Air-Cooled VW Performance Engine Specs

Written by rob wagner
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Air-Cooled VW Performance Engine Specs
Pre-1978 Volkswagens in the North American market featured air-cooled engines. (yellow car image by JoLin from

Volkswagen (VW) produced cars equipped with air-cooled flat four-cylinder engines from the end of World War II to 1978 for the North American market. During its production run, the air-cooled engine was economical but yielded little power.

1.5 Engine

By the 1970s, the Volkswagen Beetle, Fastback, Squareback, Microbus and Karmann Ghia coupe all featured a 1.5- or 1.6-litre air-cooled engine. As with all all-cooled VWs, the engine featured a horizontal (or flat) four-cylinder engine and two valves per cylinder. It had a 7.50-to-1 compression ratio. The 1.5-litre version delivered 53 horsepower and 78 foot-lbs. of torque --- limited levels even for 1970.

1.6 Engine

Some VW vehicles --- specifically the Super Beetle, Microbus and Karmann Ghia --- came equipped with a 1.6-litre air-cooled four-cylinder engine with a 7.50-to-1 compression ratio. However, the 1.6 version actually produced fewer horsepower than the 1.5 at 50, with the torque rated identical to the 1.5 at 78 foot-lbs.


Volkswagen did not build its cars for speed but for fuel efficiency. Its vehicles generally yielded about 20 miles per gallon (mpg). The1.5-litre model had a top speed of 78mph, while the 1.6-litre achieved no better than 81mph. The 1.6-litre could hit 0 to 50mph in 14 seconds.

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