A not- so com­mon species of bee­tle has been adored, stored and now re­stored

JO TAY­LOR HAS scaled a live vol­cano in Gu­atemala, sur­vived a hairy South Amer­i­can bus trip, tra­versed In­dia, Pak­istan, Iran and the Mid­dle East, man­aged of­fice space at Heathrow and looked af­ter renowned an­thro­pol­o­gist Christoph von Furer-Haimen­dorf in Hol­land Park.

Through­out the ad­ven­tures and decades there has been a con­stant de­light in her life – her 1972 1302 S Volk­swa­gen Su­per Bee­tle, painted green to match the VW taxis that tick­led Jo’s fancy in Mex­ico City, has been on the scene for 25 years and the two are tight.

As a teenager Jo longed to drive. She learned in a pad­dock at 14, at­tained her driver li­cence at 15 and had the keys to her first ve­hi­cle – a Fiat Bam­bina, paid for with hard-earned af­ter-school em­ploy­ment – be­fore she was 16.

When Jo pur­chased her Ger­man-made “dub” in 1992 it was no ca­sual ac­qui­si­tion of con­ve­nient wheels. “I’ve al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated a nice car with good han­dling that’s a lit­tle throaty.”

The Volk­swa­gen – born out of Adolf Hitler’s de­sire for low­cost mo­tor­ing for the masses and mas­ter­minded by Czech-born en­gi­neer­ing ge­nius Fer­di­nand Porsche – matched Jo’s needs. “Volk­swa­gens sym­bol­ize good times, good fun and free­dom. A girl­friend and I were flat­ting to­gether when I first owned the Bee­tle. It el­e­vated our sta­tus to the cool chicks in town.”

When first spied, Jo’s Su­per Bee­tle was sit­ting on the lot at a lo­cal Whanganui car yard. “I was ex­cited, wanted it and de­cided in­stantly it was the car for me.”

But love at first sight looked shaky af­ter a test drive. “A fam­ily friend and VW fa­natic checked it over for me and his per­fectly tuned ears de­tected a cracked head. I went back to the car sales­man and said, ‘I want this car and if my friend can do the work on it I’ll buy it.’”

Dis­cus­sions en­sued, re­pairs were made and $5000 bought Jo the car of her life. Man­u­fac­tured dur­ing a short-lived pro­duc­tion run (1972 to 1975) the Su­per Bee­tle was Volk­swa­gen’s bid to freshen up its flag­ging 40-year-old brand.

Heav­ier and larger than a stan­dard VW bug, it’s pow­ered by a peppy 1600cc twin-port en­gine with ex­tra room un­der the front bon­net (a spare tyre has been repo­si­tioned) and in­side the cock­pit. “It gets along the road re­ally well. It’s been de­scribed as the most ex­cit­ing, most pow­er­ful, most com­fort­able Bee­tle,” says Jo head­ing out the back of Whanganui’s Durie Hill and down into the pic­turesque Okoia Val­ley.

“I like the fact that it’s a tiny bit sporty and glam­orous. It’s rea­son­ably com­plex to drive. Be­ing low ra­tio you have to work the clutch to keep the revs up. It sits nicely at 50 kilo­me­tres around town. It’s good on the hills and very happy at 100 on the open road. I’ve put big speak­ers in the back. Driv­ing with a blast of the Black Seeds or Katchafire is so much fun.”

When Jo headed over­seas in 1994 she couldn’t bear to part with her bug, so stored the car in Auck­land at her sis­ter’s garage for two years. “When I got back we had a fi­asco. My sis­ter had tried to crash start it and when we tried to tow it, the rope broke and the VW ran over her lawn­mower which was wrecked. But the dub didn’t have a scratch and off I drove to Whanganui.”

Two years on when Jo and her part­ner Dion set off trav­el­ing again, she stored the car in a hay shed at Upokon­garo. “Un­til then it had been our car 24/7. We loved driv­ing it to South Beach at the mouth of the Whanganui River or to Raglan with Dion’s surf­board on the top. But it was be­gin­ning to show some rust and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. When we put it in the hay barn it went up on blocks and we flooded the en­gine with oil.”

When the cou­ple re­turned home sev­eral years later – with an ex­tra pas­sen­ger, their baby daugh­ter Tay­lor, now 16 – they popped in a new bat­tery, pumped up the tyres and Jo hopped in. “I drove it filled with white-tailed spi­ders, dust and cob­webs but with a grin from ear to ear.”

Once the fam­ily was set­tled, Jo set about re­viv­ing the car to its glory. Ini­tially there was an over­haul of body work. A new roof was welded on, rust was taken out and it was painted. “It was a mas­sive job and took a year.”

Twelve months later it was the en­gine’s turn. “We could hear a flat spot when it was run­ning and knew some­thing was wrong.” The re­sult­ing in­voice ap­pendix was ex­ten­sive: main bear­ings, cylin­der head re­pair, crank­shaft seal, oil pump, cam bear­ings, bar­rel and pis­ton kit, push rod tubs.

The up­hol­stery and in­te­rior were also stripped out and re­vamped. “I’m ab­so­lutely wrapt with the re­sult even though Dion does re­fer to it as my mil­lion dol­lar car,” says Jo.

Head­ing along Ik­i­tara Road the dub’s 45-year-old air-cooled throb has lost none of its charm. “Over the years it’s been on road trips with our girls touch rugby team (The Hand­bags), had snow­boards in it, moun­tain bikes on the back and surf­boards on top. It’s had rib­bons tied on its wind­screen wipers by a stranger, the thumbs up from a po­lice­man, so many smiles and waves, and it’s been a wed­ding car.”

Th­ese days Jo says she watches the weather be­fore choos­ing be­tween her daily run­about, a mod­ern Subaru or her Ger­man gem. “I’ve be­come a bit fussy.”

Daugh­ter Tay­lor has re­cently passed her driver li­cence and Jo hopes one day to pass on her dub. “It’s pretty cool. It’s part of us as a fam­ily."

When the dub does fi­nally trans­fer from mother to daugh­ter, Jo hopes Tay­lor will have as much fun and mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences as she has had. In the mean­time she still hugs her­self when she re­calls the cross­roads mo­ment when, with plane tick­ets in hand, her heart ruled her head and the de­ci­sion was to rekin­dle rather than kiss good­bye. “Af­ter the hay shed era it could so eas­ily have been on the scrapheap but it’s risen again.”

‘I drove it filled with white-tailed spi­ders, dust and cob­webs with a grin from ear to ear’

Jo Tay­lor and daugh­ter Tay­lor Chad­field with their kelpie Roo.


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