By which I mean: ‘God, I wish the Beetle had been my first car’. It’s a quasi-genetic need to covet it. In my childhood, three Beetles, a mini and a bay window camper made their way in and (sadly) out of my Ma & Pa’s driveway. The final bug was going to be my first but on reflection here are some fond memories and reasons why I’m glad it wasn’t.
– As a very young kid I only remember this car as an icicle during winter. On drives home after family parties me, my two sisters and brother would fight over the tartan blanket in the back (the car’s only heating system), and wear gloves. My dad would have the luxury of being warmed by beer.
– For a long time, the starter motor never worked. To get mum to work we would have our next door neighbour, Mick, myself (rather uselessly) and my dad push it up the road. Mum must have parked on a hill when she got there, to start it again.
The Godly Beetle
– It’s previous owner had been a vicar, hence the moniker. This also had a duff starter motor at one time. This didn’t stop me and dad doing a motorway trip to Volks Fest (I think they’re cool). On the trip home he stopped at a service station and jumped out saying “jump in this side and keep revving it so it doesn’t stop”. When we filled up for petrol he had to cut the engine, so we pushed it the wrong way out of the pumps to drive home.
It now has flowers stuck to it and we see the lady driving it around Gleadless.
This car came to my dad with one lady owner since 1972, who’d taken it to the doctors and back in all that time. 52,000 miles in 35 years; that engine sung. The reg plate also ran: ERB 1 which was a kind of magic.
– This bright orange car once became even more orange. I heard about it first at school from the kids off the bus. “Did you see that daft fucking car that was on fire in the Midland carpark?”. I also remember the call from dad talking about the Beetle as if it were a family member having recovered from a heart attack: “it’s ok, John says that it’s really not as bad as it sounds” *. My sister was in the car at the time, and I assumed she was ok. My other sister was embarrassed to be seen in this car; this year she’ll be using a splitscreen camper as her wedding carriage, so, swings and roundabouts, in’t it?
* He rescued the car by stopping a school bus and taking its fire extinguisher. He got charged by the bus company for using it. Cheeky gets.
– When it came to saying goodbye to this car, dad put it through its MOT. The standard procedure is to make sure it all works, runs, is safe and replace anything with industry standard parts. But Beetle John is a gentleman mechanic and a new floorpan would have been unnecessary cost. Instead, a steady mix of welding and biscuit tins made it fly through the test.
All this, and still on sunny days in July my dad will often say “should’ve never got rid of that Beetle”. It’s true they’ve got problems but they’re reliable compared to most classics, that, and these stories and memories filled them with character. I’ll never forget learning to drive in one on the fields and feeling ‘the dogs danglies’ for getting into third (they only have four gears). It’s only when I drive up the M1 in December, sleet all around me, with a working CD, heater and fog lights do I think; “Christ, I’m glad I’m not in that Beetle”.
Never ask if I sincerely mean that and never ask my Aunty Clare why you should never buy a Morris Minor: the car that tried to kill her.