From the age of 12 my eldest daughter, Charlotte, has been taking part in car trials as my navigator, and almost from the very start she has cast envious eyes on those other competitors who took part in a certain model of air cooled German origin. “I really want one of those Dad!” she would say, several times per event. “They're just so cute. "
Cute they maybe but VW Beetles, the real ones, not the modern pastiche , are very effective at getting up muddy hills of the type that would leave most cars furiously spinning their wheels in static frustration. The engine, and therefor the weight, is all at the back and just right for maximum traction. They have a fairly flat floor-pan(the better to slide over mud with…) , no issue with holed radiators (see my Blog on the 2022 Edinburgh Trial!) , can be jacked up for extra ground clearance and benefit from a vast industry in spares and after market accessories. Despite (because of?) their 1930s design, they remain surprisingly practical. Beetles therefore form one of the mainstays of car trialling as a sport . Speed, for once, is not of the essence.
So Charlotte wanted a Beetle as her first car. I confess I wasn't entirely sure it would work out that way, given the steep rise in classic car prices and potential issues with insurance for teenage drivers. Wanting is one thing; achieving is another. But then she got a part time job as a waitress in a local cafe and not being a party-animal or habitual fashion victim, started saving her wages. The cafe job disappeared with the end of the summer tourist season but a more regular post appeared at a pub only a mile away. More hours. More savings…
Turning 17 this spring, Charlotte acquired a provisional license and a set of L plates, which went on my Peugeot 407 estate. A barge of a car, the Pug' was acquired for it's huge load carrying capacity. It's not the nimblest of vehicles to drive through the confined country roads in this part of the world ,however early lessons proved that wasn't a problem. But it wasn't a Beetle. "Never mind. Learn on this one and when you pass you test then , maybe.." But then fate took a hand. There appeared an advert in the trials club newsletter for a 1970 Beetle. Not just that, but one we had competed against and actually knew. We even knew her nickname - Daphne.
More to the point she had been prepared by Lee Peck, who knows a thing or three about the subject and had just won the LANDS END TRIAL outright in one of his self-built Kraken trials cars. The omens appeared good and the price seemed reasonable. I due course , with a little help from her Granny, Charlotte eagerly put her savings to good use and bought Daphne. Owner Phil Potter trailered her up from Somerset and Charlotte's eye just lit up!
There was a slight hiatus between purchase and driving as Daphne was fully kitted out for trials events with a double spare wheel rack in the back, spot lights and jacked-up suspension (as you can see above). Naturally the insurance company preferred something a bit more like standard-spec for a learner driver, so off came all the bits that were not needed for normal road use and a trip to Oxfordshire was undertaken where Lee Peck kindly dropped the suspension back down to it's normal ride height(below) .
Daphne is now being used on a regular basis for driving lessons and Charlotte is just smitten! I have seldom seen an owner quite so in love with a car. And it has to be admitted, she is not the only one. My parents had two Beetles in the 1960s, but before I was born. My late father (below, circa 1964) was a mechanic by trade and always keen on VWs . I remember a pale blue ‘Type 3’ that he ran when I was about 12, a tawdry 1.3 Golf company car in the early 90s, a couple of sedate Passats and later a camper van. He would be chuffed to think of his grand daughter following his example all these years later.
But it's not just Charlotte . I find I am suddenly besotted by this Beetle too! She drives really nicely, handles far better than I was led to expect, has a nice torquey engine (for a 1300) and a delightfully precise gearchange . The upholstery has that evocative aroma of vinyl that calls to mind family cars of the 1970s, and with a disc brake conversion on the front she even stops well. Nothing of course is power assisted and the steering takes a bit of effort at low speeds. To my surprise Charlotte finds no issue with that , even after experiencing the power assisted ease of the Peugeot, and the Suzuki X-90 she learned to drive round the fields in. Clearly all that waitressing with heavily laden plates has done her arm muscles a power of good… although she still dislikes the camera (below)
So Daphne is very much part of the family now and if she is a little scruffy on the surface , she's sound mechanically and so full of character that both driver and instructor habitually sport silly grins on their faces after every journey. And that's priceless!