Monday, February 13, 2012

Volkswagen and I Become Aquainted

As far back as I can remember I've loved cars, trucks, motorcycles, pretty much anything with wheels that was self-propelled.  I had a large collection of Matchbox, Hot Wheels and Tonka vehicles which I would play with for hours at a time.  No magazine was safe around my house; I would cut out every car picture I could find and line them up in long ques not unlike the increasingly crowded Southern California freeways around my home.  But my biggest fascination was reserved for the Volkswagen. The ubiquitous Beetle (more that 21 million were produced) was easy to spot on the road, on billboards, and in magazine ads. Their ads were legendary; typical Teutonic efficiency resulted in a big impact with one picture, a pithy headline, and a minimum of text.

    More vintage VW adds here

Some crazy TV commercials from Jack Poet Volkswagen in the '60's
I liked the people who drove Volkswagens.  They always seemed to me to be friendly and sometimes mysterious - like the hippies who's lives were so different from my conservative upbringing.  I was attracted to the sounds VWs made; the put-put of their exhaust in contrast to the guttural growl of the big V8's that were prevalent at the time and their high-pitched single note horns. Always attracted to anything that was multi-purpose, the Type 2  (bus) was high on my list of favorite vehicles.  I would make play buses out of discarded refrigerator boxes. I loved the shape of  the Karmann Ghia, the not so sporty but beautifully curvaceous sports car, and the different look of the practical Squareback and Fastback.   I was ecstatic anytime I could score a ride in a VW.

When it came time for my first car, the VW was a natural choice.  My dad and I found a 1966 Type 1 sedan which had been converted to a "baha" bug.  This involved cutting off the front and back and adding fiberglass components, removing the back seat, mounting farm implement tires for flotation, attaching large driving lights and so on.  We bought it for a few hundred dollars and it proved to be an outstanding off road performer.  Its endurance was tested regularly in empty lots, fire access roads and riverbeds around Southern California.  It eventually broke beyond what was economically feasible to repair, so we stripped it and watched in morbid fascination while the magnetic crane hoisted it and fed it into the crusher.

Over the next few years my brothers and I along with some neighbors and friends bought, sold, traded, fixed up and occasionally totally destroyed just about every type of  air cooled Volkswagen we could get our permanently grimy hands on.  At times our back yard resembled a wrecking yard and I am grateful to my parents for allowing us to indulge in this hobby. I wish I'd thought to take pictures of all the Volkswagens and other vehicles I owned, but it wasn't a high priority at the time.

During those years I had several Type 2s from the '50s, '60s, and '70s including a double cab pickup, a Kombi converted to a camper, a transporter panel, and a Westfalia camper. This was back when they were plentiful and relatively inexpensive; as I recall the most I ever paid for any one was around $1,500.  I sold the last one in 1983 for about $600 - a nice white '71 Westy in which I had installed a rebuilt engine.  One day in 1983 I happened to visit a VW dealer to pick up a part.  In the lot was a new Vanagon Westfalia camper.  I looked inside and was awed by the luxurious appointments (compared to anything I had owned).  And it had a water cooled engine which meant a real heater and defroster.  I was wearing a Scandinavian military surplus jacket with fur collar to keep warm during winter driving so this made a big impression.  The price was $13,000 and the salesman assured me I could make payments as long as I had a steady job.  I was saving to buy a house, so didn't bite.  But I remembered that Westy and I knew that one day I would own one.

Next - Fast Forward 29 years

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