Do you have a favorite car? One that, over the years, you’ve consciously or even subconsciously, used as the measuring stick by which all other cars are measured?
Mine had been my mom’s 1971 Super Beetle. I learned to drive with that car. It was a four-speed manual and a blast to drive.
I was a teenager and got my license in my junior year in high school. Many of my classmates, if they had their own cars, drove the muscle cars of the day, complete with jacked-up rear ends and big, wide rear tires, so they looked like funny cars (the race cars, not something to laugh at).
They drove Pontiac GTOs or Firebirds of various vintage, Chevy Novas, Chevelles, Camaros, as well as 442s, Skylarks, Cudas, Chargers, Challengers, and so on. All tuned so those big V8s would growl and cough and rumble as they drove around John Marshall High School, squeezing tires, to show off for the girls like peacocks waving their colorful tail feathers.
They lived for cars and girls (queue song).
And here I’d come with my mom’s Bug. There’s not much you can do to mod a Bug, especially when it’s your mom’s, but I had a friend help me install an 8-track stereo that I could just plug in, then take out when I was done. We used my home stereo’s set of book shelf speakers, which fit perfectly behind the backseat storage area of the car.
So I’d cruise around blasting tunes and to really get attention, I’d pop the clutch and lay down some rubber. I think it caught people’s attention because no one expected a Bug to squeal it’s tires. Sure, the back end would hop and I’m sure I wasn’t doing the transmission or clutch much good, but it would leave about a two or three foot long burnout.
(And if I my younger son, once he has his license, ever pops the clutch in my Fiat 500, he’s grounded for life.)
That Beetle was a fun little car to drive. It had decent excelleration and was quick enough and small enough that you could weave in and out of traffic without any problems.
And it has been my reference car ever since. Whenever I’d test drive another car, I’d mentally compare it to that one. In the end, none even came close.
I mean, sure, I enjoyed my 1986 Dodge Datona Turbo Z. When the turbo finally kicked in and threw you back into your seat, it was a lot of fun. But otherwise, it was a heavy car, despite its small size and wasn’t very zippy in traffic because of its turbo lag. And shifting always felt clunky until it finally did go clunk.
The two Ford Escorts I had were what would be called basic transportation. One was the body style from the ’80s and the other was the sportier looking version from 1995. They were more utilitarian than fun.
And although our 1996 Pontiac Sunrise served us faithfully for nearly 15 years until it developed a hole in one of the cylinders, I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun to drive either. In fact, it seemed rather heavy, but we always felt safe in it during the winter.
So over 43 years, and at least 14 cars, the memory of that Beetle lived on… until three weeks ago when we bought the 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge.
Now I have a new favorite car.
Small is the new black.