NZ Classic Driver
What’s my favourite classic car? That’s a really easy question to answer – a 1956 ‘Oval’ Volkswagen Beetle in Horizon Blue. And guess what, I have one sitting in the garage. What’s more, it is the dead spit of my parents’ first car, right down to the light brown vinyl upholstery. That was the car I would have come home from the maternity ward in, wrapped securely (if not safely, at least in today’s terms) in my mother’s arms – back then, the Beetle didn’t even have front seat belts. I remember them being fitted in the ’70s when it become mandatory for cars sold in and after 1955.
My parents’ ‘Oval’ had a colourful life, even filling in for the lack of a tractor when my parents bought a farm in the late ’60s. Living in a farm community, where Falcons, Holdens and Valiants were the norm, I did come in for a bit of a ribbing at primary school. However, eventually we upgraded to a second-hand, 1970 Ford Falcon station wagon, although we kept the VW until, unfortunately, it was written off after being involved in an accident on a dark and stormy night with a bull.
That night, quick thinking saw me rescuing the handbook out of the Beetle’s glovebox. I still have that handbook today – its pages filled with Volkswagen’s marvellous cartoon-like characters illustrating how owners should drive the car as well as perform basic maintenance tasks such as checking oil levels.
I bought my Oval 10 years ago. I’d gone from Wellington to Christchurch to pick up a ’70s Morris Mini Clubman but just had to look at the VW, which wasn’t exactly for sale. However, a price fair to both parties was struck and the car was mine.
Every time I drive it, which is not that often, I am taken back to my childhood. I used to sit in my parents’ Beetle changing the gears. I loved the way it would run out of petrol and Mum or Dad would use the tap on the firewall to change to the reserve – often not without issues, I might add.
I still have black and white photos of my parents’ car, including one with my mother laughing in front of the car on her 21st birthday. My example is in far better condition than my parents’ car – at 20 years of age, their car had already done 160,000 miles and was carrying a few battle scars, mostly thanks to poor visibility out of its small and namesake ‘oval’ rear window.
My Beetle has completed 126,000 or so miles and the engine has been reconditioned. Recently, I replaced the mismatched crossply tyres with a set of radials, making the car a whole lot safer as well as more comfortable.
The biggest issue with driving my car is the semaphore lever-arm indicators, which few people notice, particularly in Wellington’s busy streets. Yes, I am brave enough to drive in traffic but I am conscious now of the worth of the car and the fact that classic cars are only original once.
Cars are built to be driven and not to sit unmoving in sheds and museums. However, if some of our cherished classics had only experienced limited use earlier in their lives, enthusiasts like us would never be able to relive their formative automotive years.