VW Beetle brings back memories of first Vegas road trip
September 26, 2018 3:00 AM
by Robert Mann
Memories of my first car and first road trip to Las Vegas are flooding back with news that the Volkswagen Beetle will soon be no more. In writing about the Barrett-Jackson auto auction starting tomorrow in Las Vegas, I noticed a 1969 bug similar to mine is on the docket for sale, right near the Burt Reynolds consignment.
Had I only been smart enough to keep my beloved first car. Long before self-driving autos, my Beetle seemed to know how to get to the racetrack on its own as well as Big Herm’s Polish hotdog emporium on Dempster Street, in Skokie, near Chicago.
The German automaker made the end of the Beetle announcement official two weeks ago in a company statement saying, “The loss of the Beetle after three generations, over nearly seven decades, will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle’s many devoted fans.” As to the possibility the Beetle could ever make a return, Volkswagen also said, “never say never.”
Many of us retain a strong emotional attachment to our first car and mine was that 1969 VW Beetle. A college buddy joined me in the memorable road trip to Las Vegas in it in the spring of 1970.
My precious Beetle was a turquoise blue beauty with a stick shift (no automatic transmission version was offered) and it had a wonderful factory-installed, German-made AM/FM radio, a big deal back then, a manual sun roof and black racing pinstripes down the side and diagonally across the engine compartment in the back. The trunk was in the front and the air-cooled engine was in the back, if you remember. It had a gas gauge, but you may recall the earlier Beetles did not.
Think about your first car, if you will, and you may get misty-eyed, too.
Gas was 26.9 cents a gallon then. And, most important, the payments on my prized possession, with its original Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of a little less than $2000, came in at under $60 a month.
My buddy J.E. (John Elliott) and I took off for Las Vegas hoping to drive straight through. We thought it would take about 24 hours and we headed south from Chicago expecting to take turns driving and sleeping (not at the same time).
Among the highlights of the April trip west in 1970, (via the southern route to avoid bad weather) with our final stop being J.E’s parent’s house in Pasadena, Calif., near the Rose Bowl, was a wrong turn into a military base somewhere in Missouri with the MP’s waving their arms at me shouting that we were on the wrong road. There were no navigation systems in those days. I think we may have even been too dumb to bring a map.
We drove and drove and then drove some more until a snowstorm in Flagstaff forced us off the road and into a cheap motel. VW Beetles were great at driving on top of the snow, but even two dopes like us knew the windshield wipers were insufficient as was the defroster that did a poor job in rerouting the heat from the rear engine onto the windshield.
After a quick sleep in Flagstaff, Ariz., we headed for Las Vegas.
I was too young to have what they now call a “bucket list.” However, Frank Sinatra’s 1960 release “Ocean’s 11” was always must see TV for me and I think I must have viewed Elvis’ magnum opus, “Viva Las Vegas” (1964) at least ten times. Frank and Elvis made me certain I had to get to Las Vegas as soon as I could.
I’m still mesmerized whenever these two classics are on TV. That doesn’t make me a bad person, only a little crazy. I still sing along when Sammy Davis, Jr. belts out “Eee-O-Eleven” and Elvis croons “Viva Las Vegas” during the opening credits.
My memories of Las Vegas in 1970 remain a little fuzzy, but we had a great time for 24 hours gambling and enjoying the free drinks. I even won about $150 and got to California with cash in hand.
After our California sojourn, we headed back for Chicago and made the error of stopping in Las Vegas for a few hours. In what was not my smartest move and in true Las Vegas fashion, I returned the money to the casino where I won it.
Although, I didn’t come back permanently for another 17 years, that car took me where I wanted to go.
I still miss it and always will.