Wednesday, August 28, 2013

First Cars (August 28, 2013) -- KIP-108

This is the latest in a series on "First Cars."  Previous posts have shown the first car my paternal grandfather bought and the first car my father bought.  

"First car" can mean many things and the next few posts in this series will demonstrate that. Americans love their cars and the automobile has occupied a large part of the everyday experience of most Americans for about a century now.  How else could we have had 254,212,610 registered passenger vehicles as of 2009 when our total national population numbered about 305,000,000?

If we stop and think about it, most of us have many "first car" memories that are integral to our life experiences and those of our immediate families and some of our ancestors.  There is the first car you remember your family having.  The one you all piled into to go visit your grandparents or the one you excitedly rode in on a summer Saturday night on the way to a movie at the drive-in theater.  

Then there is probably the car in which you learned to drive -- not exactly your very own car, but the one you used to earn that all-important driver's license and then begged, cajoled and schemed to use at every opportunity.  ["Do we need milk, Mom?  I don't mind going to get it for you!"]  

Many of us were lucky or spoiled enough that there also came a time when our family obtained another vehicle so that a car could be dedicated to our use only.  It was that car that we lobbied for so we could be oh so useful to the greater family -- running errands for Mom, ferrying younger siblings to school, sports, social events, etc.  In our minds it was OUR "first car."  

And eventually there came the first automobile that we actually bought and paid for on our own without any help from our parents or others.  The one we just had to have and the one that taught us the real lessons about car ownership -- that cars needed periodic repair and maintenance and that WE now had to pay for those necessities ourselves; that insurance and registration were annual costs we had to budget and plan for; and that perhaps "image" was costing us dearly and we probably should have gone for the basic transportation vehicle rather than the sporty head-turner that voraciously consumed gasoline and made insurers charge higher rates.

The car pictured at the top of this post is a 1960-61 Volkswagen Beetle.  It is not the one my family owned, which was red like the one shown below, but it is the same as KIP-108 -- the family car that  I learned to drive in and was "my car" until it passed down to my sister when I went to college and then passed down to one of my younger brothers when she went on to college. 

When my father was transferred with Sears from New Hampshire to Philadelphia, he commuted back and forth for several months until school was out for the year and the family could move to a home my parents were having built in the New Jersey suburbs.  During this time, my father left the family car (a VW "bus" that could hold four kids and a dog) in New Hampshire with my mother.  To get around during the months he lived in Philly during the week, he purchased a used 1961 VW Beetle that became affectionately known as "KIP" because the randomly assigned license plates from the state of New Jersey read "KIP-108."  KIP was a great car that served the family for at least a decade.  Three of four children learned to drive using her clutch and manual transmission.  When she was finally sold to a high schooler, she had over 200,000 miles on her and yet two years later she was still on the road serving another family.

So KIP is just one (but a very important one), of my "first car" memories.  The first date I had where I drove myself was in KIP.  Since KIP got such great gas mileage (200+ miles a tank), we actually used it on a couple of occasions to fit the entire family of six into it (one kid in the "rumble seat" behind the back seat) for a trip to the Jersey Shore at Atlantic City.  AND one of the classic and now traditional family stories that still gets told and laughed about (well it does now, but it did not at the time) involved a unique feature -- or lack of a feature -- with KIP . . . 

The 1961 VW Bug did not have air conditioning, but it had these great butterfly vent windows as seen above.  [Need more air?  Open the vent window until it grabbed the wind and pulled it into the passenger space!]  But one thing the 1961 Bug did not have was a gas gauge!

So if the '61 Bug had no gas gauge, how did you know when you needed gas?  You just waited until she told you by bucking and rattling a bit because she was being starved of fuel and then you used your right foot to push down a little lever rod down at the floor against the front wall.  When pushed down from its vertical position, the lever opened a line into a deeper well in the gas tank and after another cough or two she recovered and had another gallon of fuel available to get you to a gas station in the next 20+ miles.  Well, that was how it worked UNLESS your wife had already flipped that lever, not gone immediately to fill the tank, and then had forgotten to mention you were already running on the reserve tank as you set off from New Jersey to get your son's friend onto a plane at the Philadelphia airport to fly back to Concord, NH.  And when that happens on the ramp going up onto the bridge over the river in South Philadelphia, the look on your father's face when there is no lever to flip is . . . well it is as hard to describe here as the language that was used on that fateful day.  BUT, while KIP is gone, my parents are still married and into their 63rd glorious year of wedded bliss -- and now we all laugh heartily about KIP's little quirks and her lack of a gas gauge!  

My father bought KIP used in late 1964 or early 1965, but a new 1960-61 VW Beetle sedan cost about $1,565.  The convertible version started at about $2,055.

To learn more about the VW Beetle, or "Bug" as it was sometimes called, go here to the Wikipedia article.    
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


  1. My first car was also a VW Bug. It was a powder blue and I drove it for many years. I would not drive that car today, I would be afraid of being hit with some large behemoth of a SUV.

    It cost $3.00 to fill it up and had a gas gauge that year. It also had no A/C and some time it would get stuck with the heat on. LOL

  2. Thank you for your comment Claudia! I am sure many of us had a Bug as a first car since they were so affordable -- especially on the gas and repairs. I drove KIP in the days when gas was still as low as 25 cents/gallon. I could drive down to the Jersey Shore and back, throw $1.00 worth of gas in the car and no one was the wiser (unless they were tracking the mileage)! :-)