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VW Fanciers Put Their Best Bugs Forward

Times Staff Writer

Although they were designed in the 1930s and they left the new car market in the United States eight years ago, the funny little hump-backed cars affectionately know as Beetles, Bugs or just plain old VeeDubs still have a loyal following.

And many of those loyal followers turned out Sunday to pay homage to the “People’s Car,” which is anything but moribund, judging by the crowds that gathered on the expanse of the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre parking lot.

To the uninitiated, the cars all look alike, for the most part. If it’s not a sedan, it’s a convertible. But that shows how much they know. There are “split windows,” which were made until 1953 when the “oval windows” took over. There are variations on the models with sunroofs. There are trucks and vans and buses and campers.

Many Spectators

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In all, nearly 200 VWs were displayed for judging Sunday at VW Classic ’85, which the promoters hope will become an annual pilgrimage for the faithful. And easily as many VWs were driven by spectators, who ranged from the idly curious to the rabid fan.

Rich Kimball bought his first VW in 1968 and became hooked. He now operates a parts store for the cars in Tustin, and he teamed up with Mike Hornbecker, a Manhattan Beach contractor, to put on Sunday’s event.

“This is a much older, laid-back group than what we used to get at the Bug In,” Kimball said of VW gatherings that had been staged annually at Orange County International Raceway until the track was closed in 1983.

Touring row upon row of cars lined up for judging, Kimball pointed out that the “oval-windows (VWs), which were made from from 1953 to 1957, are the most popular because they are the oldest affordable ones that you can buy.”

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Others were certainly older and certainly less affordable, such as Maury Cole’s 1949 Hebmuller convertible, named for the German coach builder that made 700 cars before a fire gutted the factory and the company went out of business. Only about 200 Hebmullers still exist, Kimball said.

Six Years Work

“I found it about a mile and a half from my house in Huntington Beach,” said Cole, who operates a body and fender repair shop and owns nine other Volkswagens. “It was a basket case. The doors were falling off and you could see right through the floorboards.”

Nearly six years went into restoring the car, which now is worth upwards of $20,000, Kimball said. Cole wasn’t so definite about the value. Its worth “is in the eye of the beholder, I guess,” he said.

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Tying for first place in best of show were Larry Dustman with a 1957 Volkswagen bug convertible and Tony Moore with a 1955 Bug convertible.

Besides the immaculately and faithfully restored cars, there were the so-called “Cal look” models, which in varying degrees had been given the traditional Southern California customizing and hot-rodding treatment.

On one hand, Dean Lowe of La Verne had returned his 1956 sunroof sedan to a pristine, new car condition. But on the other hand, he had added Porsche wheels and brakes, high-performance tires, a custom interior and a chromed and modified engine that produces more than twice the the car’s original 36 horsepower.

“I like the vintage stuff, but I also drive this to work every day,” Lowe said. “I kind of mixed a lot of things together. I don’t believe in going by the book all the time.”

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