By Paula Ganzi Licata
They say you never forget your first. It was the summer of 1977. I was 17 and had never owned a car. It was red with a black top, miles of road beneath its belts and lots of life lessons to teach me. This bad boy had been around the block a few times. Sparks flew from the start. For two years we went everywhere together. Many relationships later, having surrendered to the seduction of six cylinders, the thrill of greater horsepower and the excitement of new car shine, my favorite set of wheels is still my beloved 1969 Volkswagen Beetle.
They say size doesn’t matter. I had succumbed to its cozy charms. My friend’s Buick Electra 225 couldn’t even consider the spots I squeezed into on city streets.
They said it wouldn’t last. But for two years we were inseparable. It was love at first sight. I pampered it with weekly car washes and auto trinkets, such as special floor mats and cup holders. And I spoiled it with good gasoline. In return, it could maintain a full tank for weeks.
Other girls had car problems. Flora’s Chevy gave her trouble, always heading for empty. And Matty’s Electra was a guzzler. But not my baby.
That Bug escorted me and my girlfriends out to Jones Beach, into the city and across state lines to one too many Grateful Dead concerts.
I didn’t mind that it couldn’t cool me with air conditioning or offer me responsive pickup while merging onto the Long Island Expressway. Those hot, frantic moments built character. Perhaps some women were wooed by the large sedan trunks or the flashy sports cars, but I always knew what was important. My Beetle had a beautiful engine. Of course, many parents weren’t thrilled.
After all, it was an older model.
Could it be trusted? And in a neighborhood of Pontiac Bonnevilles and Lincoln Continentals, it wasn’t well received. When I gave Mrs. Goldberg a lift to the store, she grabbed on to the handle bar just above the glove compartment and never took her eyes off the road.
Eventually we went our separate ways due to its inability to maintain reverse. Our relationship hit rock bottom when I was forced to parallel park by rolling downhill in neutral. I sold my Bug to an old boyfriend, and immediately got involved with a red Gremlin. After that it was a string of used cars: a blue Fairlane, a green Hornet, a gray Rambler. But I never forgot my first.
There seems to be a Beetle in many people’s pasts. Why was it so popular?
“Simplicity of the engine and a feeling of uniqueness when driving the old ones,” says Jamie Gruver of Carlisle, Pa., who has owned eight Beetles, including a 1999 New Beetle.
The excitement over the new Beetle has created a flood of sentiment for the original. Yesteryear’s Beetle appealed to countless car buyers, from hippies who christened it the Love Bug to sensible drivers “over 30” drawn to its sound engineering and economical genius. Even my father, the used-car king of Queens, was so impressed by the Beetle that he broke down and bought a new one in 1966. Almost four decades later, at the start of a new millennium, the Bug
Is today’s new Beetle replacing the Corvette (50 this year) as an affordable, retro chic alternative to the midlife crisis purchase? Now available in turbo, with a wink at the past the Beetle whizzes by in a blink.