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1959, 1995, 2015?

So, in 1993, I was a the wee slip of a girl you see above, clambering joyously aboard a car-hauler to inspect her Very Own Car. Most teenagers dream of their first set of wheels, and have quite specific ideas about what their dream car is. Most never do get their hands on their dream car. I, however, was a very, very lucky girl. Lucky in that I dreamed on an accessible scale, and that my Dad was running a VW repair shop at the time and tended to have his ear to the ground as regarded any vintage German steel on the market. I’d hoped someday to own a vintage VW (pre-’67, in those days). We got the glorious beast you see above (and below) for $500 from a neighbor who’d originally bought it thinking it would be a father-and-son project for his boy. His kid, however, was not even slightly inclined, and so the car languished in a barn for a few years before our neighbor gave up and sold it in disgust. He knew that it was going to an appreciative party. This car, a 1959 Type I, was everything I’d ever hoped for and more…it was even green(ish). My favorite color!

I was trying to imitate some of the pinup girl poses in Hot VWs.

Please forgive me: I was trying to imitate some of the pinup girl poses in Hot VWs. I was 18, and obvs. v. v. proud of my car and my horrible hand-made halter-top thingy.

The first year that I owned it, it was largely un-driveable. The original 36-horsepower engine was using oil and had a LOT of endplay in the flywheel, and rather than risking spinning the main bearings we left the car parked while a fresh, new 1600cc single-port went up on the engine stand. Part of the whole deal of my having this car was that I had to have sweat-equity in on it. I considered it a privilege, an honor, and a treat to get my hands dirty. I’d been earning my pocket money for some years by helping out in the garage. When I was just a little rat, Dad would have me sorting bolts, wire-brushing crud off the halves of engine cases, or doing other low-stress chores. When I was big and strong enough to manage the bulky air impact wrench, I got to un-bolt connecting rods from crankshafts. I LOVED doing that chore. There’s something innately pleasing to me in the sound of the airgun. That ba-ba-ba-ba-brrrrrrrrrr. Loves it! I moved on from knocking off connecting rods to actually stripping old engines for core.

That was always an adventure. Sometimes you’d be able to postmortem the engine failure, where a head stud had backed out of the engine case or a valve had floated and shattered on the piston. Most of the time, though, it was just boring old quotidian wear. Worn out rings, scored cylinders, slow, miserable engine decline. Bleh.

Once, though, I was tearing down an old Type III engine from the junkyard, and in its time out to pasture, a mouse had crawled down the carburetor, through an intake manifold, found an open valve, made a nest in one of the cylinders, and then died. When I started on that engine, I thought, “man, something smells kind of weird.” The smells just kept getting worse and worse as I worked my way down the engine. When I finally pulled the offending cylinder head off and found a wad of fluff and a decomposing mouse carcass, I seriously almost barfed. The smell cannot be underemphasized. It was unspeakable.

So, after tearing down plenty of old engines, I got to put one together. Under supervision, of course, but I personally got to assemble an entire Volkswagen engine at age 17. It was kind of a big deal to me.


Another consideration with this car was that it started out with 6-volt electrical system. As a teenager, I figured I would want a stereo at some point. As a parent, my Dad wanted my car to have decent headlights and indicators. So, a large part of the summer of ’94 was spent in the junkyard scavenging up the appropriate wiper motor, turn signal switch, horn, and starter motor. I plunked down for a pricey pair of halogen headlights, which were the big deal in technology at the time, and which met with considerable parental approval. I dorkily spent a blissful summer evening with the headlights on, pointed at the side of the house, aligning the beams with a screwdriver.

Between my Dad and I, we had the thing up and running before the start of my Senior year of highschool. In 1995, the car looked like this:



It had kind of a bald patch on its roof via its former owner, who had tree branches overhanging her garage. Every time she pulled in or out of the garage, the car got a pine-needle sweeping, which eventually played merry hell with the finish.


Most people looked at it and saw nothing but a shabby old Volkswagen in a dodgy shade of green, but to me, it was about as close to perfection as I could ever hope to get. More importantly, it was mine.

Most of the time I drove my car with the respect that it deserved, but like most teenagers, I did show off occasionally. I learned that highschool boys are uniformly unimpressed by girls who do burnouts. Nor do they rise to the bait of a third-gear scratch. Boo to that. I found that effecting a third-gear scratch took a considerable great effort. You really have to hop off of the clutch pedal with a quickness and be quite aggressive with the accelerator. It became, like the successful application of a good cat’s-eye eyeliner, a private triumph.

My favorite trick, though, wasn’t a trick at all. I just liked seeing how smoothly and cleanly I could run up through the gears. There was a stop sign on the way in to town, with the speed-limit (60 mph) posted a ways off, and my daily ritual was to try to hit the speed limit by the time we passed the sign. I could only do that if I hit all of the gear changes just right and didn’t waste a scrap of the lordly 53 horsepower at my disposal. Same thing held for downshifting when slowing for a stop. It gave me a certain satisfaction to downshift at just the right speed for each gear so that you could feel a gentle pull of deceleration, but the engine didn’t get yoinked up to uncomfortably high revs.

I enjoyed driving that car pretty much daily my Senior year of highschool. Then, I went to college, and what with living in town (a town of less than 6,000 at that) I hardly drove at all for the next four years – just once in a while to get out of town to visit my folks. Then, I wa gone for a year abroad studying. When I got back to the US and moved to Kansas City, the ’59 was put back in action for a couple of years, until the humidity and salty winter streets really started to take their toll on the poor old beast.
spring 2003
Finally, in 2003, I decided to spare the sheetmetal, and drove it back up to my folks’ place in northwestern Nebraska, and took posession of a wonderful/horrible 1981 Scirocco. That car was the fount of a lot of fun and a lot of trauma, depending on the day. It had…gremlins. They lived in the fuel injection system, principally and rendered the car deeply unreliable and expensive to care for. Eventually, I sold that car, fecked around with other stopgap measures, and finally, in ’06, said “fuck it” and quit driving altogether. Had I not had a baby, I’d probably still be living in “fuck it” territory. I don’t like to waste fuel, and I don’t like to drive cars that aren’t fun. Joel’s Toyota Tacoma isn’t that much fun. His mom’s Honda Civic is, but I tend to scare her when I drive it, so I’m sort of banned from the Civ.

But, as I say, I need to schlep Mr. Kiddo around town from time to time, and what with my car all disassembled in northwestern Nebraska, awaiting rust repair and a paint job, I was in a quandary. What worked out was the longterm loan of my Mom’s old Superbeetle that she’d quit driving:


The loaner-era end is sort of in sight, however. The last time I talked to my folks on the phone, my Dad was happy to report that the fellow we’d lined up to do the rust repair on the ’59 had finally hauled the old hulk off to get started on it. I’m not sure how long it’ll take him to patch the car back together and lay down a few beautiful and protective layers of paint on it, but I’m guessing that sometime this coming summer I’ll be heading back up to the Panhandle to start re-assembling. It’s going to be one hell of an undertaking.

Back when I parked the car at my folks’ place in ’03, Dad and I started stripping the car down. Pulled all of the interior, removed the bumpers, running boards, and fenders, started un-wiring it. We put in several solid days work and got it to looking like this:

I knew these things existed, but it was doubly depressing to view daylight through the body of my car:

Still, could be worse. Most of the car doesn’t have holes through it. The floorpan is solid. The heater channels, largely so. The aprons are in good shape. The worst of it is the rear quarter panels, where the fender meets the body at the floorpan. There’s a little damage in the right front quarter, too, though left side is clean. There was a lot of sand built up in the right front heater channel and that had retained moisture, hastening the demise of the body panels there. Anyway, that’s all Kevin’s problem now. I’ve saved up the money to pay him to deal with all of that horror.

Someday, in the reasonably-foreseeable-future, this car will look better than it has since sometime in the 1960s, I’d guess. I’m so excited about the prospect of having my car back, and done up the way it ought to be, that I just about can’t think straight. This is the culmination of a dream I’ve had since I was about 14.

There’s still going to be a lot of work to put it all back together. I mean, it’s basically re-building the car in entirety. Wiring harness, interior installation, all of the little chrome strips in the window rubber…just everything. Plus, the ball joints were going to cock when I parked it, the transaxle boots were getting leaky, it was showing general wear and tear in a dozen places. It’ll be a while before it’s actually on the road again. All the same, I’m excited to get my hand back in the game.

The imaginary deadline I have for the car is summer 2015. That’ll be my 20th highschool reunion. It would be pretty sweet to rock up to the old shithole in my freshly-restored first car.

14 Responses to “1959, 1995, 2015?”

  1. Mark says:

    Well, I’m impressed and horrified at the same time. I’m impressed that you have such an interest in the greasy bits of motoring….especially impressive coming from a female of the species. The women I known don’t know how to open the hood of their cars. I’m horrified because it’s obvious that you have the same mental illness I am afflicted with. Spending inordinate amounts of time and money on crusher bait is insane. Actually, the fact that you’re a girl, makes me doubly horrified. The fairer sex really should be above this.

    Where to start? Let me tell you about my experiences with the “tin worm”. When I was 14 I was given a 1964 Ford Falcon. Not my car, but looked a bit like this http://www.barrett-jackson.com/staging/carlist/items/Fullsize/Cars/139189/139189_Front_3-4_Web.jpg The Falcon had never been in an accident, but had lots of rust….shit tons of road salt get spread around the streets in Jersey during winter. I proceeded the same way you are doing with the VW, I stripped it to the body shell and dealt with the rust. Ugh! Never again. I’d rather kiss Ted Cruz on the lips. Today I see old cars with extensive rust or body damage, I walk right past.

    No, Tacomas don’t have very good driving dynamics, but they are indestructible. My friend did the best he could to destroy a Tacoma in the swamp next to the old Giants Stadium and failed to do so.

    Now, I don’t mean to piss in your Corn Flakes®, but I would think long and hard before I’d used a rebuilt old car as a daily driver. If some drunken, texting, obliviot smashes your car, insurance will pay you very little……..the amount of money and sweat-equity you have in it will make no difference. Speaking of accidents…. The VW was an amazing bit of engineering…for the 1930s. Such a car has none of the safety features which are standard on everything being sold today, even the cheap-ass shitboxes. You sure you want to strap a tiny human into such a car and share the road with drunken, texting, obliviots piloting giant pickup/SUVs? If I were in your shoes, I’d rebuild the old VeeDub for shitz and grinz, but I’d get something a bit more modern for everyday.

    Oh, the story about the father who likes cars while his kid doesn’t is very common. My own father, now afflicted with Alzheimers, was a sports fanatic. I didn’t give a shit about sports, and still don’t. I liked mechanical stuff. My father never performed an oil change in his entire life. I guess it skips a generation.

    I am familiar with the VW Scirocco from back in the day when they were new. I have a friend with a couple of older brothers. One of the brothers, Ron, worked in their dad’s paving business and owned a 72 Corvette Stingray. The other brother, Mike, was a cop on the Metro-Dade Police force in Miami. Mike owned a new 82 Scirocco.

    I really wanted to drive that Vette, so I pestered Ron for a year. “Ron, let me try the Vette. Ron, let me try the Vette. Ron….” In a moment of weakness Ron handed me the keys. The car was 10 years old at that point, but it had very low miles and it was a garage queen. I was surprised how badly put together it was was, the handling was sloppy as well. It really was disappointing. It was like getting a shot at the hot chick in home room only to discover she had crabs and a yeast infection.

    Mike regularly made the trip from Florida to Jersey to see his family. It didn’t take too much coaxing to get permission to try the Scirocco. The way that VW drove and handled was a revelation, it was unlike any American car I had driven up to that point. I knew right there that American car companies were living in the past.

    BTW, this is what the current version of the Scirrocco (not available for sale in the US of Murica) looks like http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/VW_Scirocco_III_2.0_TSI_DSG_Collectors_Edition_54_von_100_Oryxwei%C3%9F.JPG/800px-VW_Scirocco_III_2.0_TSI_DSG_Collectors_Edition_54_von_100_Oryxwei%C3%9F.JPG

    When I feel like bit more energetic, I’ll tell you about the VW Beetle/Ford Falcon connection. It’s an interesting story that includes Adolf Hitler.

    Good luck with your project, and the wheels on the red VW look really nice.

  2. Meetzorp says:

    I wasn’t planning on re-destroying the old ’59 once I get it all primped up and pretty.

    The Civic that I’m sort-of banned from is very likely to become the daily-driver sooner rather than later. It’s a long story. It’s also a 26-year-old car with 68k on the clock. It’s a pretty fun little old banger.

    I’ve seen the “new” Scirocco before – on Top Gear. It doesn’t really blow my wig off to be honest. It’s just another gussied-up Golf – about half the Volkswagen range is (the godfuckingawful New Beetle is just a Golf in a Halloween costume, and the Jetta is a Golf in a cheap suit). If I were going to buy a Golf, I’d just buy a Golf. Which wouldn’t be a bad car, but a bit overpriced in its class and they drive like freakin’ tanks. It simply blows my mind that a car that size could feel so cumbersome.

    I’m actually thinking of getting a Honda Fit eventually. It’d be practical, decent mileage, indestructible, and they come standard with a 5-speed. I will not pay actual money for a car with an automatic transmission. Just. No. Hell of a lot easier to get the kid seat in and out. It’s a special slice of misery driving the old VW around with the seats all jammed up because the baby seat is so bulky.

    I really like the new Ford Fiesta actually – one of the few new cars on the market that really turns my head, and all the reviews seem to indicate that it’s pretty nice to drive and all, but thinking on the longterm, Honda’s probably the way to go.

  3. Mark says:

    The Honda is a good choice, but good luck trying to find one with a manual gear box. I think less than 5% of cars sold in the US today come equipped with manual transmissions. A friend recently bought a new Hyundai Accent, and spent weeks trying to locate a car with a manual. With the exception of a few sports cars, like Mustangs or Corvettes, the manual is as dead as the dodo. Hell, even the New Ferraris all come with those clutchless paddle shifter transmissions. The local Honda dealer has 21 Fit models in stock and not a single manual. http://dchparamushonda.com/Paramus-NJ/For-Sale/New/?Make=Honda&Model=Fit&MakeId=14&ModelId=355

  4. Meetzorp says:

    Realistically, the Fit is a few years on down the road. Within the next few months, I’ll probably be taking over my Mother-In-Law’s old Honda Civic. Her health has taken kind of a downturn and she quit driving quite some while back. Before Joseph was born, I’d cycle over to her house, then take her errand running in the Honda. After he was born, there was some amount of complexity which culminated in my borrowing the ’74 Superbeetle from my folks.

    However, further developments have developed to where it looks like I’ll probably be registering and insuring the ’88 Civic in my name, at which juncture, I’ll probably re-return the Super to my Mom to dispose of as she will. It’s been fun to hear a flat four farting away behind me once again, though. I forgot how much I love that engine note.

    The old Civic is not so bad for what it is. Good crap-hauling capacity, and it actually has those tie-down points behind the back seat for front-facing child seats. Also has a five speed manual, and that’s essential as far as I’m concerned. The “interesting” part is that it’s not got power steering. No power steering in a front-engine, front-wheel-drive car is…clunky.

  5. Mark says:

    I like cars, I like history, now I’m going to bore you with the history of the VW Beetle.

    From the, “You Can’t Make This Shit up Files”, The Fucked Up History of the VW Beetle. (Part I)

    Once upon a long time ago, there was dude named Henry who came up with the idea of mass producing cars and selling them to the great unwashed for cheap. Some people said Henry was a genius, others said he was cray-cray…..he was both….insanity and genius seem to go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

    In no time Crazy Henry made a lot of money with his car idea. Then he used some of that car profit money on his social engineering projects. One of his social projects included acquiring a newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. OG Crazy H had this whacky idea that the Jews were responsible for the First World War. He started writing editorials in the Dearborn Independent to alert the wide-eyed gentiles to this Hebraic conspiracy of Zionist world conquest. After H had enough editorials in the can, he had them bound in a book, The International Jew. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_International_Jew When you bought a new Ford, the dealer handed you the keys, warranty card, owner’s manual and a complimentary copy of The International Jew. Motoring wise and Jew wise at the same time, what a deal!

    Meanwhile, in old Yurp, there was a man whom, by comparison, made Henry look like a model of reason and enlightenment: Adolf Hitler. In 1923 Adolf and his buddies Ernst, Hermann, Rudolf, et al. attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Germany by force, the so called Beer Hall Putsch. The German government promptly put down this silliness, and sent Adolf and his buddies off to prison to chill for a while.

    Now most places in the world at that time dealt with treasonous citizens by standing them up against a sturdy stone wall and blowing their brains out. The Weimar Government of Germany, however, was the kind of gov we’d call “progressive”. They didn’t believe in punishing law breakers so much as reforming them. Reform is what they attempted on AH. Upon being admitted to prison, AH got a comprehensive assessment done on him, including an IQ test. Adolf’s IQ tested at 140+. Remember what I said about genius and the crazy? Now, I’m as liberal as the next guy, and I believe that reform is generally the way to go, but with some people a lot of grief can be avoided by going the brains splattered on wall route. You know what they say about hindsight?

    Well, Adolf’s jailers thought the best therapy for him would be lots of reading to expand his horizons. One of the books he read was a bio on Cray-Cray Henry. Adolf was both shocked and delighted to find out that Murica had its homegrown Yid haters. “See, Murica isn’t that bad a place after all”….talk about expanding horizons.

    After AH managed to take over in Germania, one of the first things he did was send Henry a spiffy medal with swastikas and everything, making Henry an honorary Aryan Knight of the order of Nazis. Henry enthusiastically accepted.

    The next thing AH did was to hunt down Germany’s most talented engineer and task him with building a Model T for Germany, a people’s car, the “Volkswagen”. That engineer was Ferdinand Porsche.

    Well, Deejay Ferdi-P did a fantastic job. He managed to design a car that incorporated all the best attributes of the Model T: Reliable, utilitarian, cheap to buy and keep, etc. He did this using the best tech available at the time. The basic Beetle design was so good, it remained in production for decades.

    To be continued. The VW conquers, the US, and its connection to the Ford Falcon, Mustang and Chevy Corvair. Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-station.

  6. Mark says:

    VW’s Wacky History Part Deux.

    So Ferdinand built some Beetles, and AH was taken for a spin, Adolf declared the car, “Sehr gut!”, and they drove off to the the cartographers where Adolf bought a map of Stalingrad. http://alexconstantinesblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/99721_f5201.jpg BTW, Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t like convertibles with back seats, he once said, “The only person to ever look good in the back of a 4-seater convertible was Adolf Hitler. ” Then Jeremy immediately apologized. I hate when people put their foot in their mouths. I hate it even more when they immediately apologize. http://clarksonisms.com/jeremy-clarkson-quotes/popular/53-the-only-person-to-ever-look-good-in-the-back-of-a-4-seater-convertible-was-adolf-hitler

    The Beetle went into production in Germany but not many civilian models were built before the war started, and production was commandeered by the Wehrmacht. Some Beetles were built for the military, but most of VW’s factory production went into building the Kübelwagen, which was a Jeep-like vehicle based on the Beetle chassis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_K%C3%BCbelwagen BTW, VW sold a civilian version of the Kubelwagen in the US back in the disco-fab 70s, it was called the Volkswagen “Thing”. I suppose it was better than calling it Volkswagen “Nazi Jeep-like Vehicle”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_181 These were never real popular, so VW only offered them for a few years. Oh, during the war, VW produced another interesting variation of the Beetle for military use, the Schwimmwagen (try and guess from its name what this version could do) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Schwimmwagen

    Fast forward to April 1945, the Red Army was knocking on the bunker door, and AH responded by suck starting his Mauser, and so ended the “Thousand Year Reich”. VW’s main plant, located in the British occupation zone, was bombed flat. Before the bombers did their flattening, the VW workers managed to move all the machinery, tooling, gauges, prints, and the like, to secure underground shelters.

    Immediately after the war, the Russians engaged in one of their favorite colorful folk festivities of vodka drinking, looting and rape. In the Western occupation zones, the American, British and French undertook a policy of nonfraternization, denazification, and deindustrialization. The idea was to strip Germany of its industrial base, and force it back into an agricultural society. The Russians had other ideas for their bit of Germany. After a few weeks of raping all the females from 8 years of age to 80, the Russians went about building Eastern Germany into a Soviet satellite state. Meanwhile, in the Western zone, Germans were jobless and on starvation rations. The Russians, being ever the chess masters, exploited this opportunity. They sent out Red cadres to the Western zones to agitate. “The Western powers are trying to starve you, but the Soviets are building a new Germany.” This worked fairly well, especially in the British Zone, which greatly alarmed the British occupation authorities. The English knew they had to get people working before things got out of hand.

    Well, believe it or not, at the end of WWII the British had the second largest auto industry in the world after the USA. The English knew cars, and the British occupation authorities thought it was a good idea to restart production of the Beetle to provide the the German workers with some work to do. A number of British auto company execs were brought out to the British occupation zone and they were offered the VW Factory FOR FREE, in exchange for managing the place, and restarting production. The British car execs said, “Thanks so for very much for the fine offer, but we don’t see a car factory, only a pile of bricks.” They then promptly high-tailed it back to England.

    Not to be discouraged, the British occupation authorities cut a deal with the VW workers. The factory would produce Beetles for the Occupation authorities, and the workers would be paid in food. Production was restarted in 1946, the cars were build under tarps because the factory didn’t have a roof.

    By 1949, the VW factory had a roof, but the occupation authorities had all the cars they needed. There was no demand for cars in Germany since the economy was a wreck, as were the economies of all the other European countries. What to do? What to do?

    Part III TK

  7. Meetzorp says:

    This is fantastic – like the Cliff’s notes of Small Wonder, written in a much less formal register.

  8. Meetzorp says:

    Also, if I might take a moment to bore for America, the “Thing” is formally known as a Type 181, and I expect its abiding ugliness was a major factor in weak sales. Plus, by the 1970s, the aircooled VW was losing its supremacy to Japanese imports. Once Americans (especially) got their heads around the notion that “Made In Japan” was no longer the hallmark of shoddily-made-crap, Toyota, Datsun, and Honda gave Volkswagen a hell of a beating.

  9. Mark says:

    I never read Small Wonder, but I read a lot of other books about car history. So, like Jackie Gleason said, “Away we go!”

    Going back a bit to the Ford Motor Company, oversight of day-to-day operations at Fomoco were handed over to Crazy Henry’s son, Edsel, in the 1930s. Unlike his whack job dad, everyone agreed that Edsel was an intelligent, cultured and thoughtful man. Edsel died in 1943 at the age of 49. It really is true, the good die young.

    After the death of Edsel, Henry came back for a bit, but he was totally loopy. The Ford Motor Company continued to chug along for the last couple of years of the war under its own inertia, but it was obvious that Henry needed to let go of the steering wheel before he slammed the thing into a wall at 90mph. In 1945 control of the company was handed over to Henry’s grandson, Henry II, son of the late Edsel.

    While everyone agreed that Edsel was a fine example of American manhood, everyone also agreed that Henry II was..how should I say this nicely?……Henry II was a dumbshit…..as dumb as a sack of doorknobs. Henry II did have one saving grace. While most dumbshitz are convinced of their own genius, Henry II recognized that he was a dumbshit. In 1946 Henry II decided to bring in adult supervision to take over at Fomoco, and it was not a day too soon. Grandpa Henry’s administrative habits were a bit, “lacking”. The crazy old coot was doing the company balance sheet on the back of crumpled up envelopes.

    During the 1930s, America’s universities starting teaching new scientific methods of business management. Many of these new biz school grads went off to defense industries and the military during WWII. They oversaw production and logistics, which are the things that really win wars, not that “Aryan Knight” bullshit.

    In 1946, a group of these “whiz kids” were brought in to right Fomoco. This group was led by one Robert Strange McNamara….yup his middle name was “Strange”. In 1960 McNamara joined the Kennedy Administration as Secretary of Defense. He became infamous as the architect of the Vietnam War, and is credited with devising the world’s most gruesome accounting formula, the “kill ratio”…….but I digress.

    With the whiz kids installed at Fomoco, Henry II did what Henry II was best at: Drinking scotch and working his way through the secretarial pool. In a couple of years, the paths of VW and Ford would cross again.

    BTW, I highly recommend this book about the whiz kids and their time at Ford. http://www.amazon.com/The-Whiz-Kids-Founding-American/dp/0385248040

    More tomorrow.

  10. Mark says:

    Yes, I’m obsessive, here’s some more.

    So it’s 1949, and the Whiz Kids are preparing Ford to take advantage of the postwar US economic boom. Then one day, out of the blue, there’s a knock on Henry II’s door. Henry opened up and there were a couple of skinny krauts in threadbare clothes. “Guten tag mein herr. Vee are reprezentatives of German auto company, Volkswagen. Vee haf zis kar vee vould like to show. ” Yeah, that’s right, the guys running VeeDub in 1949 sounded like Zsa Zsa Gabor.

    In 1949, the people running Volkswagen knew the only chance the company had of survival was in cracking the US car market. They also didn’t have the money or expertise to build their own dealer network in the US. They approached Ford with an offer. They wanted to sell VW Beetles through Ford dealers. They rationalized that since the VW was so unlike anything offered at Ford, it would not cannibalize Ford sales but instead the Beetle would tap into a market niche previously not served by Ford. The partnership would be win/win.

    Henry was nice enough to go downstairs and look at the cars. After a few minutes he told the VW company reps, “I’m sorry, but Americans will never buy a car like this.” As he walked away, while he was still within earshot of the VW reps, Henry II turned to one of his underlings and said, “That car is a shitbox.” Remember what I said about Henry II being a dumbshit?

    Actually, Henry II was not the biggest dumbshit in the US auto biz. Fast forward 20 years, it’s 1969. Honda company reps came hat in hand to GM HQ where they tried to get GM to sell Honda cars through GM dealers. The GM guys told the Honda dudes Americans would never buy a car like that, and walked away laughing. Who is laughing now?

    Anyway, the VW guys were disappointed, but not discouraged. They set about on the much more daunting task of building a US dealer network. In only a few years, the Beetle was a sensation. By the mid 1950s, 95% of cars sold in the US were US makes, the other 5% being mostly European, and almost all of those European cars were VW’s.

    It was clear at this point that VW was exploiting a market niche that had previously been untapped, but the US auto execs were still dismissive of the VW’s success. Most US auto company stuffed suits assumed that VW buyers were “losers” who didn’t know what a “real” car was if it ran up to them and bit them on the ass. VW buyers were assumed to be poors, stupid kids, beatniks, drug addicts, homosexuals, alcoholics, perverts and communists. At least that’s how the car company bigwigs rationalized it.

    Well almost all the auto company execs assumed Beetle buyers to be losers, but the Whiz Kids at Ford weren’t so sure. The Whiz Kids liked science, math ‘n shit so they wanted a science type answer for the Beetle’s success. Ford Motor Company undertook a huge survey of new Beetle buyers. After all the data was compiled, tabulated, and analyzed, reports were written and plopped down on the the desks of the respective Whiz Kids. When they started reading the results of the VW survey, the Whiz Kids’ jaws nearly hit the floor.

    As it turned out, buyers of new VW Beetles had the highest average educational attainment of any new car buyers , including buyers of Lincoln or Cadillac, which were top of the car food chain at that time. VW buyers were more likely to be employed in the professions, including engineers, doctors, lawyer, accounts and the like. VW buyers had higher than average incomes, although not the highest. VeeDub buyers could have easily afforded to buy a more expensive car.

    Well, like it or not, by the late 50s, the success of the VW could no longer be ignored by the US auto makers. The American car companies decided that they needed to compete with VW by offering their own small, cheap, reliable cars. When they set about to compete with WV, Ford and Chrysler got it mostly right. GM’s effort ended in a huge monster cluster fuck.

    Tune in tomorrow for more.

  11. Mark says:

    I think I can wrap it up here.

    In addition to collecting demographic info on VW buyers, Ford asked VW owners why they chose VW. The responses included: Reasonably priced, good space utilization, easy on gas, reliable, easy to handle and park, etc.

    Ford decided, correctly, that they didn’t need to copy VW to compete with VW, all they needed was a car that incorporated the same attributes as the VW. All American Ford models at the time used the same basic layout: Front mounted liquid cooled engine, sending power to the rear wheels via a drive shaft and solid axle. Ford’s VW beater wasn’t going to have a rear mounted flat four, nor was it going to have independent suspension on all four wheels. That would have made any parts sharing between their existing models impossible, and would have made the car too costly to produce. The Ford engineers came up with the Falcon. The Falcon offered reasonable space utilization, it was light, easy to handle, cheap, reliable, good on gas, and easy to repair. Although the car was intended to be powered by six cylinder engines, the engineers spaced the engine bay large enough for a V8, this would be important just a few years down the line.

    When the Falcon went on sale in late 1959 as a 1960 model, it was a runaway success. The Falcon broke the record for most copies sold in its first year of production…..over half a million in the first year. That record would be broken 5 years later when another Ford product based on the Falcon went on sale.

    The Falcon, like the VW, was built in numerous configurations: coupes, sedans, convertibles, pickup bed versions, vans, sporty versions, etc. The Falcon, like the VW, was assembled and sold all over the world. The Falcon, like the VW was built on it’s original platform for decades. The last VW Beetle (air cooled version) was assembled in Mexico in 2003, the last Ford Falcon (the 1960 version) was assembled in Argentina in 1991. 1991 Argentine Falcon http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/Ford_Falcon_Sprint.jpg

    A few years after the Falcon made it’s debut, the President of Ford Division, Lee Iacocca, had his designers create a Ferrari-like body to be mated to the Falcon chassis. The result was the Mustang. To this day the Mustang retains the record for most cars sold in its first year of production.

    Meanwhile, over at GM, the decision came down to out-VW VW. GM’s VW fighter would incorporate a rear mounted, air cooled engine, but not a flat four…oh, no….this was GM….their engine was going to be a flat six. The GM car was going to have independent suspension on all four wheels, like the VW. Thus was the Corvair born. Unfortunately, the new Corvair was not anything like any other GM model, so very few parts could be shared with other models. Like Ford management predicted, such a car would cost too much to produce, and it would not be competitive with VW. When it became obvious at GM that the Corvair was going to cost a lot more than the VW, GM ordered their engineers to cut corners to make the car cheaper to produce. One of the things GM cheaped-out on was the rear independent suspension. They simplified the rear suspension to make it cheaper to produce……this resulted in giving the Corvair some evil handling characteristics. Thus was born the career of Ralph Nader. http://www.amazon.com/Unsafe-Any-Speed-Ralph-Nader/dp/1561290505 After all the bad press, GM restored the original suspension design to the Corvair for the 1965 model year, all the time claiming there was nothing wrong with the suspension of the 1960-1964 models. It was too little, too late. The damage was done. The Corvair was put to bed after the 1969 model. In the meantime, GM introduced the Chevy II, later renamed the Nova. The Chevy II was done very much along the lines of the Falcon.

    Over at Chrysler, the Mopar boys looked at what Ford was doing, and looked to GM, and decided (wisely) to go the Ford route. The Dodge Dart, Plymouth Valiant twins were a great success for Chrysler. All of these cars, the Falcon, Corvair, Dart, Nova were set into motion by a need to compete with the VW.

    Today the air cooled VW is the world’s most produced car, with over 21 million units built since its introduction. The Model T comes in at a distant #2 with 16 million units. Oh, in 1949, when Henry II pronounced the the Beetle a “shitbox”, Fomoco was the world’s #2 auto producer. Today VW is the world’s #2 auto producer and Ford is #5

    I never owned a VW Beetle, but when I was a boy, I owned a Cox Baja Bug (gas powered model) http://www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/comment-image/132524.jpg

    One last piece of trivia. The original Falcon was fitted by Ford with various V8s and raced on the international race circuit. The cars did well, but were not up to beating the euro cars of the day. Henry II heard that Ferrari was having financial problems so he offered to buy them out. Enzo counter offered. Ford could have Ferrari, but Enzo would remain as CEO. Henry II refused. Enzo said that he would rather burn his factory to the ground before he’d see the Ford oval flying over it. Henry II, being ever the petty douchebag, ordered his underlings to beat Ferrari at any cost. Ford hired the best engineering talent in Europe. The euro Ford team built a modern chassis that was fitted with a monster American Ford V8. The result was the Ford GT40. http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2008/04/26/15/34/1968_ford_gt40-pic-33984.jpeg The GT40 was one bad ass car. The first year the GT40s raced at Le Mans in 1967, they took first, second and third place. Enzo, knowing his cars were going to be eaten for lunch, refused to race. In disgust Henry II shut down the GT40 program, and returned to drinking scotch and screwing young Ford secretaries. To this day Ford has never beaten Ferrari in an international race.

  12. Mark says:

    One last entry in the VW post. If you like VWs, you’ll like this 1949 Porsche with the hand made body. (click on the Jay Leno episode)


    BTW, the Chris Rock episode was shot mainly in Bergen County, where I live. Rock lives in the Northern Part of the county with the rich folks, I live in the Southern part of the county with the poors.

  13. Mitch Grady. says:

    That Beetle looks like a nice honest example, well worthy of the work. Good luck.


  14. Meetzorp says:

    Thank you! I’m pretty excited about the project, as you might guess.

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