There is no love like first love, it’s said. That’s how I feel about my first car, a 1954 VW Bug. I still think it’s the prettiest Bug ever because of its color – cream with red leatherette seats. It was used, but not many miles, so one look and I was hooked.
I was no kid when it came my way, but in my 20s and working in San Francisco. With tight parking and no garage, the Bug squeezed into the tiniest of parking places and perched gracefully on hills up or down. You just had to remember, “Curb your wheels.”
Plus, “Now where did I last park the little thing?”
The Bug always drew smiles, but the thing that really made people chuckle (or sometimes snort out loud) was my turn signals. These small flip-up appendages were attached in a recessed slot outside the car just to the rear of the driver’s and passenger’s seats. No other Bugs I saw had them, and I was told that 1954 was the last year these signals were manufactured in Germany.
When you turned them on, the little finger-sized things lit up and flew up. Today there are all sorts of replacement parts for older VWs online, but scrolling through them I saw no turn signals of this distinctive type. It’s hard to imagine them in today’s traffic.
I had to learn to drive this little gem. It was a stick shift, which I had not driven before, and the engine was mounted at the rear. That meant the gas station attendant (back when there was such a person) filled the tank by raising the hood.
You needed to travel light as there was no place for luggage. Attached to the back of the front seat was a little woven, hammock-like catchall for odd pieces such as a sweater or extra pair of shoes.
I do remember friends (one at a time, since there were just the two bucket seats in front) laughing at me driving them into the city from San Francisco Airport, because wind on the Bayshore Freeway moved the little car from side to side. My solution was to open the windows so the wind could go through.
I also remember a funny little horn honk, more of a feeble beep. It was definitely not authoritative. It made people smile.
Later, as a reporter of business news for a daily paper outside of San Francisco, I had to make frequent trips to press conferences in the city. After the events were over, we waited for our cars in the nearby parking garage. When the line of cars coming out showed one little put-putting VW among the larger models, I knew my darling was there.
I drove my Bug happily for five or six years, and then a fellow reporter who had a wife and three young children bought it from me, though they could never have all fit in it. But they liked it so much that later they bought a VW bus.
I didn’t see this myself, but I’m told that some creative types in the 1960s removed the hood, added sod, and created gardens of tiny marijuana plants which could be admired as the driver cruised through town.