Illustration for article titled How An Obscure Regulation Led To One Of The Most Ridiculous Details On Air-Cooled Volkswagens

Picture: Volkswagen/Jason Torchinsky

As you realize, I’m a person who actually loves particulars. Weird details. Obscure details. Insignificant to any rational human form of particulars. And there’s a element that’s positively insignificant, obscure, and peculiar and sure bafflingly uninteresting to most well-adjusted people on nearly all air-cooled Volkswagens (besides Kind 2 buses and vehicles) from 1973 on that I’d wish to inform you about, if you happen to’ll indulge me. Effectively, even if you happen to received’t, I’m going to do it anyway, so, you realize, hold on.

The element I’m speaking about is one which perhaps, simply perhaps you’ve observed if you happen to’ve spent a very good period of time in a 1973 and up air-cooled VW, however I guess even if you happen to noticed it, chances are you’ll not have recognized what it was truly for, or at the least guessed flawed.

On my 1973 Beetle, it lives below the sprint and appears like this:

Illustration for article titled How An Obscure Regulation Led To One Of The Most Ridiculous Details On Air-Cooled Volkswagens

Picture: Jason Torchinsky

It’s somewhat mild. Just a little, dim mild bulb mounted in somewhat swivel that you would be able to transfer round along with your finger. On Tremendous Beetles, which, as of 1973, had curved windshields and dashboards that just about appeared like the sort you bought in actual vehicles, it was mounted right here:

Illustration for article titled How An Obscure Regulation Led To One Of The Most Ridiculous Details On Air-Cooled Volkswagens

Picture: Mecum Public sale

It additionally exhibits up on Karmann Ghias and even VW’s high-end Kind four vehicles:

Illustration for article titled How An Obscure Regulation Led To One Of The Most Ridiculous Details On Air-Cooled Volkswagens

Picture: Volkswagen

I think that most individuals who even discover these—a a lot simpler job on the Tremendous Beetle—assume that these have to be some sort of map mild. A extremely small, actually dim map mild, one that just about borders on ineffective. However, there it’s, and it activates with the dashboard lights, and so they wouldn’t have put it in there except it was imagined to do one thing, proper?

That’s proper. It’s there for a motive, however that motive has nothing to do with studying maps. That motive has to do with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Motor Vehicle Standards Section 571.101 Standard number 101; Controls and Displays regulation, particularly S5.3.1, the half about illumination.

These of you who fastidiously checked out these pages from the Ghia and Kind four homeowners’ manuals already know the place I’m headed, because the little mild is labeled as a “heater lever spot mild.”

I’m not going to topic you to the precise, tedious wording of this regulation, however for our functions right here’s what you should know: the regulation stipulates that every one vehicles should have illuminated controls, and among the many controls listed that require illumination are controls for a windshield defogger/defroster.

All air-cooled VWs at this level had their heater and defroster controls mounted on the middle tunnel, between the seats, flanking the parking brake. VW Buses had them dash-mounted, since I suppose VW figured the reach-down distance could be too nice on the taller bus. Porsche 356s and early 911s had their heater controls in an identical location, if that helps you not choose the choice too harshly.

Earlier than 1973, these management levers for warmth and defrost have been unlabeled, with simply little balls on the ends. The 1973 regulation stipulated that they be labeled, which is why that they had knobs like this from that time on, in America, at the least:

Illustration for article titled How An Obscure Regulation Led To One Of The Most Ridiculous Details On Air-Cooled Volkswagens

Picture: Volkswagen/Jason Torchinsky

In precise use, you by no means checked out this stuff. You simply discovered that the one by the passenger seat managed the quantity of scorching air (euphemistically known as TEMP, however you’re actually simply opening a flap to regulate how a lot scorching air will get in, not controlling the temperature) and the one by the drivers seat diverted warmth to both the ground shops (entrance and rear!) or to the windshield. It was straightforward!

They’re simply actually easy levers with plastic caps on them. There’s no wiring there or something fancy like that, however the brand new NHTSA laws do specify that the defroster management have to be labeled and illuminated. So what’s VW going to do?

Now, if you happen to assume VW would re-engineer the heater controls to incorporate built-in mild bulbs within the levers or lavishly transfer the controls to the dashboard, like in some sort of Rolls-Royce, then clearly you don’t know 1970s-era Volkswagen.

No, VW appeared on the absolute primary letter of the regulation and discovered the most affordable, best, and nonetheless someway weirdest resolution to the issue of illuminating the heater controls: they made a humorous little highlight.

Sure, that little mild is a highlight designed to allow you to see the place your heater and defroster controls are, if you happen to’re keen to utterly take your eyes off the street and look down previous your shoulder, between the seats.

And, the sunshine does work, sorta. I imply, it’s actually dim, and I’ve solely ever observed these levers glowing eerily after I’ve been driving the Beetle on some actually pitch-black again roads, however I’ve seen this factor truly work. Barely.

I suppose these days you could possibly exchange the little bulb with a superbright LED and have dramatically lit heater controls that seem like they’re a part of a dramatic scene in a noir film, however the reality is that it actually doesn’t matter. It by no means mattered.

Air-cooled VW heater controls are actually super-easy to make use of as soon as you understand how they work, and also you by no means have to take a look at them. You simply drop your hand down, pull one of many levers up or down, resolve in case your foot goes to burn off or your face goes to freeze off, and that’s it.

The defroster in my Beetle has at all times been extra just like the thought of a defroster, clearing out a pair of arcs of glass at both backside nook and a fleur-de-lis-shaped blob within the middle that you could possibly look by means of to drive, if you happen to actually, actually wished to. Most Beetle homeowners, myself included, simply saved a rag useful to wipe away fog.

This little heater highlight, although, I simply adore it. I like that it solely exists as a result of VW had to place it in to satisfy U.S. necessities, and I like the sensation of regulatory contempt that the bizarre, minimal-effort resolution embodies.

Illustration for article titled How An Obscure Regulation Led To One Of The Most Ridiculous Details On Air-Cooled Volkswagens

Picture: Volkswagen

It was so half-ass that even after engineering it and making the mandatory components in amount, it’s not current in any VWs that weren’t for the U.S. market, as you’ll be able to see in that German proprietor’s handbook web page above there. If it truly was helpful you’d assume they’d simply go forward and at the least make it an choice throughout, however, no, as a result of they knew it was absolutely the least they may do.

Now I’m pondering perhaps I do need to exchange the bulb with an LED? Possibly dramatically stage-lit heater controls are simply what I’ve been lacking?

Anyway, there you go. Now you realize one thing good and ineffective!