Air-Cooled VWs In Sun-Soaked SoCal
Photography by Alex Sobran
The firehose-flow of car shows in Southern California is so populous and diverse that even when you do decide which to attend on any given weekend, it still feels like you’re missing out. You can arrive at the most glorious assemblage of vehicles you’ve ever seen (the kind that turns hot parking lots into oases despite the sweltering heat distorting the blacktop), and despite that, well because of it actually, there is a nagging sense that something even better is happening somewhere else. I think this extends well beyond car shows. The grass is always greener.
This usually happens when you’re at a show like Cars & Coffee, or any other where variety is one of the hallmarks. This does not happen when you visit a niche community that typically only takes up a corner of the venue. When you’re immersed in a specific “scene,” like walking around air-cooled Volkswagens that take up two parking lots, sidewalk space, and still spill into the street, you tend to be too wrapped up in the depth of the display to worry about what may or not be happening somewhere else. This past Saturday’s Air-Cooled VW and Vintage Scooter Rally was a perfect antidote to the stress of choice.
And while it is a deeper dive into a subset of the larger car world, there is still plenty of variation to explore; even though there were only a few types, or Types in this case, of vehicle present, the approaches to ownership and the visual details that follow can take diametrically different paths. To say nothing of the Easter basket swath of colors—vintage VW did pastels and earth tones like few others can. So whether wearing a thick slathering of gloss beige or flaking rust and a few remnants of sun-beaten paint, the various Beetles and Buses may not be all that dissimilar in overall form, but they harbor their own visual identities all the same, crafted through the way they’ve spent their decades under the ownership of individuals with their own sets of idiosyncrasies. These marks of human use are the most compelling; factory-built hot rods and supercars and other engineering marvels are just that, marvels, but there is something that brings even greater happiness in seeing a spice rack on an open camper door revealing a scooter burying its kickstand into a shag carpet.
Some of the attendees were trailered in and rolled into place, their engines not turning over once, while others may have driven across the country . There were gleaming restorations with everything OEM-correct and then some, and those cars were sharing space with neighbors who clearly preferred patina over shine. There was even a super original Beetle that Max Hoffman had imported very early on, though of course I overheard someone saying that despite all that originality, it’d been fitted at some point with the wrong bumpers. This tidbit was not announced to win “points,” but was just a snippet between two people I overheard, and it’s representative of the type of person involved in the vintage VW scene; not there to boast or compete, but with the knowledge and ability to if need be. Everyone just seemed very respectful of each other and their cars, there was much more smiling and laughing than posturing and passive aggressive put-downs that can sometimes plague car shows.
Those attitudes were refreshingly absent, and refreshingly present was this total time warp that looked like it hopped out of an old issue of VW Trends. Call it gaudy, call it whatever you like, but this is an undeniable ambassador for modified Beetles from decades past, and it was the lone example at this show.
Beetles like that one were far from the only personalized creations though, as just about everything that showed up reflected its owner’s personal style in some way or another. Maybe it was the quality of the restoration or the bevy of small changes that add up to a whole, but it seemed that each offered a window into the mindset of the ones who drive them. That’s the best thing about VWs like these, they are statement-making on their own, but their stock forms are closer to canvases than cars, ready for that human element to turn them into true art.