VW Motoring  (January 2004)

Silver Gathering

Think 'Last Edition Beetle' and you probably assume we're talking about 2003's final Mexican examples. But in this case, Richard Copping turns his attention to the last of the German cars

p>It’s hard to believe it’s 25 years since the last Beetles officially sold in British dealerships first took to the roads. And I have to admit to having a personal involvement here, for Last Edition Beetle ‘Number 81’ — of the 300 produced — has adorned the Copping garage since it was new. Featured in VWm exactly twelve months ago, this car leads a very sheltered life these days; so it must have been a shock to CEC 57S to be yanked out of its garage and get wet for the first time in four years — all in aid of supporting the finest gathering of Last Edition Beetles I’ve yet experienced.

Chatting to other owners who’d brought their cars along to contribute to the line-up of 17 Last Edition Beetles, ‘Number 81’ was something of an oddball. For despite the obvious collectability of such a rare breed, most in attendance are used on a daily basis. Quite surprising really. Looking up the details on the excellent Last Edition Beetle Register website (www.lasteditionbeetle.org), the whereabouts — or at least sightings — of over half the original 300 cars are recorded. Sadly, a further five are known to have been scrapped.

Meanwhile, as it appears that it was the dealer’s responsibility to hand over the all-important dashboard plaque proclaiming which number out of the set of 300 someone was purchasing, inevitably some cars are minus such an item. ‘Number 1' is conspicuous by its absence — unless, of course, this was Milton Keynes’ own example, a car which once made infrequent appearances on the scene sporting its distinctive registration number VWW 1. ‘Number 2’ is known though; and someone has also spotted the other end of the line, ‘Number 300'.

As the cars were for sale from the end of 1977 to an undetermined point in 1978 and beyond, the majority seem to be on an ‘S plate, although a few ‘T’ registered cars can easily be found and even the odd ‘W’. All very odd really, considering their exclusive nature and the finality of the Beetle’s appearance in the showrooms.

As for price, this seemed to vary according to the whim of the dealer. Colborne Garages of Sturry in Kent sold Number 214’ for £2428.36 at the end of January 1978, while a well-known example (‘Number 91’) cost its only owner, Jim MacLachlan, £2744.65 at the beginning of the same month. By April, Kendal dealers Parker & Parker would charge £2801 for ‘Number 81’.

Panoramic view

Julie Kinley’s first involvement with the world of Last Edition Beetles came in 1989 when she bought ‘Number 250’, which was found in Buxton, Derbyshire. Its previous history was uncertain, although it does appear that FCX 399S was for sale in 1979 with a price tag of £3200 on its bonnet. Used as a daily driver until 1995, the car steadily deteriorated to a point where it was seriously past its ‘use-by’ date. Determined not to part with the car, Julie saved every spare penny until February 2002, when she could then approach Morgan specialist Melvyn Rutter to ‘...bring the bodywork back up to scratch’. Apart from the almost inevitable heater channels and valances, the car also needed inner wheel arches, numerous ‘patch’ repairs and the very last boot lid VAG could lay their oh-so-genuine hands on. With most of the bodywork now pristine, it won’t be long before Julie’s father and brother turn their expertise to things mechanical.

In the meantime, for the display at Tatton, John Kinley drove a friend’s Last Edition Beetle to fly the flag. ‘Number 208’ has never been driven by its current owner, Max Webb. Perhaps the thought of the 30-horser engine dating from 1955 is the deterrent! Mr K would like to put on record his grateful thanks for the temporary loan of WDG 641S.

Of the cars present, Simon Settle of Burley-in-Wharfedale was one of the newest owners. Eight weeks earlier, ‘Number 184’ had been stood on the forecourt of VW dealer Lightcliffe Motors, based near Halifax. Originally supplied by William Arnold of Manchester, the first owner was a Mrs Hardman of Ashton-under- Lyne. With a ten-year period off the road, the mileage is still only 34,700 from new. And thanks to a light restoration at the now defunct Halifax Beetles, this low mileage car now looks particularly attractive.

Fred Wall, a Last Edition Beetle stalwart, was only the second owner on the day to have had his car from new. Aged 23 in 1978 and the driver of an unreliable Hillman Imp, Fred was impressed by his then girlfriend’s set of air-cooled flat-four wheels. Although he later married Miss Singer, he couldn’t wait that long to drive a Beetle. Fortunately, dealer Reliance Motors had a Last Edition Beetle in their showroom, a car that had stood there since March. Fred snapped it up in the August and was awarded plaque ‘Number 45’ and, of course, a ‘T’ plate. Twenty-five years on, WMK 720T has clocked up an amazing 228,000 miles, with the engine being reconditioned at 173,000. Fred plans to keep the car indefinitely, and attributes its longevity to his decision to have it Ziebarted when new. Sadly, the rear end caught fire in 1992, which resulted in a repaint, while that precious blue cloth upholstery went many a moon ago.

Moira Cater of Rugby had owned ‘Number 146’ (XKV 178S) for just four months when she arrived at the Last Edition Beetle gathering at Tatton Part back in the summer. And having got hold of what is basically a one-owner,low-mileage example of its type. Moira certainly intends that 'Florrie’ — as the car has been named — will remain with her for a long time to come.

Meanwhile. Adam Eyre of Bollington in Cheshire managed to acquire 'Number 48’ (MJP 543W) in March 2002. Records show the car to have had two previous owners, while a sticker in the rear window suggests that King’s of Haydock were the original dealers. Adam knows that the car — which, like Fred Wall’s. was given the Ziebart treatment when new — stood in a barn for five years. When he bought it. the paintwork was very flat, replacement wings were required and something drastic had to happen to the upholstery — hence the three-month visit and bare-metal respray at Statone Porsche. The end result is one stunning looking Last Edition Beetle.

Alan Strong is an HGV driver from Burnley who has always wanted to own a Beetle. That’s how he came to buy MFR 320T — sadly without a numbered plaque — at the beginning of 2002: and after three months spent carrying out some appropriate refurbishment, he’s been able to use the car as his daily driver ever since. Although little is known of its previous history, its indicated mileage of 73,000 is unlikely to go up by leaps and bounds, as Alan tends to restrict his non-work driving to local runs.

Fran Bearryman’s car, UUU 203S, which she has owned for two and a half years. is described as a ‘.. daily driver with Sundays off for a clean’. Another car without a plaque, Fran bought it from Chris Dalton of the VW Emporium. Chris had not only restored it, but also used it as his wedding car. Previously it had been in the hands of just one family, with the traditional hand-down from parents to daughter. The Beetle’s known history was the determining factor in Fran deciding to buy it, rather than the fact that it’s a Last Edition model. The plan is to keep it for some time to come — and with just 68,000 miles covered in its 25 years, it should have another couple of decades of service left in it.

The Potts family own two Last Edition Beetles: mum is the keeper of JAB 688T (‘Number 148’), while son Darren drives OFF 850S — which he thinks might be ‘Number 203’. This car came from a gentleman in Liverpool who’d used it as a donor car for another Last Edition Beetle. As such, a few ‘tasty’ ingredients of the Last Edition package are missing, so mum and dad have allowed Darren to add clear rear lights.

Sue Potts is lucky, as she holds most of the records for her car from new, including all MoTs and service bills. Apparently, the Beetle was a prize in a raffle and, for just 25p. a Mr Gough became the first owner. Mr G sold ‘Number 148’ with just 178 miles on the clock, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that the new owner, a Mr Singh, paid £3700 for the car in 1981. He in turn sold it to a lady in Colne, Lancashire — and sadly the car was then kept outside, vulnerable to knocks and scrapes. When the owner finally came to put it up for sale, not only had one wing been repainted in an ‘aluminium’ finish but also the steering pulled to the left. Sue Potts managed to negotiate a price of just £900 as a result, for what was soon to become her pride and joy.

Meanwhile, Tilly Maxwell has to be one of the luckiest girls in the country. Her father works with a gentleman who’d bought a Last Edition Beetle and stored it away in his garage for many a year. Tilly met him just once before being summoned to his house to receive a present. A keen musician, Tilly was hoping that it might be the grand piano she’d played for him. But, no, it was the unregistered Beetle. Now the car bears the plate MAZ 1576, a convenient registration for Matilda Anne Zoe Maxwell. At Tatton, the car — which was finally registered for the first time in December 2002 — had just 355 miles on the clock; but as it was on route to the Edinburgh Festival before returning to its base in Oxfordshire, that grand total was due to double within just a matter of days.

Anyone reading that might assume the final opportunity to acquire an unregistered Last Edition Beetle has now been missed. That is, until they discovered the Beetle currently in the custodianship of Buzz and Marion Burrell. The brothers Murray-Smith had both bought Last Edition Beetles back in 1978; one had used his, but the other had simply stored ‘Number 214’ in the garage. When one brother died, the decision was taken to send both cars to auction. Although the unused example was valued at between £15,000 and £20,000, bids on the day failed to meet the reserve. So after the cars had been taken off to a storage unit, Buzz offered a figure that was eventually accepted. He makes no bones about the fact that the cars were bought as an investment, and so the asking price for ‘Number 214’ is £18,000 — and for that kind of money you get ‘220’ as well, which might make someone a good restoration project. Has there ever been a more unusual case of ‘Buy One, Get One Free’?

Organiser of this great gathering of final Bugs, Julie Kinley started the Last Edition Beetle Register way back in 1989 after the purchase of her beloved car. Ten years earlier, the same vehicle had been advertised in Safer Motoring (predecessor of VW Motoring), available back in July 1979 for the giveaway price of just £3250 with a mere 15,000 miles on the clock. Due partly to Julie’s other commitments, the Register had a time of relative inactivity in recent years. However, thanks to husband John’s creation of an official website, things changed in 2002 and the Register is now growing again at a steady rate. But why is Julie such a fan of these final Diamond Silver Beetles? ‘Simply because they’re unique in their own right,’ she replies. And there’s no arguing with that.

Meanwhile, Julie’s really looking forward to the time when she’ll be driving ‘Number 250’ again. And she’s determined that, one day, she’ll be able to account for each and every Last Edition Beetle despatched from Emden to Britain. A lot of in-depth research lies ahead.

Article reproduced by kind permission of the Editor, VW Motoring

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

VW Motoring January 2004

Silver Gathering

Think 'Last Edition Beetle' and you probably assume we're talking about 2003's final Mexican examples. But in this case, Richard Copping turns his attention to the last of the German cars