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Story by Lois Grace

I've 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!  Read on)

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 suffer from?

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 Seat Belts


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