Collectors who caught the virus

Most of us don’t find bugs endearing, but the Volkswagen Bug can bring on smiles. Unofficially dubbed both Beetle and Bug, the original...


Most of us don’t find bugs endearing, but the Volkswagen Bug can bring on smiles. Unofficially dubbed both Beetle and Bug, the original Volkswagen Type 1 is the cheerful little car that captured the hearts of American motorists with its quirky personality, unique appearance, and a brilliant advertising campaign.

Although beloved today, the car that made Volkswagen a major automaker was ignominiously born as a favorite project of Adolf Hitler, who wanted a cheap vehicle for average Germans. But the car never took off during Hitler’s time. Ferdinand Porsche and his team completed their design in 1938, but wartime production took hold and the Beetle did not go into mass production until the late 1940s.

Porsche has traditionally been credited as the creator of the Beetle, but in 1953 its position has been contested by Bela Barenyi, a Hungarian engineer who argued in court that he designed a very similar machine for Mercedes-Benz before Porsche made its first Beetle. Thus, the Bug was born with two quarrelsome fathers.

Today, while 600 horsepower is not uncommon in high performance automobiles, it can be hard to imagine how one can fall in love with a car whose first iteration only had 25 horsepower and took almost forever. to reach its top speed of 62 miles per year. time. But a growing number of classic car collectors and VW enthusiasts have fallen in love with the old Beetles, the models from 1949 to 1965 that coped with 40 horsepower or less and a top speed of 60 to 72 mph. get acceptable acceleration, pokey beetles are highly valued.

How beloved? Matthew Smith, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Manchester in England, bases his thesis on the special place of the small car in the lives of many and how this relationship can foster positive mental health. Mr. Smith practices what he preaches: he owns many Beetles, the oldest being a 1954 model.

The fan base is large and the barriers to entry into this corner of the collector’s market are relatively low – think $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 for a fine specimen, and significantly lower for a project car.

“I’m in love with Swoon,” said Lourdes Orive of Beaux Arts Village in Washington state. Swoon is his 1960 Beetle, made in Wolfsburg, Germany, and sold by Hans Moosmaier, a dealer in Bamberg.

German market car, it retains the flashing semaphores that appear from the B-pillar to indicate a change of direction. With just 36 horsepower, Swoon is in no rush to go anywhere, taking more than half a minute to reach his top speed of 68 mph (Yes, Swoon is a woman, a mature and elegant woman, according to Ms Orive. .)

“Woman is just a feeling I get when I drive her,” said Ms Orive, who doesn’t mind the rapid acceleration. “The beauty of it all is that I don’t have to go anywhere fast,” she said. “It reminds me to take life at a more reasonable pace.”

Lots of people name their cars, but Beetle owners seem more inclined than most. To be inspired by Herbie, the love bug? In posts on the Beetle Facebook groups, the names of women are common.

Doug and Nancy Barber, who live in Ohio, bought their 1964 Beetle from the second owner’s grandson. The car, now known as the Bella, covered 85,150 meticulously documented miles before being taken off the road for the most part in 1983 and retired for a lifetime of care. Every fall, Bella went through an extensive maintenance and beautification process until the owner passed away in 2018. Those 35 years added only 2,630 miles to the odometer.

The car now lives in an air-conditioned garage and receives maintenance and an appearance refresh each fall. Since the barbers bought the car, they’ve driven it about 3,000 miles a year: 65 mph max in the right lane.

“When we get to Bella, it’s 1964 again,” said Mr. Barber, a retired teacher and auto historian who has owned six Volkswagens. This connection may be because his mother drove him in a ’60s Beetle when he was young. It’s no coincidence that Mom’s Beetle wore the same “sea blue” paint as Bella.

“All the sensations are the same. Looks like I remember it. It smells like I remember it, ”Mr. Barber said.

That smell is the classic VW aroma emanating from the coconut hair seat upholstery, something Beetle lovers embrace. Perhaps it is a testament to the car’s simplicity that the smell of the upholstery is a key feature. But other practical attributes stand out.

“They were what they were: economical, reliable, repairable and easily identifiable,” said Barber.

Other Bugs are given names of men. Mike Betz of George, Iowa bought his Beetle ’64 from a man named Roy, so he named the car Roy. Why not? The car is an original, having only undergone a repaint and a 12 volt conversion. (The early VWs relied on a somewhat unreliable six-volt electrical system.)

Mr Betz drives his Beetle regularly and reports that the 40-horsepower machine’s first gear is slow, but the higher gears of the four-speed manual transmission provide a bit more oomph.

But collectors aren’t fond of Ladybugs for speed. For the most part, the appeal lies in the very simple nature of the car, an attribute celebrated by the advertising campaign that Doyle Dane Bernbach created for Volkswagen in 1959. The first advertisement featured a small photo of the Beetle and the headline “Think Small”.

Sherry Hendershot of Spencerport, NY, has driven Beetles for 40 years. One of his current cars is a practical late model, the other a 36 horsepower 1960 model. She named him Flo.

“The older Beetles are more utilitarian,” Ms. Hendershot said. “They are for the purists. I like the old-fashioned look, with a metal dashboard and few bells and whistles. No vinyl padded dashboard.

Ms. Hendershot fell in love with small cars from a young age. Her science teacher, Mr Warren, took her home in her Ladybug when she was a 15-year-old high school student. “I’ve been in love with them ever since,” she said.

As if to underline her dedication, Ms. Hendershot recently purchased another Beetle, a largely original ’59. More love.

While the unhurried nature of beetles is often a plus, there are dissenters. Jeff Spearn of Searcy, Ark. Owns a ’56 Beetle which he modified to make it as fast as most muscle cars. With a VW engine displacing 2.3 liters and dressed in an array of gear gear, the little 200 horsepower Bug can do a quarter mile in 13 seconds at 100 mph and yes, its hot rod, which is a regular. of the rod and custom car show circuit, has a name: Dark Horse.

But Mr. Spearn also has a 36 horsepower all-coral red ’56 Beetle. A third Beetle ’56 is dismantled for reincarnation. When Mr. Spearn was 15, he used $ 45 of his paper road money to buy a battered Beetle. After rebuilding the carburetor and installing a new wiring harness, he was able to drive it around the neighborhood and provided transportation throughout his high school years.

Beetles provide “relaxed fun,” Mr. Spearn said. “You can’t have a good time driving a Volkswagen. “

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