Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.
Or, at least, where I grew older. The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.
I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles. My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias. He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.
But they still sold like hotcakes.
Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans. There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold. Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip. It is postmarked June 19, 1962:
My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk. In the summer of 1962, maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took. We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus. My brother and I each had our own row. Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.
After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia. It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300. Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it. The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine. It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.
Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine. The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear. Maximum speed was around 80 mph. To fill the gas tank required raising the hood. In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for under three bucks. Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this? A Studebaker?”
I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia. It got 30 mpg and had AM radio. It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned. On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas. I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck. What more could an 18-year old ask?
I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968. VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974. They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s. Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017. And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.
In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia. I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.
Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker. The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.
Maybe they’ll be back. There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s. Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro. When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”
As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart: “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”