TJ's 1977 Super Beetle
This '77 Beetle Convertible is a Champagne 1st edition. I did not know that when I bought it. Discovering this was one of the most exciting things I'd ever experienced. It was much like rubbing the lamp and finding the magic genie inside! I'll explain...I purchased this lil' Bug from an elderly man who identified himself as "Mr. Karmann Ghia". When I went to examine the VW, he showed me his photo album of dozens of air cooled VWs he had built. Each page was a documentary of an amazing restoration or customization. I was impressed. The car I was considering, was one rebuilt by an expert, and it's the one he kept for himself when he retired and sold the business! He provided photos of its "body-off-pan" paint work in the correct code L90B Alpine White, rebuilt engine with new heads, new top, and its reconditioned chassis with two full floor pans replaced. All of the hard work was already done, or so I thought. What I also learned was that their retirement plans included converting their property into a honey bee sanctuary, and so they decided to sell their Beetle to save some bees! Unfortunately, they had been storing the car for several years under a waterproof cover. This caused a horrendous case of mildew and mold, which permeated all fabric and rubber surfaces of the car. It was absolutely gross. Fortunately however, I had a sense of confidence that I could clean it, and bring the car back to the show quality condition he had created.
But I may have been overestimating my detail skills... The top, even though new, was literally green and grey speckled throughout its tan fabric outer skin. I tried four different cleaners and degreasers, scrubbing with a horsehair brush. The mildew did not budge. Suddenly, I became nervous that I'd not be able to remove it. Did I just make a mistake buying this car? Alas, this is the 21st century. So I googled it. And I read somewhere in a convertibles forum that a solution of 15% bleach and water should do the job. I was very fearful of staining the fabric, much like I've done to my shower mat from using too much bleach in there. (Oops) But I did as instructed, misted the entire top in the sun outside, and waited about 15 minutes...cue Jeopardy music...and the top turned to "like new" right before my eyes! It was better than a time lapse infomercial, and I just stood slack-jawed for a few seconds, until that changed to mad scientist cackling. I DID it! I saved the top! BAHAHAHAHA! And so MY phase of its renewal began. I gutted the interior of anything mildewed, with the intent of doing a "German look" vert. My first sketches included converting to 18" New Beetle wheels. (Pic attached: pshopsketch) But when I finished cleaning the dashboard, I realized the faux wood grain was like nothing I'd seen before in my tenure working for VW/Audi, almost 30 years ago. I knew of the horizontal grain from the rosewood insert; and the ringlet grain of the Burlwood insert. It required a friend and woodworking hobbyist to blurt out, "Looks like Tiger Maple." Tiger Maple?
Well what the heck is that? Is that even a thing? Turns out, it certainly was. Thanks to sebeetles.com, I began to assemble the pieces of a puzzle that few other lucky VW treasure hunters have revealed: the Tiger Maple wood grain was one of several unique finishes used only in the first edition of the Champagne SE. The second edition, along with all future SEs, used the Burlwood insert. So, upon rubbing the crud away from this dash, I unearthed a model so rare, that only one was built for each dealer in the US only! Wow! But hey, how many is that? Having worked for VW, I knew that Dealer Directories existed. I scoured the web and actually found a PDF scan of an entire Directory from 1976. So I counted them all...and it was just over 1100 locations listed. 1 of ~1100? Really Wow! I wanted to request its "birth certificate" from the VW Museum in Germany right away. But I hesitated, upon reading reports of it being quite expensive and taking 10 months to a year. Then as time passed, I realized I should have already just sent the request. Frustrated, I spontaneously emailed them. I asked only if they could confirm the production date and the color code or the SE package ID# S723. I didn't need a certificate or official letter mailed, I just wanted the info. After a few weeks, and a few replies, forwards, and redirects, I got a response: my VW's date of delivery was two days after its production plate was created, they confirmed the L90B paint code but had no value for the interior finish code and they also confirmed option package #S723! So it IS a Champagne Edition I, built on March 15, 1977, at the Karmann factory in Osnabruck, Germany. Learning this motivated me to obtain copies of the original brochure illustrations and magazine ads. I wanted to recreate the model's originally-equipped look, while bringing attention to its rare status as a Champagne (and not a more common "triple white".)
Again, thanks to 21st c. technology, I located copies of these images quickly, in online auctions. So this SE VW has been trimmed with original style 3/4" White Walls, gold pinstripes, the leather wrapped wheel reserved for SEs, and more chrome bits than the average bear. (I mean, Bug.) And instead of fuzzy dice on the mirror, I opted for a real mirrored, mini-disco-ball; which actually makes its very cool effect on the headliner when the sun hits it. Of course because '77 was the height of the Disco Era! Restoring this little VW took about 7 months, in my home garage, with some help from local VW friends and businesses. Anything maintenance related or upgradable has been done; so it's a safe and fun trip each weekend, to local cruise-ins and the occasional Bug Jam. It is my 3rd air-cooled VW and my 13th VW/Audi vehicle. I do enjoy driving it, because of its high rate of "Smiles per Mile". But I may enjoy parking it even more so; because anywhere I do, it's just a matter of moments before someone is approaching to discuss their VW memories. It's a rolling conversation piece, classy and fun all in one. Now it's so fresh and so clean, it's ready for another 40 years. Maybe Disco will come back in style by then!