My father was a master at restoring cars. He could overhaul an engine and then rework and reupholster the interior. A craftsman and artist, he was happiest when he was tinkering with cars.
He bought a Volkswagen Beetle, painted it burnt orange and redid the seats in a snazzy colorful vinyl of yellow, orange and pink flowers. It looked as if it could be in a movie, driving into a colorful sunset while the music swells. Maybe some kind of happy, hippie song.
That car had personality and I loved it. I can still see it in my mind’s eye, vividly, today.
Much to my dismay, I read that the beloved Beetle is retiring. It has been around for 80 years and the last of them rolled off the assembly line on Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
I don’t know about you, but to me, it signals an end of something besides a car. If a Beetle was a person, it would be a happy-go-lucky one -- seeing the good in everyone -- and always carrying around a flower of some sort. This is how my mind works, but really, that is the person a Beetle would be.
The factory that manufactured the last Beetles will now produce compact SUVs. I wonder if the SUVs will have vases in which to put a flower.
History of the Bug and famous ones
The production of the VW Beetle began in Germany in the 1930s. It was referred to as the “people’s car” and designed by Ferdinand Porsche, who also founded the Porsche car company.
The original VW “people’s car” had some similar design elements of an early Porsche, but production stopped because of World War II. The New York Times called the car, the “Beetle,” and it stuck.
Through some research, I discovered that a decade before they were produced, a Hungarian student came up with the chassis design for the car. Her name was Bela Barenyi.
After the war, the British took over and the late 1940s introduced 10,000 of them. By the late 50s, a million were in the hearts, hands and minds of drivers. By the 60s, they were everywhere, worldwide. Everyone loved the “Bug.” Some countries even used them as police cars.
Can you imagine? An officer pulls you over driving a bright red Beetle, gives you a ticket with a smiley face on it, hands you a daisy and says, “Have a nice day.”
Part of its popularity stemmed from the savvy marketing of a NY-based company that came up with the tagline, “Think small.” A tiny photo of the Beetle in the distance against a big white background was depicted on the ad. Underneath, its virtues were listed, including “nobody ever stares at our shape,” and “never needing anti-freeze.” It ends with “Think it over.” The ad is known as the best advertising campaign in the 20th century by AdAge Advertising.
The sweet little Bug became so much more. It began to represent a wholesome, free-spirited goodness. In 1968 a Disney movie was released. The star of the show was Herbie, the Love Bug, a race car with a mind of its own. After that, the car's popularity was even more solidified and Herbie took up residence on the silver screen five more times. Last year, a car from one of those Disney’s movies sold at an auction for over $128,000.
There were more than a few puttering around at the Woodstock music festival, and the early 70s introduced the Super Beetle. It became the best-selling car in the world.
A 1938 model of an early VW Beetle was on display at Christie’s London headquarters. Someone bought it for $65,000 in 1996.
Bring in the new
In 1998, VW revamped the body style and it was the first time it did so in over 60 years. This is the one that included the flower vase and I wanted one badly. This model had a 115-hp 2.0 liter engine. With its movie-star pedigree, the new Bug appeared in the Austin Powers movie, “The Spy Who Shagged Me.” It must have been Herbie, the Love Bug’s relative because it was referred to as “The Shag Mobile.”
The Beetle was obviously all about love – a cultural icon that made millions happy to look at it or drive it. The original Beetle was the longest production car in history.
Unfortunately, the love has faded. Its sales began to decline in 2013. All good things must come to an end and that’s what has happened. There will be two last models, the Final Edition with a base price in the mid $20,000s and the Final Edition SEL, which starts at about $30,000. It has a 2.0 liter engine with 174 hp.
Still, I think the VW Beetle will live on in its whimsical and adorable spirit, and it will not go gentle into that good night.
Be safe out there.