Bitten by the Bug

From the much beloved Beetle to the new hybrid and electric cars now on the market, Volkswagens have become a part of Americana over the past 60 years or so.

Those who love the German-engineered cars and everything else VW-related simply enjoy just getting together to talk cars, trade parts and barter over other memorabilia.

They’re getting the chance this weekend with Volksbash 2016, with owners taking turns on a spin around the Dover International Speedway’s Monster Mile and showing off their cars amid the planes on display at the Air Mobility Command Museum.

 “I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it,” Dover’s Jim Burcham said of the VW’s appeal. “When I was growing up, everyone either had a Volkswagen or knew someone who did.”

Although introduced in the United States following World War II, it took years for the VW to catch on. VW execs kept it simple. They enlisted Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin in an early 1970s campaign that emphasized the VW’s dependability and later coined a faux-German word -- farfegnugen -- a play on a real word that loosely means “enjoyable to drive,” that raised curiosity about the cars.

It all worked. Those who bought VWs decades ago still are driving them, as are their children and grandchildren.

One member of that group is Keith Comstock of Dover, whose mother was a huge VW fan. With his wife, Renai, they now own a 1972 Beetle dubbed “Frank,” short for “Frankenstein.”

The name is self-explanatory.

“It’s a hodgepodge of everything,” Comstock said. “I’ve got parts in there from 1962, 1965, 1970 and 1972.” Frank’s front seats originally were installed in a 1977 Beetle, he said.

Comstock’s daughters take after dad when it comes to their fondness for the little cars, and aren’t afraid of getting dirty and greasy to keep Frank on the road.

“They’re really cool. I love to work on them with my dad,” 14-year-old Kyleigh said. “They’re fun.”

One thing Dover’s Steve Trice enjoys is the camaraderie found among the VW owners he knows, but perhaps his wife, Lee, loves it even more.

“It helps us wives keep our sanity because they’re out there playing with their cars,” she said.

Trice drives a ’77 Beetle, the last model made with the traditional flat windshield. Over the years, he’s owned at least a dozen VW cars and has great memories of them all.

He got his first Beetle because they were “cheap, simple to fix and what you could afford when you’re 18.”

That dependability is something Magnolia’s Darrel Schrecengost has relied on for decades. He bought his first VW in 1968 while in the U.S. Navy, serving in Maryland. He needed inexpensive and reliable transportation on his trips home to Delaware, and with a VW, he found it.

Fast forward almost 50 years: he now owns a 1974 SuperBeetle, restored with parts from other cars and aftermarket items he bought online.

 “I just liked them,” he said. “They’re easy to work on and they’re reliable.”

Don and Jennifer Lindsay of Felton enjoy tooling around in their microbus, a vehicle almost synonymous with the counterculture of the 1960s. They own a newer 1978 model, nicknamed “Eva,” which Don has restored.

“She was pretty beat up and someone had even painted over the side windows,” he said. “She was an absolute mess when we got her.”

So what is it that attracts people to these cars? Even Burcham, who has owned the same Kharmann Ghia since 1971, isn’t sure. People just tend to gravitate to them, he said.

“What I’ve seen in the last five years is that a lot of younger people are starting to get into the Volkswagen. I don’t think is has that much to do with nostalgia. You can get one without mortgaging the house and you don’t need a certified mechanic to work on them.”