VW Motoring  (January 2003)

End of the road

Almost 25 years ago, the axe fell on German Beetle production. Richard Copping snapped up one of the last ever UK Anniversary Beetles

It doesn't seem like 25 years ago since I was sipping a 'cuppa' in Kendal's Co-op cafe (now long since demolished) and watching a car transporter pass by, loaded with a suitable clutch of Golfs, an odd Polo, plus two brand new Beetles...

Since 1953 when the first of the official Beetles started being imported to Britain, and up until the late Nineties, my nearby town of Kendal had its own Volkswagen dealership, Parker and Parker, so it didn't take a great deal of intelligence to work out where the cars were going. Not fully appreciating the significance of one white and one silver Beetle at the time, nevertheless it was well worth taking just a few minutes out to go and drool over a new Beetle on the forecourt where, over the last few years, the new generation of watercooled Volkswagens had come to dominate.

On arrival, neither car had been 'prepped' for an appearance in the showroom, but both were sporting a set of trade plates. I took the silver one for a run up the old A6 towards the wilds of Shap, high above Kendal. The clever and experienced salesman drove on the outward and very much upward journey, while I coasted back to Kendal, thus failing to notice the somewhat pedestrian performance of the 34bhp 1200L...

Nevertheless, a deal was done a few days later, the silver car being chosen rather than the white one, and Parker's set about the task of getting the Beetle ready for me. Stone-guards were requested, a pair of mud-flaps and a radio. The total bill came to £2,801, which included road tax and number plates. The mileage on the clock when the keys were handed over on April 4th 1978, stood at 24.2, most of which had been amassed on the aforementioned test drive.

About six-weeks later Ian Parker telephoned to say that there was something for the car at the showroom. This proved to be the all-important 'Last Edition' plaque. On handing it over, warning was given that particular care should be taken when sticking it on the recommended site of the glovebox lid, as once in place, it would be impossible to remove.

The silver car had been registered as CEC 57S and it went back to Parker's for its first few services, spluttering its way about, notably when cold. Fortunately, this problem was then remedied when the decision was taken to allocate servicing to an independent one-man-band garage, the owner of which had first trained with VW and the air-cooled engine, before branching out on his own. Over the course of the first 18 months of its existence, CEC covered well over 11,000 miles as a daily driver.

The only distinguishing feature of a true 'Last Edition' Beetle is its paintwork, in that at least 300 of the cars imported in the last months of 1977 were finished in a very popular shade of the day, namely Diamond Silver L97A, a metallic shade never previously available for the Beetle in Britain. Most of these silver cars came with a plaque, but the onus seems to have been on the dealer to either fit it before the car was sold, or to advise an owner of its existence later on. The plaques read 'This is one of the last 300 Beetles to be produced for the United Kingdom... Number XX'. CEC was allocated plaque number '81'. The plaque numbers bear no relation to chassis number sequences, although most 'silver' cars were built during the course of September 1977.

Perhaps while endeavouring to unravel the pedigree of the 'Last Edition', one folktale wants scotching once and for all. As the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977, when the Last Edition was produced, a few bright sparks assumed that the silver paint denoted some sort of Jubilee Edition. Indeed, on several occasions at shows where CEC has been present, passers by have been heard to refer to the car as a 'Jubilee Beetle'. Sorry, that's just pure coincidence and the only Jubilee Beetle that can be given that name is the special edition, Mexi 1200L, produced to celebrate the 50 year period since the Beetle was 'conceived' by Dr Porsche way back in 1935.

Between Parker's and the next closest dealer, Lindale near Grange-over-Sands based Hadwins, a few extra bits of trim were added in the first few months, mostly by intention, although at least one by accident. At the time a brochure was still available that included a double-page spread dedicated to Beetle accessories. These ranged from fingerplates to interior mirrors with a helpful anti-dazzle position.

With the arrival of a second Beetle to perform the role of daily driver, CEC's usage was limited to some weekends and long periods in a garage a few doors away from home. In 1999, though, a highlight went foolishly went unrecorded.

Invited to spend the day with Major Ivan Hirst, it seemed only polite to take the 'best car'. Ivan was impressed, commenting how luxurious a late model Beetle was in comparison to the Volkswagens he had been so heavily involved with. Declining the offer to take it for a spin, he nevertheless lowered himself into the driver's seat, to have a more detailed look at the car. Openly inviting photography later in the day, the shot of the Major sat in, or with my car, was sadly overlooked.

Over the years, little has really happened to the car. Thanks to the inevitable crop of stone chips, the bonnet has been re-sprayed twice - once in the 1980s, when on its first outing after the job had been completed, a great 'boulder' hit the new paint. The Nineties paint job has been protected by a bonnet bib on each occasion CEC has set rubber on the road! The car is on its second set of tyres, an unused spare discarded thanks to the Concours rule that all five tyres should be identical. The Continental cross-ply's were replaced when the mileage stood at 17,000 and as a believer in sticking with what WV chose to shod the car with anyway, the 'new' set are of the same mould, albeit manufactured by Pneumant. Probably, the strangest occurrence was when, shortly after an MoT test the speedometer decided to malfunction. Leaving home with the clock reading 21,694, after a journey of little over two-miles the dial read 51,736, while returning home added a further 10,000 to the total. A NOS Speedo was fitted and the original carefully stored away for the proverbial rainy day.

On a more light-hearted note, although to me at the time most definitely not so, there have been a few occasions when the paintwork was at risk. A lady decided that as her wicker shopping basket was rather heavy, it was best to place it on the car's front wing, while a tired gardener chatting to a customer at a plant centre thought a rear wing useful to sit on. Oh and then there was the child who wanted to draw in the dust created by cars that were passing at a Concours event...

Perhaps surprisingly, CEC has never appeared in a WV magazine before. As Last Edition Beetles go (and to be honest there are some real horrors around), it has to be one of the best. However, it is a difficult car to make appropriate use of, in that it is so original that it doesn't appear suitable to take it out on the byways of the Yorkshire Dales or Lake District, both of which are close by. Likewise, the drudgery of long hauls on motorways to shows to enter it in a Concours, or line it up in a display, holds little appeal. Yet, to sell CEC after 25-years of ownership would not seem right either...

Article reproduced by kind permission of the Editor, VW Motoring

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

VW Motoring January 2003

End of the road

Almost 25 years ago, the axe fell on German Beetle production. Richard Copping snapped up one of the last ever UK Anniversary Beetles