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Story and Photography by Lois Grace

There was a commercial out now, for Toyota, that said (in part) when does a car stop being a car and become part of the family??? I guess this is supposed to prompt people to start thinking about their vehicles as more than machines, and treat them more like a treasured family pet. Toyota thinks this is a NEW idea? From this commercial, it would seem as though the world is just now discovering what we VW owners have known all along. Our cars aren't just machines, they are more than just a hobby, and they have personalities. WOW. What a concept. Don't you wish you'd though of that?? Wait. You did.

Imagine what Henry Ford might say about such nonsense. The father of the automobile (even though the auto was around long before Henry did his thing with the Model T, affordable autos were not) would most likely snort and scoff at such talk. From all accounts, the Model T (and surely the Model A after it) was the quintessential workhorse of its time, it would start on the coldest of days, it would run on just about anything, and you could drive it nearly anywhere. My own grandfather had a Model T that ran on kerosene when gas wasn't available! Don't you wish you could THAT nowadays?? Anyway, it wasn't until the next little workhorse came along that people began thinking of their cars as a member of the family. With the arrival of the Volkswagen, people thought of their car as a pet. Babies were born in them, romances began and blossomed in them, people drove them places they'd never dream of taking their Ford. I like to think that it was because they were so fond of the VW they didn't ever want to be without it. With the Volkswagen, it was easy to make this leap over the bounds of mere machine and into the realm of human hood.

The Beetle's looks alone made it easy to love. The round headlights, perched in front on a long swoop fender, made the car look like, well, a Bug. With all its buggy eyes and that adorable face, the car looked like some sort of benevolent insect. One that wouldn't eat your flowers or deliver a nasty sting. It was cute, cuddly and best of all, it could take you places! The family pet idea was beginning to grow. Coming at you or going away, the Bug was undeniably adorable. Dr Porsche could not have designed a more lovable vehicle if he'd tried. The fact that he was trying to design a People's Car and not an Adorable Vehicle makes the whole thing even more amazing. Little did he know that a cult was beginning, one that would outlast the very production of the car itself. He had begun the Car as Pet craze and he didn't even know it.

Perhaps even more incredible than the cute looks of the Beetle is the personality. Yes, you heard me. We all know VWs have personalities, and just like people and other pets, no two are exactly alike. Most Volkswagens have names, I've found, and once you assign a name to your VW its personhood is guaranteed. Even people who treat their everyday cars like mere autos will admit that they treat their VWs differently. Each VW has its own distinct traits, but like a real, live pet, they all have one thing in common. They are eager to please. Where does this come from?? Fine German engineering, the skeptics will say. It was designed and built to be reliable, they will claim.
And, in part, they'll be right. But, if they stick to that party line it'll become painfully obvious to everyone that they've never actually lived with a VW. Those who do find very soon that they are not always in control of a Beetle's actions. To us, this makes Herbie the Love Bug's antics even more believable! The Beetle is born with its own agenda, and we as owners are merely along for the ride, as it were.

I have four VWs, three of which are vintage. They are all different, and communicate with me in different ways. When I bought my 1990 Golf GTi, Gus, I thought there was nothing about this car that would ever make me feel like treating it as a pet. But, in the years that I have driven him, he's convinced me that he is indeed pet-worthy. He's ornery and cantankerous at times, but every bit a VW with the personality to match. The other three are pre-1969 cars, which mean there isn't an ornery bolt in their bodies. They live to please me and in the rare event of a breakdown they seem as distressed as I am about it. Once fixed, they are eager for the next 100,000 miles. Gus could care less about that; he knows I love him anyway and doesn't grovel at all. The old guys are like big lovable lap dogs: they want nothing more than to please me just by BEING. And, that they do, extremely well.

The thing that leads me to these conclusions so easily is that I have never yet seen another car do this to the degree that the Volkswagen does. Sure, I was close to a 1978 Saab once (for 18 years!) and when I sold it I cried ridiculously. I was sorry to see it go, simply because I liked it and have a tendency to keep things I like. But, it was his time to find a new home and mine to find a GTi. Of all the cars who have shared our family none have spoken to me like the VW. Vernon's wiring is old and the gremlins who control it talk to me; Oscar's just old all over and even though restored he is full of odd noises and creaks (convertibles tend to do that); Bogie is my former daily-driven 69 Bug and while he is aging gracefully he too is acquiring the little oddities of car old age. They all speak to me, and when they do, I listen. Far from being just machines, my vehicles are a part of my family. I can't imagine a Toyota or Jaguar or Chevy owner feeling this way about their car. Maybe they do. I can even accept that they might, but it's certainly not the feelings we have for our VWs, right?? After all, who could look into the headlights of a Camry and feel those deepest feelings one saves for those one loves the best?? Not me.

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