Daily Driver - Last but not least  (June 1994)

I have been a VW owner for some 17 years, of which the greater part have been spent with RTD 479S, Last Edition Beetle No. 36 of 300, whose current mileage is 91,000.

I first spotted the car in June 1981, while driving past the forecourt of the local VW agent. I went straight in and bought it, part-exchanging a 1974 Marine Yellow 1200 in the process (anyone know what became of SEK 859N?)

RTD came complete with the commemorative plaque, a new first MoT certificate and just 19,000 miles on the clock. Shortly after purchase, I discovered large amounts of broken glass beneath the back seat. The reason for this remained a mystery until seven years later, when I moved house and a new neighbour who owned a garage business remembered having rebuilt RTD when it was less than a year old.

Apparently, a lorry had backed into the car, smashing the rear screen and kinking the rear support pillars to such an extent that the insurance company had considered writing the car off! It was a tribute to my new neighbour's craft that I had been blissfully unaware of any such repair until that moment.

In the early years the car provided holiday transport, carrying us and a mountain of camping equipment steadfastly (if occasionally a little asthmatically) over the Alps to holiday beside the Italian lakes. However, its primary role over the last 13 years has been that of daily workhorse.

There have been occasions when I became acquainted with the vagaries of the air-cooled engine the hard way. I recall driving to Cornwall one New Year's morning, following the snowplough along the single open lane of the M5, and being somewhat disappointed to suddenly find no heat entering the car.

We sledged off at the next services and I rooted out walking boots, thermal socks and a woolly hat in which to continue the journey. I eventually arrived on the south coast numb from the neck down, only to discover, as I went to dip the oil, that I'd driven 150 miles looking like the Michelin man, when all that was at fault was a dislodged fresh air pipe from the fan housing. We live and learn!

Then there was the time that someone siphoned off all the petrol while I was parked on some waste ground. As the filler cap was locked, they'd done it by removing the sender from beneath the boot lining and of course hadn't bothered to replace it.

The first I knew of it was at my local Esso station when I was somewhat surprised to find the pump reading £22.00, and even more dismayed to find a good ten pounds' worth of three-star cascading out on to the forecourt!

I must admit that, in 1983, I advertised the car for sale - in the Compact Ads section of VW Motoring of course! Although there were several inquiries, none came to fruition, I'm glad to say, and RTD stayed in the family...

More recently, a succession of newer vehicles relegated RTD to second car status and chronic neglect reduced it to a rather sorry state. The first attempt to tidy it up was made by my father and myself, in what we jokingly referred to as a 'two minute job' using an ancient compressor in the driveway and garage at his house. This in fact turned out to be five weeks of hard work, two whole days of which must have been spent in attempting to replace the rubber windscreen surround - I'm sure there must be a knack to this! Whilst our efforts brought about a superficial improvement, the dreaded rust gradually reappeared. The Beetle had served well throughout its history with us, never once letting me down or leaving me awaiting the services of a rescue organisation - a tribute to the legend that is VW.

However, with the passing of the years bringing about a stiffening of the joints (mine, that is!), and also a few more shillings in the pocket than in the early days, I found that I was now quite happy to entrust the mechanical well-being of RTD to the professionals... Two years ago we decided to reward those years of faithful service with a full facial (and then some!) courtesy of The Beetle Centre Wigan, whose workmanship I unreservedly recommend. During a two-month operation, they fitted four new wings, two doorskins, new lamps all round, new front axle beam, new handles, mirrors and rubber seals, new front and rear aprons, new shock absorbers, two new bumpers (genuine German - ouch!), and new headlining. They also reupholstered the seats, reconditioned the gearbox, and stripped and cleaned the engine before fitting new ancillaries. Last but not least, they resprayed it in a coat of Diamond Silver metallic. In short, their tender loving care put RTD back to how it was when first purchased in 1981.

It is still in everyday use by my wife, Anne, for the journey to work and back, and whilst my new Peugeot 2O5GTi sees out the winter nights from the driveway, RTD is tucked up snugly in the garage - what other treatment would you expect for a member of the family?!

On occasions I do get to use the car myself, and I have become aware of a most unusual phenomenon, and wonder if other readers have similar experiences? My usual journey to work in the GTi is uneventful - I am treated like a human being and fellow road-users keep their distance. Making the same journey in the Beetle, I find that I have become a second-class citizen. I get carved up, hooted at, crowded from behind and overtaken, much more than otherwise; strange isn't it? My wife, too, has found problems now that the car has been returned to its pristine former glory. Parked at the local supermarket or waiting at the traffic lights, she now finds herself the centre of attention and the recipient of admiring comments or inquiries after the car's history. It's not the questions and VW conversations which she objects to, rather the fact that on average the chaps who appear interested seem to be about as old as Dr Porsche himself, a constant complaint from her being: 'Aren't there any young and attractive VW enthusiasts around locally?'!

VW Motoring June 1994

Daily Driver - Last but not least

David Critchley tells the tale of the family Beetle, itself a bit of a rarity