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The Beetle was love at first sight - Bob Paslay

I fell in love in 1976 and I am still as in love today as I was the first time I saw her. It happened only weeks after my Chevy Vega with its aluminum engine locked down and blew the engine.

I walked onto a used car lot in Columbia, S.C., saw her and it was love at first sight. But I still was going to play hard to get. So I said to the car dealer who was asking $1,400 for the 1972 light tan VW Beetle that I would give him $1,100 even, everything I had in my saving account.

When he said he couldn't take it I gave him the number at the newspaper bureau office where I worked and left. Three hours later he called and said, "OK, but we're not giving any warranty." A car with a lawnmower engine, four wheels, brakes and a steering wheel doesn't need too much of a warranty.

And then from that time until two years ago when I bought my first vehicle in my life at the age of 53, I drove Volkswagens. Or should I say I drove them, pushed them, pulled them, towed them, shook them, rolled them down a hill.

The news this week that production in Mexico on the Beetle will be stopped, ending a six decade run of that little bug, has caused me to reflect on my half life-time love affair with the little critter.

The secret of being a Volkswagen owner (and I usually owned about three at any given time) is to have the right VW mechanic.

I was lucky. I met Dale Cross of Anderson, S.C. some years ago.

First, Cross is a VW surgeon. He can shove a handjack under the backend, undo four bolts and pop that engine out faster than most people can change a light bulb.

He can rebuild them, torque them and make them purr like a kitten. He is one of those kinds of guys who can conceptualize a problem and then fix it, improvising along the way. He truly loves to take something not running and make it run. And he kept an upbeat attitude while having his hands deep in the bowels of my VW.

And the best part is that he was honest. And rather than keep you waiting a month he would get to it right that minute if he knew you were stuck without anything to drive.

At one time as far as you could see a field by his shop was a sea of VWs, parts and half cars.

But then he decided to start a business keeping heavy equipment at plants running and he brought this same type of quality and honesty to his business, C&H Machinery. After he did this, he had tow trucks come in an haul off all the VWS and turned his attention to his business. Thus, I was left without my surgeon and slipped away from the Beetle.

But that doesn't mean I don't still love them. They are sleek, functional and they seldom let you down.

Over the years, I can't tell you how many times I came in on a song and a prayer but it still got me there. On those rare occasions when it snowed in the South, I took the back seat out, loaded it down with cement blocks and drove everywhere while others were either stuck or sliding.

If something could be broken on a VW, I manage to break it. It has a wire running under the car from the gas pedal to the hammer on the carburetor and it would occasionally break. So I learned the art of folding a piece of cardboard and pulling the hammer back and putting the cardboard under it. It would run but you only had one speed and when you came to a light you had to turn the switch and let it sit until the light changed and then crank it back up. I think the longest I ever drove with this makeshift system was 35 miles. Then there was the time the battery fell from the back seat floor and was being dragged along. And the time someone stole my battery and I found out you don't need the battery to run the car and if you push it down a hill and get it going fast enough it will start without the battery or the starter.

I never had much luck with heat. So I bundled up in the winter and drove in the cold until my feet were a block of ice and then went into a store and thawed out before finishing the trip. And of course no ice conditioning.

It is hard to explain why I love the VW Beetle. It is so functional, so nonassuming, so everybody's buddy. I still have one not running in my driveway. I always wanted a convertible but just never was lucky enough to find one.

The people's car traces its origins back to the 1930s in Germany and came to the U.S. for the first time in 1949. And the love affair started and as far as I can see has never ended.

In 1948, they made 19,244 of them but by 1965 production crossed the 1 million mark. And through 1973, more than a million were produced each year. And then production started to go downhill and by 1998 it was down to around 36,000.

When I went to Cancun a few years ago it was like walking back in time. Every parking lot was a rainbow of Beetles, all made in Mexico. True lovers of the bug were willing to import one from Mexico and add all the American requirements.

The good news is that with so many of them made, you will be able to see a bug chugging down the road for years to come.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald and can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com.