Show Buzz: VW’s In the Valley 2015

It was a crisp, clear, late-summer morning in the mountains. I left Asheville around 9am and pulled into the festival grounds about 45 minutes later. During the drive the pop-outs were open but otherwise everything else was closed up. I wore a shorts, a t-shirt, and a hoodie my wife got me a couple years back — one of those items I didn’t even know I needed, that I love so much I’m afraid to wash, lest it should shrink or its color should fade.

I came to a gate staffed by smiling volunteers in day-glo event t-shirts. I stopped and rolled my window down.

“Just spectating today,” I said, dismissively, pointing to the parking lot to my left, before the gate. That lot was already filling with Civics and Camrys and F-150s.

“Well, okay then,” said a friendly woman as she took my crumpled tenner. “But that’s a nice car, and we have special parking for you! These gentlemen will show you the way.”

I guess I’d expected to come and go unnoticed — as I prefer — and simply spend some time lingering on the fringes, playing the role of a flaneur with a digital camera and a Volkswagen fetish. I’m still not used to getting this kind of attention.

And I suppose you’ve figured it out by now. I haven’t posted in quite some time, but yes — I’m driving it! I first turned the key on July 10th and, despite a few minor electrical gremlins and a month of Thursdays spent tracking down an elusive misfire, I’ve been enjoying aircooled bliss in my 1965 Beetle! It only took me six years . . . .

The 3rd annual VWs In the Valley, taking place on this last weekend of summer in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, was not, in fact, on my long-range radar. At the rate things usually go, I can’t even have a long-range radar. But the stars simply began to line up: The misfire was identified and remedied (it was the distributor), a gorgeous weekend weather outlook beckoned, a space on my calendar appeared, and my love for the mountains convinced me it was a go. As a matter of fact, I had long envisioned my first official road-trip to be to my favorite home-away-from-home, Asheville.

Stage One — the drive up from Athens on Friday — was without incident. I’d prepared a list, packed essential (and unessential) tools, threw in the collection of spare parts I accumulated whilst troubleshooting the misfire, charged up my cellphone and headed for the hills, with forty fresh horses at my back.

The drive reminded me of learning to fly, all those years ago, and my first venture outside the local traffic pattern, my first foray into the unknown with ought but a map, a compass, and a finicky old analog nav radio. Everything on me. Then, as now, my awareness was honed and narrowed to the level of some nocturnal wild thing, predator or prey. Every sound was a potential threat. What was that? Was that my car, or something outside? And what’s that smell? Is that a friendly honk, or am I about to lose a part of the car?

Eventually, though, I settled in and started to enjoy myself. There are some steep grades between here and there, but I’d already come up with a plan for that — stay right, downshift into third, keep the revs (and fan speed) up, and try to relax. Yes, it does climb like you would an expect a fifty-year-old VW to climb. But it also handled it with aplomb. I even passed a tanker truck once or twice!

The morning of Stage Two began on a sour note, the big news in my morning paper being that Volkswagen had doctored the computers in their US-spec TDI models to sense when the vehicle was being emissions-tested, bringing the wrath of the EPA as well as hundreds of thousands of consumers who thought they were making a “green” choice by buying a fuel-saving car. As of this writing this is still a developing story. But for now my on-again, off-again consideration of a new TDI Sportwagen for my daily driver is on indefinite hold.

But there once was a time when things were different . . .

She opened the gate and I followed the guy in the golf cart. I saw people waving and giving thumbs up as we rolled slowly along. I turned and looked around, trying to see just who it was they were greeting. All I saw behind me was the closed gate. Only then it occurred to me that really, I needed to wipe that apprehensive scowl off my face pronto. As directed, I turned onto the grass, backed diagonally into the allotted space, and cut the motor. And just like that, I was officially part of the scene.

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I’ve been to larger shows, but there was certainly a wide variety of cars to gawk at here. Where to start? Well, I’m always dreaming about having a Bus someday (not, I should note, instead of but in addition to my Beetle, which of course makes it part of a complex equation involving money, space, time, and domestic happiness, an equation I’m still working on, as every VW man can attest). Right across from my allotted parkplatz I found this:

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The body on this early Bay was quite straight and you know that green is my favorite color (especially this particular shade!). The Type 1 motor seemed clean (although some tin and seals were missing). The interior was clean and bare; in back there was nothing but carpet and a spare tire — the perfect clean slate! The sign said $12,000 — but on this and day and this day only for $9,500.

I’m just not there yet, on any of the variables of that equation. But a man’s gotta have a dream . . . .

What else did I spy?

Well, some were slammed . . .

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. . . some were sign-written . . .

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. . . some were dropped on Fuchs . . .

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. . . and one was the same exact color as my wok:

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While some of these may not have been my own groove, I found them all worth gawking over. I did hold in reserve, however, some personal favorites — some that you might expect, some otherwise. One was actually an early Vanagon Westfalia that caught my eye, simply because it had that “lived-in” look. I don’t mean this sarcastically; I mean it in the same pleasing way things get better with age. Think stone cathedral steps worn smooth from centuries of passing feet. Think old leather bomber jackets.

In a whole ‘nother category, feast your eyes on this gem:

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I’ve never seen one of these for real. This is a 1957 Rometsch Lawrence — or at least, I think that’s what it was, but the condition that my psychologist/wife calls “over-stim” was setting in, and I couldn’t pay attention to the detailed placard long enough to verify this. I mean, who wants to read at a time like this? Of course, now I realize that if this was indeed one of those rarer breeds of VW-based coachwork, it will likely be a long time before I see another.

Of course the split Buses got plenty of lovin’ from me. Three examples:

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While I’m on the subject of Splitties, check out the interior woodwork on this one:

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There was an old guy sitting in a lawn chair under the awning. I pried him for details but he was soft-spoken, and with a very strong Southern drawl. I’ve been in the South for 28 years (my entire adult life, basically) but my Yankee ears still have a hard time every now and then. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m half deaf. Nonetheless, I confess that I did covet this man’s Bus. May I rot in hell.

I’ve been to bigger shows, but there were enough cars present that I was still surprised by an apparent Type III shortage. With apologies to Dr. Seuss:

Not sloped, not notched, not squared.
For the lack of Type Threes
I was ill-prepared.

But there were Ghia’s aplenty . . .

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. . . Ovals . . .

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. . . and a well-appointed Split-window Beetle:

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But if there were one that I could bring home with me — no, scratch that. If I brought home somebody else’s dream, it wouldn’t really be mine, would it? Still, my Gawkometer was pegged at this sleeper of a ’62:

Turquoise '62. Owner, seated with cap, under tent. My own Ruby '65 just beyond.
Turquoise ’62. Owner (seated) under tent. My own Ruby ’65 just beyond.

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Turquoise was never one of my favorite colors — until now, that is. For some reason, this one was simply a stunner! Maybe it was the attention to detail — the correct color rims, fender beading, and running board rubber. Maybe it was just the overall package. Or maybe — just maybe — it was the genuine-vintage Judson supercharger lurking underneath the deck:

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Now, you know me — I’m no speed freak. I truly believe that one of the joys of aircooled Volkswagens is simply taking your time to get someplace, or no place in particular. Steeping out of the aggravated rat-race modern American life has become. But I have to admit there’s something about the “vintage speed” scene that I find appealing. Of course “speed”, in the vintage style, is relative. You’re probably not going to scrape your pipes out the gate with this setup. But — according to the owner, who gladly shared the story of this car with me and another malingerer — you’ll definitely add more oomph to your get-along. Best of all, close the lid and it looks (and sounds — he even started it up for us) like your average, fweeming, forty-horse wonder. Well done, Sir!

In closing, I’m pleased to report that Rubylove’s inaugural road trip was a complete success. Over three days we clocked 417 miles, some of which was over steep grades and twisty switchbacks that are challenging even in a modern vehicle. As amazing as it is, there were absolutely no issues. It took it all with gusto and style!

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