Air-cooled and ice cold: Oregon to Michigan in a VW Beetle


I’d never driven on a road as bad as I-84 that January night. The Beetle’s feeble headlights dimly illuminated the endless washboard ice and packed snow, and the car rattled relentlessly. It felt like every bone in our bodies did, too. And, boy, was it cold, with temps in the single digits. My wool socks and long underwear weren’t enough. I cursed my decision to drive this Beetle from Oregon to Michigan rather than ship it.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/08/01/oregon-to-michigan-in-a-vw-beetle


Great story!

In the Navy in the 1980’s I drove my '71 from Florida to Rochester, NY for Christmas leave.
On the way back during a snow storm my car died on 390 South near Dansville at 2am.
I had to run a rubber line from the gas tank filler to the fuel pump (outside the car) as the deep snow and cold kept freezing the fuel line under the car. It remained that way until I got into Virginia and warmer temperatures.
Beetles had decent heat as long as everything was in working order and adjusted properly.


I assume that the heater ducts weren’t working if you had “0” heat. I drove a Bettle for several years in winter with temps down to -40. Yes the windshield needed scrapping inside and outside but there was always some heat to the defroster ducts and floor ducts after a few miles but they were never what you would call warm. The optional gas heater worked well when it worked. I fitted clear plastics shields on the windshield and side windows and they helped with the frosting up. The lights on the 6 volt models were pretty dim but the later 12 volts ones with aftermarket Bosch halogen lamps were excellent. It must have been quite a trip!


Enjoyed your story.
After serving my tour in the Army, in Fairbanks Alaska, the wife, our Siberian Husky made the trip out in our 1959 VW Beetle in 1969. It was the car we had while in Alaska for just under 3 yrs, Fortunately I being a mechanic, I had the opportunity to learn what made the gas heaters work, so mine was always working. But when we departed Alaska it was in September, so the heater was not needed. We drove that thing all the way to Indiana, just South of Michigan. We some good times and fun, along with our Siberian. Although it did throw a belt once, just before crossing into Canada. We took our time and stopped to visit relation as well as Army friends. It was a good trip. Oh and the plastic shields on ALL the windows was a must in the winter. Making the trip was fun for us, but of course we were in our early 20’s then. Ahhh, the memories.


Thanks @jeffrey_roeger! Your story is great as well! Seems like most of the folks we encountered on our cross-country trip had some sort of story about an epic trip in an old Beetle!


It was quite a trip! The heater hoses were intact, but the cables were gone. I probably should have crawled under it with some mechanics wire before we left and fixed it myself, but… I didn’t. Hindsight is 20/20! Thankfully the guys at Hook’s Air-cooled in Spokane got us sorted! After that we were all smiles! I even managed to drive without gloves and a hat for a good portion of the rest of the trip!


Sounds like an awesome trip! I was just in Fairbanks a couple weeks ago and noticed there are quite a few old Beetles up there. Some clean ones can be found for pretty cheap. I’m honestly considering trying to buy one and then drive it back to Michigan… maybe not in the winter this time!!


I spent most of the '70s with my primary car being a '61 Beetle. Complete with the non-working Southwind gas-fired heater. One trick I learned was an adaptation from the days of the covered wagon. I’d heat up about a dozen bricks in a 275° oven and put them in the front footwells. Kept warm for a couple of hours. Also a scraper that used a single edge razor blade was just right for clearing frost off of the inside of the windshield. I finally did get the gas heater working and it was great! Better than any water cooled car. Switch on a (working) Southwind gasoline heater and about ten seconds later you had heat.

I have a different '61 Beetle now and fortunately rarely drive it in the winter.