Beetle Mania and a Marathon Man

Today – all the way back in 1972 – it was the tiny Beetle making big news.  According to, the Volkswagen Beetle surpassed Ford's Model T as the world's best-selling car, as the 15,007,034th Beetle rolled off the assembly line.

Somewhere in the 70’s, my family owned a Beetle.  It drove us to the food market and to Radio Shack.  It drove me to a life-changing drive-in movie.  In retrospect, seriously, who takes their 4-year old to see the “Marathon Man”?  On the surface, sure, the title sounds innocent.  It stars Dustin Hoffman.  It has to be good for that little curly-haired kid in the backseat.  In the days before the internet and Siskel & Ebert on the TV, it was just a title on the marquee for passing vehicles - as my father returned home from work or my mom returned home from Bright’s.  

Imagine this being one of your life’s first memories.  Dustin Hoffman is fighting for his life.  He’s upside down being held by his ankles outside of a building’s window.  For anyone that remembers the movie, maybe it had a positive impact on my running.  Maybe it’s the reason that I much preferred running over biking during my middle school days – so much so that I ran alongside my friends that rode their bikes around town.  It’s fair to say that I was a young cardio monster.  On the flip side, the movie certainly could have had a negative impact of my views of dentistry.  The entire “Is it safe?” scene may have been erased from my memory – until I recently rewatched as an adult - for my own safety.  [Don’t look it up if you have a dentist appointment approaching.]  A few years later, the Beetle broke down on the same road that we traveled to reach the drive-in movie theater.  It was unceremoniously left alongside the road and never returned home.  Marathon over.  

The Beetle was 100% utility and the family workhorse.  Beyond my collection of hand-me-down Matchboxes, it was my first exposure to the automotive world.  It gave me a view of life through the backseat window…when 15-mile drives brought me to the edge of my known world.  My mother told me that I was a sponge soaking up the surroundings and asking questions.  That Beetle helped bridge the gap between what I was reading in the family set of encyclopedias and magazines.  Years later, when the middle school movie was announced to be “Herbie the Love Bug”, I certainly had a big smile.  That movie helped cement some of those earliest Beetle memories.  What was thought to be a blue-collar family vehicle was actually a hero, just like Herbie.  A traveler.  A window to a new world.  A provider of family time.  Beautiful memories.  A step that set off a marathon of automotive love.