In 1959, New York's most creative advertising agency DD&B introduced the Volkswagen Beetle to the United States. This was an era when Americans were in love with big, long flamboyant cars with elaborate tail wings and V-8 engines. The ad featured a black and white photo of the German engineered “Bug,” surrounded by white space with two simple words: “Think Small.” This ad not only made the Beetle as American as apple pie, but Ad Age Magazine recognized it as the greatest ad in history.
The headline of July 12, 2019 Washington Post states: “Volkswagen Says Goodbye to Beetle.” The beloved “Love Bug” has been squashed by America's vociferous appetite for the monster SUV's and pickup trucks. This is a bummer. I can taste the irony.
I was never a car guy. I graduated high school in 1968, and after working for King Leo's for three summers, my dad's graduation present was “have a workless summer” and a new car. A “newish” car to be real. It was a 1961 Buick Special, which I called Otis. My best friends were car guys. Michael had a green British MGB convertible. Esteban had a white British Triumph. Jerry had a even a hotter Triumph convertible. And Rudy upgraded his 1965 Red Convertible GTO to a new bright yellow, black vinyl topped Grand Prix.
We all decided to go to Lindenwood Park at dusk in the early summer of 1968 to take pictures of “our wheels,” all lined up and sexy. If memory serves me, Otis didn't make the cut. I didn't mind though. Honest.
The following year, all of us took our North Dakota State University freshman year blues to Arizona State in Tempe. That's the year I bought a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. Air cooled, gas heater, pale blue/green. I was a fan. Committed. Engine in the back, battery under the back seat. The perfect vehicle for the brutal Arizona summers. I drove that Beetle from Phoenix to Porto Penesco in Mexico. We played football on the beach waiting for the tide came in, to see if my Beetle could really float. It did! One trip I drove from Phoenix up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur and up to San Francisco. I loved my Beetle. So did my passengers and the hitchhikers I picked up along the way.
After six years, she died a slow death. I'm thinking it was like a car's version of Alzheimer’s. On a winter's return trip to Fargo her transmission died in Flagstaff. Two days later, during a brutal winter storm near Denver, her windshield wipers quit and I had to roll down the window to manually scrape the snow and ice off the windshield. Then the window got stripped and I couldn't roll it up. In Mission, South Dakota -38 degrees meant I had to unload my car to get to my battery under the back seat. Fully charged and on my way to Fargo, my clutch went out and I drove home the last 60 miles in second gear. She died. I was exhausted.
But of the dozens of cars I've owned since her demise in 1975, it's my pale green/blue Volkswagen Beetle that remains the crown jewel. Just as Steve Stark lamented the death of Mad Magazine last week, I'm sad the The Beetle will be relegated to the history books and honored as the subject for the best advertising campaign of all time.
The upside of all this is that I'll still be seeing them on the streets for the next 20 years. Those little buggers last forever.