Ben Wilson

Memories of a VW Bug Roadtrip

I always wanted my first car to be a Bug. I eventually owned two. This is a story of one road trip.

Like any good story, you have to start with some of the back story. I was in the Army in Germany in 1994. I bought a 1972 Super Beetle, which had a few problems. For those who have owned Beetles, you know they are needy. In this case, the car started an oil leak out of the cooler, which ended up being an oil stream. I knew about it when a fellow soldier followed a rainbow colored stream on the wet road right to my car.

Over the next week in the rain, I learned how to remove the fan shroud without dropping the engine or removing the rear deck lid. It was my first of several repairs over the next five years of owning Bugs. It was frustrating, so I bought three cans of spray paint: maroon, green and yellow. I painted the shroud happy colors. For added measure, I painted my bug with handprints and paint splatters. Ultimately, I was back on the road. You can imagine the attention I got on the autobahn.

What I did not notice was that the pulley was warped. Somewhere near Stuttgart, the pulley broke the mount strap, and the torque on the generator ripped the fan mount on the shroud. I lost the ability to cool and recharge my battery. I limped into a place to park the car, then hitched a ride with a pair of gypsy truckers.

I later repaired the car but on the drive home I had timing problems that forced me off the autobahn. When I returned, I brought a friend. This was Summer 1995. The windows were down and I had the heater vents wide open to pull off excess heat (I had a new generator, but not a new fan).

Suddenly, there was an explosion. The passenger compartment filled with smoke, and I cursed a storm. However, the car continued to move forward with no break in power. The downed windows cleared the smoke. Then I saw it.

I had left the spray paint cans in the rear, and the maroon can had exploded from the heat being blown onto it from the heater. The can was lined with grey felt. The interior was white. The back seat area now looked like the back seat in Pulp Fiction. My Bug finally had character.

On the way home, I took my friend to Spielkunst, the gaming store. While there, a young German came to me and asked me if I needed medical attention. I asked why, and he said it was because I was bleeding. The splatter from the paint had hit my elbows and made it look like I was seriously bleeding. When I realized that, I said, “I’m a soldier, this is nothing. Just a scratch.”

The young man took a few steps back before he turned to leave.

I later owned a 1969 that kept me on the side of the road three times in as many years. It let me cross the country a few times in the process.

Even today, I would own and drive a Bug if my wife were comfortable with it.