We were supposed to turn over our finished project car, a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle 1300 S, back to its owner, Ildefonso “Fons” Caluag, on Sunday, June 23, 2019 the day after the World Beetle Day. Unfortunately, the day before we were supposed to drive it out of the workshop of JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works in Marulas, Valenzuela City, their shop foreman, Erene, found a couple of pin holes on the painted hood. The paint touch-up will take another day, so we rescheduled the delivery on Monday (June 24), but Fons was going to be busy watching over his wife, Ching, who was at the hospital. So, Fons requested us to deliver his beloved cream “baby” on Wednesday, the 26th of June.
Wednesday morning found me and my teenage son Chevy Martin tooling in rush-hour morning traffic inside our other project car, the 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe LS, on the way to the JSK workshop to pick up the freshly-painted cream Beetle. When we got there, Erene and his crew were making sure that the Bug will run right and take us to the Caluag residence in Pandacan, Manila without a hitch. JSK proprietor Johnson Tan called us the day before to remind us that the Beetle’s battery needs to be replaced and that we should bring a brand new battery. Since it was too early for battery shops to be opened, we proceeded to the JSK workshop bringing only our emergency generator/battery charger/jump start battery. Erene warned us that the Bug’s battery is dead and that I should keep the power supply with us when we drive the car into the crazy Wednesday traffic.
First Drive with the VW 1300 S
After Chevy and I said our goodbyes to Erene and his crew, we drove out of the JSK compound and into the side streets of Valenzuela City to avoid the heavy traffic at EDSA. Along the way, Chevy was delighted to see people, especially young school children, point to our cream Beetle. We could hear them exclaim words like “Wow!”, “Nice car!”, “Cool!”, “It’s so shiny!” and our favorite, “That’s a vintage car!” I told Chevy that it wasn’t very long ago when you can buy Beetles really cheap because they were just ordinary affordable cars. Nowadays, only a handful of really nice Beetles are available and its impending rarity is jacking up the prices. “Soon”, I warned him, “Only the wealthy collectors car afford a really nice preserved VW Beetle, if the trend continues.”
There was one thing I realized while I was behind the wheel of the 1300 S – it’s a really nice car to drive. Despite having only about 60 horsepower, a 4-speed manual transmission, floor-hinged gas, brake and clutch pedals, and no power assist, this car is quite delightful to drive. It takes us back to the time when life was simple and when cars were tough and rough rolling sculptures. The steering wheel was large enough to make turning those meaty 195/65R15 Bridgestone Potenza RE002 tires a breeze instead of like lifting weights in a gym. The ride was a bit choppy, perhaps due to the age and condition of the shock absorbers, but it was fun. Even Chevy, who got used to being driven around in an air-conditioned car, didn’t complain about the heat. He just loves riding in this cream Vee-Dub.
Back Where It Belongs
Even though the traffic was heavy in some parts, Chevy and I were happily enjoying our drive in the Beetle. But, as they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun“, and before long, we were in front of the Calauag residence in Pandacan and I parked the car in front of the garage. I gave the engine a last rev just to hear the staccato of the air-cooled flat-four before turning the Beetle over to its owner. The garage gate opened and Fons Caluag came out with a great big smile on his face. He looked around the car, caressed the smooth cream paint lovingly, and then looked at me with a big approving smile. “Ang ganda! (It’s beautiful)”, he exclaimed. He beamed with pride when I told him that we’ve been getting a lot of compliments while we were driving it from the JSK workshop to his house. It felt really good to bring some happiness to my father’s old friend.
Before we can park the cream 1300 S in its original garage, we have to remove Fons’ other Beetle, a green 1974 1303 S that I personally parked there in February when I had the cream Bug taken to the JSK workshop. Of course, it was easier said than done, or easier to read in this story than it was actually working on it. We had to replace the dead battery of the green Bug and tinker with its carburetor and ignition several times before we finally got it to start. “Pasensya na, ha. Hindi ko na nagalaw iyan pagkatapos mong pinarada iyan diyan (My apologies. I haven’t touched the car since you parked it there)”, said Fons. But thankfully, we were finally able to drive the green Bug out the garage and drive the cream Bug in.
Fons was upfront about his health and narrated that he felt quite weak and disappointed when the painter he contracted to re-spray his 1300 S late last year cheated him and left the project in pieces. His 2-week bout with pneumonia made matters worse and he was thankful when I offered to help him put his “baby” back together. Now that it’s home, he felt rejuvenated and ready to put his personal touches on the car. He pointed out some of his personal preferences that he forgot to remind me – like painting the front stabilizer black and installing a stopper on the passenger side window riser mechanism so the window doesn’t go all the way down. Apparently, he doesn’t want front seat passengers placing their right elbow out the window and flattening the window felt. Ooh, the joys of owning an old Beetle! Its just heartwarming to see my dad’s old friend smiling, happy and very eager to work on his baby, again. We’re simply glad to put the spark back in Fon Caluag’s day!
Power Wheels Magazine would like to thank Johnson Tan and all the technicians, artisans, mechanics, and staff of JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works for their invaluable expertise, help and patience in restoring this Project Car. It’s really hard to reassemble a car that you did not disassemble. We thank God for the opportunity and the guidance, and for another one of His many blessings: To show his appreciation for helping re-paint and reassembled his cream 1973 Volkswagen Beetle 1300 S (NDJ-515), Fons Caluag gave his green 1974 Volkswagen Beetle 1303 S (NNS-370) to the author. While the paint of the green Bug is rough in some places, it is a complete and original 1303 S. It will be the next Power Wheels Project Car. Watch this space!