- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

While Stephan Cartier is French, he has always preferred German cars, especially the early VW Beetles.
In the early 1990s his job with Air France took him to the West French Indies. To avoid island fever he would often take his wife and young son to the United States for relaxation leaving his Beetle sedan in Guadeloupe.
On one such trip in 1993 he and his family were enjoying the sun and sand in Florida when he met a man who told him of a VW convertible in Georgia that was for sale. Savannah was only another state away so he went to see the car. It was love at first sight. The 1959 Volkswagen convertible was the car he had wanted since he couldn't remember when.
The original owner, Paul Birnbaum, had driven the car an average of about 1,600 miles annually and had racked up a total of only 55,000 miles on the odometer, not bad for a 34-year-old car.
Because the VW appeared to be complete, Mr. Cartier laid out the cash and became its second owner.
Mr. Cartier and his family flew back to Guadeloupe while the Beetle convertible was trucked to Miami and then shipped to Pointe-a-Pitre via Puerto Rico and St. Martin.
Eventually, the car arrived to the delight of the Beetle club in Guadaloupe, of which Mr. Cartier was an active member. He had alerted the club of his purchase.
Once it arrived a closer examination disclosed a typical Beetle malady a rusted floor pan.
Mr. Cartier had the body removed and a new floor pan welded into place. With the car back together Mr. Cartier strove to maintain the originality as much as possible.
When the exterior of a Beetle is painted, the dashboard should be as well. The gearshift pattern is on the dashboard. Therefore, Mr. Cartier had the dash repainted except for the pattern, which remains faded but original to this day.
In 1995 Mr. Cartier was transferred back to Paris. Because the car was so light, he had it flown back with his household goods.
The vintage Volkswagen proved to be advantageous in the streets of Paris. That benefit came to an end in January 2000 when Air France again moved Mr. Cartier to Alexandria, Va.
This time the car was transferred from France to the United States on a ship.
By now the car's four-cylinder, air-cooled engine had been rebuilt. Almost everything but the original block had to be replaced.
Mr. Cartier is not adverse to changing parts. He just says, "I don't like to change the originality of the car." An example of that desire is the radio amplifier mounted under the front hood. A lot of newer sound equipment is available, but Mr. Cartier prefers to preserve what was installed in 1959.
The 5.60x15-inch-wide white sidewall Firestone tires on the ground have a fifth cousin under the front hood next to the jack, which is designed to simultaneously lift the front and rear tires on one side of the car.
With the hood closed, the gas cap is secure and the Wolfsburg emblem is prominent by the handle. Wolfsburg is the community where Volkswagens are built. On either side of the hood, just below the bulbous headlights, is a pair of horizontal grilles. Only the left one is authentic in that it's sole purpose is to allow sound from the horn to escape. The right one provides only visual balance.
Slots that do allow the free flow of air to help keep the air-cooled engine cool are the 10 in the rear engine hood, five on each side. Only the convertible models have the slots in the engine hood to augment the traditional slots above the engine hood and below the rear window. That window, by the way, is real glass. It is in a traditional VW convertible lined top.
Inside the snug little cabin is an 80 mph speedometer seen through the two-spoke steering wheel.
Because there is no gasoline gauge, a lever near the accelerator can be turned if you run out of gasoline. Once turned, it provides a reserve tank of about one gallon to the engine about 30 miles in which to find a gas station.
On the floor between the front bucket seats, near the gearshift lever, is the knob to operate the heater. Air-cooled Volkswagens were notorious for poor heaters, but, Mr. Cartier says, "It works."
"Here is the air conditioner," Mr. Cartier jokes as he opens a wing vent window.
He tried to clean the original seats, but the material disintegrated. The seats have since been reupholstered and the carpet replaced.
Between the plexiglass visors is the mirror, which swivels upward when the top is down to enable the driver to see over the bulky top in its boot.
The radio has two push buttons. Instead of selecting a station, the left one is labeled "ON" and the right one is "OFF".
During the past eight years Mr. Cartier has driven the car about 13,000 miles. He reports that it is in good reliable condition and that he wouldn't hesitate to drive it anywhere.
For the really long trips, however, the cargo planes of Air France look very inviting.

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