COAL: 1958 Volkswagen Type I Deluxe: My First Ride In A Beetle

My Mom and Dad lived next door to each other growing up on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia; a friendship developed which, over the course of time, led to their marriage in August 1956. Dad had a steady job and they, following the practice of many other young families in the 1950s, bought their first new car: a 1958 Volkswagen Type I Deluxe “Beetle.”

These first three photos are labeled “Highlands, NC” on the back; as we have no family in that area, I presume they were taken during a vacation trip. Dad had been a garage mechanic before joining the Navy during the Korean War. There, he subsequently took charge of the two forward Fairbanks-Morse opposed-piston diesel engines on the SSR-312 Burrfish. Dad used to impress us kids by counting to ten in German (apparently he spent some time in a German port on one of the wartime cruises). I never heard him refer to a VW as “Käfer,” though.

We took numerous family vacation trips while I was growing up (the vast majority in our 1968 Ford Country Squire LTD station wagon, often pulling a camper trailer), many of which to or through the mountains in North Georgia among scenes similar to this one. With its four-barrel carb-equipped 320 hp engine (a 390 CID/ 6.4-liter V8) and an additional 4′-6″ of length, the Squire was much better suited to mountain trips than was the 40 hp, 1.2-liter-engined Beetle.

Here’s a photo labeled Mountain Gap on the back. from later in 1958. Since “mountain gap” describes a geological feature (a pass, or “notch” between two mountains), Google yielded insufficient data to pinpoint exactly where this might be. That’s Mom, posing by the Beetle. Dad had mentioned that he’d bought the car on the recommendation of a friend who pointed out that year’s new and “much larger” rear window. You’ll find a great (tongue-in-cheek, of course) VW ad explaining why the window was enlarged here.

These next two photos show Mom, Dad and the Beetle in what could easily be a Coca-Cola ad, but for the lack of color… They had been married two years at this point, and were by all indications enjoying a stereotypical late-50s carefree lifestyle.

Well, I said “a Coca-Cola ad” above, but sacre bleau! (or perhaps I should say Überraschung!) – that looks suspiciously like a Pepsi bottle! Atlanta, of course, is the home of Coca-Cola, and it used to be as hard to find a Pepsi there as it is to find a Coke here in the Middle West. Note the Delta bag – Mom worked for the airline as a secretary until yours truly came along. Oh, and anyone who’s done work in a darkroom with black & white film can confirm that the Beetle was Coral Red and the Delta bag was blue.

Well, the little Beetle had been on numerous excursions by late 1961. Given all the mountain and beach trips my parents took, I would guess the car had a good 40,000 miles on it at this point. In this photo, it’s parked in front of my parents’ first new house in Roswell, Georgia, while it was being built.

The story of the little Beetle comes to an end with this snowy photo from late 1962, shortly after I joined the family. While I’m not 100% sure that my ride home from the hospital was in the VW, I like to think it was. At any rate, the Beetle was having some transaxle problems, and with a growing family to consider, Dad elected to trade it on a slightly used 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne. Lest you think he went “domestic” because of a poor experience with an “import,” the car he chose for his daily driver after I was born (which meant Mom got the Chevy) was… a Hillman Husky.

Fast forward nearly five decades, when it was my pleasure to turn the tables and take Dad for a ride in my Beetle!