Volkswagens in the mist

The word "Käfer" (German for Beetle) was in my vocabulary before "Auto" (car) was, or so my mom says. So it was natural for me to first drive a VW Bug when the ink on my license was barely dry. Actually, there were only two cars I drove before that Bug, being the driving school's Opel Kadett Diesel, and my dad's Opel Commodore, the latter on a training ground. They were okay, for what they were.

They were no Bugs.

Getting acquainted

So it was equally natural for my first car to be a Bug. It was given to me by my parents, a '70 model year, sunroof, 1300cc 40hp Diamond Blue bug with black plastic, oh pardon me, "imitation leather" interior. With the usual rust below doors and behind fenders. A local bodyshop fixed this, charging as much as the Bug cost: 500 DM. Thus repaired, it managed the biannual mandantory TÜV inspection without major problems.

Happily ignoring the fact that it wouldn't survive more than these years whatever I'd do, because its rain gutters were rusted through from the inside (because the sunroof drain hoses were plugged), I started out to conserve the newly welded-in tin, only to discover it was rusted all over beneath the primer. Given the Bug's condition, that did not matter - however I was furious. Enough so to have the same body shop do it over again, free, with zinc-plated tin.

What a waste.

Then I went about to explore the art to Volkswagen driving. Winter helped me a bit to train coping with oversteer. I managed reasonably well, better than with the Commodore, powerful standard-drive monster that it was. I once turned 180 degrees instead of intended 90 on wet cobblestone in that one... but don't tell my dad.

How not to swap an engine

Soon came the time of the first repair: a clutch job. It took us seven hours to put the Bug on tire-stacks high enough to pull the engine out below the rear apron, and four more to get it down to the ground fiddling with an el cheapo floorjack. The whole operation took a weekend or so. The picture shows the second such weekend, with a pal's Bug. I'm the guy on the right. Later, we learned how to efficiently do this, and managed to cut the time to two and a half hours, taking our time.

Getting around

Woodstock was the preferred means of transport, even over pals' Bugs, because of its sunroof and mileage. Countless trips to the nearby Harz mountains and to Göttingen and Lüneburg, several weekly commutes to where my then girlfriend lived, and of course that aimless cruising that we all seem to have done in the first years with our own cars, all of this amounted to 60,000 kilometres (37k miles) in about two years. The mileage varied between 7 and 12 litres per 100 kilometres (35 and 21 mpg, respectively), usually at the lower end. Maintenance was reduced to changing oil and occasionally repairing the ignition system when mileage or performance dropped. This was the cheapest car to own and run for me, ever.

I vividly remember the trips to the then still existant German Democratic Republic. Somehow it felt like going back in time, about to the 1950s: cobblestones, small cars, tight corners, lots of nature, few modern buildings, and of course the narrow gauge, steam-driven railways in the Harz mountains that were the reason for the trips.

Somehow, the Bug was just the right car for there. With a modern car, you felt like an intruder. With a Bug, people turned their heads, but more with curiosity and mild amusement than with envy. They looked down on us, feeling more upscale in their Ladas and Wartburgs, or at least comparably low down in their Trabants. Which was okay. After all, the Trabants had been harder to get, hadn't they?

We even met a fellow Bug driver in the GDR, in Wernigerode. He had a '57 with a '64 body, painted bright blue. We ended up smuggling Bug parts over the border. The parts just lay openly in the trunk, declared as spares, just in case. No sweat - the GDR custom officers didn't know a '57 Bug front brake drum nut from a '70 one, and how should they? Some even didn't know the trunk from the engine bay. "Would you open the rear lid please?" - "Sure, you want to look at the engine?" - "Er... yes." He looks at it as if he meant to, then says: "Now would you please open the front lid too?" :-)

That '57-to-'64 is a pal's now, sharing the barn with some of my Bugs, and hopefully not being dedicated to the junkyard - he's still figuring it out. I hope he'll leave it in GDR condition, with all the wrong parts they had to add there just to keep it running, as a document of history. Failing that, I hope he'll sell it to me. :-)

Getting personal

I fully intended to restore the Bug, but with the sheer amount of work needed I figured what the hell, might as well sacrifice the single-colouredness for fun. Starting point of this process was when I removed the stickers on the doors claiming this was an official high school yearbook reporter's staff car (or "Abizeitungs-Redaktionswagen"), only to discover the paint liked them better than the doors, and therefore stuck with them. I sanded the doors, primered them, did it over again when they had become rusted after only a few months, but never got around to actually repainting them. I did repaint the front lid, out of a spray-can, and it turned out horribly. I redid it with a brush. That was better.

Hippie Bug... sorta

This was the time of my first (violins please) Real Big Love, and although I shall not explore that any deeper (remember, nothing 'bout me), you'll understand that this changed me quite a lot. This led to the spontaneous decoration of the still primered passenger door with all sorts of All You Need is Love-like inscriptions and images.

The front lid got a painting of a Loriot "Knollenmännchen" head on it, meant mostly to draw attention away from its paint job.

The driver's door was pure flamebait, but unintendedly so. I inscribed it with "Kraft durch Freude" (Strength Through Joy) in huge black letters, and added smaller lines inbetween to result together in the sentence "The good thing about driving a Volkswagen is the STRENGTH obtained THROUGH the JOY derived from driving this wonderful little car." Perfectly innocent, in my humble opinion. Sadly, there seems to be no photographic documentation left of it.

However, allegations about my political orientation went wild, what with me driving a car lettered with "Nazi paroles", as people put it. Okay, Kraft durch Freude was the name of a Nazi organization (under whose name the Bug mass production was prepared), but really - isn't it ridiculous? Me, the long-haired guy who didn't join the army, a Nazi? Might as well have called me a patriot because the word "Volk" was on my car's engine lid (with a "swagen" behind it, okay, but still...). Political Correctness reered its ugly head.

I fought it quite a while, but then, together with my girlfriend, decided to redecorate. The result can be better seen than described (when I get around to looking for the pics, that is). This was when the Bug finally got its name, Woodstock.

My first accident was shortly after this: I slid into a Peugeot 205, bumping its left front wheel with my bumper. The Peugeot suffered 4600 DM worth of damage on its front suspension, chassis, and transmission. Woodstock got away with a slightly bent bumper (not that it had been straight before either), and a minor ding in the right front fender where the bumper had met it. My dealer managed to calcuate needed repairs at some 700-odd DM, which the Peugeot driver's insurance paid even though they'd seen it, and the actual repair took about a minute. In sounds: rattle-rattle-rattle (a spray can being shaken, continue for 40 seconds), krrrrrrk (the bumper being pulled back a bit, the sound originating from the rusted bumper mounts), pfffft ... pfft. Money for nothing. :-)

Getting realistic

Now what shall we do about those rain gutters, I thought with increasing frequency. The Bug ran fantastically, got great mileage and was dead reliable, plus I liked its decor quite a lot, so naturally I intended to keep it forever.

A shame to part out - nearly perfect Super Beetle

A pal of mine parted out a 1302 Super Beetle then (a shame, really - less rust than mine, 40k original miles, great light grey fabric interior, 50 hp engine, and he scrapped it :-(, sins of a dim past), out of which we honestly tried to salvage the rain gutters!

Normal Bugs have three sheets of tin coming together at the rain gutter: roof, outer and inner side. Sunroof Bugs have four, the additional one being the inner roof (the sunroof itself slides inbetween the two roof sheets). It took us a day to cut one rain gutter out of the Super Beetle. No further comment is needed. Luckily, we decided not to try to weld it into Woodstock.

So the aim was to manage the TÜV inspection once again. I can't clearly recall everything that was repaired, but I do remember new tires, brake shoes, and shock absorbers. It might have made it, or so I believe.

On October 24, 1990, my girlfriend got carried out of a curve, denting both fenders on the passenger side in the process. I decided to act good-naturedly about this, even though I was thorougly pissed off. The things you do for love.

I needn't have worried. The dents rapidly ceased to be a problem.

Getting separated

Only a day later, Woodstock became history. I don't recall what bit me, but I approached a curve on a country road from Offen to Sülze at way above 100 km/h (60 mph) which was designed for, but not limited to, no more than 70 km/h (45 mph). The best idea probably would've been not to try to make it, but to go straight into the field. I tried, of course, and even managed to get hold of the oversteer, but then I could not turn the wheel back fast enough, oversteered into the other direction, and went into the field passenger side first, rolling twice nose over end and several times sideways, thinking "oh my, this restoration will be costlier than I thought". Strange, isn't it?

Bugs have little room inside - especially after rolling

After Woodstock stopped moving, lying on its passenger side, engine dead, glass gone, sunroof gone, and somewhat crampier inside than seconds before, I remembered that we were lucky to be alive, the girl and me. We left the Bug via the sunroof, and were brought to hospital with lots of cuts and bruises, but with the most severe injury being my girlfriend's broken foot.

We got engaged in hospital. Talk about how trouble deepens love.

As an aside, the police officer who was at the scene of the accident (which by the way was littered with the stuff one constantly keeps forgetting to clear out of the car) told me we were lucky not to have driven a Golf or such. "Why is that?", I said. He replied, "They usually stay on the road a bit longer and land in the trees over there."

Two days after the accident, I went to see Woodstock's remains at the junkyard. Only then did I realize how narrow our escape was. Several inches lower, wider, and shorter, it didn't really look like a Bug. It wasn't even an automobile anymore, engine case cracked and all. It technically wasn't even a mobile anymore, with the remains of the right front wheel inches from the ground.

Dead as a dodo

The passenger door, however, opened and closed like new. Better than ever. Little use in it, with the upper window frame twisted as it was, and the whole door bent outside. The whole Bug looked like having been through an oversized concrete mixer. The spare wheel was flat, and still couldn't be removed from its tray.

The right headlight still was on, as if saying "hey, I'm not dead yet". It was, though.

I'd come to salvage what was left. It amounted to one hubcap, the windscreen and one side window (having fallen out in the first impact, presumably), the speedo, steering wheel, radio, glovebox lid, loudspeaker grilles, distributor, carburettor, and coil, plus the odd switch, fuse and relay. I also took the absurdly twisted decklid inscription as a reminder. All else was dead as a dodo.

Sixties Bug, Seventies Colour :-(

I bought my next Bug, a '66 named Miele, half a year later. My girlfriend never was happy with riding in a Bug after. We seperated in 1994, and I believe partly because of the memories and the guilt from that one and (yet, knock on wood) only severe accident I ever was involved in. I still have Miele though. And Woodstock's hubcap. Priorities? :-/

You live and learn. At any rate, you live.

Comments, flames, suggestions? Let me have it at ermel@gmx.de!
Last edited: May 19, 2000

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