My First Car

The five of us went out this afternoon for a quick shopping trip. First though was a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for some coffee. It was there I spied the green Volkswagen.

As it turns out, there’s a guy in my town who has a business refurbishing these tiny cars.

The car I saw (and the car in the picture here on the web) is a ’67. Mine was a ’60. There is a lot of difference internally&#185, but from an aesthetic standpoint, it’s the same car. In fact, mine was the same color green, albeit faded and pock marked with rust.

Looking at that old Beetle brought back a lot of memories. With its narrow tires the VW moved around the road as if it were in a dance contest. There was no way to keep it in one lane as long as there was any breeze at all!

There were no seat belts, air bags nor any other kind of modern safety equipment. The dashboard was metallic and not padded. To make matters worse, the gas tank was under the hood, sitting pretty much on top of your feet.

Speaking of under the hood, that’s where the trunk was… and also where you filled the gas tank. I opened the trunk of the car at Dunkin’ Donuts and instantly was reminded the body had the thickness and resilience of an Altoids box!

With its little air cooled engine, it could accelerate 0-60 mph in a week or so. Actually, mine could barely get to 60 mph (I think I once got it to 63 mph). On a steep grade, even when starting at highway speed, you’d have to downshift to maintain. That meant a top uphill speed under 50 mph!

While cruising at top speed, I remember trying to throw my weight forward, as if it would help accelerate the car.

Since there was no radiator (it was an air cooled engine after all) the heater/defroster was challenged. It was always cold in the winter and anything that fell from the sky stuck on the windshield. The little wiper blades were totally ineffectual.

Did I mention I loved this car.

I bought it from what I thought was a private owner. As I later discovered, I bought it from someone who had purchased it after a wreck (let’s use the southern vernacular) and redid the body.

More than once the master cylinder, which powered the braking system, failed. I drove around for weeks at a time using only the emergency brake. What a stupid thing to do. I’m not proud. In fact, looking back, I am appalled. What was I thinking?

I bought the car with the intention of bringing it back to Boston where I was going to school. I paid my money, but didn’t know how to operate a ‘standard’. The Volkswagen had a ‘four on the floor’ manual transmission which had to be coordinated with proper use of the clutch. Two feet for driving and only the left hand dedicated to steering, with the right throwing the shifter.

The car’s seller sat in the front seat and gave me a lesson. We drove around my neighborhood of six story apartment buildings in Flushing for about five minutes. I hit no one. That was it. Lesson complete. Within the next half hour I was on my way north!

As I remember it, I stalled the car while leaving the toll booth on the Whitestone Bridge.

Having a VW was great for Boston. It could fit into nearly any space, legal or not. In that pre-computer age I collected parking tickets issued by the Boston Police Department and strung them together like a string of pearls.

Even today, 35 years later, I worry they may still be looking for me – somehow establishing a waiver to the statute of limitations since I owed enough to bail the Commonwealth out of any financial jam.

That little car that I bought for $400 meant so much to me. It was an integral part of my growing up. When I moved to Florida, it was the VW that moved me there – everything I owned and still room to pick up a hitchhiker on the way to Washington, DC.

Seeing this green car today meant a lot to me. I know I stayed and gabbed and slowed everyone else in the family down. I called Steffie over to look, but it was meaningless to her. You had to be there, back in the 60s when the VW Beetle was a symbol of the counterculture.

Today, again, for a few moments I was.

&#185 – All cars now, and the car in the photo above, have 12 volt electrical systems with negative ground. My 1960 Beetle had a 6 volt system with a positive ground. All it meant was it was impossible to find anything that worked in the VW that wasn’t specifically designed for it.