Further motoring pleasures: driving our New Beetle Cabrio through the Alps and Italian Riviera…

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…we attacked the highest alpine route in Europe, the Col de la Bonette –Restefond, reaching an altitude of 2802 meters…

Faithful readers know we are the happy owners, for quite a few years now, of a gleaming black New Beetle Cabrio, as one can read on our previous website www.autoprova.net.

It sits well garaged in our holiday house, and therefore bears a French license plate. It has a supersmooth 1,4 liter 75 HP petrol engine, and offers very refined progress. This year, we decided to take it on an extended alpine tour and drive it also to Ventimiglia for a family visit resulting also in quite a few culinary delights.

Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Our Beetle was due for its 2-year technical inspection, and so we thought it was a good idea to blow the cobwebs a bit out of it beforehand, and take it on this tour.

To tell you right away, the Beetle performed beautifully throughout the trip and indeed the day after we had returned it passed the technical inspection with flying colors.

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We hit the very route of the mountain étape of the Tour de France, and we stopped in Le Lauzet Ubaye not only to admire the artifacts along the road…

It is a very pleasant tourer with its sweet, very flexible engine which is mated to a 5 speed gearbox with a very low final gearing. This allows you to use the third and fourth gear often in tight and slower urban traffic, and leaves you always with sufficient power and revs in hand to master every situation. The Beetle revs quite a bit at motorway speeds, the rev counter needle indicating a busy 3500 rpm at 110 km/h or thereabouts, but the engine is silent and vibrationless, so this is hardly tiring at all. Besides, when driving with the top down, who needs higher speeds to truly enjoy the open air experience?

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Rather remarkable is also the fact that on our summer tour, we hardly drove our Beetle with the top down during daytime: it was either too hot on the Riviera Boulevards, or simply a bit too cold on the higher mountain passes…

Once the sun is down, it is of course quite delightful to enjoy the open air and look at the stars, and smell the heavy evening perfumes of the vegetation in the lush countryside, vineyards or arid “garrigue.”

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What was always to be enjoyed however is the excellent suspension, comfort, surefooted handling, precise and slick gearchanges and mechanical refinement of this first generation New Beetle. We also enjoyed the fine seats and good seating position, making our extended Alpine tour a restful experience.

Driving more sedately, with anticipation and not revving much above 3500 rpm also when cruising on motorways is not only rewarding in comfort, it also leaves you with excellent economy: our fuel consumption hovered between 6 and 7 liters for the trip, and this means more money for culinary and other pleasures on your tour…

A fine Alpine trip…

For our tour, we first headed for Die, Gap and then Barcelonette. Of course we hit the very route of the mountain étape of the Tour de France, and we stopped in Le Lauzet Ubaye not only to admire the artifacts along the road, but also to let the “coureurs” go on on their “étape” from Briançon to the summit of the Col de l’Izuard. We stopped in a fine mountain ski hotel in Le Sauze, and the next day we attacked the highest alpine route in Europe, the Col de la Bonette –Restefond, reaching an altitude of 2802 meters. This col offered some breathtaking views, going way above the tree levels, and we were lucky to have excellent, clear, sunny weather. Of course the Beetle took this all very well in its stride.

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We went on our way back to France trough the Piemont, and the famous Barolo winehills…

During our stay in Ventimigla, we visited some historic and very scenic villages in the immediate neighborhood, like Dolce Aqua for example, which offers iconic narrow streets and passages in the old town and is set in a dramatic valley with of course a (mountain) river running through it.

We then went on to beautiful Piemonte heading for Alba, where we stayed in a Michelin starred Hotel Restaurant with not only excellent wines and food, but also magnificent views over the Barolo wine hills as the beautiful old building was perched on the highest hill in the Alba wine region.

Filled with all these Italian memories, we headed again for higher regions, and admired the glaciers on the mountains around Sestriere, before we headed home via the National Parc of Queyras through the friendly and lush Drome valley.

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As said, the faithful Beetle performed quite well, and the day after our return passed the MOT test with flying colors. One problem appeared afterwards, the rear right window failed to wind down and up without problems, and we just managed to get it up with brief bursts of the electric motor into the up position, and for the moment just leave it there. This means leaving the hood up until the problem is sorted out.

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We admired the glaciers on the mountains around Sestriere…

Earlier, the left rear window lifting cable had snapped, and this needed a rather extensive (and expensive) repair. We hope things are not so bad now…Another problem which is bothering us a bit is the persistent knocking of the engine at low revs. The Beetle is equipped with a knocking sensor, so this needs to be looked at, we would think… We asked the Belgian VW importer D’Ieteren about their view on this persistent problem. Just read more soon!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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