Saturday 14 July 2012

My Beetle, my baby

A book about the iconic Beetle features interviews with doting owners here
By Natasha Ann Zachariah, The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2012

Just one look at the curvy, bold red shell of the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, and technician Thomas Cheng did not think twice about forking out $7,700 for it.

The year was 1983, and it did not matter to the then 25-year-old that he did not have a driving licence or that the car was second-hand. He had been obsessed with the car from young.

The 54-year-old owner of Old Volks Place, a workshop that repairs old Volkswagen vehicles, says: 'I was so captivated by its shape and told myself that it was the only car that I would drive when I grew up.'

His story of how he came to own the Beetle - now painted mango green - and later set up a Beetle workshop is chronicled in Loving The Beetle, a book about the iconic car which features interviews with 18 Beetle owners in Singapore.

Written by the publisher of local motoring magazine Rewind, Mr Eli Solomon, the book also looks at the history of the car in Singapore. It was launched last night at the National Museum of Singapore.

Mr Solomon, 48, came up with the idea for the book last year after learning that Volkswagen would be launching a new version of the Beetle this month. The car was designed by German Ferdinand Porsche in 1939, who also created some designs for sportscar marque Porsche.

Mr Solomon (right), who also wrote about the history of the Singapore Grand Prix in his 2008 book Snakes And Devils, says: 'It was a common car from the 1960s onwards, and most people had seen the 1968 movie, The Love Bug, about the racing Beetle.

'It was a sight that people could identify with - it became such a hip car.'

He says finding past and present Beetle owners to interview was not difficult. His friends who own Beetles put him in touch with other current and former owners.

One of them is Mr Clarence Tan, 46, owner of audio production house Solar Power Studios, who bought a bright yellow 1971 Beetle from a musician friend in 1991. A huge fan of The Beatles, he later spraypainted it silver as a homage to the band, who were formerly known as The Silver Beetles.

'If you think of a car that has personality and is lovable, that would be it. And there's always a camaraderie among owners. There's a common understanding of why you got the car that connects you immediately.'

Despite having to pay about $50,000 to keep the 41-year-old car at the last Certificate of Entitlement (COE) exercise, he is adamant that he will drive it for as long as he can because of how well-made and reliable it is.

'I have always joked that when I'm dead and gone, the car will still be around.'

Another Beetle fan featured in the book is German expatriate Carlotta Warnholtz, who has lived here since 1972.

She had driven hers for almost 40 years. When the COE expired, she could not bear to have it scrapped, so the Volkswagen company took it over in August last year.

It was the only make of car she had driven since getting her licence in Germany at 18. Her husband bought the one here from Champion Motors, which was then in Orchard Road, and tasked her with the driving.

Mrs Warnholtz, who declined to reveal her age, recalls with fondness the reception she would get at the Raffles Hotel whenever she pulled into the driveway in her second- hand, non-air-conditioned, manual car, which she called 'Bobos' - a term of endearment in French. 'The guards there were always excited to see the car as they recognised it and would prominently park it. And they never allowed me to pay for parking.'

She is emotional about letting the car go after driving it for so long. 'For such an old car, there are still miles on it, but it was too expensive for me to keep it.

'It has been with me all these years. I would never have let it go if I could.'

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