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Requiem for A Beetle

Volkswagen Is Scrapping Its Most Iconic Car. A Writer Laments.

BY Carly MilneApril 9, 2019

I’m not sentimental about cars. I love having one to drive, of course. But owning them is a hassle and there are about five dozen products I could wear, spray or slather on that tug much more compellingly on my purse strings.

But when I read the news that Volkswagen is planning to permanently cease production on its beloved Beetle this summer, the news hit me a little harder than I expected. Not only was the Beetle the first car I ever had, but it’s still the only car that I legitimately lusted after.

From the moment the new Beetle was introduced in 1997, I wanted one so badly it hurt. From its habitat-like spherical profile to its earnest, can-do headlight eyes and its stout, cheery smile, it’s the kind of car that the 7-year-old version of me might have drawn after waking up from a really great dream.

Unfortunately, it also seemed financially out of reach to me at the time. And then there’s the small detail that I didn’t yet know how to drive, the result of having lived my life as a young adult in cities easily navigated by public transit.

So I shelved my dream of having my own cute little "bug"—until some years later I moved to a city where driving is absolutely mandatory: Los Angeles. With a steady job and living with an ex who firmly insisted that I learn how to drive, I finally confronted this notable blind spot in my personal development and got DMV-certified as a legal driver in the state of California.

The following spring, I consecrated this new ability properly by stepping up and getting my first Beetle. It was cobalt blue with a grey leather interior—cute as a button. When I got it home, I literally cried—in complete disbelief that this impossibly perfect thing was finally in my garage. But I was also crying because of what this car represented: an official step into adulthood, a new kind of freedom, and new levels of personal growth.

There was, however, a BIG problem. This dream car of mine came with a manual transmission—and I came with absolutely no knowledge about how to drive a stick.

Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking: “If you didn’t know how to drive stick, why on earth did you buy a car you can only drive in stick!?”

Well, for one, I did want to learn. And two, my naievety about cars in general left me with some pretty heady ideas that made a stick shift seem like a gateway to all kinds of car-related fun. In fact, my long-term driving goals included a number of bougie cars that had lodged in my subconscious over the years, and manually grinding their gears was a non-negotiable part of the experience.

So while I was technically “planning ahead,” my current circumstances left me unable to drive my new Bug on my own at all. What followed were a long series of weekends and evenings spent in an empty parking lot screeching, brake-slamming, and stalling until I finally got the hang of things.

And at long last, my little Beetle and I became one.

Having never been wisened by the experience of having a first car as a teenager, I promptly made all the mistakes you make as a new car owner and driver. I nabbed a seemingly endless number of parking tickets for not knowing how to translate L.A.’s notoriously incoherent parking signs. I bottomed out on bow-shaped residential streets clearly not designed to be taken at top speed. I even got a full-on in-person ticket for de-facto street racing in Van Nuys, when I tried to take a colleague’s Jaguar X-Type off the line. In my defense, I did have a Turbo S; definitely not your dad’s lawn mower, despite my car’s innocent appearances.

There were road trips to Vegas, countless treks to the beach and Disneyland, and countless nights playing designated driver for my friends as I carted them home all over the greater L.A. basin after hitting the town. I took solo drives in that car to clear my head, sang loudly (and decidedly off-key) to the homemade mixed CDs that lived in the skip-prone five-disc changer in my trunk (yes, that was a thing). And I’d open the sun roof during nighttime drives up the Pacific Coast Highway, breathing in the salty sea air as the moonlight guided my way.

Then one day, my beloved Bug just stopped working. I tried my key in the ignition repeatedly, like an EMT trying to resuscitate a lifeless patient. But it didn’t work.

My Bug was dead.

I had it towed to the dealership where I had bought it just a year earlier and said imploringly to the service department, “How did this happen? Why? I just don’t understand!”

Ever polite, the service team took a look at it and came back without a definitive diagnosis: “We don’t know.”

That didn’t exactly inspire confidence—in them or my poor car.

“We think it might be the battery,” the service leader told me. “So we replaced it, and hopefully that will fix whatever happened. But if not, let us know and maybe we’ll try something else.”

I thanked him for his time (he ended up being right), drove off the lot—then promptly traded it in for a BMW 325i.

Sound harsh? Maybe it was. But the truth is, I knew the story of me and my Bug had run its course. One can’t be impossibly cute forever, after all. And as I had gotten my feet firmly planted in my new life, I realized that an oh-so-sweet 3-series—the standard issue car of the freshly arrived Angeleno—was the car for the next chapter of my life. The writing was on the wall: I was an L.A. woman now, and I wanted to start driving like one.

I had many happy times in my new BMW. But I’m forever grateful for what my Beetle meant to me, the life change that it represented, and the person it allowed me to become.

So as I did so many years ago, I now join the entire world in saying: So long, Volkswagen Beetle. And thank you for the memories.

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