Buying Your Dream Car

Buying Your Dream Vintage VolkswagenIf you have been reading for a while, you probably have seen my article entitled: Buying Strategies.

While I definitely will touch on points which I used in that article, the focus of this article is different. I’m going to chasten sellers but at the same time not let buyers off the hook.

Things in the World of Vintage Volkswagens are heating rapidly. Prices of vehicles are rising steadily. As I have said before, the day of a running, driving VW for $500 or even a thousand dollars is over! Forgive that rare case, of course.

A decent vehicle that doesn’t take complete restoration to get it going is going to cost $6500 to $8500. I had to give up my idyllic world of cheap Beetles a few years ago. I consider myself a “veteran” VW buyer, having bought and sold scores of them over the years. In all conditions for all sorts of reasons. I could ferret them from backyards, garages—anywhere that owners had parked them. It was easy. Had I more money at the time and more space, I would have bought hundreds. But, that wasn’t the case.

Now, I drool when someone comes up with a decent Beetle for $3000. Wow! How did I miss that one?!

Okay…let’s examine a specific case. Eric and I field lots of buying questions but many people who come to us already have purchased a car which they hope will be the car of their dreams!

Let’s call him Bill. Bill and Eric and I conferred after the fact. Bill had purchased a Convertible 1967 Beetle. He contacted us when he noticed an anomaly—a simple thing at first, but as the story played out—a travesty! Bill gave permission for us to use his story in hopes that it will help others to avoid what happened to him.

Bill used a well-known VW WebSite to search for his dream car. He eventually discovered a 1967 Beetle Convertible in California. The seller sent multiple photos for Bill to see. When all questions had been asked, the deal was sealed, money crossed palms and the car was shipped across the Nation to its destination.

While cleaning the project Convertible, Bill discovered that someone had installed a ’68 and later shift lever. Wanting his ‘Vert to be original, Bill found a stock shifter Online and set about to install it. To his surprise, the stock, year-correct shift lever would not fit. ’67 and earlier shift levers have a pin on the “ball” which fits into the “cup” of the shift rod in the tunnel. The cup had no notch for the pin! What???

That’s when Bill talked to Eric and me. Questions began to pour from us. What’s the VIN beneath the rear seat? Does it jibe with the tag behind the spare tire? Are the wheels 4 lug or 5 lug? And on and on.

Bill’s answers elicited further questions. The picture began to come into focus. It came to a head when Bill closely examined the VIN beneath the rear seat and discovered that it was a little crooked. Upon further examination, he could see that it had been grafted into the chassis. Not only so—the original VIN that had been cut and removed was pushed beneath the heater tube on the driver’s side. It read: 118xxxxxx The chassis is from a ’68 Beetle!

Then, Bill began to compare photos which the seller had sent to him. The seller’s photo of the VIN showed it to be in good condition. Yet, when Bill received delivery of the car, he found the sound deadening material surrounding the VIN to be melted.

And…the aluminum VIN tag behind the spare tire was missing.

It doesn’t cease there. Convertible ’67 VINs should read 157xxxxxx. The seller thought to deceive but probably had no idea that a Convertible’s VIN differs from that of a Sedan (117xxxxxx). He grafted a ’67 Sedan VIN into the ’68 chassis.

More: the dash appears to be from a ’68 or later because there are holes for the padded dash installation and Bondo squished around the corners where something was altered.

What the seller in California did is, literally, criminal. That this seller still is known to be advertising cars constitutes a further danger to other prospective buyers.

Every prospective buyer—that’s you!—should follow these simple rules.

1. Study to know about the type of car which you want to purchase. Do not buy on impulse. Do not buy, then expect to learn about the car later. You are the author of your decisions—make those decisions to be determined decisions!

2. Upon finding a car which looks promising, personally view the vehicle. If this is impossible, have a friend, relative or a hired appraisal firm to view and to critique the car. Make sure that the one who views the car has in hand all of the criteria which you expect of it. Send messages back and forth, make vocal phone calls, send photos back and forth. Ask lots of questions of the seller. If the seller is vague or fails to answer your questions, take that as a prime indication that this is not the car for you. Bill’s wife urged him to fly to California to inspect the car. But, the cost of flying there and back seemed to be a waste of time and money—at the time.

3. Make certain that both VINs are on the car—not “in a drawer somewhere” or just flat missing. Remember—every Volkswagen Beetle has two VINs. The two VINs must agree. Moreover, they must agree with the title papers. Know what the VIN for a Beetle Sedan or Convertible should be.

4. Besides having the seller to properly sign the title and to relinquish all relevant papers, draw up a Bill of Sale, clearly marked—As Is Sale– with an identical copy for both the seller and the buyer. Such a Bill should include complete names, addresses, phone numbers, the VIN of the vehicle, the amount of the sale and the date of the sale. Both the seller and the buyer should sign the Bill. People who don’t take these precautions have prepared themselves for possible disaster.

5. At least liability insurance should be at once purchased before the car is to be moved. Make plans accordingly, ahead of time. It’s not a bad idea to have made arrangements with one of the collector insurance companies so that your investment also will be protected. If you use a transport, you may be required to have extra insurance.

Bill has changed plans for his “Dream Convertible”. He now plans to spend less money and time with finishing the vehicle. He hopes just to enjoy the car as a “car”.

I expect more and more of this sort of thing to happen as Beetles become more valuable and complete cars become increasingly scarce. There is that touch of greed in some which propels them to mix-n-match, creating, as Bill said, a Frankenstein. A restored Frankenstein remains a Frankenstein.

We hate to be distrustful but when it comes to parting with thousands of hard-earned dollars…be skeptical…be wise. Vigilance is our guardian!

Posted by Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs since 1976. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

  1. Wow…. This is a bit of a heart breaker. What ever happened to the hand shake sealed deal ?
    Great eye opener for people shopping for cars, and most anything I guess. It’s just something many don’t think to look for.

    1. Richard…I agree–what DID happen to that handshake deal?! Sigh! But, we’ll just have to be more wise in our dealings. Take care and stay warm way up there in Canada! jay

  2. I really think that article is good for someone buying there 1st vw. All of us have learnt from past experiences. I just bought a 67 convert not long ago and yes the front Vin3 was missing. The owner ship and the chassie# matched. Hope that is good enough????. I really don,t know how OG it is but I keep trying to figure it out. The bug is in good condition to drive now , just trying to make it better, .If way off about OG I will just make it a good Driver.BOB

    1. Good to hear from you, Bob! I think that, from what you have told me, you are okay. We do have to wonder about that front VIN plate, don’t we. I have been searching and have a friend working, too, on finding more information on Convertible VINs. No luck so far. But, the show ain’t over yet! I’ll keep you posted on what I learn. jay

  3. Jay, you make some very good points here. I can add some perspective as well, as I acquired a Zenith Blue ’67 this year after searching for some time. My first car was a ’67, Savannah Beige, which I maintained myself, so I had a very good idea of the ’67 specific features. My search was a little more complicated as I live in western Canada, and of course 90+% of the good vehicles come from the US. I would suggest first that a prospective owner be very clear what kind of vehicle they want, is it going to be a show vehicle, meticulously restored, or one that you are really looking to be able to drive on nice days, or a daily driver. Also be realistic about what you are prepared to take on. In my case, I had been looking for some time, and I was prepared to make an offer on a beautifully restored show class vehicle, until I sat back and though about it a bit. What I really wanted was a nice looking car (I’m not good on body work), in stock form, that I could drive reliably in our short summers. I realized with a full show car, I would be very reluctant to take it out for general use. I also got a bit nervous about the full show vehicle as I was not able to go and view it, whereas the one I bought I was able to go and see. It was considerably less money, and it ran well, recently repainted and interior done by one of the better shops, and had most of the ’97 specific bits and pieces (missing some cooling tin which I have subsequently acquired and installed) and it does require a bit of mechanical work that I am quite happy to take on. The car had matching numbers, and verified history (original owners manual with it). It’s also important to know the specifics of the model year….the ’67 as we know has some unique parts. I checked the carb, distributor, air cleaner, various interior parts (seat belts, radio, fuse box etc) to verify that it indeed is a ’67, and that is was basically stock. Knowing the year specifics will allow you to very quickly determine if indeed you are getting the real thing. The only real item on my vehicle that is not correct is one front fender, easily spotted with the different locations of the horn grill. But given my priority was a nice looking decent driver, that was a trade-off I was willing to make. The VIN number check is critical….in our jurisdiction here, altered VIN’s are not allowed, and can be considered fraud, or the possibility that the car was totalled in an accident and not properly and safely repaired. Finally, spend lots of time looking at ad’s and trying to get a reasonable idea of prices, remembering that asking prices are not selling prices. For example the first vehicle I looked at has since been sold to a dealer, who now has it listed for $10k more that the original price I discussed with the seller…….and almost a year later it’s still not sold!

    1. Hello, Dave…Thank you for commenting and giving a detailed description of what to consider when going to buy a vintage Beetle! I agree–I think that you made a wise choice–one that you can live with and enjoy. Do just that! Happy Motoring! jay

  4. Richard A. (Dick) Diaz November 2, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Jay I know you take anything VW personal from the phone conversations we have had and emails we have exchanged! Like the others that have made comments, and Bill, I have made the same emotional purchase of a ’67 VW only to be disappointed that I had been taken advantage of! I accept it was my responsibility to make the right purchase, but I am still disappointed in those people out there perfectly willing to take our money for a car misrepresented! Thanks to you and Eric I am moving forward, although painfully, and I do still love my car! is truly an asset to those of us, and our numbers seem high, that need your support to keep these cars on the road! Great article Jay!

    1. Hi, Dick…Yes…I groan with you over the situation in which you find yourself. I just hope that soon this hurdle will be jumped and you can proceed to enjoy your nice ’67 Beetle! jay

  5. Jay … thank you for being so steadfast in reminding us all about the deviants out there who think nothing of trying to rob us of our dreams. I hope “Bill” continues to search for a true ’67 and is successful when the right one comes along.

    1. Good evening, Donna! Good to hear from you. Yes…I was mad and distressed at the same time as “Bill” and I talked for some time on the phone. And the horror is that this seller is still “at large” advertising on that “well-known Volkswagen Site”! i hope that Wally2 is safe and sound, stored for the winter months. Take care! jay

  6. very sad if this VW was purchased as an original 67. I must say that the vert looks very cool and with fender covers and the yellow paint is it a real head turner. As long as you enjoy it, let the bad experience go and move on. we all learn lessons in Iife.. Just curious, Does it have the sapphire 6 am/fm radio? that radio is super rare and if it has it, that’s a big plus. if it doesn’t, have some fun looking for one, and when you get one in that works, it will feel like a great accomplishment.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Ken. The picture at the top of the article is not “Bill’s” ‘Vert–just an illustrative photo. It’s too bad that “Bill’s” convertible does not look like that one. I think that it would be easier to stomach the bitter pill if it were! “Bill’s” car still is in the project stage. jay

  7. Being new to the 67Beetle scene can anyone tell me how to get my blinkers, dimmer switch and 4way flashers to work? Thanks!

    1. Robert,
      You might want to post in the Forum. But, we are here to help.

    2. Hello, Robert…Hoping that you have a G-mail account (Google), go to: You can post your situation and then stand-by for help to arrive! Give pertinent details. One thing which we’d want to know is–has the car recently been repainted and are you in the reassembly process. jay

  8. Sad story. It just goes to show you that are dishonest people out there trying to make a fast buck! It also stresses the importance of knowing what you are buying or finding someone who does and take them with you before you purchase. Lastly – the first order of business is to see the car in person, have a “Pre-purchase Inspection” completed and then decide to purchase or not. I have owned my “Early ’67 (October 1966)” since December of 1977, and was fortunate enough to purchase the car from the Original Owner. Not everyone can be so fortunate, but at the minimum – you have to go see the car in person to know what you are buying. I purchased a 1982 911SC (Original Paint/Interior) in March of 2007 from the 3rd owner. The car was located in Boise Idaho, and I live between LA and Santa Barbara. I made the flight up to Boise, and did as I advised. Again, I was lucky – but the 911 is now worth twice what I paid for it. In summary – be patient and do you homework. Steve Murray

    1. Steve–You nailed this one! Perfect strategy! The results are worth it. I am glad that your cars are increasing in value. In part–the increase in value is due to stunts like what happened to “Bill”. But, what a price to pay! Spread your good advice anytime you have opportunity! If you are a member of a VW group–get the word out. The cutting-welding of these cars has not let up. Unfortunately, there is the perception that here is an unlimited supply of Volkswagen Beetles out there. Well…there isn’t. I have a friend who spent a year researching the longevity of the “automotive species”. It won’t be long now before Beetles will be on the endangered list–if not already. I tell everyone that they are becoming rare. I am not exaggerating. Thanks for your words, Steve! jay

      1. Jay,
        Kudos for such a great article.

        1. Eric…This is the sort of article that I do NOT like to write because I know that good people are hurting! The vintage vehicle hobby is supposed to be enjoyable. But, there are really bad people out there who ruin an otherwise wonderful experience. So…we must protect ourselves–no one can do it for us. Sigh! jay

          1. Jay,
            All the same, it’s a story that had to be told…

  9. Graham Patterson November 3, 2014 at 2:34 am

    Real sad story, just goes show that honesty is a dying attribute out there. Whilst nowhere near as bad at this story, my own Aust 67 Beetle has revelled some story in itself. Stripping out the old headliner so I could prep for paint I removed the old daggy felt padding on the roof and rear posts….and I found the roof had been removed and a replacement welded in place, all 4 posts then revelled they had been cut and welded when rubbing back to bare metal on the outside paint. A professional job so I do not suspect any nefarious actions. Probably just a simple soft roll over or rusting roof but just goes to show what is hiding from you the purchaser

    1. Hello, Graham from Down Under! I have a friend who bought a ’63 Beetle with a Rag Roof. As he worked on the car, he discovered that the Rag Roof had been grafted into the car. Sigh! I keep telling people that rather than to increase the value of a vehicle, doing these things degrades the car. The next person buys the car, obtains a Birth Certificate and learns that his car was something else! I agree with you, though about yours–hopefully it was just a case of a tree fall or something of that nature that necessitated the graft. Keep us notified about your progress with the restoration, Graham! jay

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