Monday, June 24, 2013

Pre-First Car - 1964 Volkswagen Beetle

Technically the Bug was not mine, but Dad's. It was the last VW he owned. Occasionally I was allowed to drive it after I passed the driver's test my junior year of high school. Originally light blue, Dad had it painted bright yellow for better visibility. He moved on to white with the Falcon. And make no mistake, these were cheap paint  jobs. I think the interior metal was still blue.

The VW was a great platform for a new driver. When it needed a rebuild Dad had the original 1.2 liter four cylinder motor bored out to 1.3, producing probably a whopping 55 or 60 horsepower. I had to learn to use the tiny engine's torque band and gears to extract the maximum performance. The car was not fast, but it was surprisingly quick. It had great traction in snow and once I got the hang of hustling it through a corner it was actually sort of fun to drive. Of course at 16 anything is fun to drive.

On the minus side, the car's heat came straight from the engine without benefit of a fan. To start getting warm faster in winter it was a good idea to drive an uphill route.
VW Beetle Heating Diagram

On the highway 60-65 mph was about tops and the slightest head or crosswind could throw the car around like a leaf. Add to that small drum brakes, an all steel dashboard, and the adventure that was snap-oversteer from the rear engine's weight and skinny tires. In retrospect the car was simply treacherous.

But none of that was apparent to me in 1979. What I knew was that great American teenage experience of freedom. Freedom and AM radio.

Car: 1964 Volkswagen Beetle
Owned: 1978-79 (when Dad let me)
Music: Whatever was on KFRC out of San Francisco and sometimes on a clear night KFI from LA.
Rating: 2/5 stars (in the '70s a good car for a new driver - today parents would be arrested for child endangerment)

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