often wondered what it was about Volkswagens
that caused such intense devotion
in owners, their admirers and us.
After thinking about this for years
(and being keenly aware of my own
feelings on the subject) I find that
I am no closer to an answer than before.
(You might think this would be the
end of this column, but no!
One thing the VW dealers noticed about
the appeal of the New Beetle is that
the shape evoked strong feelings in
people. The shape of the New
Beetle resembles the Real Beetle shape
enough that it causes all who look
upon it - nearly universally
- to smile. I heard once that
the Beetle shape was one of the most-recognized
shapes in the world, second only to
the Coke bottle. I used to think
it was the familiar Bug shape that
we all loved, and that was what provoked
such love for the little cars ...I
tend to think now that that's not
it at all. After all, mere size or
shape alone can't do it. A Honda
Fit is smaller than a VW Bug, but
we don't wanna tickle THEM as we walk
by. Or do we?? Beetles just
have a persona, a distinct and unique
personality that makes them lovable.
Other small cars can't measure up
to this intense Cuddle Quotient.
(OK, maybe the BMW Isetta could, but
it's Bug shaped too)
I thought maybe it was the facial
features of the Bug that made us go
weak-kneed with affection for them,
but that can't be it either. Why?
Because, you can be a Volkswagen fan
and go weak-kneed (like me) for BUSES.
Or Ghias, or Single Cabs or Type III's,
take your pick. They all have different
facial features, but they're all VWs
and they all draw us to them in one
way or another. And, if you
think about it, there's been plenty
of cute, appealing small cars before
and after the Bug. The DKW springs
to mind with its distinctly 'Bug like'
face. So if there are other
adorable faces out there, why don't
they generate the Bug Love we all
Along those lines, you can be a Truck
Freak (like me) and still appreciate
and fuss over a well-restored Notchback,
even if you don't own one (or even
want one) yourself. You can
be a Bug-O-Phile and still drool over
a convertible Karmann Ghia.
So, what is it about the Volkswagen??
Why does it have such a hold on us?
I tend to think this phenomenon is
limited to the older models too -
the newer VWs are nice and I've had
my share of GTI Lust (which has since
been satisfied), but they don't seem
to have the same power to captivate
that the older ones do. Or, perhaps
they do and I just don't know about
it yet since I travel more in Vintage
Circles. The Passats, GTIs,
Jettas, Golfs and the like are great
cars and they are handsome, but they
seem to be JUST CARS. They aren't
PEOPLE like the old guys.
The hybrid VWs are great examples
of the feelings that the VW evokes
in people. Remember those weird
kits you could get to make your Bug
look like a Rolls Royce, '40 Ford
or Pickup Truck? Remember that
REALLY strange little motor home (nothing
more, really, than a chassis-mounted
camper with a Bug front)? Seeing
one of these always made me feel sorry
for them, even when I was a kid
- which is when most of these kits
turned up. I would get a glimpse
of some poor Bug forced to wear a
false identity such as the Rolls Royce
front and rear end, and think to myself
that it would probably love to shed
the silly getup for some real stock
fenders and hood if it had a choice.
Heck, they probably would rather have
had their fenders and hood lopped
off to become a dune buggy.
At least there is some dignity in
being a dune buggy. I always
fight back a dramatic urge to rescue
these poor creatures when I see one.
Still, they call out to me as they
go by and it's torture. Probably for
both of us.
Older VWs have features not offered
by newer models. My own '69
Beetle displayed this talent recently.
I have had this car over 35 years,
and until this past summer I was completely
unaware of this particular feature.
I also found it quite by accident,
which is strange because you'd think
after having this car for this long
this ability would have been evident
a lot sooner. As I pulled into
our driveway one evening, I pulled
the key out of the ignition without
turning off the engine. It sounds
easy to do but think about it:
just pull the key out, and the engine
still runs! The key didn't fight
me, it didn't complain, it just slid
out. Now, you'd think I would
have noticed this right away but I
had gotten myself nearly completely
out of the car by the time I realized
that the engine was still running!
It took me a moment to comprehend
what was happening and put the key
back into turn the engine off.
My car is now able to display this
'Magic Key' feature each time I try.
(This makes it a great 'party trick'
to play on unsuspecting passengers:
'Here, hold my keys for a while, would
you?' Hahaha! My '59 single
Cab long ago had taken this particular
ability one step further and ended
up not even requiring the key to start
him - a long thin screwdriver was
all it took to get the old guy to
turn over. These special Features
don't often appear till many, many
miles and years have gone by and therefore
cannot be called 'sales features'
when the cars are new. Only by living
with a VW for a long, long time will
the owner be rewarded with such features
as the Magic Key option.
Of course, in all fairness here I
must admit that newer VWs have some
neat things about them as well, not
the least of which are air conditioning,
heaters that actually keep you warm,
and acceleration that will give you
a fighting chance on the highway.
Along with all these wonderful things,
a few years ago they also unfortunately
threw in some not-so-great stuff such
as something I like to call 'Disco
Seat Belts'. You know what I mean:
the belts that, when you open the
door, go slip-sliding forward on a
track in the door frame. Then,
once you sit yourself down, they go
ZIP! Back towards you on the track
like a tiny guillotine, eventually
locking themselves - and you - in
place. Maybe it's because I'm
a Vintage Weirdo, but I can't stand
Disco Seat Belts. They have always
struck me as being vaguely creepy,
in a 'we-know-what-is-good-for-you, strangler
sort of way.' Every time I open the
door I have to resist the urge to
jump aside when that little latch
thing goes flying forward. Only
with difficulty can I put myself in
the seat, because I can never
figure out what side of that latch
I'm supposed to sit on. Getting
into the seat doesn't help much either,
because once I'm in there the latch
comes flying back at me, and I resist
the urge again to twist madly out
of its way. I'm sure I am not
very good at resisting these odd gyrations,
and it is a bizarre dance to
watch, getting in and out of a car
with these newfangled horrors.
I'm glad none of my vehicles were
saddled with this particular 'feature'.
It's bad enough that my GTI has
doorframe-mounted latches on its belts.
Once these belts start zipping back
and forth on the doorframe by them, that
car is OUTTA HERE. I love it,
but even I have my limits, and self-propelled
seat belts are out of my comfort zone.
This brings us back full-circle to
the original question of why VWs appeal
to us the way they do. I see
that this original question is still
unanswered, so we might as well drop
the whole thing and just enjoy them,
which is, perhaps, the entire point.
Maybe we shouldn't try to analyze
it too much. Maybe we should
just get in them, Magic Key feature
and all, and just DRIVE. Stop
every now and then to admire their
faces, and marvel at their devotion.
Just make sure no one is watching
you get back IN, if you have Disco