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Meet the Beetles : Venerable Volkswagens Draw Thousands to Show

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Volkswagen salesman Sam Sands can remember when it really was the people’s car.

“They cost $1,895, or $300 down and $65 a month for two years. And everybody could qualify,” Sands, 52, said of 1960s-era VWs.

Today, the Laguna Hills resident wouldn’t take $14,000 for his vintage 1967 red convertible displayed proudly Sunday at the 10th annual California Volkswagen Jamboree at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

“I’m too close to it,” Sands said. “It would be kind of like selling your wife.”

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Certainly most of the Volkswagens at the popular event were a different breed of Bug. Among the 500 entrants in the show were stock Volkswagens, 1950s and ‘60s Volkswagens, and outlandishly customized Volkswagens, Karmann Ghias and vans guaranteed to turn heads when out for a street cruise.

The show drew several thousand Bug fans, many of whom are members of an unofficial California cult that idolizes the German cars, said Al Martinez, a Mission Viejo resident who promotes car and motorcycle shows, including all the Volkswagen “jams” like the one here.

“We all grew up around the Volkswagen and just think they are cool things,” Martinez said of the Bug phenomenon. “Nowadays, these kids will buy a VW and their parents will fix them up.”

All of the cars lined up row after row in the show--including one wrought iron VW--have their own story, the latest chapters of which their current owners will gladly share.

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Todd (Rocky) Rockwell of La Mirada bought his 1957 ragtop Bug for $1,200 two years ago as a “piece of junk,” towed it home and put it up on jacks.

“I de-chromed it and I re-chromed it and went to swap meet after swap meet looking for parts,” said Rockwell, 31, a Los Angeles County firefighter.

The final version was a completely cherry, coral reef red restored Bug on display Sunday, with every part brand new from the dashboard to the fender bead. He will take $10,000 for it as is.

“My ultimate dream is to build a nice street rod,” Rockwell said. “But with a Bug, you can buy an inexpensive body and make it a decent car.”

Chris Antonio of Temple City bought a 1963 Bug in San Francisco for $500 and about $6,000 later had given it the “California look"--lowered with tinted windows. He’s now hooked on the whole scene.

“It’s just a hobby, but it’s fun going to the shows and talking about it,” said Antonio, 23. “Even though you spend a lot on it, you can show it off.”

Along one row at the entrance to the show were the most hard-core jammers. People like Billy Shores of Wilmington with his lilac-and-pearl-white 1967 van who turned down an offer of $20,000 for it Sunday.

Or Ron Carmire, 34, of Anaheim, whose zebra-striped 1957 single-cab VW truck drew gawkers all day. Carmire layered his vehicle with chip-proof powder-coating paint, stainless steel and polished aluminum because “I hate rust.”

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What he ended up with is an ultra-customized dune buggy that he figures is worth $40,000. He always wanted a Volkswagen Thing, which is kind of what he got after all the work, he explained in Bug cult-speak.

“I always wanted a Thing. Now I’ve got my thing. It’s not a Thing, but it’s a thing for sure,” Carmire said.


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