Dad’s 1957 Volkswagen Beetle

Difficult as it may be to believe, but there was a time when most American families had only one car. In the years immediately after World War II, as America became prosperous again, plenty of new cars were being manufactured and sold, and roadways were being built to drive these cars to and from the expanding suburbs. Yet the “traditional” family model remained: dad worked, mom stayed home to take care of house and children, and one automobile sufficed. This was reality for many baby boomers growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was no different for me.

In my family, by the late 1960s, all three children were in school, which was close enough for us to walk. Mom had started to work part-time in the evenings, and Dad was steadily employed in Manhattan, commuting via bus, ferry, and subway. While the Corvair did the job as the family carry-all, my father decided that he could afford a second vehicle. Did we need another set of wheels? Not really. Certainly because he always liked small cars, and possibly because he had been born in Germany, he got a Volkswagen, a 1957 Beetle sedan.

The 1957 VW. Note the antenna, hub caps, and whitewalls.
The 1957 VW. Note the antenna, hub caps, and whitewalls.

As the resident car nut, I loved the idea of another car. There was also the pride I felt in an ability to distinguish one year VW from the next. At a time when we were still used to sweeping styling changes every year from the American car makers, Volkswagen actually bragged that they did not subscribe to annual redesigns. So for most drivers, all these Beetles looked alike. Yet I knew my father’s car was older. The one-piece oval rear window and tiny tail lights were all dead giveaways, and no prompting was needed for me to point these things out to anyone within earshot.

It was a treat to go for rides. I enjoyed watching my dad work the shifter and clutch, although I had no interest in trying to understand the mechanics behind such maneuvers. The VW had no heater, so winter rides were always accompanied by the warning to “bring a blanket”. It didn’t stop me from wanting to go.

The '57 Beetle from the rear. Note the blue & gold NY plates. Both photos taken in our backyard on Staten Island.
The Beetle from the rear. Note the blue & gold NY plates. Both photos taken in our backyard on Staten Island.

Alas, after almost exactly a year, Dad sold the VW. He never said why. Perhaps his practical side woke up to the realization that we really did not need two cars, at least not yet. For years afterward, my father continued to brag about that Beetle, repeating the line that he “bought it for $275, and sold it for $275”.

Pretty good deal. Wish I had it today.

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

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