The summer before I entered high school my parents went to New Orleans on a couple’s vacation—meaning none of us three kids accompanied them—and they returned in a matador red 1960 Volkswagen convertible with a tan rag top and tan interior. Anyone who attended Huntsville High School during the 1960s remembers that snappy little foreign car. She was the first VW to appear in my hometown, and made quite an impression on the townsfolk.
I learned to drive in that car, with its stick shift and rear engine. Like many classmates, I took driver’s education from Coach Lewis and got my license when I was fourteen years old. The Volkswagen was like riding around in a pregnant roller-skate. But my, oh my, what great mileage it got! With gas at 29.9 cents per gallon, we could drive around all night—even travel to the next town and home again—for less than a dollar.
My older brother was seventeen when my folks brought home that red bug. He was dating the newspaper editor’s daughter and the first time Stone drove the convertible over to pick her up for a date, her father wanted to know what he was doing in one of Hitler’s cars, asked him if we’d become communists.
The scariest and most exhilarating time in the car had to be the night my younger brother played car tag with his friends. Eight of us were crammed in that little bug with its top down—two in the front seats, three in the backseat and three of us sitting across the back and hanging on for dear life by grabbing the canvas convertible top. Mark easily drove 40-50 mph, careening down side streets through dark neighborhoods, twice dousing the headlights, trying to escape our pursuers. I have no idea what would have happened if we’d been caught, either by the other kids in their cars or by the local police, but I believe we are lucky to have lived to tell the tale.
My brothers taught me how to disconnect the speedometer cables so our parents wouldn’t know I drove to Trinity to buy beer, or to Conroe to see a boyfriend, or to the rock quarry to swim in the moonlight. Most of the time, though, I parked that sweet ride at the Tastee Freeze where my girlfriends and I drank Cokes and flirted with boys who cruised by real slow.
Both brothers and I drove that car throughout our high school years, and I took it to Austin for the semester my dad sent me to University of Texas to experience Southwest Conference football. By then, first gear didn’t work anymore, so uphill streets with stop signs had to be avoided. (I learned that lesson the hard way.)
When I got out of college, the first car I bought was a Volkswagen. An air-conditioned 1967 Beetle, it cost around $1,800. I was teaching at Spring Woods High School in Houston, and my students placed a TIGERPOWER bumper-sticker across the back. Following that, I owned several other Volkswagens, including two VW buses, but my favorite was that 1960 convertible. I was sad when the last Beetle rolled off the Puebla, Mexico, assembly line in the summer of 2003. The end of a groovy era.
Now, I drive a Mini Cooper.