Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

My love affair with the VeeDubs (VWs)

When I was young back in the early 1970’s, I remember feeling excited every time my uncle Jun visits our house in Naga. Back then my uncle used to work for Bayer Philippines agrochemicals as a regional sales representative. Whenever he goes around the small towns of Albay and Camarines Sur to visit his clients, I would tag along with him. Most of his clients are Bicolano farmers and farm supplies stores. When he started as a sales representative, he drove around on a Yamaha GT50 motorcycle. Due to his exemplary sales performance, Bayer rewarded him by giving him a service vehicle which was a 1974 Volkswagen beetle. My uncle would sometimes playfully call his Volkswagen as “Chicks-wagen”, or “VW Babe-tle”. Though it was a small car, it was very reliable and had a fuel efficient engine.

As I watched my uncle go through his day visiting and convincing farmers to buy his pesticide products, the whole experience planted in me a sense of interest towards the sales profession. I had the impression that a salesman’s workday does not seemed to resemble work at all because they go through their days almost leisurely. And while majority of the working class is laboring through the afternoon, sales people would just kick back on their favorite sofas and snooze the afternoon away. By late afternoons, the whole sales community would become active again to visit their clients which are then available to meet with the salespeople.

After college, I decided to pursue a career in the sales industry and my very first company vehicle was an earlier 1970s model VW Brasilia. The car broke down after a week and so the pharmaceutical company I worked for then had to issue me another vehicle. The replacement vehicle I got was a 1973 Volkswagen super beetle 1303S.

During the 1960’s through the 1980’s, the preferred vehicle of the sales profession was the Volkswagen beetle. The VW beetles were deemed ideal vehicles by companies because they were cheap and easy to maintain. When a salesperson meets or exceeds the company’s sales expectations, he/she is rewarded with a vehicle upgrade. The next step up from a Volkswagen is either a Mitsubishi Lancer or a Toyota Corolla.

To a young dashing sales person, being issued a company vehicle is a status symbol which elevates the person into a certain level of prestige. It also sets him/her apart from the sales force that is vehicle deprived. This behavior is commonly known as “Ubod nang Kayabangan”. To the lower echelon salespeople who are dependent on public transportation, this is a source of shame and discomfort. Whenever they are asked what kind of vehicle they drive, they would meekly claim that the brand of car that they drive is called “Cadi-lakad”, “Mitsubishi-Lakad (lancer), Mitsubishi-Pasahero (Pajero), “Toyota-Lift-Bag” (liftback) or “Walks-Wagen”.

Do you guys still remember the official Ateneo De Naga school van back in the 1960’s and 70’s? I could be wrong but I think the school van then was a model 1965 Volkswagen bus, which is also known as “Kombi”. The word “Kombi” came from a German word “Kombinationskraftwagen” (Combination vehicle). The Ateneo VW bus was colored blue with white stripes (I think) and on the front of the bus was painted the Ateneo knight. I am still searching for a picture of that school van because I would like to include it in my photo collection.

I remember one afternoon back in 1976 or 1977, I went to the wooden school garage which was next to the Jesuit house in Ateneo De Naga. I saw the Volkswagen van parked with its driver window rolled down and so I became curious and started checking its controls. From watching Fr. Millar, I have learned that there is a 2-step process to start the school Volkswagen bus. The first one is to turn the key to the “start” marker. On the lower left side of the steering wheel is a push button and when you push that button, it turns on the starter which turns the engine on. Finding no key in the ignition hole, I thought that nothing will happen if I push the ignition button. Being a curious kid, I pushed the ignition button and suddenly the van jerked forward hitting the back wall of the garage. There was a loud crushing sound and the whole wooden garage shook from the impact of the van hitting the back wall of the garage. I turned pale and dashed out of the garage faster than Speedy Gonzales. I think I broke an Olympic sprint record while running away from the Jesuit house garage. The helpers inside the Jesuit house went to the garage to investigate what was going on. They were all puzzled on how the school van moved by itself. They probably thought that some restless ghosts that had been rumored to haunt the buildings of Ateneo possessed the school van.

Twenty eight years after that incident, I became interested in vintage car restoration and decided to restore an old Volkswagen. It took me about half a year before I finally found the right Volkswagen to buy at the price I could afford. My first Volkswagen project was a 1963 VW bug that still ran on a 6-volt battery (Nowadays cars run on 12-volts). It had a 1200 engine and everything in the interior of the beetle is original. In the glove compartment, I even found a vintage postal stamp and an old drive-in movie ticket that dates back to the 1970’s. The engine starts but it has a long list of mechanical problems like the brake system does not work, the carburetor leaks, numerous oil leaks around the engine, etc. The interior body of the beetle is amazingly in good shape and still had the original 1963 paint in it. The seats and door panels were falling apart and so I had to replace them.

The second VW beetle I bought is a 1964 model. I bought it from a guy living with his wife at the desert about 80 miles away from our house. When I got to the house of the owner, I saw that the beetle was a “basket case”. It is called a basket case because almost all the body parts of the beetle were disassembled. The engine was still on the beetle but almost all the body parts were in boxes and plastic containers. It was an ugly duckling. I paid a cheap price for the bug and had a tow truck pick it up.

It took me about 3 months before I was finally able to put together most of the parts of the bug. After I replaced the whole wiring system with a brand new wiring harness, I crossed my fingers and turned on the ignition key. To my amazement, the engine came alive and it sounded good. I was surprised that I was able to get that engine to start after it sat at the desert for more than a year.

One thing I learned about Volkswagen restoration is that it takes time, money and a deep pocket of patience. Repair manuals are indispensable because they act like a bible during restoration. The fun part of vintage car restoration is the lengthy process of hunting for original parts. I discovered that the best way to hunt for parts is to stay connected with Volkswagen enthusiasts in our area.

When I started attending VW conventions and monthly parking lot gatherings, I found the culture of the VW fanatics to be laid back and quite informal. I immediately bonded with a number of guys who are into VW restorations and there would be weekends when they would drive their vintage bugs and buses to my house just to hangout and do repairs. We discuss all the new repair tips that we learned and possible restoration projects that we can get involve with.

Volkswagen vintage restoration is not just a simple hobby. A restorer’s garage functions like a slow moving time machine. It goes through a time consuming process that gradually brings back to life a man-made machine that saw its glory during an era which we now call “The good old days”.

When my Volkswagen beetles first rolled its wheels on the streets of California, I was still a small baby in a tiny town in the province of Albay. My VW Beetles rode through the Groovy years of the 1960s. Its wheels became misaligned when it attempted to do the popular 1960’s dance “Twist”. It honked its well wishes to the American servicemen & women before they were shipped to South Vietnam to fight the Communists. It witnessed the nation grieved when President Kennedy was assassinated back in November 22, 1963. It watched the British popular rock band, Beatles, perform for the first time on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. It proudly straightened up its wheels when it saw the passing of the first civil rights bill to stop racial discrimination on July 2, 1964. Its headlights flashed with glee when it saw ladies wearing the shorter version of the mini skirts back in the year 1965. Its lights deemed sadly when it learned that Mr. Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse, died of cancer in December 15, 1966. It lifted its trunk with wonder when it saw armies of Volkswagens loaded with people headed to Bethel, New York to attend the Woodstock festival that was held from August 15-18, 1969. It is during the Woodstock festival that the Beetles heard Jimi Hendrix played on his guitar the national anthem, which became a famous instrumental classic. It looked up to the evening sky when Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.

My vintage Volkswagens have grown around me after I brought them back to life. My VWs are no longer just my cars because they have become part of my family. They are there not only for me but also for my children who watched me slowly build their own Volkswagens inside my garage. Hopefully when my children leaves the safety of our home, they will drive away the vintage VWs that I restored for them. And whenever they start their VWs, they will remember that their father is always with them.

It is not a car. It is a Volkswagen.

Joseph Ivan.


The word Volkswagen is a German word that literally means “People’s Car”. Prior to 1930, there had been numerous attempts to create an affordable “people’s car” in Germany with no profound success. Almost all the cars prior to 1930 costs above an average worker’s annual wage even though they were designed simple enough for an average person.

The story of the Volkswagen beetle began about the end of summer of 1933 when Ferdinand Porche was summoned by Adolf Hitler to hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin. Porsche (pronounced Porsh-Uh) had an outstanding reputation as an engineer and had been the chief designer for Daimler-Benz and owned his own engineering consulting firm. During the meeting, Hitler discussed his idea of a Volkswagen. Hitler proposed a people’s car that could carry five people, can cruise up to 62 mile per hour and has an engine that travels 33 miles per gallon. The engine also has to be air-cooled because most Germans then did not have any garages. When Porche asked Hitler for an idea of the price of the car, Hitler answered, “At any price, Herr Doktor Porche. Any price below 1,000 Reich Marks!”.

Porsche turned pale upon hearing the price and thought to himself that Hitler’s proposal sounded like an order. Porche knew it was next to impossible to build a car at that price. One thousand Marks in 1933 was roughly equivalent to 250 dollars. Even Ford could not build an automobile that cheap. After leaving, Porsche dismissed the matter as a wild whim of the iron dictator. What Porche did not know was that Hitler intended to use the promise of a Volkswagen as a political device to win Germans to his regime. Mussolini made the Italian trains to run on time. Hitler wanted to give the Germans a car.

Less than a year later after the meeting, Hitler delivered an impassioned speech at the opening of the Berlin International Automobile Show where he promised the German public a small low priced car. Shortly after that, Porsche received an official order to have three prototype Volkswagen models ready within ten months. Hitler even arranged for the various members of the German Automobile Manufacturers Society to supply some of the component parts. In effect he was ordering the entire industry to produce the car. Porsche was extremely upset because he deemed the price to be impossible to meet. Porche knew that even Ford Motor Company, who rarely turned out less than one million machines of a particular model, spends about 2,600 Reich Marks per vehicle. But no one dared say no to the dangerous dictator, and so work began.

Hitler did not know then that Porche already designed and built a small car that closely resemble what Hitler had in mind. In 1932, Porche went to NSU Motorenwerke (A German car & motorcycle manufacturer) and produced three machines which closely resembled the modern Volkswagen. It has a rear air-cool engine with a squared-off body. Porsche came up with the same idea years earlier. Even the name was similar--Volksauto. But the design never came near to the production price that Hitler wanted. NSU and Porche dropped the idea until Hitler came along. When Volksauto was resurrected (Thanks to the Fuhrer), Porche began the time consuming process of redesigning it. Porsche established his workshop in his own private garage and, being a meticulous engineer that he was, refused to rush the project. While Porche was hard at work with the Volkswagen design, he was also building racing cars for Auto-Union and was really much more concerned with beating the Italians than satisfying Hitler's whim.

Hitler did not consider it a whim. In speech after speech, Hitler kept promising the German public their Volkswagen. Behind the scenes, the dictator kept a relentless pressure on both Porsche and the German Automobile Manufacturers Society to build the people’s car. Actually Porsche was being squeezed from both sides. Hitler was not to be denied of his goal while the manufacturers were holding back on their efforts to build the Volkswagen. The German manufacturers were very reluctant to participate in a project that would eventually offer them serious competition.

In 1935, Porsche visited America and toured the General Motors, Packard, and Ford assembly lines with a stopwatch in his hand. He made notes of the specialized machine tools and body dies that the American plants were using. He found the production methods of the U.S. plant very different to the Europeans. The American system turned out cars in great quantity, something no European had ever done. When Porsche returned to Germany, he realized that the German private owned companies could never finance this kind of operation. It would have to be done by the German government.

Porsche and a production team were then sent to America to recruit American technicians for the new factory. Key engineers who could speak German were signed up and American mass-production knowledge was ready to operate in Nazi Germany. Strangely enough, the American manufacturers did not show the slightest interest in the German scheme. Henry Ford said, "If someone else can make better and cheaper cars than I, it serves me right."

In 1938, construction began on the KdF Wagen factory. In 1939, several VW38s (pre-production) and VW39s (demonstration cars) were produced. Unlike its predecessors that had “suicide doors”, the new models had front hinged doors, split windows in the rear, larger hoods and many other minor differences. This edition of the car was the basis of the Beetle design after the war was over.

When the V38s were introduced, Hitler abruptly changed the name of the car to KdF Wagen. KdF stood for "Kraft durch Freude" which meant "Strength through Joy." This upset Porsche, as he was not a member of the Nazi party and he did not support Hitler's use of propaganda when advertising the car.

What is most significant about the entire Volkswagen project is that Hitler did not really care if the car ever went into production. The Volkswagen was a political device, a sop to his public, whose support he desperately needed for his military adventures. After Hitler invaded Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, the propaganda tool, Volkswagen, was all but forgotten. Marooned at the town where the Volkswagen factory is located are the American technicians and their families.

With the war fully under way, the now completed factory at Wolfsburg was called upon to produce a military vehicle. One of the vehicles that was produced was the Type 82 Kübelwagens. The Kübelwagen was a simple looking military vehicle that basically used the same parts as the KdF Wagen but had a flat-sided body and had a higher ground clearance. It was essentially the Germany's version of American jeep in WWII. Kübelwagens weighed only 1,100 pounds and two men could stand it on its wheels if it overturned. It served on all fronts - the mud in Poland; the freezing winters of Russia; the hot sands of Africa. Field Marshal Rommel once pointed out that a Volkswagen would operate where a camel bogged down!

During the war, the company also produced amphibious vehicles known as the Type 128 and also type 166 which was also called “Schwimmwagen”. This vehicle was powered by a 25hp engine, and had a retractable ducted propeller in the rear for water use. In the water, the Schwimmwagen could achieve a speed up to 15mph and steered in the water using its front tires. On land, it traveled at a speed of 50mph.

The KdF Wagen factory was a prime target during the war and it was partially destroyed due to the allied bombing. After the war was over, the British Army took over the factory. The British were interested in the factory because they needed light transportation. The factory was brought back up under the leadership of Major Ivan Hirst of the British Army.

By the end of 1945, the plant had produced more than 2000 cars, most of which were produced from spare parts that were left at the factory. Within a year, the factory had produced over 10,000 cars, all thanks to the assistance provided by the British government.

Sometime after 1945, the company was renamed Volkswagen by the British. The English occupiers also renamed the town where the factory was at as "Wolfsburg". Wolfburg is the name of an ancient local castle near the town. The British sought to give control of the company to able hands. It was offered to the Ford Company but they turned down the offer because Ford thought that buying Volkswagen is a waste of money. The French government also refused to buy VW. Nobody wanted to buy the Volkswagen Company! In 1949, the British government was finally able to relinquish the control of the Volkswagen Company to the German government. Heinrich Nordhoff was appointed as the senior executive of Volkswagen, a move which proved to be a very good one.

After 1949, production at Volkswagen steadily increased. Nordhoff's experience and knowledge proved invaluable for the company. Late in 1949, an idea for a utility/transport vehicle was developed, and by 1950, the VW transporter was born.

Volkswagens began exporting to neighboring European countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Luxemburg, Belgium, and Switzerland. As early as 1950, Volkswagen began producing Beetles in South Africa as well. Volkswagen commissioned an old German coach building company, Karmann, to build their Beetle convertibles. Every single convertible Volkswagen Beetle was completed by Karmann that is why there are special badges attached to all VW convertibles. In 1952, a Volkswagen dealership was opened in England. A few Volkswagens were imported into the United States in 1949 by Ben Pon, but they didn't immediately gain popularity. Very few were sold in their first year in the US.

The Hoffmann Company of New York, which imported Beetles in the early 1950s, eventually abandoned Volkswagen and imported Porsches instead. Volkswagen did not sell many cars in the United States until later in the mid-1950s.

Volkswagen transporters were not as popular as Beetles. In the first 5 years of production, there were 4 times fewer Buses built as Beetles. The VW Buses produced before 1955 had characteristically large engine access doors. Today, they are largely known as "barndoor" buses. Some people think that barndoor is supposed to be a reference to the side doors, but it is a misconception. These early barndoor transporters are very rare today.

Beetles built before 1953 looked almost identical to the KdF Wagen designed before WWII. Midway in 1953, Volkswagen changed the rear split windows of the Beetles and added a slightly larger oval window. This oval window was said to increase visibility out of the rear of the car by 33%. By 1955, Volkswagen came out with a new model called the Karmann Ghia. It used many parts from the Beetle to keep production cheaper, and less complex. The Karmann Ghia was a joint venture by companies Karmann and Ghia.

Volkswagen production kept increasing through the late 1950s. In 1958, the larger rear window that most people see in Beetles today was adopted. In each year, minor changes were made to the Beetle and the other cars in Volkswagen's lineup, but nothing very drastic. Volkswagen also had a very successful advertising campaign in the 1960s which helped contribute to its success in the United States. The Disney movie, Herbie, also helped promote the Beetle. The Herbie movies portrayed the Beetle as a "love bug." Later in the 1960s, Volkswagen produced over one million Beetles each year. 1969 was the most productive year for Volkswagen.

After the Beetle's boom years in the late 1960s, its sales began to decline. In 1967, the transporter underwent major design changes. In 1971, Volkswagen developed a new car called the Super Beetle. The Super Beetle had modern MacPherson struts in the front instead of the older transverse beam arrangement it had since the 1930s. This new suspension allowed the trunk to be deeper, thus creating more luggage space in the front trunk. Super Beetles were smoother cruisers on the highway. The ever increasing US government regulations on safety and emissions controls pushed the Beetle to its limits. The Beetle could not be adapted to keep up with the other cars in the industry. Volkswagen stopped production of the Beetle sedan in 1977 and stopped production of the cabriolet in 1979. Volkswagen of Brazil continued building Beetles and VW Vans until 1993. Volkswagen of Mexico still hasn't stopped building Beetles! In fact, the Beetle is by far the most popular car in Mexico.

VW facts:

The car was originally known as Käfer, the German word for “Beetle”. It was not until August 1967 that the Volkswagen Corporation began using the name Beetle in its marketing materials in the US. In Britain, VW never used the name Beetle officially. It had only been known as either the "Type I" or as the 1100, 1200, 1300, 1500, or 1600 which had been the names under which the vehicle was marketed in Europe. The numbers denoted the vehicle's approximate engine size in cubic centimeters.


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