This Month's Feature VW

The Journey Continues

The story of this '63 Bug actually starts before I was born. My parents bought this car on April 9, 1966 from Younce Motors, Inc in Hickory, NC, the dealership that originally sold it new. It had been traded back in by the original purchaser. My parents, at the time with two kids, needed a second car. They had lived in Germany several years while my Dad was in the army and had toured all over Europe in an early 50s split window Bug with another army couple. That, their growing popularity in the US, and their economic appeal all weighed into their decision to buy a Volkswagen.

I was born in 1968 and my parents brought me home from the hospital in this very car. The first car I ever rode in. Its still funny hearing my Mom describe the bouncy ride of the little car while she was in labor on the way to the hospital that Sunday morning. This was our family car growing up and I vividly recall us taking it everywhere. Long trips to visit family, camping trips, taking it to the lake pulling a canoe on a trailer via the trailer hitch my Dad made. We'd stick our fishing poles through the sunroof on the way to the lake most every weekend in the summer. I recall my Dad driving it through the snow as it was his daily work car loaded up with tools.

It happened to be the same year, make, model, and color as Herbie so my sisters and I called it Herbie. We always aggravated our Dad to paint it like Herbie, but back then there was no internet, so unless you knew someone who did that sort of thing it wasn't readily available. And to my Dad, cars were utilitarian. Over the years I recall the car having snow tires on the back all the time, no hubcaps, bondo and primer spots on the fenders, and patches on the sunroof. In the spring on 1982 I recall the day the original motor died. My Dad bought another VW and had the engine swapped, but it was never quite right. One day, fed up and tired of dealing with it he pulled the car into the driveway, parked it under a huge tree, and never drove it again.

I recall the years looking at it as it sat there, a limb had gone through the top, it would rain and snow in it. I was nearing driving age in the mid 80s and I begged my Dad to let me have it and get it running. But he always said no. They were too much trouble, there was too much wrong with it, he said he would get it running when he retired, etc. People would stop by in the evenings during supper trying to buy it. I'd sit at the window staring out praying he wouldn't sell it, and he never did. One day he asked a guy why everyone wanted that dilapidated car so much and the guy told him it was because of the sunroof.

The car had sat for about 8 years when my Dad decided to get it back going again. A man at church, Alan Younce, was the brother of the VW dealership owner. He had worked on VWs his whole life and built tons of dune buggies. They had been discussing his VW and Alan came to get it and start working on it. I remember how excited I was that it was going to be running again!!! It had always been my favorite car. My dream car. So many hours sitting in it pretending to be driving, dreaming that one day I'd be driving it and I could turn it into Herbie. I can still picture Alan pulling it out of our driveway with a tow bar.

He got started with brakes, building an engine, etc. then we got bad news. Alan had become very ill battling cancer and couldn't work on the car. Then after a year or so his wife also became seriously ill and they couldn't attend church anymore. We lost touch with them. I'd ask my Dad about the car occasionally and he'd say, "I don't want to bother them, they have so many serious issues going on, etc." Then a few years later we learned they had moved from their house in Hickory and we didn't know where they'd gone, if they still had the car, etc. The city had already made Alan get rid of a ton of VWs he had at his house before they moved. I'd ask Dad about it occasionally and he'd say, "It's gone. Forget about it. I don't know if they are still alive, much less whatever happened to the car." I went on with college, graduated, got married, and my wife and I had moved out of state. I bought an old Corvette and was going to car shows still wondering about whatever became of my dream car.

One evening in 1998, about 9 years after the last time I saw the car, our phone rang and it was my Dad. He said, "You'll never guess who I just got off the phone with. Alan Younce." My heart jumped out of my chest and started pounding with excitement I can't begin to describe. "He said he still has my Volkswagen and a guy keeps stopping wanting to buy it. He always tells him it isn't his, but now his wife wants him to get it out from behind their garage. He wants to know if I want it or if I want to sell it to him. I told him you had aggravated me to death about that car so long I better ask you if you want it. He said it's in really, really bad shape. Do you want to come look at it this weekend and see if you want it?" I replied, "I'll be there Saturday morning with a trailer to get whatever is left of it!!!"

We drove to Alan's house, and we sat on the back porch catching up. I could see the front of it barely sticking out from behind the garage. Finally we got around to "let's go check it out." The joy and excitement of finding my dream car was quickly tempered by seeing how bad it was. He pulled a tire off the top holding down a tarp, and I was crushed. The wheels were dug down into the dirt, the bottom of the car on the ground. The pans were essentially gone. I leaned on the passenger side of the car and the entire side of the car went in about 5 inches. Channels, pillars, quarter panels, floors…mostly gone. Engine was gone. The car was full of squirrel nests, everything chewed up by mice, but inside the glove box was the original Younce Motors vinyl dealer pack. Inside was the owner's manual and all of the original paperwork where my Dad had purchased the car. Loan documents, bill of sale, and all kinds of other documentation. None of it had been damaged somehow.

We winched it onto the trailer and I hauled it to Don Eastwood of The Bug Shop in Wytheville, Virginia. I had done some research and talked to Don. I had no idea what to expect but I knew I had my car!!! Don told me it was really too far gone to reasonably restore. It would cost more to restore than it would ever be worth, but I didn't care. I told him let's start, but I had to make a decision first. Put back as close to original as possible, or make it more usable. Since the original engine was long gone decades before, it would never be "numbers matching original", so I opted for a 1600 single port 12v and eventually had a 67 gearbox put in it for highway driving. It took 3 years from start to finish. New pans, heater channels, A and B pillars, quarters, inner fender wells front and back, new fenders, but the doors, lids, glass, and seat frames were all ok.

I wanted the car to look like it did back when I was a kid but "new", L87 Pearl White (single stage Imron paint because VWs didn't come with base/clear) with brick red interior, and I wanted the engine to look stock too although it would have an alternator vs generator. Seeing as I restored the car 20 years ago, there were many things that I could not get at the time that were true to original. I ended up getting a tan canvas sunroof cover and tan carpet (just on the sides and back not on floor) with black rubber mat on the floor. I deleted the holes for the deck lid script because I knew one day I wanted to make it a Herbie. I just struggled with how to get stripes on a sunroof cover that looked good. So three years of work by Don's shop, a local paint shop, a local upholstery shop, and me stripping the car, doing finish work, and researching and sourcing parts from all over the globe and in August 2001 it was done!!!

The timing of its completion happened to coincide with the birth of our daughter. My parents came to visit when she was born and it was also the first time they saw the car since I had started it. They said it looked brand new, actually better than the day they bought it. I took my parents for a ride, my Dad drove it too, and my Mom sat in the back and fell asleep. She said, "the rocking motion of the springy seats in this little car always put me to sleep."

I drove my dream car to my hometown one weekend to visit my parents several hours away and while I was there they told me that Alan, the man that had kept the car for many years, was in an assisted living facility close by. They suggested I should take it by and show it to him. So I did. We sat on the front porch chatting a little bit and he said, "let's go see the car!!!" When he saw it he absolutely could not believe it was the same car I had pulled out of his yard three years earlier. He insisted it was better than when it was new. I told him all the specs, the things we did, the things we changed, etc. and he was very impressed with the decisions I made and the execution of everyone that had worked on the car. He walked around back, lifted the deck lid and was looking and noting the various things and he said, "fire it up for me, I wanna hear it." I did, and he pressed the accelerator and said, "whoever built this engine knew what they were doing!!!" We went back to the porch and had a great visit. I learned shortly after this that he passed away. But at least we got to share that moment together before he did.

I really enjoyed years of us using the car. I drove it constantly, went to car shows, picnics, long family drive, etc. And we always called in Herbie just like we did when I was a kid. Well, one Saturday in 2005 my daughter stopped in her tracks when she saw a commercial for Herbie Fully Loaded on TV. She was mesmerized!!! She turned and looked at me and said, "Daddy, can we paint our car like Herbie?!?!?!" In a moment that took me back 30 years to my own childhood I said, "ABSOLUTELY!!!" By now there were resources on the internet and I found some Herbie fan webpages with resources for decals and widened wheels. I made the contacts and ordered a set of decals from Greg Carr in Florida who had owned one of the original Herbie movie cars (Herbie #2 I believe). And since the HFL movie version didn't have stripes on the sunroof cover, my dilemma was solved. I ordered a charcoal gray canvas cover and removed the tan and replaced it with the gray. Then the next Saturday I drove the car to a local sign shop to have the guys help me install the graphics. I had studied the original movie decal placements, measurements, and I knew exactly where and how they were going to be placed. Although I did put the stripes on the aprons and the air vent grill on the back just as my own little touch.

On the way home from installing the decals, I started noticing something very odd. People started waving, beeping, and reacting like never before. I got the occasional nod or thumbs up before, but this was unreal. When I got home, my wife and daughter were standing in the driveway waiting for me and my daughter ran up and hugged the hood and said, "I love you Herbie!!!" A moment that still makes me tear up as everything had come full circle. I started being asked to be in parades, which my wife and daughter really enjoyed too. I was contacted by a special group to be a volunteer to take Herbie to visit sick and special needs children. That was so rewarding. It dawned on me that all of these things came together for a reason and it wasn't just to sit in a garage with a car cover on it and going to car shows. I realized my childhood dream, my daughter's childhood dream, and now it gave me a chance to connect with people and share hope and helpful perspectives. The families that I got to meet and the difference we were able to make in their lives was overwhelming.

In 2011 I relocated with my job and moved to Pasco County, Florida…home of Bug Jam, a huge VW car show every year typically with 600+ VWs. I didn't know that when I accepted the position, but found out when I started investigating the VW scene in my soon to be new home. Ironically, with all of the VW shows and events I got to meet and become good friends with the people who had helped me turn my car into Herbie and realize my dream. Such a small world. My car was a Herbie for twelve years, and the decals were showing their age. So I talked to Greg, who was not making decals anymore, but he agreed to make me a replacement set and it gave me a great excuse to go to his house and see his unbelievable collection of VW memorabilia and cars.

In 2017 I removed the decals, which turned out to me a monumental task after years of baking in the Florida sun. It involved many hours of removal and paint correction. After working so hard to make the paint look great again, I was really enjoying the car looking the way I remembered it growing up. And now living in Florida I had noticed that there were many Herbie's at lots of the events. It felt odd to roll into a car show to see three other cars that looked just like yours. After moving to Florida, I had also upgraded many of the things that were now available. I replaced the carpet with light gray German wool square weave carpet like the original, and I had found light gray rubber floor mats like the originals. I had also freshened up many of the rubber seals around the car and had POR15 coated then painted the inside and underneath of the floor pans and suspension of the car gloss black. Now the car really did look like it did when I was young, with the exception of the widened VW wheels I had added when I "Herbied" it. Instead of having the wheels painted to match the car, I had opted for chrome just as my own personal touch.

Attending events after removing the decals I noticed something odd. Me and my buddies had noticed over the years that when people saw my Herbie they'd walk by and say, "It's Herbie" without even really looking at the car or appreciating the level of restoration that had gone into it. But now, people started actually looking at the car for what it was, and reading the documentation I had framed in the trunk, and reading about my history with the car. People were appreciating the car not for being a Herbie replica, but for being a 1963 model 117 Deluxe Sunroof Sedan that was in pristine condition with 50+ years of documented family history. So now it's 2021 and I'm still enjoying my car as it was without being a Herbie replica, but I have paid homage to his Herbie history with a small 53 decal in the bottom corner of the rear window.

My "Herbie" now enjoys the company of seven other VWs that I own. I'm constantly, buying, restoring, trading, and selling VWs just as a hobby, but I have a few that I will never part with. My Dad's car is certainly one that I would never consider parting with. I now have a 12 year old son as well and his favorite car is my 1963 Bug. It will certainly be passed on to him when the time is right. My daughter will get my 1962 Sunroof Bug "Ruby" which I hand painted over 10 years as a groovy peace sign and flower covered hippy car which now sports many of Herbie's former parts, like the tan sunroof cover, tan carpet, and black rubber floor mats. It also sports Herbie's original front bumper and tags from when I was a kid. When I brought that car home in 2007 to start on it my daughter ran out into the driveway and declared, "Her name is Ruby and she's Herbie's girlfriend." And so she is.

So my life journey continues to move forward with my 1963 Volkswagen model 117 Deluxe Sunroof Sedan, "Herbie." Some used to say, "it's not the REAL Herbie" to which I often responded "He may not be a movie star but in many ways he's even more of a reaI Herbie who has changed many lives and made so many dreams come true." Thank you for taking the time to read our story, a story that has many more chapters yet to be written.

Tom Lawhorne

Laptop/Tablet Wallpaper

Mobile Phone Wallpaper

Apple: Touch one of the images and "Save Image". Go to "Photos" and select the picture. Tap the box with the up arrow at the right top corner. Tap "Use as Wallpaper" pinch to size and "Set Both"

Windows: Right Click an image and select as "Set as background" on your PC!

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