A Man and His Bug

Life was “happening” for Walter Buchanan and his wife, Billie, and their    three children — Joe, Jill and Jan. The family was living in Arkansas when Walter came upon what many would consider “the deal of a lifetime.” “The 1969 VW Beetle became available in March of 1972,” he explained. “It was in pristine condition and only had 12,000 miles on the odometer. I bought it from its sole owner, an elementary school principal.” At the time of purchase, the car was only
3 years old, and it cost a whopping $1,250.

Reminiscing, Walter cannot recall what the need was when buying the vehicle. “I’m not even sure there was a need,” he added. The car was bought to be used. All three children drove it while they were in high school. One child, who will remain anonymous, even has a fender named after her. Walter and Billie used it extensively in the ministry, too. “We drove it to revival meetings in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas,” he stated. In 38 years, the car boasts of 238,000 miles and several new paint jobs.

The family moved to the Waxahachie area in 1979. The Beetle was no stranger to downtown Waxahachie. The most notorious thing Walter did behind the wheel of the VW was something his family hopes he never does again. “I had gotten two Longhorns and two calves in the corral. When I went to get the pickup truck, it wouldn’t start,” he said. “There was a trailer hitch on the Beetle, so I hooked the trailer up to the car and pulled the trailer to Reagor Springs,
by way of downtown Waxahachie.” As he laughed at his antics, he pointed out a model his friends
“lovingly” made for him to commemorate that particular trip. The car has been garaged and driven on rare occasions for the past two decades. During these 20 years, it only received periodic maintenance.

Two years ago, Walter and Billie took a trip to Alabama. It was on this particular jaunt that Walter got an idea.
“We were visiting my nephew, Sam Buchanan,” he said. “Sam had restored a ’74 Beetle. When I saw his, I knew I had to have my Beetle refurbished, too.” The process of taking the car back to its original state began with an overnight trip. “I started out at 5:00 p.m. on June 29 of last year,” Walter said, “and I arrived in Alabama the following morning around 9:00.” At this point in the story, Walter felt it was time to give a comparison on gas prices. “In 1972, I
filled up for $1.85. It took 7.4 gallons,” he said. “On the trip to Alabama, I filled up for $12.30, and this time it only took 5 gallons.” Needless to say, the numbers proved his point when he made the decision to drive the car to Alabama instead of having it shipped via trailer to its destination. “I drove it because it was
economical,” he explained. “In this case, gas was cheaper than shipping costs.”

The car performed perfectly, even though it had no working dash lights. The Beetle was driven at 60 miles per
hour, or so Walter thinks, because the only way he was able to monitor his speed was by the illumination of a very
small flashlight. His records also show he averaged 33 miles per gallon. Not bad for a 40-year-old car.

Once the motor cooled, Sam wasted no time in getting started. He kept a detailed time line on his Web site, which made it easy for Walter to follow the progress on his beloved car once he arrived back in Waxahachie. The first items removed on the last day of June were the front bumper, hood, lights, fenders and the rear deck lid. On July 1, the motor was extracted, along with a good portion of the dirt dauber population of Waxahachie. The engine only had to be partially dismantled. “It was in excellent condition,” Sam said. By July 4, the engine was pretty much ready to hit the road, but the work on the Beetle] had just begun.

By July 16, new brakes for the VW were ordered. On July 20, after Sam had put the engine back in the car [complete
with new engine mounts], he ran into a problem that took a lot of thought. “The engine was sitting too high in the car,” he remembered. “It had been in the car for 40 years. Why was it not fitting now?” Walter quickly reminded
him that the car had been rear-ended, thus causing the right rear quarter panel to be out of alignment. The idea of a major body repair was more than either Walter or Sam had planned for, so modifications were made in order to get
the motor to fit with the new mounts.

A month into the project, Sam and Walter were finally able to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. “On August 6, I wrote that I was 75 percent done and only had 75 percent to go,” Sam laughed. While waiting on the body shop to allocate the time necessary to do the new paint job, Sam painted the wheels. Two-tone wheels were painted on August 12. Sam learned two-tone takes lots of patience and some detailed craftsmanship in order for them to look good. “But it was worth it,” he added.

Finally on August 31, Sam was able to take a photo of an empty garage. This let Walter know his car had made it to the body shop. In just a little over two months, the car was complete. Sam encouraged Walter to have it transported back to Waxahachie. “It was the only car on the carrier that day. The transport driver stopped on Main Street, just west of the square,” Walter said, recalling the day when he was finally reunited with his “bug.” “Sam had driven the car onto the carrier and the driver wanted me to drive it off.” Walter was nervous, but he backed the car off the truck successfully.

Walter could not be more proud of the transformation. He never doubted the outcome. “Sam is a very talented
guy. He’s built three airplanes and a racy sports car,” Walter said. “He’s meticulous and detail-oriented.” The only thing Walter cannot figure out is why Sam failed to reinstall the trailer hitch.

— Written by Sandra Strong