There are few object shapes as iconic as the Volkswagon Beetle. Even today, decades after the car stopped being sold in the U.S., it is probably the most beloved car of all-time.
Even the advertisements for the Beetle were award-winning and so fitting in their combination of cheekiness and humility. (The “How does the snow plow driver get to work?” commercial is classic.)
I find that whenever I mention the VW Beetle (or “Bug”) to anyone else, it instantly garners memories of first car stories, or favorite relatives, or memorable dates, and so on. I have at least of dozen of them myself.
My favorite memory:
My sophomore year of college, I was driving a light blue ’65 Beetle I had bought from a friend for $150, the first car I owned. Because of an unfortunate accident in which the driver’s side was crunched, the door had to be tied closed with a rope and a bandana. Actually, I think the bandana was a statement of sorts, but it did seem to fit the car. To make matters worse, an electrical issue made it so that a roll-start was necessary to get the engine running. Most of the time, I would make sure I parked on an incline so that I could easily pop the clutch. Sometimes, though, like at a mall, I had to park on even ground, which meant the following: I would open the door on the passenger side, give the car a push such that it was rolling, climb in through that side, over the emergency brake and the shifter, and land in the driver’s side, with enough momentum left so that I could let out the clutch and get going. If it took more than one try, I was disappointed, and more than two would make me frustrated at myself. All of my jeans back on those days had holes in the seat from making this street to seat to seat maneuver.
But I digress. My favorite moment came as a friend and I made the 100-mile round trip from Chapel Hill to Greensboro. She had just come out of an unhealthy relationship and had also had a spiritual renewal. She was the happiest person I knew and was such a pleasure to be around. We decided to visit her sister in Greensboro (where I had grown up and for which I would use any excuse to visit). Because my Beetle had no heater and this was on a cold winter evening, we put a blanket over us as we drove along, our breath condensing as it left our mouths, and we laughed and talked the whole way. It would have been a fun trip in any case, but in my ’65 bug, with the bandana flying off the roped-shut driver’s side door and the blanket on our laps, it was a magical evening.
I have many more such warm memories of VW Beetles, such as seeing “The Love Bug” with my Grandmother at age 8; my first time riding in a Beetle, a black ’67, with my neighbors to a church revival; my high school math teacher in tears when she revealed to our class how upset she was that her Beetle couldn’t be part of her planned trip to Nova Scotia because of its age; my college work-study manager loaning me her red ’69 bug for a week during a time right after my father died. And on and on and on.
What about you? What is your Beetle story?
OK, I’ll play. When I was a teenager, I worked as assistant manager of the Playhouse Theatre in Statesville, an old live performance theatre turned movie theater. When “Herbie Rides Again” was playing in 1974, I convinced the local Volkswagen dealership to decorate a new Beetle like Herbie with racing stripes, the number 53, etc. and it was parked in front of the box office during the run of the movie.
The Saturday of the movie’s run was a sell-out all day long. We were so excited about the crowds that we decided we’d go out during the break between matinee and evening shows and get a steak at the Bonanza Steak House on Sullivan Road. Now, I need to explain that I was entrusted with the keys to Herbie in the event of an emergency and it had to be moved. But I was told unequivocably not to even unlock the vehicle for any other reason.
Teenage boys being as they are, we decided our road trip to the Bonanza would be in Herbie. Amusing side note #1: The Bonanza was located next door to the VOlkswagen dealership. Amusing side note #2: We accidentally locked the keys inside Herbie. I can’t recall the resolution of this situation other than we did somehow manage to get the stolen Love Bug back to the theatre without getting into trouble.
It sounds like for you, Kevin, the sequel was every bit as fun as the original! Great story!