VW Beetle, aka, The Bug ©

VW owned by Shinazy


It’s December 1969. I’m writing a check for $1,700, making me the proud owner of a Tan Volkswagen Beetle, equipped with a powerful 54 hp engine and an Automatic Stick Shift transmission. Yes, VW made automatics, actually semi-automatics, I still shifted through the gears, but no choreographing my feet, as there was no clutch pedal – Hallelujah. However, this improvement decreased the power, but it was easier to operate. And operate it I did, for the next thirty-eight years.

My VW reflected my personality, became my middle child, and a character in my history.  My daughter is a few years older than my VW and twelve years older than her brother, so most of my adult history involved undertakings with my three children.

One of my daughter’s birthdays, I hauled eleven pre-teen girls and my friend, Jean, to play miniature golf.  As I stood in the driveway staring at the Bug, then at the mob of girls, then the car . . . How was I going to get all these bodies into such a tiny space?  Could I use dad’s college-students-crammed-into-a-phone-booth technique to continue the birthday celebration?  What about everyone’s comfort and survival?  Like logs in a cord of wood I stacked the girls, they thought this was the best thing we did all day.

Creating childhood memories was as much fun for me as it was for my children.  Being mom gave me another chance to play, be silly, experience life.  I also wanted to create holiday traditions.  Every Christmas there was the excursion to the tree farm. Folks in the parking lot with their trucks and station wagons would stare as I lashed a tree, longer and wider than my Beetle, onto the roof and proceeded to secured it with lines and knots that would hold the Titanic to any dock.

The Bug was more than my tree toting truck. One Labor Day, returning from Volcano, CA, roasting in stop-n-go traffic, my son and I decided a water fight would be a welcomed activity.  While sitting inside the car – a plastic interior has its advantages – we splashed each other until we looked like it had rained.  There we sat, all wet and smiling and cool.  We stopped at every gas station to refill our bottles … and the battle continued.

Although there were many joyous experiences, the lack of power was always an issue.  When my son finally weighed 100 pounds I stopped parking the VW in the up hill direction. It’s hilly here so this parking technique was …if not impossible, at least, impractical. Whenever it was the two of us in the VW, I would have him walk to the corner and wait for me; I’d eventually get there, and then, there was the incident when his grandmother was a passenger and he had to give the VW a push to get the bug moving.

During the entire thirty-eight-Bug-driving years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where freeway on-ramps were driveway entrances to bumper-car traffic.  And, around here anywhere I went I encountered undulating streets. All this resulted in me driving in the slow lane watching cars flash by at the posted speed limit, while I visualize my car passing the slower car ahead.

Every few years, when I just could not take it any more, I’d decide to “buy a fast car.”  After a few months the urge would pass and I’d continued to be passed, but it all stopped in 2007. Oh, did it ever … zoom, zoom.

My sister wanted me to end this story with these words: “And my sister was soooo thrilled when she no longer had to ride with me in this classic car?”

Little does she know it was her visit that started the twenty-five year plan to go from zip to zoom. But that’s another story.

photo by shinazy

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18 Responses to VW Beetle, aka, The Bug ©

  1. My sister wanted me to end this story with these words: “And my sister was soooo thrilled when she no longer had to ride with me in this classic car?”

    Little does she know that it was her visit that started the 25 year plan to go from zip to zoom. But that’s another story.


  2. When you have a bug, everyone stops to tell you their “first car” story. I bought my first car, a used 68 Beetle, in 1977 when I had my first job. I drove it through many Minnesota winters (the weight of the engine over the rear wheels gave it good traction) until the heater channels rusted out. I just couldn’t get rid of it, so it sat in my garage for several years. I finally had it restored, and I still drive it in the summertime. I love going down the road and watching kids slug each other as I roll past.

    • Your winter driving story made me recall how I dealt with the winter winds coming off the ocean. So fierce they would blow my VW into the next lane. My Uncle George, the family car guy, told me to put sand bags in the truck. Voila, no more driving like I just left the corner bar. Thanks for jogging this memory. ~ shinazy

  3. Your story brought back great memories. When I was in high school, my older sister lived in San Francisco and drove a blue beetle (manual transmission). When I visited, it never ceased to amaze me how she would get the car moving going up one of the hills. She would pull the parking brake on, then add gas, let out the clutch, and finally release the parking break all in rapid succession. It was pure artistry. Of course, she later moved on to a “beamer.”

    • I am so happy for that auto-stick. However, I bet she did something similar to what many did in the VW … wait at the bottom of a hill and proceed only if your VW could be first at the stop signal – no stopping in the middle of a hill. ~ shinazy

  4. I also bought my first VW bug, navy blue, stick shift, in ’69. I remember filling up and driving from central Pennsylvania to Toledo, Ohio, about 400 miles, for $3.00!

  5. Oh look, we all have bug stories. My ’67 green VW manual was a blast. Unlike Shinazy, because of the gears I could, with planning ahead, roar up a hill with the best of them. I remember my oldest and I going to and fro Tahoe with my transister radio proped on the passangers seat handle bar, blasting Beatle toons and singing as loud as can be.
    To this day when a VW bug or bus goes by I take an admiring look. Oh ya, my daughter and her family own a ’68 red and white camper bus. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

    • Oh, the memories of driving to Tahoe in the summer … Vapor Lock, urggg., and I never knew exactly when it would happen, which made the trip an adventure. ~ shinazy

  6. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Not to be left behind all the VW Bug stories above, I NEVER owned one and was thrilled when shinazy (my sister, whose name I stole at birth) sold that Bug and bought her fast car… I’m rather vain and look much better in her new car. LOL

    • Ok, I’m going to tell the story of you & me driving to the City and passing a Big Polished New BMW and you sliding down the seat so the driver could not see you … and you had no idea who he was. You exclaimed, “If I never met him ….” Remember?

      hugs, sister

  7. My first car was a blue ’68 Bug. My dad brought it home in 1976 and told me “you owe me $900”. He was not into collaborative decision-making. I barely knew how to shift and avoided hills and stops as much as possible in the beginning. I had that car for about ten years. It caught on fire TWICE. The fuel line to the carbuerator would rattle loose and poor gas on the engine. Poof! It had a big black spot on the engine compartment so she became known as SPOT. In Mexico she broke down one night on the free road between Tiajuana and Esenada. We hitchhiked into town and came back the next day to find her stripped down to the axles. They even stole my 8-track player. Luckily my friend’s mom had a Bug. We ran home, took her tires and wheels off, ran back, put them on mine and towed her home. Put his mom’s tires back on her car and she probably never knew. Eventually I sold Spot to a VW guy who made her into a Baja Bug. Wonder when she is now?

    • Yep, the fuel line connection was notorious. I only had two mechanics in the 38 years. Hans, my first, replaced that problem piece with a clamp he designed – none of his babies were going to be fire bugs.
      Your Mexico story made me smile, how clever, and what a grand memory.
      ~ shinazy

  8. Richeyrich Strassel

    I’m guessing just about everyone who was a teener in the 60’s and 70’s has a VW story, many of them love/hate.
    When I was 16 I played a practical joke on a friend and rolled his bug (exactly like Malatis’) around the corner and parked facing down a hill. What I didn’t know was that the parking brake wasn’t actually working. The bug later slipped loose and smashed into a giant Chrysler. I spent the rest of the summer painting houses to reimburse my friend. Ouch.
    I have section in my store of VW replicas, vans and bugs, which jogs the memory of many customers, and they share their stories, and I would have to say in the collective VW consciousness, there is more Love *{*

    • Thank you for telling your VW story. You are so correct, we all seem to have one in our history.
      Your comment gave me idea … so thanks for the creative ping. I’m going to take all the VW comments and publish a Collective of these snippets. And, if ok with you I’d like to include yours. OK?
      ~ shinazy

  9. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    BOBB Shinazy – My sister, whose name I stole at birth… Please publish anything you like, as long as you make it VERY CLEAR that the Shinazy in the story is NOT ME!!!! Please cater to your sister’s vanity…

    Oh man… I just remembered, when my youngest was a toddler, we DID have a VW Van! I remember because one day, we were outside washing the van and suddenly, his dad couldn’t find the van keys…. Little First Born Toddler had carefully put them under the front fender….We found them hours late, just by fluke of luck.

    OH NO!!! I am one of you VW people… There goes my reputation LOL– mms

  10. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Sorry everyone for suppressing the memory of my own VW…. Riding in my sister’s Bug (the car featured in this story) was so traumatic after 1990, I must have suppressed memories of my own VW experiences.

    Now that my nerves have calmed down and I’ve adjusted to being one of the VW people, I can say, we did enjoy camping in it, a lot.

    It was on a van camping trip, when I was 3 months pregnant with my first born, where I had a dream. In the dream, he showed himself to me — at age 4. That’s when I knew the baby inside was not only a son, but a son with black hair, that would be long and look like a child of Guinevere and Lancelot.

    After our baby boy was born, we kept the van for several years, then traded it in for a Datson B210, which we thought would be safer for the family. Bad trade. It got broadsided and my precious son suffered a serious avulsion on his forehead, requiring several surgeries… Should have kept the Van. — mms

    (Malati Marlene Shinazy = sister of BOBB’s publisher writer, who stole her name at birth) LOL

  11. Loved the VW stories… I owned one in the 60’s 70’s; learned to drive on a VW Stick in SF. I had great fun becoming an expert at double clutching and parking on hills. Quite a challenge in the beautiful City by the Bay. Thanks for the great story and memories. Carol