickly, for most of the other family economy cars we have had to drive seemed cumbersome and unresponsive in comparison. No special check of fuel consumption was made, but it appeared to work out to the 35 m.p.g. which we obtained during careful tests on the occasion of the former road-test.
It only remains to add that a night's stay in Gloucester was undertaken very comfortably at the "'New Inn," which dates back to 1450 and is not quite so easily located by the weary traveller as the more modern (and in one case, at all events, more expensive) hotels near by (whose portals are outlined in neon lighting!), and that at 3 p.m. on the Sunday a well-cooked Meal was served to us by the "Boat House," Limpley Stoke, near Bath, with Continental unconcern for the advanced state of the afternoon. This paean of praise is thus complete; in all respects it is both unbiased and unsolicited.
N.B. — I have tried to convey an appreciation of the Volkswagen but my pen is uninspired compared to that of Uncle Tom McCahill, of Mechanix Illustrated, whose gifted phrases also ring the praises of the VW, as follows: —
"Not since Ben Bur whipped his chariot into a broad slide with a hopped-up horse has a more surprising vehicle been developed in Europe than the 1953 Volkswagen. Now, before you start accusing your Uncle Tom of blowing his bald stack, let me qualify the statement.
"The Volkswagen, which hits a top speed of around 66 only after you've held it wide open for several complete turns, of a stop-watch, is no sports car by the weirdest definition. But gamboling around in two snowstorms during my long test, I had more sport with this paperweight than you could have with a Cunningham. Almost every car built today is a passable fair-weather friend but when the going gets rough I'd sooner be behind the wheel of a Volkswagen than most cars I can think of.
"Late in the afternoon of New Year's Eve, in a snarling near-blizzard, Jim McMichael and I headed out of New York in a Volkswagen for my home in the New Jersey mountains. Before going 25 miles we found cars stalled and others skidding hopelessly as they tried to assault the simple rises of a dual super-highway. The Volkswagen weaved through these churning iron hulks like a broken-field runner. The heater was giving us Palm Beach weather inside the little cab while outside all hell was cutting loose.
"The car hits the scales at 1,000 pounds and six-foot-four McMichael and myself topped 500 on our own. This meant roughly that it was carrying a third of its total weight in passenger load under tough conditions. As soon as I found clear spots where no other cars were fighting for traction, I deliberately threw this car into skids several times to see how it would act.
"After a few miles of ordinary snowploughing on the deserted main highway. We headed for some real tough stuff where the roads are hazardous even in July. Frankly we both expected to get stuck. But the fantastic way this little Pumpkin seed ploughed through spots where angels were taking snow checks made us try and find the Volkswagen's point of no return. I started up a two-mile mountain trail, where the snow was unbroken even by a rabbit. and while the bright Bosch headlights bored a hole through the swirling snow and darkness the Volkswagen dug in and went up like a puff of smoke. This left only one challenge locally, an impossible one — my regular half-mile hill-climb with its maximum 28 per cent. grade: For laughs over we went and (mind the road covered with a good seven inches of snow, with ice underneath.
"Okay, you ask, how is its Fourth of July performance? It's okay, period. Top speed is 66. Zero to 30 takes 7.9 seconds, zero to 40 goes 15,3. Zero to 60 takes a long 42.1. The car averages close to 50 miles on a gallon of regular gas [U.S. gallons. — Ed.] and there is enough storage room to carry a winter's supply of clothes for two people, using the back seat and a sort of storage bin behind that. Under the front hood next to the fuel tank there is enough roam to store a weekend supply of shirts and cigarettes.
"I first tested the Volkswagen several years ago and was only mildly interested. It was fair weather and under these circumstances the car struck me as just a nice, homely little turtle that ran well, steered easily and cornered like a pool table on casters, just as a lot of other imports did. It took a real snow-and-ice storm for me to fully appreciate just how good the Volkswagen is. The new 1953 Car has a swell four-speed synchromesh transmission you can play as easily as a garden hose. The ride over rough roads is phenomenal. So help me. I'd swear under oath that this German oil-can sops up tough bumps and chuck holes as well as, if not better than, a Fleetwood Cadillac, even though its four-wheel suspension makes it surprisingly bow-legged when the car is jacked up.
In summing up, the Volkswagen has an air-cooled pancake engine that is proving itself as reliable as the sun. The car makes no effort at all to be stylish. It has absolutely functional looks that were not designed to be chic but to appeal to people more interested in transportation at low cost. The paint job and general trim are excellent. A close examination of even the smallest details, such as the wiring and heating system, will prove at a glance that regardless of price this is a quality automobile from one end to the other. I strongly recommend the Volkswagen to anyone interested in this type of car, for at the price there is nothing better built in the world and few that are half as good."