Bitten by the Bug
Vintage Volkswagen enthusiasts need look no further than Slippery Rock University to spot two of the iconic road machines – a 1968 convertible Bug and 1969 Bug. If your timing is right, you might be able to snag a ride from the University employees who own and drive the cars. Warning: you will catch the bug.
July 29, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa, Even unseasoned gearheads turn an eye when they encounter Carla Coffelt's lovingly restored, 1968 Volkswagen Bug. The car's iconic hump shape, hot red color, vinyl seats and throwback dashboard elicit lots of "oohs and aahs."
Turn the key in the ignition, pop the clutch and it sounds friggin' awesome. The rear-mounted engine hums to perfection as it switches between four gears.
"Have you ever driven an old VW? Then you know the sweet smell of gasoline and old age mixed to perfection," said Coffelt, Slippery Rock University director of retention services. "Ah, it's a Bug all right. It's not just the smell but the sound as well - the high-pitched vibration that rattles through your soul. If you have not had the privilege, there is no way I can explain the iconic aroma, the whine."
In the world of vintage VWs, collectors' pine for Bugs, Beetles, Karmann Ghia's, Buses and a vehicle so strange the company calls it a Thing. Two enthusiasts, who confess to having been bitten by the Bug, are Coffelt and Karen Perry, SRU assistant director of campus recreation. Both own late '60s, zenith blue Bugs. Coffelt, who has driven old-style VWs since the 1970s, restored a '73 Karmann Ghia and is searching for a '68 Bus.
Once touted as "people's cars" and considered a cheap alternative to larger American cars, vintage models certainly don't come cheap. Oldbug.com lists a '57 convertible for $55,000.
"Since I sold the 'Ghia, the red convertible has moved to the number one spot as far as a head turner," Coffelt said.
On nice days, she commutes from New Castle in her red-hot tamale or blue backup. It's easy to spot the convertible, especially given the "Redd Bug" license plate,
front-end bra and peace sign decal in the back.
"The 1968 red convertible was a quest. My Pops and I looked for several years to find a convertible. Most of what we found required a 'lotbug' - that's lots of work and money," Coffelt said. "As luck would have it, Pops found this beauty three miles away, parked in some guy's garage covered with a tarp. Pops approached him and after an exhausting exchange, Pops got the Bug for the price he wanted to pay. I guess he was "stalking" the neighborhood."
Her father bought the blue Bug in 1968 for $1,100. "It has 105,000 miles on it," she said. "I love that car. It never fails to start even if it's been in storage for several months. I'll pass it down to my son Graham when the time comes."
Coffelt said the Karmann Ghia was restored to "original everything."
"The color was willow green with a black interior and a black convertible top," she said. "The color reminded me of a green olive, beautiful with the black top and interior. 1974 was the last year Volkswagen made the Ghia."
Coffelt said she gifted the Karman Ghia, with $25,000 into the restoration, to her Pops.
"I am a three-time cancer survivor. After my first cancer, I needed to do something special for my Pops," she said. "My mom had passed away less than a year when my cancer was diagnosed. My Pops along with my husband Bruce were right there at every step on that journey, I had it in my mind that if I could find a Ghia somewhere I would have it restored. After having the vehicle fully restored, including an engine rebuild, I was able to give Pops the Ghia for Father's Day in 2008."
Pops planted a family seed for VWs with a 1958 Bug, black with orange interior. He drove it as a roundabout car, she said.
"My brother and I would fight to sit in front especially in the winter," said Coffelt, a Cleveland native. "That old Bug had a gasoline heater which was under the dashboard. If you sat in front you got heat. If you had to sit in back, you froze. I guess that's when it all started.
One caveat to the family farfegnugen: The '58 destroyed by a Cleveland garbage truck in 1965. The driver backed up and just didn't see it sitting there. It was just flattened, she said.
While the vintage rides remain her first love, Coffelt drives a 2012 Volkswagen Passat on bad-weather days. Her brother just bought a "really sharp" 2015 Beetle convertible, which combines brand heritage with an up-to-date design.
"I guess you can say we've been bitten by the Bug," she said.
Coffelt said she wouldn't think of selling her Bugs. "Nope, I love my little fleet of Bugs."
Perry's '69 bug, with custom wheel covers, is a work in progress. She bought it 10 years ago. Its rebuilt engine has 75,000 miles.
"It's is my toy car, my fun car, my play car," Perry said.
Perry, of Slippery Rock, said she has been familiar with old Bugs for years, having driven a 1973 back in the day when VW used "think small" as a marketing slogan. She liked them for affordability and industriousness, believing the car was a cinch to fix with a "screwdriver and duct tape."
"My brother had a '71 Beetle," she said. "When he bought it, it was $1,800 or $1,900."
Perry said she'd like to put money into her '69 Bug for restoration but both daughters got married close together, draining the finances. She thinks about selling the vehicle but can't quite bring herself to let it go.
"Old VWs are just something you have in your blood," she said. "I think they appeal to people because of the fun part of it. Everyone looks at them and you hear people saying, 'It's a slug bug.' It just brings a smile to peoples' faces."
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