The Old JC Whitney Catalog’s Volkswagen Section Still Manages To Surprise Me

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When I was a kid, living in the grim, strange, pre-internet society, one of my favorite things was when a human being dressed in a uniform and driving something our own David Tracy got harassed by cops in would come to our house and provide us with the equivalent of a bunch of websites, in physical form. Mail. Bills, letters, magazines, wads of dog shit wrapped in newspaper (that maybe wasn’t actually mailed, our neighbors just weren’t fans) and best of all, JC Whitney catalogs. To a Volkswagen-obsessed kid like me, these were gold, full of all the crap I could dream about adding to my own Beetle one day. I saw Beetles with JC Whitney crap on them all the time, but now that I look back on these catalogs, I see some strange things I never saw in the wild. Let’s look at a few of those.

JC Whitney itself is sort of an amazing thing: they still sell car parts online to this day, and they started way back in 1915 as a scrap metal yard run by a Lithuanian immigrant named Israel Warshawsky. His son realized catalogs could be a big thing, and actually sold catalogs for a quarter starting in 1934, and then kept cranking out these massive newsprint tomes of car parts for decades and decades.

The stuff a well-adjusted normal human might consider “weird” in these catalogs was actually quite common, like the fake Rolls-Royce hoods and Continental engine lid kits and the grossly misshapen tragedies of fiberglass that were all sorts of alternative hoods and body panels:

These you could see anywhere, usually in their natural primer gray state. But as I look through these old catalog pages (helpfully scanned and up at thesamba.com) I see some things I’ve literally never seen in the wild, and I’ve been actively looking for at least four decades. Like this:

Sure, on VW Buses, I saw that front spare tire carrier plenty. At least half the buses in the wild had them, and they made a lot of sense: free room up inside, add a tiny bit of crash protection, all that. But on a Beetle? Never saw it.

Nobody was mounting their spare on the front bumper of a Beetle. I’m not sure why you would – sure, you’d free up a strange, narrow, vertical space inside the trunk where the tire once lived, but you’d lose your windshield washer (just follow the link) and the trunk would be hard to get to and I bet your fuel economy would be worse. I never saw this.

Okay, these I actually saw plenty, but I’m only including them because I always thought they were kinda silly. That vent just fed the interior air ventilation system, but so many Beetles had that air box gone or broken that I bet about half of these just pumped air into the trunk. Even with the fresh air system in place, I’m not really sure these would have done that much when you could just crack the vent window and get all the air you need? I don’t know, maybe someone liked these.

Here’s something that I literally have never seen on a Beetle in the actual world: rain gutter bling. I’ve seen lots of chrome aftermarket whatevers slapped onto Beetles, but so far I’ve never seen a Beetle with these massive gleaming arches tooling around any town, anywhere. I mean, I’d like to! They seem bonkers.

If you’ve ever owned a Beetle, but always hated the fact that when your battery died, you could still open the trunk and get out whatever is in there, then boy does JC have you covered: an electromagnetic hood lock! Now you can get locked out of your trunk and any access to your jumper cables when your battery dies! For minimal benefit!

These I suppose I likely wouldn’t have seen unless I was really getting up in someone’s business, but these little stick-on dash labels are really, um, of an era.

Das Drizzeleflippen! WarmercougherPuttersparken! That one must be choke. Is this racist? Or does it get a pass because, you know, German? I’m not sure.

I wonder if there are English equivalents of these for Germans who had Chevys or Fords or Austins or something?

 

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50 Responses

  1. A friend of mine has those German labels in his Herbie replica. And I have what was a NOS one of those fresh air scoops that I use on my 70 Beetle and 72 Super Beetle from time to time. Silly, but kind of cool in a way. I think it may have actually put a little more umph to the air coming out of the vents on the dash as you were driving.

  2. Oh I love these articles, that’s how my Beetle is sitting right now, full of accessories everywhere you take a look. I just got it back from an inspection and service (Oil change, tune up, brakes, wheels bearings replaced) at Munks Motors, Chris told me they car was in a bubble all this time, he said he never saw a Beetle so clean with all the original parts still there, this is the cleanest Beetle he ever serviced so far. The car now drives faster and the idle is so much better, the guy in a Ford Raptor wasn’t happy when I was doing 90 lol

  3. I always liked the JC Whitney catalogs when I was a kid, even when I didn’t have a car. They were excellent daydream fuel for a fertile teenage mind that was fixated on eventually experiencing the freedom of the open road.

    I was also a big fan of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. I’m old enough to remember when almost the entire sporting goods section was plastered with Ted Williams hawking everything from baseball bats and gloves to rifles, shotguns, and fishing gear. It’s entirely possible he made more money from Sears over the years than he did playing baseball.

    1. Agreed, but I can remember studying them as a pre-teen. My favorite part was reading all the model names (and corresponding years they were offered) for what the part would fit. I actually learned a lot that way.

    2. My mom worked at Sears when I was a kid. Bookmarked the automotive wheel pages of that catalog as a subtle hint so my dad would know what I was planning. Eventually bought 5 wheels from Montgomery Ward! (Why I needed 5 instead of 4 is another story…)

  4. Super interesting!
    It surprises me that some of the front kits were *incredibly* ugly. With the baja and beach buggy types being so likeable, it’s weird that others went in the opposite direction

  5. You should do aN article on the classified ads in the back of road and track circa 1970. Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lussos were going for $2800 or so. I was told that my budget for my first car was 2000 since that was list price for a Pinto without a heater or radio or list price for w VW bug. I found a 1960 Maserati 3500 GT Vignale spyder for ten years of lawn mowing money. Great first car.

  6. You just triggered some memories. These catalogs were the era my father wrenched his many VW’s every weekend. He must have tried 3 different header/exhausts from this catalog until he found the one for him on his last bug. He bought for performance. I scanned the pages for interior parts/upgrades I thought he needed more.
    I wanted a Thing in the worst way because of the convertible factor and being able to source my parts from this catalog.

  7. Ah the good ole days of getting most of your information from catalogs and encyclopedias. The day I checked the mail and found a Fredericks of Hollywood catalog was the day my my Micro Machines, Hot Wheels and Lego sets sat still.
    A few years later and that Countach poster on my wall was replaced by Jenny McCarthy. Sad but true.
    I wonder how many more rusty lawn gnome project cars I would have today if any of my older sisters had gotten to the mailbox first that fateful afternoon.

    1. Hey you could get away with a lot more shit back then, when there was no Wikipedia in everyone’s pocket. Lol

      I remember how hard it was to find a song you liked. Say, the song Orinoco Flow, by Enya. Okay, you hear it on the radio, and all you can remember is “sail away, sail away, sail away” so you buy a tape with the song “Sail Away” on it. Didn’t take long to figure out that wasn’t it.

    1. I have to admit, I have entertained the idea of building a new-old stock Beetle from these parts. Especially since they are so simple and would likely not require any special tools. I could probably put one together with a screwdriver and pliers. It would be like assembling a BBQ. The temptation to do something modern with the drive train would be there, but I think the real fun would be to go completely stock. I’d have to figure out what period of “stock” to choose from though.

      I talked to a guy years ago who had a 1970 Beetle in generally good condition but with a rotted out floor pan. He was eyeing some west coast listings of old dune buggies and kit cars for parts so he could source a rust free floor pan. Beetles are a kind of fun you need the right brain damage to understand.

  8. Talk about triggering the wayback memories.

    I focused on the hop-up mods. All of them promised “increase HP by xx%.” I added all the % increases you could get from various mods, and somehow ended up with a 300HP flat 4. Yay! Fortunately (unfortunately?), I never had the opportunity to turn my $$$ into the advertised HP.

    Then, Sears had their VW catalogs, too. What I would give now for one of those glorious dune-buggy kits!

    A few decades later, VW Mex had their offer of turn-key OEM VW engines. Didn’t take advantage of those, either.

  9. I miss catalogs. Hell, I even miss autoparts websites that were generated by humans instead of some asshat uploading every possible manufacturer / distributor’s offerings into their content management system.

  10. How did TheSamba miss the Big Wind Up Key? Suction cup (I think) mount to the engine cover.
    Speaking of Catalogs from the Past..let’s not forget Honest Charlie’s Speed Shop from Chattanooga Tennessee.

    1. Dang it! We really need an edit function
      Forgot to mention…somewhere around here I have a Whitney catalog that contains an item we made. In the early 80’s my wife and I had a small business that made a tool which enabled you to change the valve stem in a steel wheel without dismounting the tire. We were at a trade show in Chicago with it when reps from Whitney stopped by and it went on from there.

  11. In 1982 we drove from Edmonton to Montreal in an VW Westfalia, went through the USA and stopped at JC Whitney in Chicago to see all the wonderful items in person. I still love the old catalogs though

  12. “Even with the fresh air system in place, I’m not really sure these would have done that much when you could just crack the vent window and get all the air you need?”

    Not defending the air intake here, but you’re bound to appreciate more cool air when driving through a southern thunderstorm in a non a/c vehicle.

    I’ve never owned a beetle, but I have owned plenty of vehicles without air-conditioning. For this reason, I really love the manually operated fresh air vents on each side of the cab of my ’74 Chevy C10 pickup. Not the “smokers window” on the door, these are flaps inside the fender area (mounted below the dash on the sides) that won’t allow water into the cabin, but do bring in plenty of fresh air.

    I do have vent visors on the truck now, but even with them, plenty of rain will enter the cab with the window barely cracked. This is especially a problem when you are forced to run the heater to defog the windshield, when it’s already insufferably hot.

  13. I’m old enough to remember when the Sears Catalog had a VW section. I too used to love looking at all the cool and wacky accessories. I never have managed to own a Beetle though.

    My aunt had an orange Super Beetle with those silly fake German control labels. I thought they were AWESOME as a kid.

    Amusing aside – my Aunt had the Beetle, my Uncle had a diesel Series Land Rover. Both of which required being floored to actually achieve any sort of motion. The Beetle was replaced with a shiny new fuel-injected ’76 Rabbit in baby blue – my Aunt immediately became the burnout queen of Norridgewock Maine for a week or so until she got used to having so much power underfoot!

  14. But, seriously, what was the point of the electronic hood latch? The trunk already opened from a remote release inside the car, so it doesn’t seem to be adding any new functionality except additional potential failure points and complication for no benefit. Wait, German car, that might be spot on, never mind

  15. Traveled with a rock band in the late 60s. In those days it was pretty easy to pick up a few-years-old limo for chump change. We had a ’64 Fleetwood limo. Served us well until it threw a rod. The bass player knew his way around a toolkit and talked us into buying a new motor from J.C. Whitney. It came on a palette a week later. Didn’t look that promising–exhaust manifold was torched out of its former host. All we had was a socket set, a hoist (between two trees) a piece of pipe, a hammer and some rope. The rest of us did as we were instructed and after a few days the old block was out and the new one was in. Sucker cranked up first time! All we had to do was tweak the timing. After the band broke up, I ended up with the car and drove it trouble-free for another year or two. I don’t know if I was more impressed with J.C. Whitney or the bass player’s skill. But that catalog sure was fun to look through.

  16. At age 17, I purchased something called a “Boom Tube” for my VW. It replaced the muffler/exhaust pipes with something similar to the “Baja Header” shown in the first ad. I kept it until I realized it was so loud it would wake my parents when I was approaching home, well after curfew. Then it was back to the factory set-up.

  17. My brother had the gutter molding trim on his 66. If I’m not mistaken it was riveted on. Pretty sure that they made these for the Ghia as well, and some of the Type 3s It actually looked pretty good as an accent piece. Less so when he started adding chrome everything else.

    1. I lived on the South Side of Chicago in the 80s, a few miles from the JC Whitney HQ. Their retail location was actually called Washawsky’s, and it was this cavernous warehouse staffed by crustiest, Polish sausage eating old school car guys named Stan or Earl or Buddy that you have ever seen. As a newly minted driver, I spent waaaay too much time trolling the aisles of that place for useless automotive garnish.

      1. Yeah, I remember seeing both catalogs in the 70s. As I recall the Warshawsky & Co catalogs were more serious parts catalogs while JC Whitney had all the wacky accessories and custom parts. My memory may be faulty on that though.

  18. Oh man, the memories. The JC Whitney catalog along with Muir’s “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” manual were my go-to’s when I was 16. Bought a ’70 Beetle as a first car and the combo of being a teenager/mostly broke kept most of the JC Whitney catalog mostly dreams/hilarious thoughts.

    The one thing I actually contemplated was that extra heater for the interior. Driving to school (2 blocks, because I had a car and could) in the midwest with that anemic heating meant I used an ice scraper to scrape off the inside of the windows. Honestly having a Bug as a first car meant that when I moved up to more modern cars I was thrilled with basic stuff like working heaters, FM radio and the such.

  19. Amidst the chrome gutter covers, JC Whitney had some suprisingly high quality stuff. After rusting out two exhaust systems in 4 years on my ’67 Chevy (short trips and cheap 80’s steel pipes are a bad combination), I took a chance on a $143 full stainless dual exhaust system from JC Whitney. The exhaust showed up marked as 304 stainless and bolted up as if it was designed at the factory. I’m on my 3rd set of mufflers, but the JC Whitney exhaust system has lasted 30+ years in the midwest rustbelt.

  20. I think the spare tire mounts on the Bug look good.
    And ,as a bit of an obsessive about everything on my car working properly at all times, I think I would want to have my washer fluid still working in the event of a flat. Also, as an obsessive, I wouldn’t have to check the spare tire pressure at every fill up.

      1. The valve for pressurizing the reservoir from the spare worked just fine in my ’74 Bug but the washer control valve itself did not, so the net result was a puddle of washer fluid in the driver’s footwell. The entire system was missing in my ’77, possibly as a result of a previous owner having reacted poorly to a similar puddle.

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