Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


DR. ING. FERDINAND Porsche’s company was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to design the rear-engine Volkswagen in 1934. This was five years before Porsche built the Type 64, which used many components from the original People’s Car.

Porsche Type 64. Image by SamH at English Wikipedia. See also “Seducing Speed.”

In turn, the Type 64 sired the post-war Porsche 356, heritage of which is visible in 1964’s (and today’s) Porsche 911.

Volkswagen Beetle, manufactured in various forms from 1938 until 2003. Image of a 1971–1973 Type 1 by Lothar Spurzem.

Turnabout being fair play, it’s no wonder that people have installed high-performance Porsche engines in Beetles. Here are Porsche Beetle tidbits, gleaned from R&T, July 1956, and Internet sleuthing.

Dr. Ing. h.c. F. PORSCHE K.G. set matters straight in a sternly worded letter published in the July 1956 R&T. Briefly, “Subject: Delivery of single PORSCHE engine. We herewith refer to the circular letter No. 19—KDT 8 of Volkswagenwerk, dated 20th August 1955, and may point out once more than [sic] it cannot be justified to install any types of PORSCHE engines into other makes than PORSCHE cars, especially in any type of VW vehicles.”

The letter continues, “Both of our plants, the Volkswagenwerk as well as PORSCHE, have already informed the German licensing offices that any responsibility will be strictly declined for the licensing of cars of any other make than PORSCHE, equipped with a PORSCHE engine.”

“In this connection,” the notice concluded, “we may point out once more than [sic] it is not allowed to assemble PORSCHE engines of PORSCHE original spare parts in any other place than the factory. Such an assembling violates paragraph 5 of our Agency contract.”

Okay, we get the drift. But the prospect in the 1950s of replacing the VW’s 36 hp with a Porsche 356A’s 59 hp was compelling. Even more so in later years as the power difference widened.

Herbie made its debut in Disney’s The Love Bug in December 1968. Disney avoided getting stern letters from you-know-who by stripping the starring Beetle(s) of any VW nomenclature and changing to non-factory wheels and hubcaps.

There were multiple Herbies used in six films, The Love Bug, 1968; Herbie Rides Again, 1974; Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, 1977; Herbie Goes Bananas, 1980; The Love Bug, 1997 TV; Herbie: Fully Loaded, 2005; and a five-episode TV series in 1982.

Come to think of it, as a sentient anthropomorphic character, Herbie was a self-driving car years before our current fascination with autonomous vehicles. In fact, its rear-seat driver operated controls out of the camera’s view. In later films, a front-mounted Carello fog light concealed a small camera allowing the driver to sit lower and yet see forward.

An original Herbie at a car show in Orlando, Florida, in 2006. Image by PanamaHerbie at English Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia,“One of the modified racing Herbies featured a Porsche 356 engine, brakes, and Koni shock absorbers.”

Volkswagen dealers of the era featured a Beetle with Herbie livery in their showrooms.

Ach! Die Himmel!

You Can’t Keep a Good Idea Down. In Jalopnik, April 25, 2016, Jason Torchinsky wrote, “So now that Porsche is making cars with flat-fours that regular (well wealthy-regular) people can buy, the only rational question to ask is ‘How can I cram one of these onto my old Beetle/Ghia/Thing/old air-cooled whatever?’ ”

Image from Jalopnik, April 25, 2016.

I like the idea of a 300-hp Thing. I once rented a Thing to drive around the Caribbean island of St. Martin, and the extra power would have been a blast.

Jason advises, “Also, with a 300-hp Porsche engine in an old VW, you’ll probably want to upgrade the brakes, suspension, seat belts, tires/wheels, and pretty much everything else, unless your plan is to make the most delightful suicide machine known to man.”

Even more recently, Quora asked, “Will a Porsche Engine Work in an Older VW Bug?” A respondent posted in March 17, 2018, “Absolutely. A 356 engine will bolt right in. An early 911T motor can be crammed in without too much persuasion.”

However, 911 engines are expensive, and vintage 356 mills even more so. The respondent’s suggestion: “A Subaru engine…. You can pluck the N/A B4 out of an early 2000s Subie. And for a thousand bucks at the parts picker you have tripled your previous output.”

According to Google Translate, Ach! Die Himmel! is ああ ! 天国 ! in Japanese. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

One comment on “PORSCHE BEETLES

  1. Wm. Urban
    July 17, 2019

    As reported in today’s WSJ article by A.J. Baime, Kris Whitten in Kensington, Calif. has a custom battery powered Beetle. He says:
    “When I take it on road trips, I pull up to a charging station next to a bunch of Teslas and the Beetle draws a crowd. Twice I have pulled into Volkswagen dealerships to charge the car, and both times, the building has emptied. While the car is charging, I give people a tour of it.”

    Too bad he missed converting a Volvo 544, Now that would be iconic.

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