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Story by Lois Grace

With the arrival of the New Beetle (even if it was more than a few years ago), driving a Beetle has suddenly become "cool" again. My question is: when was it NOT cool?? Forgive me if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy here, but for those of us who have driven Real Beetles for years, we have always known that Bug Chic began and ended with that familiar shape and the clickety-clack behind us as we drove. Now, Volkswagen has reinvented the Bug shape and quieted the clickety-clack and - HORRORS - put what little purring noise the New Beetle DOES make in FRONT. Suddenly, there are whole globs of people driving this reincarnation and gleefully reveling in their unique Coolness.Excuse me? Where were all these folks for the past 40 years?? The people who haven't bought New Beetles, it seems, are now experiencing Beetle Flashbacks, and showering attention on those of us who knew all along how cool Beetles were. There is the ever-present and annoying general-purpose question I always seem to get asked, in polite conversation: "So! What do you think of that NEW Beetle??" (If they knew how I'd answer that they probably wouldn't want to know) I can't drive either of my Bugs (a restored '58 convertible and an original-condition '69 sedan) anywhere without being stopped at least once, something that I am not used to. Don't get me wrong, all this attention is nice, but why suddenly notice me now? Here in the West, older Volkswagens, and Beetles in particular, are fairly plentiful. Nice examples are not that common, but there is no shortage of Beetles (and other old VW models) here.

It's a bit unnerving to go from anonymous small-car driver one moment to envied-collectible-car owner the next. I would have expected this attention if I'd bought a New Beetle - they are still not anywhere near as common here as, say, Toyotas or Honda Civics. I think the arrival of the New Beetle has awakened fond memories of past Volkswagens in some people and others are now just taking note of how cool Bugs are for the first time. These are the same people who wouldn't have dreamed about wanting one - much less owning one - the first time around. Whatever it is, it's weird and feels strange. I'm just not cut out for the famous life, I guess. My two show cars are used to this, after all, being ogled at shows and parades is what is supposed to happen- after all, that's one reason why they are there. But I was not ready to sit in the drive-up lane of a Taco Bell this week and have a crowd inside press their faces to the windows and wave, smile, and point at me and Bogie! I now know how a hamster must feel. We did our best to remain calm and "disconnected", but Bogie succeeded in this far better than I did. No matter what the stress, his face never changes. Mine was making strange sounds when we finally got our order and left. Beetles are cool (and they know it), but merely owning and driving one does not make you cool. Coolness is not something you are born with, it must be earned and the only way to do that in a Real Beetle is to love one for a long time.And what makes me an expert on this subject? I should know - I didn't start out in the Volkswagen world by being Beetle Cool. I began my VW fascination with a Type II, a member of the VW Bus family. Being a member of the Single Cab subspecies, my vehicle wasn't even a Bus, and for someone like me that spent their teenage years in the Peace and Love era of Woodstock and Haight/Ashbury, my Type II was nothing more than an ungainly, odd-looking pickup truck. My sister attempted to make poor Vern more socially acceptable by plastering green and yellow sticky flowers all over him, something that really annoyed my dad (since he was driving it too then) and only embarrassed Vernon. I embarrassed Dad and Vern further by hanging a couple strands of - oh how I hate to admit this - LOVE BEADS from his rear view mirror.

Very soon after I hung them, I caught my hand in the longer of the two loops and tiny multicolored beads sprayed violently over the inside of the truck. That was the end of my "donations" to Vern's coolness. The VW Bus was the very epitome of anti-establishment cool in those days and I had what amounted to HALF a Bus. But it was a Volkswagen and as such, cool in and of itself.My Beetleness arrived in 1974, when I bought my '69 Bug (or as true auto aficionados say, SEDAN), Bogart. From the moment he came home with me, I now knew true Beetle Coolness. No one had to tell me how great he was, and that was a good thing because nobody paid any attention then to my handsome, original-paint Beetle. I knew how great he was already. No one had to admire my car endlessly, I did enough of that on my own. No company had to spout retro phrases to "sell" me on the merits of my little Bug. I knew before even owning him that he'd be that way. After all, he was a VW.The New Beetle is also a VW. But its Coolness is still to be earned. It sure looks cool and ads say it has a heart similar to that of the Real Beetle, but time will tell whether or not it's truly worthy of Bug Cool. Anyone buying a New Beetle now can buy Coolness. If you have the $25,000, you can be Cool. Real Beetles weren't cool because anyone could buy one, they were cool because of their uncompromising longevity, their wholesome, lovable homeliness, and a million other things. For, you see, Real Bug Coolness comes with age.

It's not something that can be marketed. Real Beetles had been around a long time - by the time I bought my first one, the Beetle had been in existence for over 25 years. They had more than loyal owners, these people that bought and drove and loved them were a CULT. We are that way still. I'll be the first one to admit it's a hard act to follow. The rabid passion people felt for their cars then is rarely felt today for any model. I wish the New Beetle luck in this endeavor. It's a big responsibility and if the New Beetle is a true Volkswagen, it'll be up to the challenge.But meanwhile, there's that pesky heritage to deal with.


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