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Just got done adjusting the valves on a 1973 Super Beetle. The car was a gift from Martha and the girls for my birthday, the result, no doubt, of ceaseless recitation about my drive out to Bastyr College (in Seattle) from Arizona in the late 1970's, all by my lonesome, and with a grand total of $80 in my pocket; in a virtually identical car.
Back then it seemed everyone drove a Beetle. They were inexpensive, widely available, and lent themselves to the machinations of the â€˜shade tree mechanic.' That 1974 bug stayed with me all through my naturopathic education and continued to render good service well into my first few years of practice, by which time I had moved back to New York City.
Somewhere on the Oregon Coast, 1981.
By the time I felt that I was ready to move on to a new car (a 1984 Toyota Corolla, if I remember correctly) that Bug and I were bonded on an almost Emersonian spiritual level; something that you could do with those older mechanical cars, that today's fuel injected, GPS, power-everything cars actually try their darnest to insulate you from.
Just the act of shifting a VW Bug is a sensuous joy. You can't force the stick shift; it will just repay you with grinding and bucking. Instead, you must glide it into place and wait until the car is ready for you. Then, you shift. Couple that with a delicate interplay of the clutch and you wind up with two types of classic VW Bug drivers: One who drives the car into the ground, and complains about it's fussiness; and the other, who sees the car as an extension of their nervous system.
The â€˜Bible' of the classic VW is John Muir's "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive Forever; A Manual for the Compleat Idiotâ€?, usually just referred to on VW forums as â€˜The Idiot Book'.
Many people consider Muir's VW book the grand-daddy of all â€˜Idiot' type self help books.
Muir (who died in 1977) was my guru on all things VW. Interspersed with wonderful pen and ink drawings, The Idiot Book was a micro-encapsulation of late 1960's vernacular and perhaps more poignantly, late 1960's self sufficiency and hopefulness.
The book is full of short term fixes that will hold you until â€˜you get a bit more bread.' It could also take you through the entire process of pulling and rebuilding the engine, something I did once, by myself, entirely on Muir's guidance.
My new-old VW is in pretty good shape, with about 89K miles. There is a tremendous VW Bug community on the web, and many, many aftermarket and NOS (â€˜New-Old Stock; basically an original part that has hung on a shelf, or in a box, for the last thirty years.)
Some rust, but not too bad. The title showed only three owners, and I was pleased to see that the first owner was a woman who was in her early sixties when she bought the car new. Perhaps sadly, the next owner was the American Cancer Society. Finally, there was a third owner who apparently just let the car sit in a garage for a decade.
So here I am: A copy of Muir's Book, a pair of greasy hands and a smile from ear to ear.
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