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FRIED BUGS
Story by Lois Grace



I have great trouble thinking of Bogart, my '69 sedan, as a vintage Volkswagen. I mean, new body style, big bumpers, IRS suspension, headrests, AM/FM stereo with equalizer, Michelins, KYB gas adjust shocks, mag wheels, tinted windows, and brake lights bigger than a thimble. All this, VINTAGE?? Hardly. But, when listing their "vintage" vehicles, lots of folks often include their '68, '69 or '70 as an ancient example of the venerable Volkswagen. I'm not arguing with this - heck, 20 years is 20 years - but since I also have '58 and '59 VW's, by comparison the '69 does seem NEW. Every now and then, though, something about this car reaches out and slaps me in the face, sort of as a reminder that he's getting on in years.

I've had Bogie (as he is fondly known) for years now. I bought him as a car I could drive daily, with few worries as to dependability, and he hasn't let me down. He's been the perfect picture of reliability and spunk and cuteness and all the things that VW is famous for. But I think it may be time to do some adjusting. Not on Bogie, on ME. I need to adjust my thinking somewhat, to accommodate the fact that he is now an Elderly bug, a geriatric Beetle, if you will. He's doing things only older cars do, and while he can't help it (he does have over 175,000 miles on him) these little episodes only serve to open my eyes a bit wider about his age so I won't get too comfortable.

Last night I had a fire in the dash. Yes, every VW-owner's nightmare, and this fire wasn't the first either. The last one was several years ago, after having a new stereo installed by a crew of subhuman creatures who probably could'nt tie their shoes, much less install an electronic device. Anyway, if the first instance, I was cruising along, doing my business and listening to Steely Dan, I think, when suddenly I heard a tiny POP and gray smoke began issuing forth from my dash. Being the calm and reasonable person that I am, I immediately began screaming and steered safely to the side of the street, bouncing neatly off the curb. I came to rest directly in front of my mechanic's shop. HOW I ended up in that convenient spot, I don't remember, but he rushed out with an extinguisher and saved the day. The stereo hadn't been properly grounded (um-hum, didn't we know this all the time) and the "old wiring" had fried. I later had the wiring redone on the stereo but I was amazed. Surely the wiring could'nt be THAT old! It'd only been about 15 years!

To get on with my story, one night was a bit different. Since Bogart now seems prone to age-related oddities like his brothers Vernon and Oscar, I wasn't surprised when the speedometer quit working. It had been on borrowed time since last winter, when the dang thing began howling like a banshee. I just assumed - silly me - that the cable was breaking so I thought I could buy a bit more time from it by squirting some lubricant down into the end. The noise quit, and I forgot about it until a couple months ago, when it finally broke. So what, I thought, a $7 cable and it'll be as good as new. Well, Bogie doesn't do anything that can be fixed that easily. I should have known better. I got the new cable, installed it several weeks later (don't wanna rush these things) and it worked for exactly 2.3 miles. At that point, the howling was even more intense, probably Bogie protesting the easy fix. Thoroughly disgusted now, I did what any normal woman would do - I went and whined at my husband to fix it. He decided it was the speedo itself that was the problem and took the offensive thing completely out of the car. Did you know there are 14 wires that hook up a '69 speedometer? FOURTEEN. Anyway, I got it rebuilt and overhauled - the gears were frozen, did I say that - and Rob installed it with the new cable last week. It looked great! Nice and clean and those numbers are now so white! Everything worked. While we were in there, I found a loose wire that just happened to be my horn wire. It had come undone and while I did notice the horn had been acting kind of spazzy, I failed to do anything about it till I noticed that loose wire. I hooked the horn back up, test drove my speedo, and was a happy camper.

Until one night. I went to put Bogie in the garage and started him up. I turned on the headlights, and within a fraction of a second, the generator light dimmed, I heard a small POP, then a tiny hissing sound, and suddenly, DEJA VU! The car began filling with smoke. This time, thick, black smoke. YIKES! Not wanting a Bogie Briquette, I groped frantically for my trusty extinguisher, which was cleverly concealed under a pile of debris on the floor and not within easy reach. I shut off the ignition, watching the smoke pour out of the dash at an alarming rate. Not knowing if there were actual flames up there I again did what every normal woman does when faced with this kind of situation: I screamed for Rob to come out. Together we unhooked the battery, popped the hood open and swore loudly at Bogart in very vulgar language. Well, it was 9:30 at night and neither of us was in the mood to mess with smoldering wiring and fires and other inconvenient stuff. After ripping off the wiring cover, we discovered a very large chunk of wire was completely fried from the speedo back to the headlight switch. Why?? Well, seems there was a loose wire that had been disturbed when we put the speedo back in. The bare end waited until I turned on the headlights, then shorted out against something under there. The little flames just whizzed up the entire length of wire, burning it as it went along. We felt really dumb when we got that wire out of there and saw how close we'd come to cooking Bogart completely. Now THAT would have been inconvenient. Bugs like him don't just grow on trees.

It should be easy to fix, but will require a new wiring harness from the headlight switch back to the speedometer. I suppose things like this shouldn't amaze me, but I can't get used to the idea of things breaking in Bogie. After only 175,000 miles?? Cheap garbage. His second gear is getting a bit stiff, downshifting, and I'm told the transmission is just getting old. He already has new brake drums on the front, as the old ones got too thin to turn again. His new upholstery job (1980) is fading and cracking once again. Little things like that can and will be fixed, but remind me every time that he is not the state of the art car he once appeared to be. Hey, after driving Vernon for 5 years, a John Deere would seem state of the art! I don't think of Bogie as being 22 years old, or ever wearing out, or inferior in any way, or HEAVEN FORBID, VINTAGE. Rob says ALL my cars are so old, they probably have Roman numerals on the speedometer. Very funny guy, isn't he?? But I drive this car every day and it's hard to think of Bogart as an aging vehicle. After all, he looks so spiffy!

I guess if you buy a new car every couple of years, then you don't go through this terrible realization process about your present set of wheels. You aren't going to keep them, so who cares how old they are?? They become someone else's problem. Rob agrees with me. He usually plans to keep his trucks for about 4 or 5 years (longer than most people I know) and then trade them in. He wrung his hands gleefully when our Ford Ranger drove off in trade for our new Dakota, thinking of the 96,000 miles that would now be someone else's nightmare. I, on the other hand, cried. Really though, how many people keep their cars 12 or 15 or 20 years?? Not too many. In comparison with Bogart's condition now, Vernon was old and decrepit and ancient when Dad bought him. And he was only 8 years old then! Judging by this time frame, Vernon should be producing his OWN fossil fuel right about any day now. So, for me, thinking of Vernon as old wasn't a stretch. Knowing Oscar - my '58 convertible bug - is old isn't too hard either. All I have to do is look at those tiny little glass taillights, and the ivory knobs on the dash and breathe that vintage AROMA, and it's easy. But Bogart?? NAH.

So, how do I do this, this Attitude Adjustment?? Somebody tell me. Wait a minute, on second thought, I don't think I want to know. If I start treating Bogie as if he's old and frail, he'll soon start acting the part. Right now, I think these things that happen surprise him as much as they do me - sort of, like, OOOOPS! You mean my engine needs a rebuild AGAIN?? Pesky thing. Drat. I think I'll just keep treating him like a '91 model, with 175,000 miles on it. That way, he'll never suspect that he's aged at all. After all, the Bug did look almost the same for some 40-odd years, right?? This way, he'll never catch on.

(Since I wrote this, Bogie has had several other repairs, not the least of which is a brand new, from-the-ground-up Gene Berg 1641cc engine and several sets of Michelins. His daily driving escapades are now over, after I bought a Golf GTi. With more than 225,000 miles on the clock now, I do consider him truly One of the Old Guys and he gets all the benefits of his newly-acquired "vintage" status.)

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