SuperBeetles -

and Why you'll Wish you had a Standard Bug

Volkswagen sold a LOT of superbeetles in this country. If I'm not mistaken, they were produced & shipped here from 1974-1977.

They were the final evolution of the VW Beetle - like IRS suspension superceded swingaxles, like balljoints replaced kingpins, the superbeetle replaced the beetle.

But as evolution goes, they abandoned the baja way to a large extent. The end result is, superbeetles will not make a superior baja. Here's why.

Why Standard Beetles make Good Bajas

Baja bugs go fast over rough terrain. The VW beetle naturally lends itself to this application in several ways: rear-mounted motor, air cooling, 4-wheel independent suspension.

Let me specify 4-wheel TORSION-actuated independent suspension!

That's where modern technology became the enemy - the torsion-actuated part of the story.

The standard beetle has two tubes running horizontal across the front end, with torsion arms leaning back from these tubes. When a baja hits a rock, the wheel goes up and rearward a bit. These torsion arms are made of heavy cast-iron and I've never seen one break (although I've heard of it). The spring action is projected through a whole stack of spring-steel bars, for half the length of the front beam.

A pretty good spring-actuated Tower of Power!

McPherson Struts Reek!

Superbeetles have McPherson struts. The idea is, they absorb road shock better, provide better street handling and make mechanics a lot of money. The technology existed as early as the late 1930's, for it was used on naval aircraft for carrier landings, but wasn't implemented for automotive use in the 1940's when the beetle started production. The front end of the type 3 used balljoints in 1961, and the first balljoint beetles rolled off the line in 1966. So by the mid-70's McPherson struts were a pretty good idea, for a street car.

The problem is, they're not versatile enough and not durable enough!


The torsion front end can be adjusted with front-end adjusters. These twist the spring bars a little bit harder, and make the trailing arms hang a little bit lower, thus giving more lift.

Longer trailing arms can be installed, so a little bit more twist equals even more lift.

With superbeetles, there are no springs to twist. All there is to work with are a pair of struts. Can't make 'em longer, can't position 'em different, due to the engineering standards built in to the front end of the car.


Plates of spring steel are durable. Sure, they'll sag over 30 years of abuse, but the nature of spring steel is pretty much baja-friendly. Cast-iron torsion arms are quite strong, also. The weak link in the standard beetle front end is either the ball joints or the spindles, it seems.

McPherson struts have an itty bitty shaft moving a piston through an oil-filled tube. Three things happen: The shaft breaks or bends because it was hammered so hard the piston wouldn't move fast enough, and something has to give. The oil moves back and forth and back and forth until it mixes with air and has the consistency of salad dressing. Or, they just blow out. No more oil, no resistance, no lift, no shock absorption.

I'm led to believe there's a heavy-duty strut out there. It offers more resistance, thus a shade more lift and more durability. But no matter what, salad dressing will never compare to spring steel.

Now, the bottom line....

- Can I make a baja out of my superbeetle? Sure. There's baja kits available for the superbeetle body. 4-bolt pattern rims are not a problem. Tires, cages, easy stuff. Can you make a really good baja? NO.

- Can I raise my superbeetle? No. If there's any enterprising engineers out there who have figured out a mounting system that'll raise a superbeetle, provide documented offroad test results or I'll not believe it. To adjust the struts either affects the total throw of the strut, or hits the limit of steering range. Buy the heaviest strut money can buy and save for a standard beetle.

I'll qualify the above - I'm not an engineer nor a physicist so I might be wrong. However, demand is moderate for such a kit and Volkswagen's engineering teams have better things to do. Cost has to be dirt-cheap. Struts are still not all that durable. I stand by my words within these limits.

- I don't plan to romp my superbeetle much - will it make a baja? Sure. Washboard roads, fire roads, say any regular dirt road you'd take a 2-wheel-drive small truck on, not a problem. You'll need struts now and again, but hey that's the breaks. The problem lies in limited ground clearance and breakage - As long as you don't pound your front end into mother earth too much, and as long as you never ever cross the line & break a strut, your superbeetle will baja just fine. Build a good skid plate and buy the best struts money can buy.

- Can I change out the front end of my superbeetle? Sure, anything's possible with know-how, cut & weld action and cash. Like switching a balljoint front end to a king & link, however, let me remind you - there's 6 angles of alignment to worry about. Any measure out-of-whack will make your superbeetle pull, dive, wear out tires, skid and do all those nasty things that bad alignment do. Forever. I only recommend a good shop do such changeouts on any street-driven car. Too much to lose!

Here's what you do: Buy a standard beetle pan. Cut the frame head off. Figure out how to adapt it to the superbeetle pan. Buy a standard beetle front end. Switch out your steering for standard beetle - buy a steering box and shaft. Buy trailing arms, spindles, balljoints/kingpins, tie rods, wheel bearings. Then pay somebody a couple of hundred dollars to get the alignment perfect for you.

Why not buy a dead standard beetle for $500? Just asking....

Can anybody prove me wrong? Please?