Enthusiasts keep memory of VW Beetle alive

Enthusiasts keep memory of VW Beetle alive

( dpa ) - The VW Beetle is a rare sight on German roads these days but its memory is preserved by legions of fans.

Some 66,000 of the bug-shaped cars are still registered as roadworthy, 30 years after the last one rolled off the production lines in Germany on January 19, 1978.

Enthusiasts were still able to buy the legendary cars made at Volkswagen's plant at Puebla in Mexico until manufacture of the Beetle there ceased in mid-2003.

A total of 21.5 million were produced since the first one hit the road in 1935, based on a design by Ferdinand Porsche, grandfather of the current VW chairman Ferdinand Piech.

The Beetle was conceived by the Nazis as a car for the masses - the name Volkswagen translates into people's car - but World War II put an end to those grand designs.

Today, numerous fan clubs in Germany and around the world preserve the memory of the Beetle. The oldest, founded in 1975, has 800 members, according to its chairman, Hartmut Schroer.

Schroer, a forest ranger from Bavaria in the south of Germany, is the proud owner of several Beetles, the oldest dating back to 1949, making it 10 years older than himself.

"It's green, without any decorative strips on the outside panelling and has clocked 60,000 kilometres," he says.

Another one is a black sports version from 1957 that he bought from a coalman who rarely used it because he did not possess a driver's licence.

"It's almost brand-new," says Schroer.

The fastest car in his collection is a 1303 model from 1973 that is fitted with a Porsche engine. It has a top speed of 135 kilometres per hour, "but uses a lot of petrol," he says.

Schroer doesn't use this car when he travels to the club's twice yearly rallies because of a regulation which allows only those vehicles produced before August 1, 1957 to participate.

That was when Volkswagen replaced the Beetle's original pretzel- shaped oval rear windows with once-piece glass.

Like other fan clubs, Schroer's Pretzel Window Club has its own website that lists events and where to get spares as well as showing photos and giving travel reports.

One event scheduled for May 23-25 at Hueckeswagen near Cologne features Beetles with over 100,000 kilometres on the clock. Last year's rally attracted 250 vintage VWs.

In 1968, the Beetle was turned into a fictional car character called Herbie, which had a mind of its own and was capable of driving itself, exceeding the driving abilities of other cars.

Disney studios produced several film in the series, with the last one, Herbie: Fully Loaded, drawing record audiences in Germany after it hit the box office in 2005.

But the Beetle was last year forced to relinquish the production record it held from 1972 to its successor model, Golf.

"The 25th million Golf came off the production lines in May 2007," said VW spokesman Andreas Meurer. "It overtook (the Beetle) a long time ago."

The last German Beetle was made at the VW factory in Emden. It can now be seen at the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg, where Europe's biggest automaker has its headquarters.

The iconic car was reborn as the New Beetle in 1998. Produced in Mexico, around 1 million New Beetle limousines and convertibles have been sold since then - a quarter of them in Europe.

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