The People’s Car: World VW Day Philippines, Part 1

It was a simple enough idea: a car that was cheap to buy and operate and could carry a family of five across Germany’s new roadways. The idea was promoted by a man named Adolf Hitler; he was eager to get the people of Germany moving, apparently inspired by the exploits of Henry Ford. The task of engineering the new “people’s car” went to an engineer by the name of Ferdinand Porsche, while naming the car fell to Adolf. Thus came the “Volkswagen”, literally translated to “people’s car”.

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Click images to enlarge.

While the name was by no means a great feat of descriptive creativity, it was befitting of the car it was attached to: simple, robust and lasting. So much so was the car, that its production was concluded only in 2003, fifty-eight years after the collapse of the Third Reich which gave rise to it. Officially, Adolf named the car the “Kraft durch Freude-Wagen” (literally, “Strength through Joy Car”), or KdF-Wagen for short, KdF being the state-governed leisure/socialist propaganda organisation of the Third Reich. Of course, such a name would not have flown in a post-WWII world, so the car was renamed the much-friendlier and much-less-socialist “Beetle”. Alternatively, you can use the neutral – “politically-correct” – moniker of Type 1.

With the new name, the Beetle went on to become the poster child of happy, simple motoring, embraced by the hippie, the scholarly and everyone in between.

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Beeeeeeeeetle.

The Volkswagen Club of the Philippines is one clear example of how much love there is for the “Bug”, with well over a thousand members spread across fourteen chapters. Whenever June 22 comes around – or whatever weekend falls closest to it – they all get together to celebrate the birth of the Beetle. This year they were holding it on the Parade Grounds of Camp Aguinaldo. You see a lot of Beetles on our roads still, but you’ve probably not seen the variety the members brought, like the stretch-limo Beetle above.

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Of course it’s used for weddings, what else? The car was built by Dante Enriquez, who is something of a local guru when it comes to rebuilding these cars; quite a few of the cars present went into his garage at some point in their lives. The limo is based on an early Beetle: the small tail lamps and split rear window might jump out to the casual observer, but a more subtle clue are the semaphores in the B-Pillar. You can see it above as the slender cut in the pillar. Before the advent of turn signal lamps, these semaphores also served to indicate your intent to change direction, only with small arms that popped out of the bodywork instead of blinking lamps.

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Everything from the B-Pillar back is a custom job, from the seats to the cloth sunroof. A mini-fridge also lives back here, to keep the lovely couple refreshed. There are also a pair of jump seats attached to the partition, presumably for the best man and bridesmaid. The suicide doors ensure graceful entry and exit, which is a legitimate concern for the bride and her many, many yards of wedding gown.

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The rear bench is a custom job as well, and is every bit as comfortable as it looks. The fabric – of Dante’s choosing – is perfectly in period, and makes the car so much more tasteful.

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Of course, mini-fridges were not yet an actual thing when the split-window Beetles were in production, but there is at least the same seat fabric on the door to hide what is most likely a jarring white surface. While the grey plastic has been left exposed, you could think of it as Bakelite, plastic’s older, less-developed brother. Besides, concessions made for comfort in a car for this purpose is perfectly fine.

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Dante tells us that this limo has been built out of  two separate Beetle shells. All that welding, cutting and joining has been carried out with such high quality that you will not be able to find one seam where the two shells had been joined. Up front you can see where the A/C vents have been retrofitted. The car is kept cool by two A/C units, one for the front and another for the back.

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The seat material carries through to the door, adding a useful touch of luxury.

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No, it’s not a split windshield, but that is a very nice place to put the antenna.

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Like I said, you can’t really tell where the two shells have been joined. From this angle you can see the small tail lamps and split rear window that mark this as an early Beetle. Even the rain gutter has been seamlessly extended.

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The chrome trim along the side has also been extended, and as with everything else, there is no way of knowing exactly where the extension was made.

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Everything that needs doing has been done well, which is exactly how it should be…

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…and yet, enough thought has been put into the car that there is enough of the original car left that you can tell what era the base car is from. Dante has built another one of these, which sees duty outside Metro Manila. That one was also not built out of two Beetles, but out of one with an extension in the middle. Judging by this one, I have no doubt the other has been built with the same quality.

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Before the KdF-Wagen could start production in 1939, WWII started, and the factory was turned over to wartime production. Kubelwagens and Schwimmwagens – tough military-grade vehicles – were built on the simple mechanicals engineered by Porsche way back in 1934. In the same vein, the Microbus/Kombi/Transporter was built on the bones of the Beetle. Internally known as the “Type 2”, the Kombi started out as a simple sketch from the mind of Ben Pon: a breadbox on the Beetle chassis. Of course, the jump from sketch to production was a little more complex than that, but the end result was that VW released the ultimate utility vehicle. Large enough to actually live in, simple enough to fix with a hammer, and tough enough to endure severely deferred maintenance.

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Behold the endless tunnel.

This Kombi has also gone under the hands of Dante, and just as with the limo Beetle, the interior is from Dante’s mind. Just in case there’s any doubt left: Dante does not leave any detail out, as the matched roof and curtains show.

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Curtains, funky colour scheme and endlessly cool jalousie windows, how can you go wrong with this? You can’t. Pick a destination, pack your things and start driving. Need a place to sleep for the night? Pull the beds out – the seats in this one turn into a bed – and spend the night in the Kombi.

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No, there really is no beating this for a road trip vehicle. Sure you can have your luxury RVs or your luxury vans, but those are too much. With those hulking beasts, you shut the world out, but with a Kombi, you invite the world to connect and make smiles happen as you roll by.

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Can you hear the Beach Boys yet?

Sat beside the Kombi was this sparkle green buggy. Because the Beetle’s body was so easy to separate from the chassis, and because the simple engineering meant a lot of things could be done to the chassis, it was easy for people to customise their Beetles. One path was to turn the practical, if slightly dowdy, two-door sedan into a much funkier little buggy. The Meyers Manx was one of the most popular buggy kits available, and thus spawned many copies. I’m not quite sure the body on this one is an original Manx kit, but that’s far beside the point of the whole thing.

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No, that’s not just apple green, or bright green, or whatever else green you can come up with. This is sparkle green, no other way to call it. The metallic flake is in rainbow colour, and pictures cannot do it justice.

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With a fibreglass body, diamond plate floors and a stone-age simple interior, there is no doubt that this was made for sand, surf and fun in the sun.

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This is probably as little bodywork as you can get away with on a street-legal vehicle. It’s all for the better though, because it would be such a crime to hide all that impressive exhaust work. Apparently the owner found this buggy languishing away in some garage or other. Knowing what he had found, there was no way he was going to let this go, and now it sits again in all its glory.

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I mean, seriously, just look at all that quality bending. If anything, the ripples add to the aesthetics of the exhaust. Should you have come across the term “lifestyle vehicle” and ever wondered just what that is, look to the Meyers Manx. No car before or since has been as “lifestyle” as this one.

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A simpler Beetle, but one that has also been mended by Dante. It’s in admirably original condition, and shows that Dante can swing restorations just as well as he can do extreme modifications.

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Aside from the gathering, the day was also given to the formation of the “VW” logo with cars. After plotting out the area for the formation, a chalk outline was laid down to help position the cars. This was still early in the day, so not a lot of cars were around to start the formation.

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More were coming in though, so soon the organisers had a lot of choices as to what car would go into the formation. In the row above, you can see the Type 181, otherwise known as the VW Thing. Designed as a rugged car for the German army, the Thing soon found its way to civilian hands, becoming the factory answer to the “lifestyle vehicle” segment, albeit with a bit more subtlety than the Manx.

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Straight from the 1950’s comes this orange Beetle, complete with vintage Coke ice chest.

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It was just a beautifully done Beetle from roof rack to wheels. The owner wasn’t around to talk to, so I’ll just show you more of this extremely cute Beetle.

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These wheels take their cue from the Fuchsfelge wheels made for Porsche. Porsche and VW have always had a very close – and sometimes tumultuous – relationship, so a lot of VW modifications take their cue from the Porsche crowd, especially today.

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I just wanted to grab the keys and go on an endless drive in this thing, but aside from being a felony, that would just be inexcusably rude.

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Want to keep your windows down but not worry about small items being sucked out as you go along? Or perhaps you need to leave a pet or a companion in the car while you pop into the shops for a bit? Well that is what this plastic accessory is for. Keep your windows open while keeping items inside within the car and keeping wandering hands outside the car. The design is elegantly simple, but I doubt you can remove this without damaging the window in some way.

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The humble Beetle can also be made to look properly mean, as this silver example demonstrates. Unadorned bodywork, blacked-out trim, lowered suspension and flat black Fuchsfelge wheels all come together to make this look like a proper street fighter of a Beetle.

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Simple and effective. If you’ve only ever looked at the Beetle as a slow old car, let this one convince you otherwise.

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The beauty of these cars is that they are true family cars, as the original 1934 design brief called for. So it follows that the day was a family event, with most Beetles driving in with all the seats occupied.

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But of course, the Beetle isn’t the only car that VW made. In 1961, VW released the Type 3 to diversify the product range. The chassis was new, but used the same basic rear-mounted, flat-engine, rear-drive body-on-frame construction as the Type 1. The Type 3 came in three body styles: a notchback coupe, a wagon and a fastback. What we have above is the wagon body style, and while it’s a vastly different silhouette compared to the Beetle, you can still immediately recognise it as a VW.

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No front grille, headlights mounted up high and proud, and a hint of the smile that made the Beetle such a “happy” car. Could this be anything other than a rear-engine VW? Even the central bonnet crease is there.

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Clouds will part for a sky-blue Type 3.

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Louvers line the rear quarter panels, to draw air over the engine. Air-cooled, remember? The two-door wagon is a body style that has long died out in favour of more rakish, more stylish hatchbacks, and modern crossovers have made any hopes of bringing the style back in non-existent. Keep in mind that the engine is still in the back, so there’s not as much space back there as you would imagine.

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As more Beetles rolled in, the huge speakers crackled to life and the parade grounds were suddenly filled with the sweet sound of the 50’s.

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A quick tip for those planning period-themed shindigs: music helps so much more than you imagine. Suddenly it seemed I was in the middle of a beach party in the 60’s. Of course there was no sand, no surf, no recreational drug habits or carefree, um, habits, but there was no way to feel anywhere else than on an American beach in the 60’s.

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Iconic Dealership, Inc. were on hand – of course – to show off the newest members of the VW family, including the third-generation Beetle. It may look a lot like the old car, but no longer is it a rear-engine rear-drive platform. Now it’s a thoroughly modern front-engine front-drive coupe. Has that disgraced the original Beetle’s legacy? Well, the jury’s still out on that one.

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Along with the new Beetle, they also brought along the Tiguan and Touran, offering test drives of all three units.

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The Tiguan is a premium five-seater crossover, built to go after the same kind of people who buy Foresters, but are looking for more “premium”, without jumping the gun and going for four rings. Time will still tell as to how well the Tiguan will do, because BMW has tried the same thing with the X3, and I don’t see a lot of those on our roads.

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The Touran is a compact MPV built on the same PQ35 platform the Beetle is built on. Moving on.

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Meanwhile, up on the stage, the national president of the club, Doy Bondoc, was heading up the party, announcing the events and the run of the day. He was a lively chap, and you could hear the enthusiasm in his voice.

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The cars just kept rolling in, and pretty soon they had to make another line of cars to fit everyone. Kombis, Beetles, Type 3s and Brasilias of all styles and conditions kept rolling in, and the 50s-era music kept on playing.

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The white tents of the VW dealer were kept busy, with people looking over the red Beetle under it. For all the cars that were parked and still rolling in, we noticed a model conspicuously absent, and wondered when the first example would roll in.

We’ll look at some more vintage VWs in the next installment, including a Beetle done up as a rat rod.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, images by Eugene Calimag

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