- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

Volkswagen yesterday said it would stop making the original Beetle this year, ending production of the classic car affectionately known as the “bug.”

Production of the last of the old-style Beetle at the VW plant in Puebla, Mexico, will “end this summer,” company spokesman Fred Baerbock said, adding that an exact date had not been set.

But the American vintage Volkswagen subculture has no plans to drive off into the sunset.

“They’ve been talking about [ending production] for years. I don’t see it as having much of an impact,” said Brendan McHugh, Maryland’s Vintage Volkswagen Club of America chapter representative.

Mr. McHugh owns a 1962 Beetle convertible.

“It’s a great little car,” said the 33-year-old commercial property manager from Frederick, Md.

The first version of what would become known as the Beetle was developed in 1934 under the guidance of Adolf Hitler, who wanted to build a “people’s car” — or, in German, a Volkswagen. It entered mass production after World War II.

The VW became a favorite of both thrifty postwar Germans and 1960s American hippies.

The old-style Beetle was first sold in the United States in 1949. U.S. sales of the original VW stopped in 1981 after almost 5 million units were sold.

Volkswagen sold more than 21 million of the cars over the decades worldwide, but the company said it produced fewer than 30,000 last year.

In 1998, the German automaker started selling the New Beetle, also made in Mexico. Through May, VW had sold almost 360,000 in the United States.

But aficionados have not forsaken the air-cooled original.

Mr. McHugh, for example, said he is pouring about $30,000 into his Beetle, restoring it and getting ready to show it at numerous VW car shows nationwide.

Some parts come from Mexico, but enough cars are being junked and enough used pieces are in circulation that cars on the road won’t be hurt by the company’s decision.

“They’re quirky cars; but if you’ve had a couple, you learn your way around,” Mr. McHugh said.

William Carter opened Bug and Bunny Inc. in Arlington in 1982. The auto shop deals in parts, and Mr. Carter specializes in fixing bugs. He almost never sees “bunnies” — VW Rabbits, Dashers and Sciroccos.

“Some of my stuff comes from Mexico, some from Brazil, and I have a supplier in Cleveland. Parts have always been a grab bag,” he said.

Mr. Carter won’t hesitate to improvise when necessary. For example, a Ford starter relay is an effective way to keep a Beetle on the road.

“Now that these cars have gotten old and developed problems, you have to do all kinds of outlandish stuff to keep them on the road,” he said. “The cars are about the simplest thing you could ask for, but they still have all kinds of problems for a mechanic.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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