It was royal blue with a white leather interior, my 1967 VW beetle. I paid a king’s ransom for it in 1986 (almost a classic!) and loved it unconditionally. The iconic ping of its engine never failed to raise the ear of our blonde lab. Both my sister and I drove a bug, and that dog always knew when we were in the ‘hood. Even the neighbors turned an admiring gaze on that car. Like the lady who came running out of her house screaming “fire!” when flames licked out from underneath. Who knew that parking on the slopy driveway could be so combustible? Lesson learned.
Doesn’t everyone keep the fires burning for that cherished first car? Never mind the pockmarked rust surrounding the headlights. They never did fall out, defying my father’s bold predictions. And that face full of snow and slush? No, it didn’t come in through the window – that wake-up call was courtesy of some deteriorated slits (read: huge holes) in the floor. Fred Flintstone would have felt right at home in my bug.
Jaunts to the Jersey shore, out to Long Island, and zipping through Manhattan’s grid-locked corridors were standard fare. No parking space was too small, no checker cab too intimidating! Four little gears and a sturdy clutch were all I needed to get me where I wanted to go.
Guys dug that bug. “Hey, that’s a ’67, isn’t it?” “Mind if I have a look inside?” “How many miles?” “Would you, um, show me your engine?” Ok, so maybe these smitten nerdy gearheads weren’t exactly the guys I’d pursue further than car talk or asking directions, but it was a heady time nonetheless.
Of course, who better to work on my VW but a little old German mechanic? Al & Pete’s service station was within walking distance to my house, thank God. And Al loved that car possibly as much as I did; certainly more than my father did. Al kept that engine humming and pinging. He turned the heat on for the winter, and back off in the spring. He assured me the thick blue smoke filling the car was just fine – “be sure to keep the windows open when you start her up.” He patched the holes in the floor, tightened the drooping visor, and miraculously kept me passing inspection.
Sadly, I sold my bug when I moved out West, and bought a beige(!) Toyota Celica – nice enough, but clearly lacking in character. I must admit I felt pretty spoiled with a working defrost, not that the palms of my hands weren’t up to the task in my VW bug! I’ve driven and loved lots of cars over the years, but none will ever replace my first, beloved VW bug and its old-car smell.