Simanaitis Says

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“HOW WOULD YOU IMPROVE on a car which will cruise effortlessly all day long at top speed? What changes would you suggest in a vehicle which will seat a driver and three passengers in adequate comfort and which will handle ‘light as a feather’? Could you ask a 94 inch wheelbase automobile to give any more than 30 to 35 miles per gallon… on regular gasoline?” 

“These are questions for which Road and Track is hard pressed to find answers,” the magazine wrote in December 1952.

Of course, seven decades of automobile development change matters. Here are tidbits from that road test, identified as F-9-52, the magazine’s ninth foreign car to be tested that year. 

This and following images from Road and Track, December 1952.

Light as a Feather. “The Volkswagen,” the magazine said, “is what would be called a ‘light steerer,’ with very little ‘road feel.’ Road shock is not transmitted thru the steering wheel to the driver. The steering was deliberately designed to have a certain amount of play to relieve driver tension.”

Cruise Effortlessly All Day Long at Top Speed. Delivering the test car, John von Neumann of Competition Motors, North Hollywood, told the test crew “cruise it flat-out if you want to, it won’t hurt the car any.” He probably didn’t mention that flat-out for the Volkswagen was 66.6 mph, by far the slowest of the foreign contingent in 1952.

The nine foreign cars tested that year topped out at an average 90 mph (with three over the century: the Jaguar Mk VII sedan’s and Porsche 356’s 105 mph; the Ferrari 212’s 123 mph.) The five domestic cars averaged 88 mph (helped by the Hudson Hornet’s 98 mph).

“Considering its 25 horsepower,” the magazine wrote, “one would naturally assume that the big, powerful American sedans would run away and leave the Deutschlander when the lights turn green—but such is not the case. A quick windup in first gear, a double-clutch into second (allowing the speedometer needle to nearly approach the 35 mph redline) and the driver finds himself dropping into third with ample space between himself and following traffic. Of course, this is in normal traffic, because any of the Olds-Cadillac-Chrysler ilk may, if they try, show their heels to the VW.”

Electric wipers were noteworthy in 1952. So was the VW’s exemplary fit and finish.

The Magazine’s Experience: “The car was pounded unmercifully thru traffic and absolutely floor-boarded on the open road. At no time was there any sign of distress…. In open country a 60 mph average was possible to maintain.”

The magazine noted, “Side-winds, too, had a slowing effect on the VW (as they do on any car). Had the air been dead still, instead of moving slightly across the strip, it is probably that the Volkswagen would have traveled 2 or 3 mph faster.”

Notes and Comments: “Service attendants admired the big (3 in.) fuel tank filler cap (under the hood) which made their work easier. Instrument panel rather sparsely populated… large clock, speedometer, and that’s all. The rest is indicated by lights: generator, oil, etc. The absence of a trip meter was annoying.”

Note the easy access to dashboard hardware, oversize fuel filler and modest “trunk” space.

Early VWs didn’t have a fuel gauge either until 1961. There was a Reserve petcock and that oversize filler allowed easy use of a calibrated fuel dip stick. 

Twenty-five horsepower at 3300 rpm from 1131 cc: an engine purposely detuned for longevity.

Yet Another Note on Floor-boarding. “On the highway,” the magazine noted, “cruising with the throttle floor-boarded, the car seemed perfectly safe… good brakes (4 wheel hydraulic) with fairly high pedal pressure… and the VW wants to go right where you point it.” 

Yes, and note the frequent mention of the driver’s right foot. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 


  1. mike b
    April 14, 2022

    Memories. Learned to drive in a ’63. 40 hp. Top rated speed 72 mph. Drive it floorboarded on the highway. 30 mpg on a good tankful. Fiendish handling especially in the rain; sideways was standard; you learned early how to manage oversteer. Heater mostly imaginary. Some kind of service required every 500 miles (no oil filter, so a 500 miles change interval was necessary). But it got around, and it could climb any hill SF could throw at it (granny 1st gear that redlined per the shift-marker tick on the speedometer at about 20 mph). Funny that some years later I had a Rabbit Diesel that had very similar performance, though was much safer to drive and more comfortable – and had a working heater.

  2. jguenther5
    April 15, 2022

    Never owned one, but my cousins had about a ’52 or ’53 that she bought from the dealership she worked for in Columbus, OH. Nice car for general use, easy to work on. The Mark was, what? Four to the dollar? Great prices for anything German. Not so much, now.

  3. -Nate
    April 16, 2022

    These were indeed sturdy and well built cars .

    I’ve had more air cooled VW’s than I can count, my 1953 was also terrific .


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