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View Full Version : Volkswagen Beetles: Do they really float?


Elmer J. Fudd
02-10-2000, 02:01 PM
And they were extremely difficult to break into with a coathanger.

Who needs a coathanger? The old VW bugs were the easiest cars in the world to open without a key. In between the side roll down windows and the windshield are the little pivoted triangular windows we used to call "wind wings". A rapid, alternating, chopping motion with the heels of each hand on this window would vibrate loose the wind wing's lock in less than 30 seconds.

I trust the Teeming Millions will use this knowledge for good and not for evil.

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Elmer J. Fudd,
Millionaire.
I own a mansion and a yacht.

Triskadecamus
02-10-2000, 02:05 PM
Originally posted by Elmer J. Fudd:
I trust the Teeming Millions will use this knowledge for good and not for evil.

          Yeah, right, like someone is really gonna steal of 'em, now. I couldn't get my old one stolen in 1985!
<P ALIGN="CENTER"> &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; Tris </P>
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&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; When we ask advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.
-- Joseph-Louis LaGrange

Otto
02-10-2000, 02:22 PM
And then there was the parody ad in National Lampoon circa 1978, showing a Volkswagon floating in a lake with the caption "If Ted Kennedy had driven a Volkswagon, he'd be President today"...

Got 'em sued by Ted, as I recall.

Centerline
02-10-2000, 02:26 PM
I seem to recall that one of VW's ads in the old days helped perpetuate the idea, by showing a Bug floating on water with a voice over saying that its so well made it practically floats. Can't be sure though.

Nickrz
02-10-2000, 02:45 PM
WHACK! Slug bug!

Elmer J. Fudd
02-10-2000, 02:51 PM
Has anybody else noticed that the VW Bug has joined the pea, grapefruit, breadbox, and German shepherd as a standard to (inaccurately) measure other things by? I'm still trying to figure out how a 16 inch battleship gun can fire a shell the size of a VW Bug.

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Elmer J. Fudd,
Millionaire.
I own a mansion and a yacht.

Cervaise
02-10-2000, 03:01 PM
the pea, grapefruit, breadbox, and German shepherd as a standard to (inaccurately) measure other things by

Don't forget "football fields," as in "The wreckage was strewn over the area of several f.f.'s," or "The building was approximately three f.f.'s in length."

Thanks to all who answered. Like so many of these things, it seems like the answer is, "Kind of true, sort of, but not exactly." ;)

whc.03grady
02-10-2000, 05:03 PM
A question to which I can intelligently and quasi-authoritatively reply!
The amphibious VW designed by Prof. Porsche for the German armed forces was the Schwimmwagen, which, if you've seen one, is obviously the coolest of all VWs (and they're all pretty cool), if not one of the sweetest cars of all time.
The book Small Wonder (I can't recall the author right now), the floating Beetle origin is explained. It seems that to tout the other advantages of the (air-cooled) VW's body-on-pan (as opposed to a chassis or frame construction [a friend of mine who was American-iron biased expressed disbelief when I told him my car {VW Type III} not only didn't have a raditator or proper oil and air filters, but that it didn't have a frame either] which most cars have), a dealer in Tampa demonstrated that as an added bonus, this would enable the car to float, longer than you'd expect a car to float, anyway. Using a crane, they lowered one onto Tampa Bay (or Harbor or whatever) and it did float for (IIRC) 39 minutes.
There are other documented cases in the book where people piloted Beetles like boats across the Strait of Messina (btwn Italy and Sicily) and from Britain the the Isle of Man. Someone in Australia entered a boat race with one and managed to get third place.
Unfortunately, time and owners/abusers haven't treated the old (true) Beetle well, and I adamantly discourage attempting the above tricks in anything but a concours-condition VW, or one of the real ones they still make in Mexico.
So yes, new (old) Beetles did (do) float.

whc.03grady
02-10-2000, 05:05 PM
ERRATA
In the book...

whc.03grady
02-10-2000, 05:06 PM
...body-on-pan construction...

Crystalguy
02-10-2000, 05:50 PM
During the mid-60s to late-70s, I was a long haired hippie freak factory trained Volkswagen mechanic, mostly in the Santa Cruz area. I don't know if they floated, but they were sure great for getting two or three dope smokers in. Within minutes the smoke cloud would be so thick that the driver couldn't see out. But who cared, there was nothing out there worth seeing anyway. Ah, yes, the good old days.

JSexton
02-10-2000, 06:18 PM
whc03grady said

>The book Small Wonder (I can't recall the >author right now), the floating Beetle >origin

Interestingly, there is also a German car called the DKW, Der Kleiner Wunder. The little wonder. My folks had one in the sixties.

mangeorge
02-10-2000, 10:54 PM
Originally posted by Elmer J. Fudd:
Has anybody else noticed that the VW Bug has joined the pea, grapefruit, breadbox, and German shepherd as a standard to (inaccurately) measure other things by? I'm still trying to figure out how a 16 inch battleship gun can fire a shell the size of a VW Bug.



The weight of a bug, Elmer. These shells weigh about as much as a VW Bug. And they don't float. "16 inch" gun, get it?
You'd think someone who owns a mansion and a yacht would know these nautical things. ;)
Peace,
mangeorge


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I only know two things;
I know what I need to know
And
I know what I want to know
Mangeorge, 2000

02-10-2000, 11:21 PM
whc03grady:

The book Small Wonder (I can't recall the author right now), the floating Beetle origin is explained.


The author is Walter Henry Nelson. The book was initially published around 1967 or so, and reissued two years ago.

I've never actually seen one float, but have heard a few stories about them. Yes, they're airtight, and very meticulously engineered.

If you're interested, another VW thread is at http://www.straightdope.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/000429.html

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"If you're so pro-life, do me a favor: don't block medical clinics, lock arms and block cemeteries." -- Bill Hicks (http://www.billhicks.com/darktimes/index.html)

NickyLarson
02-10-2000, 11:37 PM
Cervaise, just how big IS a breadbox, anyway?
I remember a bread drawer in the kitchen cabinet; it was lined with metal, and had a metal sliding lid. Was it supposed to keep stuff fresh?

Doug K.
02-10-2000, 11:47 PM
Elmer J. Fudd wrote:
Who needs a coathanger? The old VW bugs were the easiest cars in the world to open without a key. In between the side roll down windows and the windshield are the little pivoted triangular windows we used to call "wind wings". A rapid, alternating, chopping motion with the heels of each hand on this window would vibrate loose the wind wing's lock in less than 30 seconds.

Are you kidding? I drove a bug for 12 years. Not only were the wing latches very tight, even if you could have moved them by pounding on the outside you would have needed to turn the car upside down to get them to move in the right direction to unlock them. The only way I ever succeeded in getting in without a key was to open the trunk (which I had fortunately left unlocked) and remove the glovebox from inside.

To get back to the OP, my bug did once "float" across a dip in the road that was full of water. At least enough to keep me from bottoming out.

Cervaise
02-11-2000, 01:01 AM
I've always heard that the VW Beetle was designed to float, and I have no doubt that at one time this was true. But did later models continue this property?

(I am, of course, referring to the Classic Beetle, not to the new-version Playskool/Legoland model, which I assume would sink like a bag of hammers if it ever hit a body of water.)

So: Were all old Beetles watertight? Or is this one of those creaky myths, like oxygen pumped into casinos or using 10% of one's brain? I've searched the SD archive, I've looked around on the web, and I can't find anything solid one way or another. I figure the SD crowd has to have at least a few car enthusiasts, so what's the scoop?

SavageNarce
02-11-2000, 01:17 AM
Yes, they would float, at least for a while, but then, so would most cars as long as the windows and doors remain closed.

The "Volkswagens float" idea (I think it might even have been used in one of their excellent commercials) came from the fact that they were supposedly so well-made that they held the air in better than North American cars. Some owners even insisted on rolling down the windows before they closed the door, to prevent impact on the eardrum from the compression. Of course, if your vehicle holds air in, it will slow the ingress of water, at least for a while. But even Volkswagens had little holes for wires and cables, so eventually they would fill up and sink. And I don't think even Volkswagen claimed that they were "designed" to float.

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Computers in the future may weigh no more than 15 tons.
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pluto
02-11-2000, 01:24 AM
Beetles definitely were more airtight (hence watertight) than any other make of car at their time. Closing the door without cracking a window was hard on the eardrums. And they were extremely difficult to break into with a coathanger.

Herr Porsche also designed Volkswagen derivatives for Hitler's military, one of which, IIRC, was an amphibious vehicle.

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well well said the royal desiccation my political opponents back home always maintained
that i would wind up in hell and it seems they had the right dope
Don Marquis
archy interviews a pharaoh

mikehardware
02-11-2000, 01:44 AM
I used to live way out in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee. The road followed the creek, and there were places where you had to drive across - no bridge. Usually it was no problem, the water was normally maybe 6 inches deep. When it was deeper, inexperienced drivers had ther cars stall out. Folks would generally come walking up to our house, and we'd have to pull them out with the tractor.

One time, a guy was driving a bug. By the time we got back, it had washed down the creek many yards from where he'd left it. So yes, VWs really did float.

And when things flooded! Whew! BTW, school buses can run with water up to the top step.

Triskadecamus
02-11-2000, 01:48 AM
&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; Compared to a Chevrolet, yes. Compared to a Boston Whaler, no.
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An Amish drive-by shooting.