Monday 20 February 2017

100th Post! Meeting Gretchen's original family

Yes indeed, I have now reached the numerically significant milestone of 100 posts! Pretty good going for me as I have a habit of starting journals and abandoning them after a month or so. However, the restoration of Gretchen has been rather special and I always feel compelled to continue documenting not only the progress being made, but also some of the personal history which helps enrich the story of her resurrection.

Fittingly for this anniversary post I am going to discuss a magical experience I managed to orchestrate last week. After many years of researching, tracing and planning I finally got to meet a true gentleman and someone very special to Gretchen's history; Alan is one of the car's original owners! He owned the trusty Beetle from 1968 - 88, which officially makes him the longest registered keeper (until 2020 when that title will default to me). I also had the privilege of meeting his lovely wife, Jean, as well as re-meeting his daughter, Alison, who used the car as a daily driver during the 1980's. Why did I use the peculiar word 're-meeting' just then you may wonder? Well, the story gets a bit unusual here and I need to back up a little to shed some light on a particular background event...

I had previously met Alison very briefly back in 2000 (possibly 2001), when I was a teenage college student and was working every weekend at a big DIY store back in my hometown. I can still recall the moment so vividly; she approached me excitedly when I was walking back to the car after finishing my regular Sunday shift. She was convinced it was her oId family car and explained that she was called Gretchen and this name had been affectionately handwritten in bubble writing on the original (long lost) owners manual. It was a completely unexpected chance encounter! I should point out here that I purchased Gretchen from Welling in Kent, some 80 miles away from my hometown, so the likelihood of this arbitrary situation occurring was remote. Also, judging by the old log books, Gretchen had travelled the country under the ownership of the 6 previous owners between Alan and eventually myself, so its not as though the car had stayed local during those intervening years! For some reason I didn't think to exchange contact details with Alison back then (something I have often regretted) and we did not see each other again after occasion. Until now that is. It was terrific to reintroduce myself and reminisce about that chance meeting in a car park 16 years ago. It makes me laugh that she can still quote what I said as a na├»ve closing remark "I'm doing her up". Haha, yeah, it only took me another decade to get around to making a start on that promise!

Alan and his family were so warm and welcoming. It was a privilege to personally discuss memories connected with the car and I brought them up-to-speed with the progress I had been making with the restoration. I was relieved that they were impressed with my efforts and seeing how happy they all were that she was being put back together has further fuelled my motivation for this project. They even suggested that I should consider looking into working at a professional restoration garage - high praise indeed from the very people whose opinions I value the highest!

Interestingly Alan and Jean recently relocated from the other side of the country to my old hometown, which is what prompted me to arrange a visit. I mean, if that is not a sign then I don't know what is! However, it turns out they are actually close neighbours with my uncle, living next door but one! This was something I only realised just after our visit and is another unbelievable related coincidence that further boggles my mind!

I have found that making new friends across generations through a shared personal connection with an automobile is one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a classic car. Certainly an aspect that was unforeseen by me, especially when I think back to the wide-eyed 18 year old me that just wanted a cool looking slammed pre-67 Beetle with shiny alloy wheels.

The highlight of this perfect morning when I presented Alan with Gretch's old faded front numberplate. It was genuinely touching moment:

Alan and me, 11th February 2017.

Big thanks to Alan for granting permission for me to use this photo and to talk about the experience. Special thanks also to Jean and Alison for their kindness and hospitality.


  1. I just found your blog this morning. I have a 1963 named Roscoe that is in sore need of just the kind of things you've done. It's not quite as bad off as Gretchen was to start likely because it grew up in sunny California. I got it from my grandfather when he passed in '94 and drove it for a few years before deciding the hole in the floor were just too big. It's been parked for about 5 years now and it's almost time to get to work. Anyway ... thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Michael! Thanks for taking the time to comment, pleased to hear that this resto has provided you with some inspiration. It motivates me in return when I get this kind of positive feedback.

      Good luck with your '63. It will feel special when you start restoring something that has been in your family.

      California is the place to be for old VW's. Vehicles age so well in that drier climate. I am actually trying to get hold of some rust-free body cuts from a salvage yard in Cali, but it is proving to be difficult. I am really hoping that it works out though as the all the old Beetle's rust out in the same places over here in Blighty and sometimes there are no suitable repair panels available.

      Keep in touch and let me know if you ever start a thread/blog of your project!

  2. Hi, I came across your blog while looking at images for the shift rod coupler then read this. I have met many people across generations, through my work and hobbies..they always have interesting stories. I have a buggy, single port 1600 from 71 on a 68 pan according to the previous owner. I am working on in the Caribbean, its a challenge here with getting parts etc., but I am determined to make her one of the better Buggies around, she was left to the elements outside for a few years. So far there are only about 3 left running here so we have to hang on to what we have got. Happy you restored Gretch, an amazing story...keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks TBT! The connection to people is one of the more surprising and rewarding aspects of owning a classic car. It keeps me engaged and in turn provides me with the enthusiasm needed to plod on with the resto! I am liking the sound of your buggy, the fact that it is a rare beast in the Caribbean region makes it a special car and worthy of your TLC.

  3. Gretchen is quite a lovely name for a vintage Beetle. It's quite impressive how you invested time to locate the first owner. If I were Alan, I've be very surprised and even excited to see my old car once more. It's like in a movie where two different generations were joined by an old object. Hope to read more of your experiences with Gretchen.

    Madonna Gentry @ SVS Autocare

    1. Hello again Madonna! You know, I didn't have a name for the car before Alison told me she was Gretchen - then it just all seemed to make sense. Weirdly, she looked like a Gretchen!

      Haha, yes, it does sometimes feel like a scene from a movie. Owning a classic car is rather magical (as well as a complete and utter headache)!