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VW FAMILY
Story by Lois Grace


I guess you could say Volkswagens are in my blood. When I was born, instead of the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth, I emerged with a can of Pennzoil in one hand and a spare fan belt in the other. I cut my first teeth on a 10mm box wrench, instead of baby biscuits. As a toddler, I wanted to drive the little cars at the carnival, instead of riding the boats (in real water, of course) with my brother. As I grew up, my focus changed somewhat from cars to Barbies, but I eventually came back to my senses and joined my dad in the garage, getting dirty. This all was part of my formative years, which may account for at least some of my enthusiasm now.

Those of you who follow my stories probably think Vernon was the first VW in my life. Not so! Go back a bit further than Vern and you'll find a '57 Oval window Bug was my introduction to the wonders of air-cooled, rear-engined automotive bliss. In 1956, my dad was still in the Navy, stationed on the USS Norton Sound and we were living in Oxnard, California, a bit north of Los Angeles. The Bug was ordered through San Francisco, which was quite a hop from Oxnard, but no problem! The dealer that took the order found out that Dad was a Navy man, stationed outside the area, and had the Bug shipped directly to the base. Once ordered, like any new baby, my folks waited 9 months or so for this wondrous creature to arrive. When it did, the salesman called my Dad to tell him it had arrived, with WHITE WALL TIRES. Well, Dad wasn't wild about that, and asked if they could merely take them off and put black walls on. The salesman said no, the labor involved doing that would exceed the $30 extra the whitewalls had cost, and would Dad just accept the car as it was? Dad reluctantly agreed and the car was picked up with "those silly, ugly, stupid-looking things" on it. I wonder if Dad knew how VINTAGE they looked? I also wonder if Dad ever had one of those "stupid,ugly, silly" wood roof racks for this sucker? Or perhaps one of those pesky round? Hazet tool kits?? Hmmmm, maybe I'd better check their attic.

This Oval was black, with a red interior, and it never had a name. For that I feel sorry for it, because it was brand new, and shiny and different when Dad got it, and it seems kind of sad to me that it never had a name. Even my folks' old '38 Chevy had a name. Not a handsome name - that car was known as Mortimer - but at least it was something. The Bug also had a VERY stickery and prickly luggage area behind the rear seat. I know firsthand of what I speak, because I "got" to ride back there every time we went anywhere. I was 3 years old at the time and fit back there nicely, in the days before car seats and mandatory seat belt laws. There is a photo take on Easter Sunday, 1957, that shows my sister, brother and I and this Beetle - yep, that's me there. I'm the small one with the white ponytails and the fat knees. I also remember being miffed that my mother was insisting on this silly photo session, when all I really wanted to do was be turned loose so I could crawl behind the wheel of the Bug. If memory serves me, they had to pull me out of there to take the picture. Riding back there in that luggage area was interesting - that prickly stuff left little red welts on my arms and legs and it also stunk. It had that peculiar, VW-only smell and once back there, I remember needing help to get OUT. This part would not have been a problem if this car had been a convertible. But, being third in the pecking order in our family meant I had to take what was left when it cam to seating. But I was more than happy with my space. Once back there, no one bothered me. No one could talk to me if they'd wanted to since I couldn't hear anything above the din. The engine kept me nice and warm in winter and the perpetual TICKETY-TICKETY-TICKETY of it running was reassuring. No one wanted to sit back there, except me, which was great because I didn't have to fight anyone for the privilege. It was MY space and I loved it. I often wonder whatever became of that car.

Shortly after the oval came home, we moved to Massachusetts. The Bug went along and helped move us. We lived in Massachusetts for 3 years or so and the Bug lived outdoors, in the snow in winter and the sun in summer. I remember seeing it during those winter months, almost totally obscured by the snow drifts, the car being just a black bump in the white snow. In 1962, my dad took a new job with IBM, in California. We moved from Sudbury, MA back to California in December 1962, in the dead of winter. My family and I - my parents, 4 of us kids, plus a cat and dog - drove the southern route in a Ford Falcon station wagon bought new the summer before. Taking this southern route was supposed to be easier than traveling the more northerly way, but to us it just meant we'd get stuck in a snow bank on the outskirts of Flagstaff instead of getting stuck in a snow bank on the outskirts of Denver. In the winter, there's not much difference between the two. The lucky little Bug didn't see any of this action. It made the 3,000 mile trip safely on the back of a flat car, by rail, and was delivered directly to the IBM plant in San Jose where Dad was now working. Looking back on this Snow bank Incident with the Ford, I think we all might have been better off in the Bug. Even all 6 of us. Even with the cat and dog.

Shortly after we reached California, the Bug was traded in on a new NSU Prinz. It seems a sort of mean thing to do to a little Beetle who'd just made a cross-country trip, and even now I'm not sure I know why my dad did it. He has said he doesn't remember. I thin he was getting the urge for something more unique and the Prinz certainly qualified in that department. He drove the Bug off one day and came home with the Prinz. He remembers now that he gave the NSU dealer "a couple hundred bucks" and the Bug fro the Prinz. They probably should have paid HIM for that Bug.

Once the Oval window was gone, it was another five years before we had a VW again. That VW, of course, was Vernon. I remember going one night after dinner to pick him up, with Mom, Dad and my younger brother David. Vernon was waiting for us, sitting in the driveway. David was 8 at the time, and very conscious of odd-looking things. He took one look at Vern and announced loudly that HE wasn't riding home in it with Dad. That was just fine with me, however, since Vernon was the NEATEST looking thing I'd ever seen and I couldn't wait for a ride in him. The rest of Vernon's story is well-known by now, but there were other VW's after him.

When my older brother got out of the Navy, he wanted a VW van waiting for him. A VAN, not a bus. Dad bought Mr. Veedle for Bruce, and he was the picture of mid-70's VW-hood: he was shiny brown, with wooden bumpers and chrome reverse wheels. He was "raked" - higher in the rear than the front - and riding in him was akin to being dumped in a Cuisinart and taken for a spin. I couldn't go 2 blocks in Mr. Veedle without feeling barfy. He had no seats and no windows in back, of course, being a van, and a top speed of about 50MPH due to his small wheels, reduction gears, and 36hp engine. Bruce tired of him quickly and he was sold to a gal who drove him to LA to go to school. We later heard Mr. Veedle had not made it to that school, he'd broken down and been abandoned alongside some southern California freeway.

After Mr. Veedle, or perhaps near the same time, my dad bought a '68 7-passenger Bus. It was red on the bottom, and white on he top and more than made up for Mr. Veedle's lack of seats - this one had THREE sets. Buckets in front, and 2 bench seats across the back. It had a more powerful engine than any VW we'd had before that, and had the now-familiar "bubble window" look in front. I was driving by this time, and Barnabus (as he'd been named) was fun to drive. He was big, he was comfy, and best of all, he was FASTER THAN VERNON. Of course, nothing was more special to me than Vern, but Barnabus was a nice change. He was with us until Dad got the - HORRORS - Peugeot. Barnabus is probably still ?ill around somewhere, to this day, taking kids to school and making trips to the recycle - with that goofy ECOLOGY NOW sticker on he back of his passenger seat. I'm not sure I'd bet on the longevity of that Peugeot.

Through all of this, Vernon sat. He smiled indulgently on each newcomers, knowing full well that his place in our family was assured. The VW's came and went, but Vernon stayed. In 1973, I met Rob. Little did I know that he was the man I was going to marry, but I sure did like him a lot. He had a VW! His was a 1969 sedan, pale blue, and we'd cruise to the beach with his black lab, Cindy, in the back seat giving directions. We drove that Bug everywhere. I was in the market for a car - having only Vernon and then having to share him with my younger brother meant I needed my own wheels - and I was thinking of a Bug. Driving Rob's gave me the push I needed. He was named Humphrey, for Humphrey Motors in Hayward where Rob had bought him. With his light blue hunchbacked appearance, this name ? suited him. He was a rough and tumble kinda guy, and had been through some pretty hard times. He had what can only be called chain-saw bodywork on his nose, and the result was huge globs of unfinished bondo that made him look like he had acne. In the wet wintry months, black mold grew on the bondo, making him look even worse. He didn't get the tender, loving care he deserved, but he didn't seem to care and we became the best of friends. I cried when we sold him. He was the reason I bought my own '69 Bug, and he was also the reason my Bug was named Bogart. After Rob and I got married, Hump stayed with us for another 9 years, going on to bigger and better things with a new owner when Rob bought his new Ford Ranger pickup. But before he did, we threw caution to the wind and drove him to Nebraska, on a family caravan, to see my grandmother. On that 1600 mile trip to her house, I think Hump probably quit running on an average of about once every 128 miles. We'd be humming along, and he'd just QUIT. This can be quite disconcerting, when you are a million miles from nowhere, with a storm brewing and no obvious reason for this behavior. I remember one very picturesque view from he side of Interstate 80, about 45 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming. I rode into Laramie with my brother to get a new fuel pump (hopefully that was to solve the problem, whatever it was). Rob waited on the side of the road, taking pictures of the coming storm and wondering if you could really sell a car without actually having the pink slip with you. This is one image of Humphrey I will keep with me for all eternity. Poor guy, he'd gotten a bad batch of gas and everything in his fuel system was clogged up. We'd clean him out, only to have him quit later on down the road. The morning after we changed the fuel pump we woke up to SNOW. In May. Humphrey wasn't wild about this either, and refused to start, even with the new pump. We had to drag him around the block with my bother's Chevy truck to coax him into going. All this commotion made us VERY popular with my family, who only wanted us to get to Grandma's so they could see us trade this thing in on something that would get us all home without further incident.

Humphrey was with Rob and I for 9 years after we got married. When Rob bought the Ranger, Hump went on to another owner, destined for bigger and better things. He was restored after we sold him, so he eventually got his reward. I've seen him three times here in San Jose since we sold him in 1986 (not something I expected since there's over 750,000 people living here) and I get a lump in my throat every time I do. Good 'ole Humphrey.

I've had Vernon with me now for over 23 years, Bogart for over 15 years. The newest member of the family would be, of course, Oscar, my 1958 Bug convertible. I'm sure we'll make memories of our own, given the time the others had. After only 9 months of having him around, I'm finding myself VERY glad I adopted him. VW's are small after all, and don't take up much space. And the best part of all is that they aren't just CARS, they're VOLKSWAGENS!


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