COAL: 1969 VW Baja Bug: “She’s so fine, there’s no tellin’ where the money went.”

Hey, check out those flares! (insert wolf whistle)

 

Some things are Simply Irresistible.  Things like chili, fresh socks, new wiper blades, and, of course, that thing nearest and dearest to a young man’s heart, that one thing he spends almost his entire waking life dreaming of, hoping for, and worshipping from afar.

An air-cooled type 1 VW Beetle.

“How can it be permissible

She compromise my principle

That kind of love is mythical

She’s anything but typical”

It was 1989 and I “needed” a car.

Well not really, I owned a pair of pickups and a motorbike, and I needed a car like, as mom would have said, I needed another hole in my head.  But faint hearts never won fair maiden, and I’d just won mine being recently wedded.  It was time to man up by providing a proper car for the missus to scurry about in, or at least that was the official party line for why I “needed” a car.

You know what a proper car is, right?  Proper car for a young couple in 1989 that is.  Toyota Corolla.  Honda Civic.  That’s what all my friends were scurrying about in.  One friend had a Tercel which, and this was a total shocking moment for me, could have hot air blow out of the dash vents.  Golly gee I’d never seen the like!

 

Leapin’ Lizards these people love these cars!

 

So I came home one night and declared to the wife that we needed a car.  She was surprised by this, since our transport requirements were being met quite adequately, but being a new bride was eager to cooperate and gave assent for me to find us a car.  You’d have now expected a couple of field trips to the local HonToyMazNiss dealers, intently staring at a base model Tepid in moonstone rose beige with 13″ steel wheels and the semi-cloth seats while a salesman droned on about how smooth the ride was with it’s fancy Macpherson struts and Euro inspired blah blah blah.

Nah.  I had no intention whatsoever of buying any normal, proper car that reasonable people buy to give them honest, reliable transport.  Not then, not now.

Who the hell wants to drive a normal car when the VW type 1 beckons?

 

Ugly??!! Bah! Universally proclaimed as the Best Car Ever™ by millions.

 

For years I’d been harboring a secret obsession about air-cooled Beetles bordering on the irrational.  Walking by one on the street I’d linger, awkwardly trying to engage, to connect, a quick touch of the chrome, a hand caressing the headlight, nervously scanning for the owner, skulking off quickly when it become obvious to passers-by that I was being inappropriate.

In my defense the lithe little VWs’ were hard to resist and seemed to be seducing me.  Those big round lights followed me down the sidewalks, the purring flat four motor spoke my language.  Ok, yes, so she, er, uh, it, had a complex history with a lot of baggage, but who doesn’t?  That’s all part of the charm, part of the game.  I could no longer resist.

 

Hey, hey mister, check out my big lights!

 

Scanning the Thrifty Nickel classifieds brought up lots of potential VW hookups.  We were living up in Humboldt County near Eureka, California at the time, motto “Where the 60’s meet the sea”, and lots and lots of Beetles were hanging about, waiting to get to know me.  There was a skanky 70′ model I did a quick once-over with, she was mostly red, and only $500 bucks, her seats were totally worn through and you know you get what you pay for.   Several other rough and tumble type 1’s were interviewed, but something wasn’t clicking for me with any of them.

Then I saw her.  I was puttering about town on some meaningless errand and she was on a street corner with a red “For Sale” sign.  Suddenly I was pulling an illegal u-turn to go back for another look!  A Baja!  Oy vey.  Warm creamy metallic brown skin, er, uh, paint.  Orange and yellow stripes.  Big honking off road tires with white spoke rims. Racing steering wheel.  All black interior in perfect shape, just look at those seats!  And there, tattooed painted right on her backside above the engine, was her name, “Ba-Hum-Bug”.  (We’ll call her Hummy)

 

Nice rear view eh? (wink wink, nudge, nudge)

“She’s a craze you’d endorse

She’s a powerful force

You’re obliged to conform when there’s no other course

She used to look good to me, but now I find her

Simply irresistible”

 

I knew within 30 seconds that I was going to buy this car.  (Pro Tip: if you don’t know within 30 seconds that you are going to buy the car, then you’re doing it wrong)  I wrote down the owners phone number, got him on the blower as soon as I got home, and arranged a nighttime rendezvous.

 

Now that’s a fine ride. And a very early Bug as well, at least an Oval and maybe a Split.

 

She was everything I’d dreamed she would be.  Quick, sporty, fun, just a great, great car.  We roared about town in her on that test date, er, uh, drive, and I couldn’t find a single fault.  Not one!  Perfection.  I agreed to the owners price of $2,500 dollars, didn’t even try to talk him down a penny, not for a car this good -that would be an insult, and told him I’d be back for the Baja bug the next day.

“She’s a natural law and she leaves me in awe

She deserves the applause, I surrender because

She used to look good to me but now I find her

Simply irresistible”

Oh yeah, we didn’t have $2,500 dollars.  In fact, now this is a minor point but a frequent one in my tales, we didn’t have any money at all.  But love will find a way, it always does.

 

O Glorious Day!!

 

Next morning we went, hat in hand, to the bank.  Asked the nice Bank Lady™ for a loan to buy a car.  (That’s how big people do it right, they get “car loans”, right?)

“What kind of car?” she inquired through her big 80’s glasses and shoulder padded suit.

“A 1969 VW Bug”.

Silence for a moment.  “We don’t do car loans for cars like that, it’s too old”.

 

You want to buy a WHAT??!

 

Sweat started to bead on my brow, I had to swing some loot to land Hummy!  I was going to do anything to get money from this bank!  We found out that the bank would do something called an “unsecured personal loan”.  I’d never heard of any of this before, knowing nothing about finances having slept through those classes in college.  (Who freaking cares about all that money stuff anyway??)  The interest rate, and I think memory serves correctly here, was something like 16%, the payments $89 a month for three years.  $3,200 bucks owed to them to pay for a 2500 buck loan, yeah, sure, whatever, where do I sign!!

 

My VWs conversion kit seemed to be a one-off homebrew, and not from any kit I ever saw advertised back in the day.

 

Not sure what my wife thought of all this even though she was sitting right there.  I was too busy being a great husband and wrangling a great deal out of the Bank Lady™ to bother to notice if she was looking horrified, amused, happy, angry or just sullen.

Bank Lady™ cut me a check for 2500 big ones, and happily I, er, uh, we walked out into the sunshine, it was so exciting.  Do you know that feeling you get when you first fall in love?  The air seems sweeter, the colors brighter, life is more alive, your step has a spring.  That was what it felt like walking out of the bank that day, damn I was happy, I was about to bring home a VW Baja bug!

She’s unavoidable, I’m backed against the wall

She gives me feelings like I never felt before

I’m breaking promises, she’s breaking every law”

 

Soon to be me!

 

Well we bought the Baja, got her home and gave her the full and complete examination, you know, to see what I’d got in the cold harsh light of day.  Hmm.  1600cc dual port head engine, not stock for a 69′ but no complaints from me on her having a bigger motor.  Horsepower? Only the shadow knows for sure, the previous owner claimed 85 (hahahaha) and that she had a “hot cam”, hence the slightly lumpy and dreamlike sweet idle.  Brakes sucked, being all drums and leaking from the wheel cylinders.  And what’s this under the battery? (which is under the rear seat on a Bug)  Plywood?  And under that?  Why it looks like the road!  Yes indeed, complete rust through of the sheet metal in the floorpan and in several places.  And is that entire side made of Bondo?  Yes, yes it is.  Chipped and cracked windshield it seems as well.

 

Wasn’t this a Japanese plastic model kit or something?

 

And quite frankly she didn’t run right.  Hard to get started in the morning.  Well aren’t we all?  But then hesitated a lot, stalled out a fair amount, seems to run rich then lean, and leaks a lot of oil.  A lot.  Godawful gas mileage for a bug.  Muffler was bad.  Tires had funny wear.  No heat, at all, which admittedly was never a strong point of any air-cooled VW, but Hummy took it to extremes and had not a single iota of warm air out of those vents when you called for heat to warm the cockles.

 

These are the various books, magazines and catalogs I have left over from my fling with Hummy. Sometimes, when the wife is out shopping, I’ll pull them out, sit on the floor, and lovingly page through them, notice Hummy’s grease stains on the pages, and remember all the good times. Sigh.

 

And she wasn’t exactly what you’d call reliable, but who really is?  She’d get temperamental and leave you on the side of the road.  Often she didn’t want to go home when you did, wanted to linger about a bit longer, enjoying the fresh air and the scenery.  You had to wait on her, she’d come along in her own good time.

No problem, I got this.  Simply get a credit card to pay for the few needed repairs to keep my VW mistress maintained, right?  And so I did.

 

Need a little help over here!!

 

Did you know that you can buy almost every part for a VW type 1 Beetle brand new?  Gas tank, windshield, carb, brake drums, fuel pump, and even sheet metal ready to weld in to cover the rusted out holes in the floorpan.  While I was at it I upgraded this and that, you know like added an oil temp gauge, lots of new trim inside and out, gasket kits to fix leaks, rust repairs, new tires and lots of wax and Armor-All etc.  Looks are very important you know.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road’s Baja Bug. I’d totally roll in this car and so would you.

 

Hummy was expensive.  I kept charging the parts on the card, did you know you can make payments of only like $35 bucks a month and get all sorts of cool stuff with a credit card?!  Exciting times having her as my, uh, carfriend.

Drove her everywhere, from Seattle to Los Angeles and points between.  Not once did she “break down”!  Now maybe she needed a little coaxing to start back up sometimes, or maybe a quick part replaced before she was ready to get back on the road, but nothing I’d call a nasty ol’ “break down”.  Geesh, some people, throwing shade on my great car.

 

VW’s NEVER break down, you can always get them moving again.

 

And damn she looked good!  Turned heads.  Driving that car was like being in your own personal parade, people gazed, ogled, waved.  Strangers came up to talk at gas stations.  Kids pointed and grinned.  Took her to the beach a lot, her natural element, and she’d get loose in the sand as you manhandled her shifter and twirled the wheel about, laughing.  You came out of stores to find people milling about her, smiling and happy.  People loved her, she was exciting, different, and fun, a breathe of fresh air in the sea of boring boxy hatchbacks and somnolent sedans driven by the brainwashed masses.  (Fight The Man, get a Bug!)

“Her methods are inscrutable

The proof is irrefutable

She’s completely kissable

Our lives are indivisible”

 

Cheesy? Not at all, not once you’ve felt the fervor of Beetle Love.

 

All she required of me was money and time.  A whole lot of money.  All the time.  How much money?  I dunno exact figures, but I know I spent more on repairs and upgrades than the purchase price.  Never bothered me, not once, coughing up all that dough, making that horrible bank loan, and throwing all that money at a Bondo buggy that was just a pretty face plastered on top of caveman 1940’s era tech.  I don’t have a single regret about it.  You do crazy things for love, you roll the dice and risk it all, jeopardize reputation, financial stability, sanity.  Love is like that.  If it doesn’t risk burning your house down then why bother?  Can I get an amen?

 

Palmer nailed it on so many levels.

 

Oh and that whole providing a car for the new wife to drive about in?  Nah, smoke screen.  I drove the Baja all the time.  She was mine.

One day in the early 90’s I took a “job” in Texas.  Well it was a job in the sense that it came with duties and job like stuff that all the big people did, an office, papers to shuffle, phones to answer, etc, only problem was it didn’t actually come with a salary.  Who cares!  We’ll figure it out!  Rented a U-Haul, on the credit card of course, and off we went heading for central Texas.  But alas, taking three vehicles was cost prohibitive.  So we kept the 81′ Toyota pickup (because it had working AC) and towed it along, stored the 73′ Chevy pickup at my folks, and with a heavy, heavy heart and lots of sighs, I broke it off with Hummy and ended the red hot affair.

Sold her.

 

Exactly

 

Got $1,800 bucks for her from some plinker loser dude.  He was not worthy and I was dumb as dirt about money.  As someone famous once said about me, “Stupid is as stupid does”.

It was enough to pay off the bank and get shoulder-pad Bank Lady off my back, so that was something.

 

All I have left of Hummy, her original carb. I keep it on a shelf in the garage where I can see it each day. Weird? I think not.

 

Looking back now, decades later, I still feel the thrill of that car.  Exciting to drive, and the pure almost wicked pleasure of just sitting next to her and staring at her beautiful lines, glossy metallic paint, and sensuous curves.  Ah, the flings of youth.

“Simply irresistible

(She’s so fine, there’s no tellin’ where the money went)

Simply irresistible

(She’s all mine, there’s no other way to go)”*

 

*Song Lyrics from “Simply Irresistible” by Robert Palmer, 1988.  

 

Dedicated to my friend Kent Gaston, 1958-2017