When you’re as tall as I am, you get a lot of this:
“Wow. You’re really tall.”
“Geesh, how tall ARE you?”
“Did you play basketball?”
The question I’m asked about as often though, is this one:
“What’s the deal with you and Volkswagen?”
Here come some answers, and photos!
1) I know. I used to say “Thanks!” but that didn’t really make sense. I just happened this way, I didn’t do anything to get this tall.
2) 6’8″, sometimes a little more sometimes a little less depending on how long I slept the night before (true story)
3) Only in 7th and 8th grades. I was 6’4″ in 7th grade and should’ve dominated, but I didn’t necessarily have a high sports IQ, as they say. Nor did I have the right amount of self control to deal with having my arms slapped constantly, and after setting a Hoytville record for technical fouls assessed and parents offended, I retired.
4) It goes back to the late 1980s when my older brother was about 14. We were on a family vacation and he saw a customized VW bug. Black, lowered, with polished Centerline wheels, and that was it for him. Can you imagine the joy in the hearts of my parents when their oldest son decided he did not want a 300 horsepower Camaro like the rest of his friends, but a clattering old Beetle that had 40 horsepower when it was brand new?! That’s what started the whole thing.
In March of 1990, I went with my dad and brother to LaRiche Toyota and sat by as they made a deal for a 1977 VW Beetle that was on the used car side of the dealership. This was the same car (in Bahama Blue with a sunroof) that sat in the turnaround at a house on Tiffin Avenue next what was then Rax. Remember Rax?!
That 1977 Beetle was driven home from the dealership, put in the garage, and has never seen the road again. Interesting parallel in the lives of my brother and I: the same thing happened with my first car. We both had this idea that we’d buy a car at 14, spend 2 years restoring it, and be ready when we were 16. More on that to come.
That car led to the “oh man I need a car and my Bug’s not done yet” moment, which brought to the driveway a ’69 Beetle that my dad and brother restored. I documented it on VHS like the kid on “The Goldbergs.” Tape exists somewhere!
Through the ensuing years, my dad, my brother, and I went a little bananas. These were the glory days when you could find an old Bug in someone’s barn, pay $75 for it, dump some gas in the carb, change the battery, and drive it home… horrifyingly.
Over the years, it’s been everything from Beetles to Karmann Ghias, Rabbits, Golfs, Jettas, a Thing, several Type 3 Squarebacks and Fastbacks, Busses, Vanagons, Sciroccos, and a few I’m probably forgetting. Basically if they sold them in the US, we had one at some point.
My first one, was a 1969. I guess it still is, I still have it. I brought it home from Fostoria in 1994, and WORE OUT my Van Halen II tape stripping it down. I love this car, but I’ve never driven it.
Here’s the day I got it home:
That photo looks like it was from 1971, ha!
This is my dad, nearly being fully consumed by it while wielding a welder in an effort to work some magic:
Here’s the same car last summer:
Yeah, that’s right. My wife and I picked it up, plopped it on a sheet of plywood, and drug it out to my barn with the lawnmower. If anyone ever questions whether I’m “Country,” I’ll refer them to this pic. There’s a Jeff Foxworthy joke in there somewhere.
Someday, I’ll get it done. But hear me now, friends: full-on body off restorations are not for the faint of heart. This is now a 25 year project. Yikes.
Oh, there have been others in the meantime:
From left to right: The red one is a 1976 Beetle that I drove through most of my high school life. The tan one in the middle was a 1970 that my friend Bugsy’s mom just GAVE ME because it got in the way in their barn, and the one on the right is my dad’s 1978 convertible that he bought from Jerry Linhart, the owner of Woodland Restaurant. The pic at the bottom is Doug Jenkins’ Hyundai Scoup, inexplicably in this photo because I created this mashup once and now this program won’t let me edit the pic. You tell me though, who had the cooler car in high school? It’s no contest.
But, I didn’t ALWAYS have that bug. One day, out of the blue, my mom told me I couldn’t drive it anymore. She was terrified that it wasn’t safe (it wasn’t… the seats weren’t even bolted down) and that if I ever had a wreck in it, I’d stand zero chance of surviving (absolutely correct) and so I had to get something safer.
You may have heard me tell the story about how the only time I ever had a non-German car as my primary ride, it tried to kill me. It’s a funny story to tell now, but the truth is that it saved my life. On my 18th birthday, at 7pm, I took delivery of a very sweet (at that time) Chevy Cavalier Z-24. By 10pm that night, it looked like this:
That was pretty much the end of non-VW driving for me. Right after that, I scored a pretty cool car that I liked so much I took my senior photos with it.
It was a Porsche 924, and anyone who knows anything about cars will tell you, it’s more Volkswagen than Porsche. In fact, it was developed by VW, for VW, and when they scrapped plans to build it, Porsche took it over. It had an engine from a VW Van in it. It was not fast. But I sure dug it!
Many, many more have followed. My 1999 New Beetle got me through college, the 2003 New Beetle Turbo S made my first few years post-grad a LOT of fun, then I got a call from my dad about an old bug for sale in front of the bowling alley on Trenton Avenue.
I checked it out, made a deal with man I’d later learn was Joshua Melton’s dad, and drove my Java Green 1968 Beetle home. This was my daily driver, year round, for a looooong time. I put a roof rack on it and started bringing my Christmas trees home from Kaleidoscope Farms out of necessity. I didn’t have a truck, but I had a Bug
I did this for many, many years, and it was always fun at the farm. The Reese boys even put me in one of their newsletters. On-site at the farm was always great.
A few miles down the road however, notsomuch:
Two years ago, I heavy heartily sold it to a 17-year old kid from Hicksville who reminded me a lot of me. He had a ’64 Beetle that he was trying to restore and wasn’t making much headway on it, so he needed something to drive. I loved that car, and I miss it. I did keep the steering wheel though, and mounted it in my Vanagon.
Speaking of which:
Everyone who buys a Vanagon Camper (I scored mine in Van Buren from the family of someone my dad used to work with at Kuss) always immediately does the bit where they open everything up. I even put an awning on it. This is the dream!
The reality of 30-year old VW ownership, however is NOT the dream. Just about everyone I know in this hobby does the same thing, in this order, to their Vanagon:
The funny thing, and I’m actually chuckling as I type this, is that I still have the Vanagon, and this trip on the trailer was my last ditch “Someone else can fix it, they’re professionals, it’ll be fine” effort.
I’m pretty sure it flipped me of when I backed it into the barn, which is where I had to put it so didn’t burn it down with fire and rage.
I’m telling you all this so that you know when I say “I’ve just always had Volkswagens,” your BS meter should not be going off. Life has changed, and now it’s a 2017 Jetta for my daily commute, we also have a 2015 Golf Sportwagen that’s great for kids and dogs, and I’m desperately hoping that VW brings a minivan to market sometime in the next couple years because with a son of 6 and a daughter of 3, we’re approaching that curve pretty soon. No matter what ends up in my garage, I’ll probably always wish a little bit that it was still something air-cooled and fun like back in 2006 when my daily decisions about what to drive to work looked like this!
That’s a completely original, Sea Blue 1964 Beetle with 28,000 original miles next to a 1971 Karmann Ghia that I simply didn’t fit in but still drove because HOW COOL IS THAT, flanked by my beloved 1968 Beetle. That was a good Summer!
There have been more, 28 to be exact, many more than I can type about here, but each with a story. I do really believe that life is too short to drive a boring car, and I’m sure someone has a copyright on that phrase so I apologize for using it, but it’s true! Has anyone ever waxed sentimental about a 1984 Buick Regal? Unless it was a t-type, the answer is no. But that 1984 Rabbit GTI? Stories for DAYS!
That’s my fun bit of info about my life around Volkswagens, and there’s more to it… my parents and I actually visited the factory in Wolfsburg, Germany once when I was about 15. I got a vanity plate for my 1997 Jetta that I planned to convert to run on vegetable oil, but never got around to, so I had to explain why the plate said Vegetta for no reason. The truth is, it’s been mostly fun, and I’m sure there’s still more ahead. If you know of an old VW, languishing away in a barn somewhere, let me know. I’m always down for a little Bug Hunting, even for a really appalling Super Beetle from 1973.