Super Beetle : Pasadena Man Logs a Million Miles in His Venerable Volkswagen

Times Staff Writer

In an age of disposable diapers and razors, Albert Klein has clung to his beat-up, off-white 1963 Volkswagen with a devotion that puts most marriages to shame.

The car's fenders are dented, its upholstery is torn, its paint is chipped and faded. But the one thing you can say for this humble Beetle is that it runs--and runs and runs.

After 24 years, seven engines, three transmissions, 150 tires, 35,600 gallons of gas, three sets of wiper blades and more than $38,000 in maintenance costs, the Pasadena man's trusty "bug" turned its millionth mile on Tuesday.

"If you have a good friend, you can rely on them 100%," Klein said. "It's the same with this car."

Klein and his car were honored at a celebration at the Pasadena dealership where in 1963 he bought the car--complete with imitation leather upholstery and the optional $5 outside mirror--for $1,897.71. Among those who attended were Mayor John Crowley of Pasadena, Volkswagen executives, a five-piece band and a small army of reporters.

Before the assembled mass, Klein said that he hopes to break the world record for mileage on one car, now claimed by Mercedes-Benz for a 1957 model 180D, owned by Robert O'Reilly of Olympia, Wash., which was driven 1.18 million miles.

"180,000 more miles," Klein said. "I say that's small potatoes."

Klein, a 65-year-old architect with the Los Angeles firm of Langdon Wilson Mumper, said he had not planned to keep the car as long as he has.

But with his lust for traveling and cruising Los Angeles freeways, the miles kept adding up and, at about 500,000, he began thinking of "shooting for the stars."

To reach 1 million miles, Klein has averaged more than 40,000 miles a year. His commute from his home to his office in downtown Los Angeles is 17 miles each way. But Klein said he usually takes a circuitous route home, often driving about 80 miles out of his way just for the fun of it.

On a typical ride home, which can take up to three hours, he goes north on the Hollywood Freeway as far as Sylmar and back down the Foothill Freeway to Pasadena.

"I like to take the scenic route," he said.

Klein said he has a passion for driving on the freeways, seeing it as time to be "alone with your thoughts."

In addition, Klein said, he has driven the car all through North, Central and South America.

While there are probably other cars with a million miles on them, what makes Klein's achievement so unusual is the meticulous "diary" he has kept on the vehicle.

For the last 24 years, Klein has recorded every gallon of gas, every quart of oil and every spark plug that has been put in the car. For instance, the entry for April 9, 1977, reads: "At 569,217 on the Long Beach Freeway 10 miles from home, No. 3 connecting rod broke at the wrist pin and punched two half-fist-sized holes in the top left half of crankcase . . . got a tow home."

"I'm from that part of Germany where people are nit-pickers," the native of Stuttgart said. "Ask any German, they'll say the same thing."

As part of the million-mile celebration at Trans Ocean Motors, Volkswagen presented Klein with a new $8,000, four-door Fox sedan.

But Klein, who has owned two other Volkswagen Beetles, 1954 and 1960 models, said he will not accept the car until he cracks the record, which will probably take him another four or five years.

At that time, he said, he will sadly give up his bug to the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, and then start all over again with a Fox, which Volkswagen calls the "Beetle of the '80s and beyond."

"This car is my No. 1 hobby," Klein said. "I guess I'm just an overachiever when it comes to things that are important to me."

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