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The Volkswagen Beetle’s long ride is about to come to an end. In March, VW announced it’s planning to end production of the iconic model. That won’t change the love many owners have for their “bugs,” or the lively business at one of the few auto shops dedicated exclusively to repairing them. CBS News’ Don Dahler paid them a visit.
They are the humblest of cars. The Volkswagen Beetle, designed in Germany in the 1930s, gained popularity as part of the 1960s counterculture. They are notoriously under-powered, offered with no frills, and come in a basic design that didn’t markedly change for decades.
But they are arguably the most popular cars in history. Once ubiquitous on America’s highways, “bugs” are now a cherished rarity. Just ask the proud owners who take part in an annual fall foliage cruise on the East Coast, organized by Chris Vallone.
“We had 50 cars and probably 85, 90 people showed up,” Vallone told CBS News’ Don Dahler. “People come from all over the country. I have a guy that flies in from California every year to do that cruise.”
Vallone is himself a bug fanatic. With his father, Chris Sr., he runs Classic VW Bugs in Congers, New York — perhaps the only restoration shop in the world dedicated solely to the lowly Beetle. For them, finding that hidden bug in the back of an old barn or in abandoned in a field is “magical.”
“Cause you just don’t see much of ’em anymore,” Vallone said.
The car that started it all was just $350.
“Brought it home to my dad. I said, ‘I think I’m going to restore this one. Let’s give it a shot,'” Vallone said.
What appeals to Vallone about the Volkswagen Beetle is the “happy look” on its face.
“It’s got a face when you look at it, right? It’s got the little smile,” he said.
They had little knowledge of auto mechanics at the time, but over the years the Vallones have managed to grow Classic VW Bugs into the destination for bug enthusiasts looking to have their baby restored, or looking to buy one already transformed to showroom quality. He said they can take up to a year, depending on the condition, to restore.
Word got out about the Vallone’s shop on eBay. Now they have a two-year waiting list for cars that once upon a time cost as little as $1,500. Vallone says an old Beetle from the 50s can go for $40,000 to $65,000. Models with a split window on the back as much as $70,000 or $75,000. The draw? Nostalgia.
“People want their youth back. And they want those memories back,” he said.
It’s something the lucky few, who never gave up those memories, can understand. Even CBS News’ Don Dahler still owns the bright red Beetle his parents drove off the lot in 1967 for $2,000.
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