Thursday 27 July 2017

Heads swivel when this car Beetles into view

Campbell Spray needed a tonic and found it in the new version of a car planned in 1934

Smiles: The Volkswagen Beetle R-Line gets heads turning
Smiles: The Volkswagen Beetle R-Line gets heads turning
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

My delight in picking my son up from the airport was matched by seeing his serious economist face dissolve into smiles as he whipped out his phone and took pictures of the car that would take him home.

In fact every time I was driving the new Volkswagen Beetle R-Line, heads swivelled and grown men came up to admire it and swap stories of days in the original versions of the iconic German car, which was ordered by Hitler in 1934 and given to Ferdinand Porsche to design and produce as a "people's car".

The rear-engined car with its distinctive air-cooled whine was first built overseas in Dublin when in 1949, Motor Distributors Limited, founded by Stephen O'Flaherty, secured the franchise for the country at that year's Paris Motor Show. In 1950, Volkswagen Beetles started arriving into Dublin packed in crates in what was termed "completely knocked down" form ready to be assembled in a former tram depot at 162 Shelbourne Road in Ballsbridge.

But that was then and the New Beetle of 1997 which switched the engine to the front in turn gave way to the Beetle of 2012 and the lower, faster and more luxurious R-Line which I was testing. It reminded me of the same way MINI has evolved into a real premium brand since it was taken over by BMW. The R-Line Beetle with its lovely DSG automatic box reeked of quality and solidness which was just as well as the two-litre 150bhp engine was coming down with torque. I thought it was a pity it was diesel as turbo petrol could have been even more fun.

The test model which you can see above was in a metallic Sandstorm Yellow and had an on-the-road price of €36,567 and it was massively specced. But while the boot is well-sized now - a mighty long way from the tiny front luggage area of the old Beetle - and will expand even more by folding down the two rear seats, this isn't a family car. It's for the young or young at heart.

One of its admirers the other week was a man - shall we say - of a certain size and age who loved how the big doors opened so fully and thought the car would be ideal as a downsizer for his wife and himself. They will have a lot of fun. After all, there aren't many production cars which inspire the title character in a film which turned into a full franchise over a couple of generations.

I had been in hospital for a little while before I tested the Beetle R-Line. It was just the tonic I needed.

Sunday Independent

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