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October 6, 1998

Continuing along the theme of "Some Cars That I Have Known" leads ultimately to a personal favorite -- the little red Volkswagen Beetle that served me so faithfully and well for 17 memorable years. It was never intended to be anything but a work car, a means of getting from home to the Ditch Witch office each day, and it filled that need admirably. I drove it for 17 years before selling it to a friend in 1989, and for all I know it is still providing transportation for someone yet today.

It was pure VW, manufactured before Americans began demanding luxuries such as automatic transmissions, air-conditioning, revved-up engines, power assists and other amenities that in the end defeated the purpose of the Bug: inexpensive transportation for the masses. The German car-makers, anxious to satisfy their American customers, began hanging so much stuff on the Beetles, even adding a Super-Beetle model, that in the long run VW purists lost interest, and so did the mechanics who worked on them. And of course when the U.S. imposed strict pollution emission ground rules, plus safety requirements, the fabled Bug could no longer be imported to this country. The newly introduced and re-engineered version meets all those standards, but it is no longer in the price range originally intended.

My VW had been rebuilt after a front-end crash before I bought it. A shade tree mechanic did the work but that is not to imply that it was shoddy in any respect. He used genuine parts and his own knowledge to put it in first class shape. The only thing missing after his restoration was the round VW medallion on the front hood, but those things were constantly being swiped anyway by souvenir hunting vandals.

My Bug survived a fire in the rear-mounted engine. That happened one morning on the way to work just a few blocks from home. The fire department sent a big pumper truck to douse the flames and it took quite a bit of work to get the little rascal back in shape. The engine had to be replaced, of course, and the rear window was shattered by the heat. Fire ruined the paint on most of the rear end, but new parts were available for everything but the engine, and the body shop found a good used one so that was not an insurmountable problem. When it came out of the shop, it was almost as good as new and it certainly did shine, what with a complete new paint job, new chrome trim and sports stripes.

A magazine recently did a piece about some of the most over-rated and most under-rated products of the recent past. It categorized the VW Beetle as vastly over-rated, describing it as unsafe because the fuel tank was virtually in the driver's lap and there was little protection in a front-end crash. I already knew that and that's why mine was only used for short trips here in town. Thanks to some expert tender loving care from David Payne on weekends in his home garage, it just kept on running like the pink bunny in the battery ads. My needs outgrew it, but I wouldn't mind having another just like it someday.