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Is there anything harder to forget than either your first really hard crush or your first car?  I don't think so.  And since I just paid an outrageous amount of money to have my "economy car" tuned up, I find myself waxing poetic, and reminiscing fondly, about my first car.  It was a '69 VW bug.  It was both my first car, and the only car I ever owned that I could actually work on.  Nanette, on the other hand,was the first girl that made my 12 year old body turn summersaults, and I have never forgotten her.  If I had any artistic talent, I could still paint her face.  But though I remember you as if it were yesterday, Nan, as I grew older, my familiarity with women increased, while my familiarity with cars seemed to decrease.

I look back upon both Nan and my first car, that beat up '69 Bug, and wonder sometimes..."Who's driving them now."

I now own a used Hyundai Sonata.  It's ten years old.  I can't work on it, and there hasn't been a car that I could work on since my first '69 Beetle.  My Sonata is a six cylinder auto that, over the past course of 30 years of auto evolution has managed to engineer, hide and sequester the spark plugs, or at least half of them, underneath serious structural obstacles in the engine.  You can't change the plugs without taking the car to a mechanic.   And isn't that, in retrospect, what has driven auto technology over the past 40 years?

The VW Bug had to die, I would suggest...because it was so damned easy to work on at home.   Hell, it's the only car I could do anything with, and I could do plenty with it...and I have two left hands.

I blow a kiss to my old VW...and I blow a kiss to you, too, Nan.  I remember both of you fondly, in distinctly different ways.

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I bought my VW Bug in 1975.  It was already 6 years old.  Or was it?  Given the way that VW's could be regenerated and recycled, who knows?  If you blew the engine, you could buy a new one and have it dropped into your body for relatively little money.  If you tore up the body?  Buy a new "shell" and drop your still good engine into it.  It was easy to do, and inexpensive.  I wonder if that didn't have something to do with the Bug's demise?

It may have been too economical.  But maybe that's me and my own tendency to subscribe to CT's.

I once hit a deer at night, which caved in my front right fender.  I collected myself, got out and inspected the damage...pulled the fender up off of the tire and drove home.  The next week, I went to the VW dealer, paid about $45 as I remember for a new fender, and replaced it myself.  The fenders were held on with bolts, with a rubber gasket, that came with the new fender from the dealer.

O could tune that Beetle myself.  Points and plugs were inexpensive, and I could actually gap my spark plugs using a simple tool, replace them, replace the points and brusk the contacts lightly inside of the distributor...and voila!  The oil drain plug was easily found, and the clearance of a Bug was such that you could slide underneath, loosen the drainplug, and change the oil without driving the damned thing up onto ramps.

Hell...when you opened the hood on a VW, the entire engine was just right there in your face, and everything was both visible and accessible.  I open the hood on my car these days, and it takes me several minutes just to find the goddamned dip stick to check the oil.  And forget about changing it.  The starter?  I couldn't tell you where it is.  But I changed on once on a VW.  

Part of the problem is repair manuals.  They are incomprehensible.  The best repair manual ever written, bar none, is "The Compleat Idiot's Guide To Keeping Your Volkswagen Alive."  There were no small black and white photos...there were drawings.  It was written in language that even the most mechanically challenged person could understand.  I used it for many years...and it lived up to its title.  It kept my bug alive.

It also instilled in me a fleeting sense that I, too, could work on cars.  But that ended as soon as I got rid of my VW and bought something else.  I was never able to work on another car like I could work on that Beetle...and over the years, as the engine compartments just got more crammed...I gave up altogether.  I don't even change my own oil anymore.

The VW invited you to work on it.  My Hyundai dares you to even try, and hints at disaster if you should take up that dare.

I miss that old Bug.  It wasn't the classiest ride across town...but it got me there and back, and it was economical, and I could work on it...which was satisfying in some respects.

My Dad was stingy when it came to dispensing pearls of useful wisdom, but the one true thing he drilled into my head at an early age was this:  "A car isn't an investment...it's an expense."

It is very true.  And looking back...that VW was the least expensive car I've ever owned.

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Originally posted to Keith930 on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 07:13 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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