My mother’s car for many years.
Five days back I posted a small item about the Last VW Beetle and my memories of much earlier Beetles in Bye-Bye Beetle Bye-Bye [Bumped because its a great thread]. But it turned out that many of my readers also had memories of the little Beetle that did so much for so many. Those memories were, as they say backstage at comedy clubs, “Gold. Solid gold.” If you missed them, you shouldn’t have. So here they all are.
If you’ve got a Beetle memory you want to share, pop it in the comments.
James Bowen That reminded me of my Volkswagen ride in the early 60s.
My Dad arranged for me to ride with a friend of his from work to visit my grandparents. The man’s VW was an early model that did not have a fan on the heater. It was 20F, the man talked non stop for 6 hours and his Great Dane in the back seat had the worst flatulence I’ve ever smelled. Freezing, trying not to breathe and my ears hurt. Ah, the old times will not be forgotten.
John Venlet: Never owned a Beetle, but I did own a Rabbit, called it Rick the Rabbit, when I lived on Oahu while stationed at Pearl. Had a blast with that car, and a few almost perilous adventures. VW made the only car, the Scirocco, which if I put the driver’s seat all the way back, I could not reach the pedals. Being 6′ 4″, back in 1977 when I first drove one, I was rather surprised by this. I’ve not ever been in another car where that happened.
Casey Klahn Yes, I bought a Beetle well used. Well, it was full of mold because: Northwest coast. The window defrost was not even a tenth of what it had to be to do any reasonable job. The heater you might need to crawl up onto to get a leg or an arm burn and still freeze your ass off. The wind and the rain! Oh man, I can still feel it inside that car! My army jeep was way better but it was better kept. Shit, I was a poor SOB. How am I still alive?
Auntie Analogue In ’74 I bought a twelve-year-old 1962 Beetle, a cream puff that had 36,000 miles on the odometer. 1962 was the first year that the Beetle had a gas gauge but still lacked a heater fan, which meant that unless the car was moving forward no heat emerged from the heater ducts or from the two vestigial port & starboard defroster slits. In snowfall at stoplights, I used to disembark to chisel accumulated ice from that Bug’s windshield.
Worse, the heater flue deflector plates at the bottom of its engine were laden with oil & gas, so that turning on the heater (by means of a cable-connected knurled knob that lifted sheet steel plates at the bottom of the engine to deflect heat from the cylinder cooling fins into the cabin) introduced suffocating toxic gas/oil fumes into the cabin. So that in winter, to keep from inhaling too much of that sickening, eye-watering vapor and to keep my skull from frosting, I took to wearing an old WWII flight helmet while having the heat on and the windows open.
In two years of ownership I put over 90,000 miles on that Bug – the penultimate seven miles on three cylinders, and the last two or three miles on just two spasmodically hammering cylinders. Then sold it to a neighbor who dropped a used replacement engine in it and drove it for at least two more years, even after his wife had had a few fender-benders in it that had occasioned replaced fenders of an assortment of colors different from the car’s body.
Prior to the early 1970’s federal emissions statutes the earlier Beetles were exemplars of simplicity and efficiency. They performed adequately the basic purpose of a car: to get you where you wanted to go, and at low operating cost.
Oh, there was one lovely feature in that Bug of mine. It had its original 1962 Blaupunkt AM/FM/MB radio that I could sideband-tune and pull in radio stations that no other car radio I knew of had ever or could ever pull in.
James ONeil Three Beetle stories:
When I was a card carrying beatnik in NYC, two married friends Helen & Peter, always fighting, went to Mexico for a quickie divorce. His, Peter’s, mother gave her, Helen, a Beetle as a divorce present. That was the Beetle part but the rest of the story is they came back to NYC and, unmarried, lived happily together ever after.
Here in interior Alaska in the ’50s & ’60s, where men were rough and the roads were rougher, when jacking our 4 wheel drive rigs out of ditches, off boulders, out of mud holes, it wasn’t uncommon to see a Beetle putt putt past us and our stuck rigs without a care in the world.
& then there was my buddy Mack’s Beetle. The temperature was in the minus fifties, he parked it on 2nd Avenue, went in to the Elbowroom Bar for a quick beer and to warm up. 3 or 4 beers later he went out to start his bug and drive home. The Beetle, with it’s wee little horizontal jugs engine just doesn’t hold heat long and, of course, wouldn’t start. So he got his two burner Coleman stove out of the front, where the trunk was, lit it and put it under the back, where the engine was, to warm it up (Don’t try this at home kids, I’ll tell you why in a minute.). He went back to the Elbowroom for a few more beers while the rig was warming. He went back out, found the engine had caught fire and two Eskimos standing on the sidewalk warming their hands and enjoying the heat. So what do you do when that happens? Well Mack shoved his way in twix the two Eskimos and stood there between them warming his hands and enjoying the heat.
Neil Smith A ’60 with swing out turn signals got me through my last two years of college. The 6 volt starter was a problem and you had to park on a hill or push like heck then jump in and pop the clutch to start it. Still, I loved that Bug.
ghostsniper 3am on a summer week night 1977 I was on call as the 1st driver at the 23rd medical detachment when the radio blipped that a car had overturned just outside Bruckenau so I jumped in the Dodge crackerbox and set out alone layin’ rubber the whole way, didn’t have time to wake the 2nd driver.
The almost recognizable VeeDub was on it’s side down a steep ravine about 40 yards off the highway so I aimed the crackerboxes roof lights down the hill and started down along with a couple polizei on the scene.
A 250lb negro dood named Gary from the 2/15th Inf was pushed ass first halfway out through the passenger side REAR window of that bug as it flipped and rolled down into the ravine. Take a look at one of those windows the next time you see one.
We pulled and we pushed then we pulled again and finally one leg came through, then the next, then the rest. Gathered up the pieces and put them on the backboard I had dragged along and we dragged it back up the hill. In spite of the crackerbox floodlights it was still mostly dark down there.
It wasn’t until later in the emergency room I found out who Gary was and his details and that I had distantly known him. I didn’t recognize him on the scene as the trauma he went through was considerable. The entire Wildflecken post had been called on an early morning alert for Reforger 77 and since Gary was married with a couple kids he lived off post in Bruckenau and was hurrying to the post to ready-up for the lengthy field exercise. His was the first of about 10 dead bodies I worked with that year as a krankenwagen operator in Germany before I PCS’d back stateside to Fort Campbell in November 77.
jwm My first brand new car was a 1974 “Love Bug” that cost me just over twenty five hundred bucks out the door. It was hideous neon green, and stripped down as far as a car could get. Cloth seats, no radio, no chrome, no nothin’. Back then I worked swing shift pushing broom for the local Jr. High school, and I lived to surf. The VW was my surf bomb, and I called it, appropriately, “The Bomb”. My artist friend Pete Hampton painted “THE BOMB!” on the panel where the radio would have been.
This was just when custom license plates were becoming available, and to my unending embarrassment the State of California issued me a plate that read 425 LOV. I had to suffer a lot of “Aww How cute”.
I drove that little beast up and down the coast from Quatro Casas, about 100 miles south of Ensenada, all the way to Portland Oregon where I experienced the most insufferable hippies in the world.
In ’79 I gave up the kicked back swing shift job and signed on with the gas company. In no time flat, I was pulled away from the surf life, working days, stuck in a part of town I hated, and doing a job that I hated worse.
On 2/11/80 I was on the way home from work, and a guy in a Chevy truck broadsided me coming out of a parking lot. I got off with a broken nose, and bruises, but the Bomb was exploded beyond repair. That date is branded on my memory as the day that surfing died. Two years later, 2/11/82, coincidentally, I got pissed off and told a customer to shove his gas meter up his fucking ass. Soon I was surfing again.
Joe Krill I owned a 1966 Sand Colored bug. I inverted the wheels, added head rests and a very throaty muffler. Loved that car.
Daniel K Day I grew up in the Seattle area but Dad’s side of the family was in Portland, so we drove down every Thanksgiving. One year, don’t remember why, we could not make it down. This was the very early sixties. For some reason, every one of my dad’s brothers, and their sister’s husband, had a VW bug, and they decided to drive up for the holiday, kids and all packed in. So, for one glorious Thanksgiving, we had 4 Bugs parked on the street in front of our house.
Eskyman In 1971 I got discharged from the USAF in New York State. It was wintertime; snow, ice, salt on the roads. I was pretty broke but found a 1961 VW Bug that I could afford. It was licensed & running & cost me $140, and it had built-in air conditioning!
The floor panels were all rusted out, so a couple of pieces of plywood kept my feet off the ground. They let plenty of ventilation through, but heat? None. It kept me alert, which I repeated to myself over and over again for the next 13,000 miles.
Yes, I drove that car clear across the USA, zig-zagging to catch up with all my buddies who’d separated out before me, and a couple of gal pals I’d met in Europe. One of them joined me in Oklahoma, but I didn’t see much of her during the drive- she was usually bundled up from head to foot in my mummy bag. Did I mention it was winter? I’m glad she joined me, she could really warm me up when we stopped for the night!
Finally ended up in Lost Angeles, the motor sounded like a rock crusher from hell, and I was afraid to take my foot off the gas in case it would conk out forever, but it got us to my home in Woodland Hills!
Not too shabby for a $140.00 car- and a month later I sold it for more than it cost me: $150.00! That car might still be running for all I know, the guy who bought it made an off-road sand buggy from it!
Willy Ruffian My first new car was a 1970 Cadillac coupe de Ville. I have no idea what any of you are talking about.
ck My folks went to “Europe on $5 a day” in ’64. They picked up a new bug in Krautland and drove it all over Europe. In those days you could buy them in Germany, ship them home and save some money. I drove that bug a lot in High School. Good times.
steve walsh Just before my wife and I got married in 1980 we purchased, for her, a 1969 VW Bug. Her parents had gifted her a 1970 something Chevy Vega that was in the habit of shutting itself off and then refusing to start at random, and usually extremely inconvenient, times.
Shortly after we were married we bought a brand new Toyota Tercel sedan and decided that she would use that because she had the longer commute to work. I drove the VW. The heat was made by recirculating air over the engine and then up into the cabin through channels that ran along the frame of the car. In mine these channels were rotted and rusted out (condensation accumulated there) so there was no heat. Nor was there any warm air to defrost the windshield. Also, the windshield was relatively upright such that when it snowed, especially the wet, sticky stuff, the wipers would push the snow to the side but not clear the windshield and the clear glass would get narrower and narrower as the snow accumulated. Eventually I would have to pull over and wipe it clean so that I could continue driving.
Near the end of its time as my car it developed the habit of detonating the rotar in the distributor. I never figured out how or why this happened, and was unwilling to pay someone to figure it out, so I took to carrying a ready supply of new rotors. I was like an Indy pit crew putting the new one in, the only thing that slowed me down was getting all the little bits from the destroyed one out. I ended up painting the car a metallic blue, after a decent amount of body work, and sold it to a guy a couple years younger than me. Got $500 for it, which after the paint, labor, and amount I paid for it originally meant my loss was only about $200.
I loved that car, was like driving a go cart with a manual transmission. It was so stinkin’ light that it was pretty quick and fun to drive.
Terry After the British car I was driving in my early college days experienced another breakdown, my grandfather loaned me the money to purchase a Beetle. A brand new 1966 VW Beetle, Bahama Blue, super reliable vehicle. I still own it and it runs beautifully. Hippies tried to steal it while it was parked at SF State a couple times. But when they realized the steering wheel was chained with a padlock to the brake pedal that game was over.
I still have the sales receipt for the VW. Total cost, taxes included, just under $2000.00. The VW dealership was in South San Francisco. I absolutely loved that car. It never stopped running and running.
mmack I know of two honest to goodness air cooled VW Beetles in our family history.
The first was a dingy white Beetle my sister drove in college and to her first post college job. A combination of ignorance of basic automotive maintenance (oil change? What’s that?) and Eastern European stubbornness to push on to the destination no matter how poorly the Bug ran killed it.
The second was a little red Bug my father bought as his commuter car while he left our big old 1970 Chevrolet Impala at home. I got to ride in it as a little kid who was crazy about Herbie the Love Bug. Sadly that little Beetle developed an oil leak that despite my father’s best efforts died a quick death. It was replaced by his last new car, a brown VW Rabbit four door hatchback.
Auntie Analogue Another feature of the bygone ubiquity of VW Beetles was my parents, during long road trips, suggesting to me and my brother that he and I should count the Volkswagens we’d spot along the route. Clever way to divert the two of us KidSicles™ from pestering the grownups with “Are we there yet?”, from annoying them with our sibling teasing and bickering, and from other such irritations. I recall that on drives no longer than 80 miles that my brother and I counted well over 200 Beetles. Sighting a rare vintage Bug on the road nowadays prompts me to indulge in fond rubbernecking.
james wilson 1964, age 16, I’d dropped off my date at 1am headed for home, and rolled a beetle going top speed– 72– on the new DC beltway, deserted in those days. When the car swerved sideways in the rain I knew it wasn’t coming back, having seen what happens to the rear wheels when put on a lift. Pre-seat belt era, so I wrapped my arms inside the wheel and rode the bull.
Both doors were torn off, the engine left the car, most of the glass, and it just kept on rolling. My arms were losing it from the g forces but I knew the alternative. Then it took one last leap in the air and came down on all fours, or what was left of them. No door, I just stepped out into the night. An elderly couple stopped right away, said they thought they saw flashing lights, took me home. My dad was up, told him the car was toast. He didn’t really believe that so we went back to look. There were a gaggle of people looking for a body, and one cop standing by the car. I walked up to him and told him it was mine. He just stared at me, up and down, up and down. Didn’t say a thing.
If anyone wonders, time does slow down.
H January The knuckle-draggers in the Shitland Switch town I grew up in had the quaint custom of hollering “SLUG BUG” whenever a Beetle was spotted and the one who saw it first got to slug the nearest person in the arm. Assholes. I hated VW’s with a passion, until it transpired that was the only car my sainted Father would allow me to buy. Lack of automobile make you brave, son.
Daddy told me I could have any car I could afford, which was a tremendous motivator, and after getting a job and saving up a few bucks, I found it. It was a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible, red with white top, factory bucket seats and console, a beautiful car that I can still see today 50 years later. It was in lovely condition, and had the chief advantage of, I HAD THE MONEY!
But Daddy took one look at the 352 engine badge on the fender and gave me the second piece of the puzzle. Any kind of car I could afford, as long as it didn’t have too big an engine and couldn’t haul too many hoodlum kids. Daddy, you see, didn’t believe yoots could grok too much information all at one time, and so doled knowledge out incrementally as it was assimilated. Not a bad system, actually.
I ended up with a 1960 Bug, no heater and unlike Auntie’s more upscale ’62, no gas gage. There was an ell-shaped lever under the dash that you turned down to dump a one gallon reserve into the main tank, and you had to remember to turn the handle up so the reserve would fill back up when you refilled the main tank. You also had to be very sure to refill the main tank completely or the reserve wouldn’t fill completely and you’d still be screwed the next time you ran out of gas. I learned both the hard way.
Anyway, 36 HP with a top end someplace around 65 MPH and couldn’t put too many hoodlum kids in it so it was perfect for Daddy’s purposes if not my own, but I beat the shit out of that car for a year before stumbling out of high skool and into the Army, and sold it for more money than it cost. It was a piece of shit compared to the hot cars my buddies had but their fathers had money and the number of engines I blew up totaled exactly none which was more than most of them could say. I drive Corvettes these days and none of those mooks drive anything remotely resembling “hot” so it seems Daddy had a point after all.
Christopher Hunt We had a ’70 or ’71 Beetle we bought new so Mom could commute to the University of Illinois. It was dark green and had the automatic clutch option, which was a manual transmission sans clutch. You just let off the gas and jammed it into another gear. It worked fairly well. Of course, it was air cooled and had an extremely anemic heater, which was problematic in central Illinois in the ’70s. The windshield would ice up on the inside from breathing, so I had to scrape it periodically.
It was a good thing we lived on the prairie, because I got passed by a bread truck going up a slight incline. It performed well on snow, and was terrific on wet pavement, as you could hardly get it to fishtail.
We sold it to a kid who was leaving for college in California, cracked windshield and all, from where I had punched it in frustration after one too many icings.
Larry Geiger On my 16th birthday I went down to the driver license place and got my license. The next day I started working at Hobbs Pharmacy on Merritt Island, FL. I had to have a license because one of my main duties was drug delivery in the Medicine Dropper, a VW Van. I have no idea what year it was. The heater was no problem on MI but it had a great radio. I would open all of the windows, throw a bunch of bags of prescriptions on the seat next to me and go blowing all over the island, wind blowing, radio blaring and singing some of the songs at the top of my voice. Good times.
The front seat was right behind the front bumper. The steering column was vertical, going straight down to the front axle I suppose. The clutch pedal wobbled around and you had to get used to pushing a special way to make it work efficiently. The shift lever came right out of the floor by my right foot. It was about 3ft long. Each gear was such a long throw it took me a while to learn how to get it right. My family had a Plymouth Valiant with 3 speeds on the column. The shifter was short, smooth and practically fell into the next gear by itself. The VW van, not so much.
Brad When I was 14 my dad tossed me the keys to his 62 VW Bug and said go practice. When I was 16 my dad gave me that car. What a fun vehicle to drive around in when you are 16. Being that it was a rear-wheel-drive with the engine over the wheels meant that I could go a lot of places in the snow and ice that my friends couldn’t. Through parks in the city, some snowmobile trails in the summer. Looking back my dad was pretty smart giving a 16-year-old a vehicle with a 45 hp engine.
ghostsniper Seems the Beetle has touched just about everybody in one way or another.
My brother in law told me the Beetle was the first mass produced car to have the monocoque body, that is, it didn’t have a chassis like regular cars did. The body was the frame, as it were, with reinforced areas across the bottom to accept “sub-frames” for the front and rear parts of the drivetrain – the “working” parts of the vehicle. This creates a lighter vehicle overall but the thinner metal of the monocoque makes it severely susceptible to early rust-out. It’s rare to see frame rust out on a conventional vehicle because the steel is so thick but when the thin metal of monocoque gets rusty the death knell has rung. In the 80’s I had a 1979 Chevy Monza GT with the V6 and a 4 speed and it was a little bat out of hell. It also had the monocoque frame and I saw the early signs of rust so I traded it in for my 91 S10 (bought brand new in Oct 1990) which had a conventional frame and 29 years later I still have it and drive it regularly.
XRay It’s late… but beginning from a failed homestead try in Grant’s Pass, OR the good ol’ 62 bug pulled us through to Pensacola, FL. Three adults, one two year old, and an ornery black cat. Other than a busted clutch cable (which I had a spare on-board) and a very cold night on the north rim of the Grand Canyon sleeping in the driver’s seat it was a good trip.
Waepnedmann My dad was an early adopter. He bought a ’58 VW I believe that was the first year they were sold in California. Mom would have the camping gear set out and Friday night we would load up and head out camping and fishing for the weekend all over Nortern California. Great car.
In 1980 I traded a utility trailer for a 1960 VW Bug. I had the engine rebuilt, new paint inside and out, custom upholstery, and then traded it to the friend who was the air frame and power-plant mechanic who had built the engine.
His son drove it to college.
I kick myself every time I see an old bug and wish I still owned it.
Island Girl January 8, 2020, 11:26 PM I will never forget my first paid in full ride into adulthood in my white VW, Southern California style.
Grizzly The first car that I owned (circa 1977) was a beat-up, high mileage, powder blue Ford Falcon station wagon that my dad gave me when I was a college freshman, which had been his work vehicle. (He was a carpenter, and used it to haul his tools around.) A co-worker at my summer job that year offered me $100 for it, and since my dad advised that it was a good offer, I sold it.
My college buddy at the time talked me into buying a VW. He himself had a VW bus, and he explained that by minimally educating myself with “The Idiot Guide” (that is, “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot”, by John Muir) I could do most of the maintenance myself, the air-cooled engine being relatively simple.
So with his help, I made my first car purchase: a used VW bug of uncertain mileage and provenance for about $1200, IIRC. It had clearly been in some kind of front end collision in the past, as evidenced by the body work (bondo, etc), and the engine was probably not original. But the engine compression seemed good, the heater did work, which was plenty good for Sonoma County, CA, and it also had a sunroof, the kind you turn a crank handle to open. I bought the Idiot Guide, learned to change the oil and do basic tune-ups, and enjoyed driving around in my new (to me) car, sometimes with the sunroof open. Good times.
For about 3 months. At which point the engine sucked a valve on the #3 cylinder, a classic bug failure due to the fact that the #3 cylinder sits beneath the oil cooler and so does not get as much cooling as the other cylinders.
As it happens, the Idiot Guide even has a chapter near the end on how to rebuild an engine. And so I began a crash course in engine mechanics, learning more than I ever wanted to know about how an engine works. It took quite a few weeks and more $$ than I had planned on spending (there are some parts you have to take to a machine shop to be refurbished), but as a silver lining, taking an engine completely apart and putting it back together did somewhat make up for never having worked with cars earlier in my youth, giving me a new confidence in doing mechanically-oriented repairs.
I kept the car while courting my wife, including driving trips between Sonoma County and the Coachella Valley, on into our marriage and the births of our children. I certainly got my initial investment’s worth out of it. I finally sold it circa 1986 to a neighborhood kid. Who knows where it’s at now?
ghostsniper January “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot”, by John Muir
Get your own pdf copy here:
Just looked down through it. Hand drawings throughout are done in an R Crumb style. From a mechanically experienced perspective the drawings and verbage seem clear, to the uninitiated I’m not sure. The drawings are exceptionally well done, surprisingly so. Far better than other graphics I have seen in more professional manuals.
Fortunately the older VW Beetles are very simplistic, not too far removed from a large lawn mower, and since they were built to old skool standards they can be fixed and/or improvised by a clever mind with moderate tool availability. After looking at that book I was almost inspired to go find a 60’s or 70’s Beetle in any condition and have at it. Bring it back to it’s former self, take my time, cherry it out, drive it a little, then sit it on a roofed pedestal right out in the middle of the front yard. My wife would just luv that wouldn’t she?
AbigailAdams My Beetle was a 1963 powder blue wonder which I bought while a senior in H.S. and later when I joined the Air Force, sold to my sister for $1.00 (so she wouldn’t have the burden of sales tax).
I loved that car. In the short time I owned it: I learned to change a car’s oil (but don’t do it on a slope), how to gear down quickly (just in case the brakes were “unresponsive”), and how to perform a stylish compression start.
For some reason — still a mystery to me — Bugs would routinely suffer a sort of automotive narcolepsy called a vacuum lock. There were never any telltale symptoms to let you know when it would happen, either. Of course, they were never convenient. The one I remember best was while going down one of the spiral exits at SeaTac airport. It could have been worse. I could have been driving up one.
And I like to think it was just such an episode which prevented my wheels from being driven very far away after it was stolen from my apartment building. An acquaintance from another part of the sprawling complex’s parking lot dropped by one evening to ask why I was parked so far away from my front door. It was the perfect car for me. Cheap to own, cheap to insure, cheap to drive. And I’ll never forget the sound of that putt-puttering engine. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Gerard. Simpler times and fun memories.