Sometime around 1956, my dad made a decision to trade in our good ol’ American Chevrolet for something I had never seen. It was called a Volkswagen. The entire family made the trip to Wexford and we went into the dealership to strike a deal. I remember the bold colors of the “bugs” and the attractive lines of the Carman Ghia on display. To this day, the term “new car smell” conjures up the simple rubber and oil smell of those new VWs just off the boat. These cars were very, very different and even prompted my three year old brother to ask, “Are these old-fashioned cars, Dad?”
The ride home was bit more crowded but if given the chance, my brother would have happily ridden in the “back-back”. We got lots of comments over the next several years. Some suggested my dad was a nazi-sympahizer. (If only they knew the truth that Dad never felt compelled to answer.) Others suggested my dad was anti-union and on that he was proud to be guilty as charged. My dad would typically give a retort he felt was most powerful, “Forty miles to the gallon.”
In the first years, it was common for another VW from the oncoming lane to wave, flash lights or blow the beep-beep horn. Within a few years, this stopped because there were too many converts to the fraternity. Detroit soon got the message and began making smaller cars as well.
To me, the VW was very large symbol of just how different my family was. In the 1950’s it was not easy to be different. The Volkswagen could be said to have helped me strengthen my character in the face of pressure to conform.