The Beetle that could - Weekend

The Beetle that could

Jerome NeriAtty. Jerome G. Neri
The Scrutineer

A 1955 36 horsepower Volkswagen Beetle traveled around the world three times. This is the amazing story of Paul Loofs, a German who migrated to Canada. Paul’s story is in a documentary called Once More: The Story of VIN 903847.

Paul Loofs did his first journey around the world in 1958. He started in British Columbia and drove through the Pan American Highway all the way to the southernmost tip of South America, then shipped the car to Europe, drove around Europe then shipped the car back to Canada. He took two more trips around the world traveling to Australia, Africa and Southwest Asia. In his road trips, Paul traveled alone. The passenger seat and the rear seats of his beetle were removed so that he could put a cot for him to sleep. Most of the roads he traveled were remote and unpaved roads. He just carried with him simple hand tools and necessary wear-and-tear spare parts.

THE BEETLES. A row of vintage Volkswagen Beetle cars on display during a World Volkswagen Day celebration last June 21 in Manila. In Cebu and in other parts of the country, there has been a surge in demand for vintage cars of late. One of the more sought after cars are aircooled VWs like the Beetle. (AP FOTO)
THE BEETLES. A row of vintage Volkswagen Beetle cars on display during a World Volkswagen Day celebration last June 21 in Manila. In Cebu and in other parts of the country, there has been a surge in demand for vintage cars of late. One of the more sought after cars are aircooled VWs like the Beetle. (AP FOTO)

His last around-the-world trip was in 1967. Upon his return to Canada, he sold the car to VW Canada for something like $130. The car exchanged hands three more times to its present owner, Emmanuel Thuillier, who then was able to track Paul Loofs down and reunited Paul with his car for the first time since 1967. As the new owner, Thuiller is doing road trips of his own from Canada to the United States.

The solo lengthy road trips of Paul Loofs through hostile environments were successful mainly because of simple but reliable technology. During his trips he had some breakdowns, but because of the simplicity of the technology, everything was an easy fix using regular tools than can be bought in hardware stores.

I don’t think this kind of road trip will be possible in a modern compact car. The cars of today are filled with technology. The technology is complicated as almost everything in a car is run by a computer from the engine to the transmission and the brakes. New technology does make the car more efficient and reliable for normal and everyday use, but for miles and miles of unpaved rough roads, and even sometimes no roads, add some river crossings, a compact car straight out of the showroom will not just cut it. A vehicle that would be capable of doing such a road trip would be a pick-up truck or a rugged SUV. Cars are not just as rugged and indestructible as they used to be.

DEMAND FOR OLD CARS. Lately, the demand for old vintage cars has been going up. Every car guy I know is looking for a vintage car that he wants to fix up. One of the sought after cars are aircooled VWs from the Beetle to the Brasilia. Now, I completely get why there is such a demand. The car is easy to understand and simple to fix that the hobbyist gets so much joy in getting his hands dirty. The same would be true for other cars up to the 80s.

I remember the car hobby scene in the 80s where the car guys completely understood what was being done to their cars, and they often worked on their cars themselves. I remember friends changing the carburetors of their cars to bigger ones, re-jetting them. There were specialty muffler shops that would fabricate headers and exhausts for better performance.

Today, it is a very different world in the car hobby scene — any alteration or modification can bring out an error code. In order to avoid error codes, one will need a person who can re-program the engine computer to accept the modification. Specialized skills are needed. Cars of today are making the do-it-yourself people an endangered species.

When a car breaks down today, it will need to be towed to a specialized shop. With old cars all you needed was some pliers, screw driver and some wire, and more often than not, the car would be running again.

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