- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

From the first two Volkswagen Beetles imported in 1949, the car was continually improved even after it evolved in the early 1970s into the Super Beetle.
Jerry Watkins, of Kensington, bought his first new VW in 1962 as a present to himself upon graduation from American University.
After that first VW became history, Mr. Watkins owned a few other Volkswagens. They, too, eventually were sold.
By 1990 Mr. Watkins was feeling a void in his life that could only be filled by a VW Bug.
"I have a fondness for them," Mr. Watkins explains, "because they're easy to work on, parts are readily available and they're fun to drive."
The search for a good used Beetle had barely begun when a light blue 1973 VW Super Beetle was discovered in Falls Church, Va. The second owner was selling the car with only 62,000 miles on the odometer.
Mr. Watkins had owned a 1973 VW Super Beetle years before; however, this one, now older was nicer. He bought it just before Christmas in 1990.
Like all the early Super Beetles it had a curved windshield, which permitted a small, flat dashboard with a raised hood over the 100 mph speedometer. At each end of the dashboard is a small, round vent to direct defroster heat onto the wing vent windows. These vents keep the windows clear so the outside mirrors are visible. The vents were a nice thought, but we all know of the air-cooled VW's reputation for producing heat.
The heater/defroster controls are on the floor between the bucket seats, just behind the emergency brake.
Eight red wires in the rear window keep it clear of frost and the curved vents behind the rear side windows help the ventilation.
Typical of Volkswagens in those days, Mr. Watkins car has an abundance of thoughtful convenience features such as pockets in the doors and a minilight on the dashboard aimed to illuminate the gearshift lever at night.
A small clock is mounted to the left of the optional radio. Other accessories include the rear-fender gravel guards and an air conditioner.
Since the lack of power was probably the most common complaint of Super Beetle owners, an air conditioner was not in the best interest of performance. "It was the first thing to go," Mr. Watkins said.
With a fresh coat of light blue paint to match the original, Mr. Watkins put the car in service.
Until his retirement from the Department of Interior in 1994, he was one-third of a daily car pool downtown. The Volkswagen was called upon when his turn came every third week. "It was great in snow," Mr. Watkins remembers. "It was very hard to get stuck."
With more free time after retirement Mr. Watkins decided to "spruce up" his Volkswagen. The first order of business was to put some muscle under the slotted engine hood. With some engineering help the original horsepower output has been roughly tripled.
"Compared to other cars, it's still not much," Mr. Watkins said.
But now, he can easily keep up with traffic and isn't always the last car at the traffic light.
Then things slowly got out of hand.
The bumpers were sent off for replating and new rubber strips were installed when the bumpers were returned.
Some upholstery work was required and, since Mr. Watkins had been happy with his rolled and pleated upholstery in an old Ford in his high school days, that's what went into his Volkswagen. The original door panels survived.
The stock eight-slot wheels were chromed and capped with Porsche caps. They're in the same family, and they now support a set of P195/75R 15-inch tires, slightly larger than original.
A new dark blue coat of paint replaces the light blue.
By the summer of 1999 the renovated Volkswagen was satisfactory as far as Mr. Watkins was concerned. The lengthy rebuilding of the VW wouldn't have been possible, Mr. Watkins said, without his wife, Holly, being very supportive.
Even now the diminutive car has been driven only 68,000 miles, but is in condition to change that figure dramatically.

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