It is said that the most significant large purchase anyone is likely to make in their lifetime is either going to be a house or a car, or both.
And I would add to that and suggest that one of the saddest feelings is selling a much-loved classic car. I have owned my classic Beetle for about 17 years and while I have been lucky enough to have been given the chance to drive some of the best and most exciting vehicles over that period including the GT-R and 370Z, it is – unusually – the only car I have ever owned.
I’m not sure what first got me so obsessed with classic VWs and old Porsche vintage cars like the 356, which is still my dream car, but it might well have been related to my lack of an annual holiday each year. Which in turn can be related back to my family not having fireworks each November. Instead I was allowed a to choose a toy from the local village Post Office – I understood the logic of fireworks being gone in a flash, while a toy would last for years. And, as an adult, I also now realise that the amount of fireworks my parents could possibly have afforded would indeed have been gone in a flash.
I took this theory into adulthood, and holidays were the modern equivalent to my childhood fireworks, gone in a flash. I replaced the holiday with a treat for myself each year, a bike, a new guitar…
Then, one spring, my annual treat became focused on gaining a Beetle. With no firm footing in sense or logic (according to my work colleagues at Nissan) I set about finding a Beetle with the help of anyone who had eyes.
It didn’t take long as a friend at work informed me that she regularly drove past a bright orange classic 1972 Beetle on her way to work each day. It wasn’t far away so I went round with a mechanic friend, took a look and made an offer. Before I knew it, I had a shiny new car outside my house.
Since then I can reliably estimate that for the first ten years I probably spent an average of £1,000 a year on the car. Not just keeping it on the road, but modifications and tailoring it to how I wanted it to look.
It became quickly apparent to me that owning a classic Beetle meant that I could tweak and tailor the car’s look to just how I wanted it – not really something that you tend to do with a modern car.
I wasn’t much interested to adhering to specific looks, like Resto Cal or Cal Look, or the German Look or whatever else was popping up in the centre pages of Volksworld magazine. I took ideas from all over the scene to make it ‘mine’.
Those first ten years were the best; learning that if I turned the quarter lights to just the right angle I could scoop air into my face on humid summer days while driving along was great – then even better was the exciting journey down to Beetles UK in Bristol (now Danbury Motorcaravans) to get the ragtop-style sunroof cut in.
Setting out at just after dawn, on a drizzly weekday and traversing roads largely unoccupied. Once I hit the last part of the route I arrived at what looked like Volkswagen heaven, row upon row of brand new Campervans in the car park that the company had imported ready for conversion and sale. This is surely how it must have looked at a VW dealership in the heyday of the Type 1 and Type 2.
Driving back, the drizzle subsided and the sun came out, and I opened the new roof for the first time. It was hard not to look up at the blue sky while I drove, but I resisted.
Then there was the beautiful one-off deck lid created by Paintbox down in Maldon, Essex that not only looked great, but stopped water running through the original deck lid’s air vents and soaking the engine.
The wheel of choice after much research was down to three – Gas Burners, Cookie Cutters or some of the rather flash and wonderful Flat 4 replica Sprintstars. The Sprintstars won out but getting them was not so easy. No-one seemed to stock them over here back then and so I imported them from California, had them delivered to work, where they inadvertently found their way onto the books of the company. Suffice to say, a few months later a few questions were asked by the finance department while sorting out end of year company tax matters…
But it wasn’t all sunshine and plain sailing of course, winter was always a large dark cloud looming on the autumn horizon as carb manifold icing, ice on the inside of the windscreen and a lack of heating prepared to show their hand.
Beetle heating normally works well, despite what people might tell you, the idea of pulling excess heat from the engine and funneling it, via nasty-fume filtering heat exchangers, up each side of the car to be released inside the footwell or under the rear seats is a bit of green recycling way ahead of it’s time. The only reason the heating stops working is because the Beetle in question hasn’t got everything connected properly – or rust.
And it was a combination of rust and redundancy that started to sound the final death knell for my relationship with this veedub. A few years ago I found out that the wonderfully adept welding (and welding is indeed an art) that I had driven to Staines to have done was failing.
But not how you might expect. I had paid out well over a grand to get new heater channels, and a full restoration of the floorpan completed. The work was good and the welder had even signed his name inside the front wheel arch in weld. But crucially, the company hadn’t sealed the insides of the heater channels – and if you are reading this, about to get your heater channels done, I simply cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure the insides are protected from warm moisture cooling into dewdrops that then settle hidden from view. With no sealing inside the channels there will only be one outcome, rust from the inside out.
Heater channels are a structural part of any Beetle which results in a larger restoration cost to the owner. For me, getting this huge undertaking all over again right after losing my job was not an option, but then nor was selling.
Inevitably, a SORN document and storage was the answer, while in the meantime parts and labour went up and VW stopped making Beetles altogether, thus prices for parts increased a fraction more.
So four years on, it’s extremely sad to say that after 17 years the affair is over and the car is to go to a new owner who can afford the time and effort on restoring it back to its former glory. With a last bitter-sweet twist, it is due to now reside in Cornwall, which was always the place I intended to take my old Beetle for Run to the Sun, but never got round to plucking up the courage in case the journey was a distance too far and my holiday ended up ruined by towing costs.
So has the bug gone? Well in one sense of the word, by the end of the week the bug will literally be gone, along with the perfectly sized Fiat Panda velour seats and the new orange 1972 doors that I frustratingly never got to fit. But in another sense, the bug will stay inside me – I remain bitten. While the thought of working on another car in the freezing cold is somewhat less appealing than it might have been 17 years ago (in much the same way that sleeping on a floor after a party is these days), owning a classic veedub, Porsche or campervan still holds a certain excitement. Big boy’s toys indeed.
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