We drive the last Beetle… Or close to the last Beetle, anyway By MARK VAUGHN (08:30 Oct. 03, 2003) Volkswagen just showed us the fifth-generation Golf at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and it is a real credit to the folks at VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. So, too, is the new W12-powered, U.S.-spec Volkswagen Phaeton, about which we will soon write. But even before both of those cars, we drove in San Diego one of the last Volkswagen Beetles ever made and that was an even bigger credit to Wolfsburg and to Peubla. AutoWeek reader and car collector Bob Pogee owns an automotive air conditioning business in San Diego (iceac.com). Some of the cars to which he adds air conditioners are those very Mexican-made Beetles. Or at least he did until production stopped June 30 after 21.5 million of them came off the line. “I just had to get one,” said Pogee of his Beetle lust. Actually, he got six, paying the $8,200 sticker price the Ultimo Edition Beetles go for in Mexico. “I know some guys at the factory,” he explained. Of the 21.5 million Beetles made by Volkswagen, only the final 3000 came in what VW de Mexico calls the Ultimo Edition. Ultimo Edition meant chrome bumpers and trim, whitewall tires and a CD player. Otherwise they’re not a lot different than the millions of other Beetles still circling the planet. AutoWeek reader and car collector Bob Pogee with one of his Ultimo Edition Beetles. What amazed us when we saw one of Pogee’s Beetles— and what would amaze anyone who’s ever owned an air-cooled Volkswagen—was the engine. It had no oil on it whatsoever, the parts were clean, there was no duct tape holding the paper heater tubes to the fan housing, and no electrical tape holding worn-out wires to worn-out connectors. It was all so... new. Open the driver’s door and crawl inside and the car smells the same as new Volkswagens smelled when the air-cooled versions were last sold in the United States 20 years ago. It was a little automotive time capsule courtesy of our friends to the south. The 1.6-liter flat four had fuel injection, which Beetles got starting in the ’70s, so it fired right up with no pumping the throttle. And the four-on-the-floor shifter felt just like the old Beetles; the pedals did, too. The air conditioning blew cold air out the vents. With a compression ratio of 7.5:1—designed to work with Pemex gas, Pogee said—the flat four makes only 44 hp at 4400 rpm and 70 lb-ft of torque at 2200. While pathetic by modern standards, the engine has only 1804 pounds of Beetle to haul around, according to the Spanish-language spec sheet, so power-to-weight is not bad. With that low curb weight and the VW’s relatively low center of gravity, the torsion bars (barras de torsion) worked fine. These cars were never great performers, despite what owners used to point out was the “same basic engine and chassis configuration as the Porsche.” But they were spritely, as in, “Muy spritely, amigo.” Pogee sold one of his Ultimo Editions on eBay for $15,101. And he has six more are for sale at his website, listed as “For export only.” Beetles stopped being legal for U.S. roads years ago. So the hopelessly nostalgic could buy one of Pogee’s Ultimo Editions, or just open any copy of anything with a name like Auto Trader and get a street-legal Beetle of your very own. Then you’d remember how high-maintenance an old car is, and flee to the safe confines of your Toyota. Still, a nice afternoon’s drive in a Pogee Beetle was fun, just like the old Beetles used to be... when you could get them running, and keep them running.