Buggin' Out

To some folks a Volkswagen isn't a VW unless the engine's in back, emitting that telltale chirp with each burst of acceleration. Old-schoolers, explains VW enthusiast Sandi Barrett, think the German cars were at their best when Beetles, Karmann Ghias, and buses were propelled by air-cooled engines mounted in what should have been the trunk.

When VWs were introduced in the '40s, the simple design of the "Veedub" engine, utilizing a fan instead of a radiator, allowed owners to pretty much fix the engines themselves. Diehards jokingly refer to radiator-packing later models with the engine up front as "water-pumpers," the first of which, the Rabbit, debuted in 1975.

You can't blame them for scoffing. Over the years VW's newer models became less friendly to the home mechanic, and the company's cars gained a reputation for high maintenance. Sales lagged for years. But in the mid-'90s VW started producing more reliable automobiles, and the introduction of the new Beetle last year, accompanied by a hip advertising campaign, sparked a new case of VW fever.

"In the last few years Volkswagen has improved immensely," says Barrett, who owns two mid-'60s Karmann Ghias. But she's only a moderate old-schooler. A member of the South Florida Gold Coast Volkswagen Club, which will host its annual Show 'n Shine XVI on April 18, Barrett appreciates newer VW models. At a show last October, however, she was surprised to see six new Beetles, which had just gone on the market, sporting add-ons such as air dams and spoilers.

Modification is where owners of new and old VWs find common ground. After-market accessories -- spoked rims, hood bras, Baja kits -- have been available for vintage VWs for years, and accessorizing the simple cars is part of the attraction for collectors.

Bobby Roberts, the president of the Gold Coast club, has an oval-window '57 Beetle with a flashy, yellow-and-black color scheme. The body is "stock," he says, but the engine is fuel-injected and turbo- charged, which puts it in the semi-custom class. A vintage VW restored to its original condition shows in the stock class.

When it comes to being judged, the older VWs and water-pumpers don't compete for the same prizes. Barrett says, however, that "there is a friendly rivalry, and a lot of the people who own the older Bugs now drive new ones."

-- John Ferri

Show 'n Shine XVI will take place Sunday, April 18, at Pompano Square Mall, Copans Road and Federal Highway, Pompano Beach. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Car registration is $20; admission is free. Call 954-792-5386.

 
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