It wasn’t a particularly tearful event. Our son, a daughter, daughter-in-law, her son and his fiancée were there and we laughed and joked about it as we backed Fritz down the driveway and unto a trailer for the ride to his new home in Arizona. Fritz is a 1968 Volkswagon bug, or beetle, as it’s sometimes called, which I’ve owned for half a century. My eldest daughter named it Fritz back in the 1980’s when it was her daily driver.
My children learned to drive in Fritz and when they got through denting the fenders, I had it restored to its current, near-pristine condition and pale blue color. It was real traffic-stopper, mainly because of its simple beauty, but also because of its tendency to stall out when idling at traffic stops. You had to goose the engine at traffic stops to keep it idling, sometimes provoking obscene gestures from crossing pedestrians. It also would, on occasion, change lanes all by itself, just to see if you were paying attention. It was a great safety feature, actually, and kept you off your cellphone.
Mostly, though, it was very reliable. Throughout much of my 30-year naval career, it lived on both the east and west coasts and made the trip between the two in tow behind the family station wagon, loaded with clothes and other possessions. On one of those trips west, our Ford station wagon overheated in the mountains on the way into San Diego. We let it cool down, added water to the cooling system, unhitched the VW and I drove it down the mountains into Coronado, followed by my wife in the station wagon. On the way down, Fritz backfired several times, which was its way of reminding us that it ended up leading the way into San Diego ahead of the high-priced, eight-cylinder, water-cooled gas-guzzler. Fritz was proud.
I commuted to three Pentagon assignments in Fritz and it never let me down. Well, almost never. One day it swallowed a valve with a loud clunk and stopped dead. My bad. You’re supposed to tune the valves regularly on that 4-cyllinder, opposed piston, air-cooled engine. I had the engine rebuilt and with a new heart transplant, Fritz ran like a top for 40 more years.
While living in Virginia, I received orders to command a guided missile cruiser, via some training classes in Newport, Rhode Island. I planned to get an early start on Sunday for the drive up the coast but a blizzard hit the east coast and ominous traffic warnings were issued. Not to worry. The VW bug, with its rear engine, had great traction in snow. It turned out to be the worst snow storm I’ve ever driven in but Fritz was up to the task. Most of the way, that is.
I got behind an 18-wheeler in Delaware whose tail lights I could barely make out and followed it all the way to New York. I think we were the only vehicles on the Jersey Turnpike. From New York to Rhode Island, however, we were on our own, but Fritz plowed on with Germanic determination all the way to Newport. We crossed the bridge over Narragansett Bay and were in sight of the Naval Station as we turned onto the off ramp. That’s when the rear end decided to get ahead of the front end and the car skidded into a huge snowbank. (It’s pronounced “yuge” in the northeast.) The little car was almost buried. Several snow plow operators, who for some reason thought the accident was simply hilarious, dug me out and Fritz and I made it to class on time. We needn’t have worried about it though. We were the only ones that did. It was quite a storm.
Many garages in Coronado are filled with relics like my old VW. They, in turn, are filled with memories of the past. It’s hard to let go. My kids learned to drive in that car. My parents, two older siblings, my 93 year-old aunt and numerous friends, now gone, rode in that car. I love old cars. To me, they have personalities. I have trouble letting go of them. At one time, I had a fleet of six. Space in Coronado is scarce, however, and it was time to let go of Fritz. Auf Wiedereshen, Fritz, und danke.
But Fritz is staying in the family. My son and daughter-in-law took custody and they promised me visiting privileges. My 1967 lime gold, all original Mustang fastback with factory steel mag wheels, however, stays with me until my very last breath and the keys are pried from my cold, dead fingers. Don’t even ask me if it’s for sale and please don’t touch the paint.