Classic Volkswagens Square Off

With its new Volkswagen Beetle model joining the classic T1 Camper Van, LEGO has classic VW fans covered two ways

I take the “nerd” part of Automotive Nerdery very seriously, so it goes without saying that when LEGO’s new Volkswagen Beetle set came out, I made a beeline for my nearest retailer. And it should further go without saying that I already have the Volkswagen T1 Camper Van set with which to compare the new offering.

What I don’t have is the original Volkswagen Beetle set that came out in 2008; general consensus seems to be that it’s far inferior to the much smoother (albeit smaller) new version, although as always the value of unopened discontinued LEGO sets is shocking.

With that said, how do LEGO’s two current VW sets stack up?

img_4684Overall, they complement one another pretty well, although sadly, they are not designed to the same scale. The Beetle is slightly larger (although both models are the same width), and its fatter tires and higher ground clearance in particular conspire to make the Camper look slammed when they’re placed side by side.

Both models offer a full complement of opening features, as well as lift-off roof panels for interior access. In addition to opening doors and engine and luggage compartment lids, the Camper adds swing-out “Safari” windshield panes and a cloth-clad poptop to the roof, although it’s purely for show – there’s no hole in the model’s ceiling where the top might provide extra headroom. Within the engine compartments, both models showcase fairly abstract replicas of the VW flat four; the Camper benefits from a slightly roomier cubby and offers finer detail here, but the Beetle model gets points for its clever integration of the iconic dual exhaust pipes.

With the Camper, obviously, a big part of the fun is on the inside, and LEGO’s designers clearly had a field day. The rearmost bench seat folds flat into a bed, there’s a fold-down table between the rear seats, there’s a closet, a houseplant, some artwork, a lava lamp, even the proverbial kitchen sink. The dashboard is nicely detailed, with a large speedometer, a sort of abstract radio in the center, and a reasonable facsimile of the slatted fresh air vents of the real thing. There’s also a long gear shift lever and three pedals in the footwell.

The Beetle’s dash is disappointingly plain – not that there’s much to the real thing, either – but it adds a parking brake to the shifter between the seats, and both front seats tilt forward for access to the rear seat, which also folds forward to reveal the parcel shelf storage area. Within the trunk, there’s a spare tire and a nice gas cap printed with the VW roundel, matching the piece that adorns the exterior at the base of the windshield.

The real beauty of both sets is how cleverly they achieve the VWs’ famously rounded forms. Even the fairly boxy T1 has rounded corners in all the right places, and the way the bulging, two-tone front end is designed is genius. The Beetle set introduces an entirely new piece, a twice curved brick, to give the fenders just the right look, but otherwise uses fairly standard LEGO pieces (albeit in a handsome azure blue not widely used before) to create a smoothly rounded shape that atones for the sins of its lumpen, studs-out 2008 predecessor. One particularly nice detail is that the doors mount at an angle to give the body an appropriate taper in plan view.

Small quibbles about scale aside, I’m extremely pleased with the Beetle as a companion set to the Camper. As cleverly designed as these two VW models are, I think it might be stretching the limits of LEGO’s capability to faithfully replicate rounded shapes to ask for a Karmann-Ghia to complete the vintage VW trifecta. A Thing, perhaps?