- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

Some details of the early days of Frank Aukofer’s 1965 Volkswagen are shrouded in the fog of history.

What is known is that his VW Beetle was built on July 12 and that it left the Wolfsburg factory Aug. 12, destined for France.

Unknown is how or when the initial owner, William Levy, had the car shipped to the United States. But later in 1965, the nearly new car was in Virginia when it was purchased by Roma Duncan. She then proceeded to carefully use the pearl white VW for 22 years.

In 1987, her son, Stuart Duncan, assumed the care and feeding of his mother’s VW for the next couple of decades.

In May 2006, Mr. Aukofer says, “I was casually looking for an antique car.” His search coincided with Mr. Duncan’s decision to find a good home for his Volkswagen.

A newspaper ad offering the car for sale brought the men together at Mr. Duncan’s Annandale, Va., home, where Mr. Aukofer inspected the Beetle. “It was 100 percent original,” he says. He asked why the well-maintained car was being sold. Mr. Duncan, who for years had serviced the car himself in his driveway, responded, “The concrete is getting cold.”

With that explanation, Mr. Aukofer agreed to buy the car. It had been driven about 88,000 miles. The seller agreed to Mr. Aukofer’s request to keep the same vanity license plate that was on the car. The thought of a Beetle with a plate reading “LYTNING” brings a smile to all who see it.

He returned the next day with the money. As he was about to leave with the VW, the seller surprised him by saying, “By the way, there are some extra parts.”

Mr. Aukofer says the extra parts included three bumpers, two fenders, four tires, a brake drum, a wheel and five boxes of assorted parts and specialty tools.

In a seat with no headrest, he drove the car 3.5 miles to his Falls Church, Va., home and began sifting through the four decades of records the previous owners had meticulously preserved. He learned that his car has a four-cylinder horizontally opposed overhead valve, 72.7-cubic-inch (1.2-liter) engine topped with a downdraft Solex carburetor beneath an oil bath air cleaner. The 40 horsepower engine holds 5.3 pints of oil. The diminutive car is nimble and has quick steering, with the steering wheel turning only 2.6 turns lock to lock. The car has a 36-foot turning circle and rides on 5.60x15-inch tires.

“It’s a very fun car to drive,” an enthusiastic Mr. Aukofer says. “I’ve had it up over 70 [mph] on the road once.”

For about six months he enjoyed the car as it was when he became the owner. Then he began carefully inspecting his car and discovered that cosmetically, it was very worn. “The body was pretty rough,” he says. He started collecting chrome trim pieces and also shopping for a shop that could freshen the appearance of “Lytning.”

It was delivered to the shop where the trim, fenders and glass were removed, and it was prepped for painting. The new paint is the same color as the original. When Mr. Aukofer went to retrieve his VW, he found it had also been undercoated.

Inside the cabin, to the right of the 90 mph speedometer is a gas gauge, which about sums up the instrumentation offered by Volkswagen in 1965. The two-spoke steering wheel supports the horn button. In the center of the flat, painted dashboard is the AM radio. Below that is the ashtray, and above the radio are two knobs, the left one to activate the headlights, the right one to operate the wipers and washers. The air pressure in the spare tire provides the accelerant for the washers.

The brake lights were becoming troublesome, so they were rewired. Likewise, the original clutch was nearing the end of the line, as was the automatic choke, so those items also were replaced.

In a nod to safety, Mr. Aukofer located an external mirror for the right side of the car. Before the car was painted, he had the appropriate hardware installed to make post-paint job installation of the mirror easy.

Volkswagen designers had long before 1965 given up on the “Trafficator” turn-signal arms, so Mr. Aukofer’s car has the turn-signal stalk in the traditional position. The headlights are dimmed via a dimmer switch on the floor to the left of the clutch pedal.

On the floor, between the bucket seats is the emergency hand-brake lever and two small levers to control the heat. The right one turns the heat on or off, while the left lever controls the two vents under the rear seat.

Now that the refurbished “Lytning” is back home, Mr. Aukofer can be frequently seen in the neighborhood regularly exercising his car.

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