CC Day Trip: A Beetle Among the Vines

I’ve owned an old car of one sort or another for about 30 years. The amount of time I’ve owned a functional old car is measured in scant months, so now that my 1963 VW Beetle is back on the road I’m discovering what can be done with an old car.

One thing I’ve long promised my wife was a winery tour in the Beetle, Friday was looking to be a glorious fall day so I booked it off work.  First I had to do a little maintenance as the morning fog burned off:


I got out my 35 year old dwell meter to check the ignition, but sometime in the 20 years since I last used it, it has stopped working.  I had to get the feeler gauges out and set the points the low tech way.  Sixteen thou, with a bucket and a hockey stick to make the job easier.

Ready to go, I’m looking a little nervous.  This was going to be the furthest I’d taken the car, EVER.


If you didn’t know, there’s a small wine growing region along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, where the Canadian climate is moderated by lake and topography to permit vineyards.  It’s about 60 km from our house, a scenic drive on the Ridge Road that snakes along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.


On a clear day you can see Toronto from here, but there was still some fog on the lake.  When I was young there was no barrier at this lookout point, and stolen cars fell from the outcrop regularly.

A perfect day for driving the VW.  Bright sunshine, windows down, no traffic.


Although I’m a map guy my wife prefers to navigate via iphone, so Siri gave us the final directions to our first destination.  Is an iphone a million times more electrically sophisticated than a Beetle?  A billion?

First destination, we’ve been here before and it’s our favourite, you’ll see why.


Most wineries are cultivate a second revenue stream by offering tastings, a restaurant and a wine store.  We ordered a cheese plate and a glass of Pinot Gris, and sat out on the porch to take in the view.

The escarpment is at our backs, and the fields slope gently down to the lake.


Forty years ago most Ontario wines were terrible, but with an influx of talent and better grape varieties remarkable progress has been made.  After a few tastings we bought a bottle of Pinot Gris and a Syrah to take home.

Next stop was a winery restaurant that my sister had recommended.  It also has airy wood and stone architecture that is currently fashionable.  Being a work day in October it wasn’t overly busy so we got a sunny table outdoors.


East Coast oysters, and later Pear pizza with Chardonnay.  Pear pizza sounds unlikely, but why not?  After lunch we visited the wine retail store but they were busy and understaffed so we strolled back to the VW.

Heading home we were close to my parents’ house, so we stopped for tea with Granny and Grandpa, and admired a new baby quilt and the apple sauce that Mom was canning.


Granny’s a busy lady.  After we left I spotted a familiar shade of blue at the side of the road, so we pulled over to have a quick look:


This 1950 Plymouth had only 38,000 original miles and was in immaculate condition.  The price was $14,000 or offer.  Although the car was impressive I found the scene a bit depressing.  Another well cared for old car searching for a new caretaker, having lost a good chunk of it’s collector value to changing demographics.

Back on the road, the VW seems happiest cruising at 45 mph.


Or maybe it’s just me that’s happiest, there’s a very disconcerting engine clatter if I go much faster.  I have few ideas about the internal condition of this engine, between the clatter and the low oil pressure at idle a rebuild may be in the works.

After getting into a traffic jam on the Linc expressway (oops, forgot it was a weekday) we swung back out into the countryside and got home by the back route.  A really enjoyable day, no tools or flatbeds required.


Although the Beetle was designed as efficient transportation for the masses, it’s primary mission now is to elicit smiles.  It definitely makes us smile, and it’s amazing how many grins you get from other folks when driving around.

Now, what can I do next with this old car?