Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My First Car - a Reverie

I got my first car kind of inadvertently. I was 21 and had just come back from living in Israel for 10 months. My friend Steve Lange had a little red 1964 Volkswagen Beetle that he wasn't using, because he was stationed elsewhere in the Coast Guard. I drove it around for a while and "inherited" it. When his mother said I should pay the man for it, I ended up giving him a big $50, as I recall. But that was a lot more money in those days, and also, VW Bugs were hardly collector's items.

I lent it to a mutual friend and he rolled it on its side, crimping the roof. I ended up running it into the ground--it threw a rod about a year later and I junked it, but it did put me on wheels.

So, when I saw a cute little blue Beetle in my neighborhood (in great condition, too), I was intrigued. I've yet to talk with the owner, but I've seen him out fixing it in his driveway.

Originally commissioned by Hitler and designed by Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that guy), the Beetle was a huge hit in the U.S. from the late 1950's into the 1970's. At one point, I believe it was 1968, they sold nearly half a million here. But, as we all know, Japanese cars, led by Toyota and Datsun (Nissan) grabbed more and more sales starting about that same time, to where when the Beetle finally left the American car stage in 1979--as a convertible only--it was a small player.

The front-wheel-drive, water-cooled New Beetle sells in the thousands every year, and has been on the road for more than a decade now. A new one is coming right around the corner. But for a first car, the original air-cooled, rear-engine (40 horsepower) Beetle was just the ticket. It's little engine buzzed in back, the four-on-the-floor was fun, if a bit notchy, and the cars were built tough, although very basic by today's standards. And, of course, they were deadly in a collision although they were rumored to float if you dropped one in a body of water accidentally.

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