By the late 1970s, America’s love affair with the Volkswagen Beetle was coming to an end. The final year for the Volkswagen Beetle sedan in the United States was 1977, but with the Rabbit Cabriolet not due until the 1980 model year, Volkswagen sold its Beetle Convertible here through the (extended) 1979 model year. With visions of future collectibility dancing in their heads, many owners parked their final-year Beetle Convertibles, reserving them for special occasion drives. At least one 1979 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible wasn’t driven at all, and in fact was never registered; when chassis 1592041475 crosses the auction stage at the Bonhams Amelia Island sale, predictions are that it could sell for as much as $100,000.
At first glance, that seems like an astonishing amount of money for a 1970s Volkswagen Beetle without a celebrity pedigree, and the current high retail price for such a car sits at around $28,000. That said, high retail is what one would expect to pay for a very nice driver, or perhaps a restored example clean enough to compete in shows. With just 66 miles on the odometer, the never-titled example (from the personal collection of Seattle Volkswagen dealer Wade Carter, killed in a 2001 helicopter crash) is essentially a new car, as original as is possible after 37 years.
The actual pre-auction estimate for chassis 1592041475 is $50,000 – $100,000, and there’s history to support these prices. At Gooding & Company’s 2015 Scottsdale sale, a two-owner 1979 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible with 700 miles on the odometer sold for $66,000 (including fees), while the year prior, a 1979 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible with 659 miles on the odometer sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Palm Beach sale for $58,300, including fees. A second 1979 Beetle Convertible will be crossing the stage at Gooding & Company’s 2016 Amelia Island sale, and the pre-auction estimate for this 14,000 mile example is $40,000 to $60,000.
The next owner of chassis 1592041475 will be getting a car powered by a fuel-injected and air-cooled horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, rated at 48 horsepower and mated to a four-speed manual transmission. Top speed was said to be 80 MPH, though getting there with a yet-to-be-broken in 37-year-old engine will likely be a leisurely process. The car’s four-wheel independent suspension features coil springs and struts up front, with trailing and diagonal arms and torsion bars in the rear, and drum brakes (without ABS, of course) are used in all four corners.
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible production was handled by Karmann in Osnabruck, Germany, and the last cars rolled off the production line on January 10, 1980. As Mark J. McCourt explained in his 2010 Buyer’s Guide to the model, Americans purchased 10,681 Volkswagen Beetle Convertibles in 1979, followed by an additional 4,572 in 1980. To avoid having to comply with stricter 1980 emission and safety regulations, all of the final examples were sold as 1979 models.
Whether or not chassis 1592041475 meets or exceeds the high estimate, history tells us it will very likely exceed the $50,000 low estimate when it crosses the auction block on March 10. Should this particular Beetle convertible break the six-figure barrier, it stands to reason that other well-preserved examples will hit the market at future 2016 auctions. Will any others be unregistered, with less than 67 miles on the odometer?
The Bonhams Amelia Island Auction will take place on Thursday, March 10, at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club. For additional details, visit Bonhams.com.
UPDATE (14.March 2016): The 1979 Volkswagen Beetle convertible sold for $52,800, including buyer’s premium.