The story of my ’67 Bug is really the story of the original owner, Hermann Bonasch, and how he extended his caring hand to this vintage car. However, when Hermann bought it in March of 1967 at Berkey Lee Garage in Albany, CA, it wasn’t vintage – it was new! A Ruby Red workhorse of a car, it was at the heart of a family that was forming. It carried Hermann to work every day as a much-loved veterinarian in San Lorenzo, CA, and it was there, four years later, on August 21, 1971, ready to whisk Hermann and his new bride, Marcia, off to their honeymoon, blending two families together. By that time, the Bug had already logged its first one hundred thousand miles!
Three children grew up taking family vacations, learning how to drive, and practicing their mechanic skills with this Bug. Mike, Rick, and Beth loved the car, but not with a distant admiration, but, rather, more of an “up to their elbows in grease” passion. In the 1970’s the boys took a couple years to re-assemble the engine, guided by the “Compleat Idiot” book. The engine was splattered across the garage floor, a mechanical puzzle that stood between them and a cool ride – mom and dad (Marcia and Hermann) said that they couldn’t drive the Bug until they re-built its engine! They carefully pieced the Bug back together again, and, at the same time, inflicted their share of teenage indignities upon it, like nerf bumpers, a small radius foam steering wheel, a pair of over-sized speakers, and a bolt-on 8-track tape player. The wider tires were ultra-cool, too, as was the garish “Candy-Apple Red” paint job. It wasn’t until Beth took the reins in the early 80’s, that the car was painted again, this time to a color very near to Lotus White.
So what was Mr. Bonasch doing while his kids ransacked the VW? Well, he was doing plenty, mending broken puppies and cantankerous kittens, but the most important thing for this story, is that he saved all the parts that were being replaced with the latest teenage craze. The original steering wheel, radio faceplate, wheels, and seats all survived, thanks to Hermann. Oh, and there was more to Hermann’s activities. On weekends he liked to race Porsche automobiles at Sears Point and Laguna Seca. And during the early 1990s, in his garage, he was restoring a Porsche 914 2.0, meticulously dismantling the entire car ; refinishing and restoring it down to the last nut and bolt, even building a homemade “spit” in order to rotate it like a tender roast pig. He won numerous awards, including Porsche Parades, multiple PCA Zone awards, and was even entered into the Manhattan Circle — always entered at the Full Concours level. Shortly after it appeared in the Porsche Panorama club magazine in 1995, it was put into storage. In 2011, Hermann sold his Porsche. Fittingly enough, his Porsche just re-appeared — on the cover of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
After the kids were all grown and moved out, in the late 1980’s, Hermann had the engine re-built and then carefully covered and stored the VW Bug, which had rolled over 400,000 miles, in his garage. It would be his next project, after the Porsche. As it turned out, the implementation of the restoration would fall to me, as Hermann was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010.
It was a fateful afternoon on February 17, 2012, when I came out to the China Village parking lot in Dublin, after having lunch with my buddy, Al Tejwani. Parked next to my car was a beautiful ’67 Bug. Suffice it to say that the car and I connected at a deep, spiritual level. I wasn’t sure what to do. The car didn’t have a “For Sale” sign on it, but it seemed to be talking to me. After a few minutes I called my wife, Carol, and had her swing by to see it. Supportive as ever, she came by and shared some admiration of the car. She then asked “so, what are you going to do, just sit here and wait for the owner? Like a stalker?” I thought for a moment…a stalker, huh? and then replied, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Stalking really worked out for me, because just 5 minutes later, Hermann’s wife, Marcia, came out to the car, put her foot up on the bumper, and started searching through her purse for the keys. I approached her and asked “Do you own this car?” “Yes, I do” she responded. Getting straight to the point, I asked “Do you want to sell it?” My heart was beating audibly. She shot back, “I already did, to a guy in Arizona.” My heart sank. A guy in Arizona? Undaunted, I said “You could sell it to a guy in California.” Entertaining the idea, she asked “Will you pay what he will pay?” She told me a number; I added 60% and told her that I would pay that amount. I wasn’t being foolish with my money, I was making the point that I was serious, and I wanted her to experience “shock and awe” so that the result would be uncontestable. She said that she would have to check if she could get out of the Arizona prospect. We exchanged numbers. One week later, on the evening of Feb 22, 2012, my wife and I were at the Bonasch home, in the same city in which we live, Dublin, CA, and signed the papers to transfer ownership.
The next morning, I received a phone call from Marcia. She said that Hermann couldn’t sleep the previous night from worrying. “Will you please check the oil level?”
I still get good advice from Hermann and Marcia Bonasch, and I like to share the small triumphs along the path of restoration with them. I was thrilled to tow the shell of the VW by their house on my way to the auto painting shop, and I promptly responded with a spray can when Marcia pointed out that the bumper support paint was scratched. One time, I asked Hermann about whether I should add a passenger side mirror. He gently said, “Yes, you could do that, but it wouldn’t be original.” I got the message; and you’ll see no passenger side mirror. I also asked Hermann about the running boards. This Bug was originally Ruby Red, so the running boards were black. As a Lotus White car, however, the running boards should be Savannah Beige. I showed Hermann a few pictures of Lotus White cars with Beige running boards. He doesn’t like them. My running boards, you’ll see, remain black (sorry, Eric).
As I have told Hermann since the day after I obtained the signed title, I may be the legal owner of this Bug, but it will always be his car.
The restoration process has proceeded smoothly thanks to the inspiring guidance of Eric Shoemaker, and the mechanical skill of Tony Mace of Beetle Power in Pleasanton, CA. Tony is a purebred air-cooled dude. He’s been fixing VW’s since he was a kid in the 70’s and he has his eyes alert for potential problems as well as the knowledge of the best solutions. Tony turned the after-market menagerie into a beautifully restored engine. The after-market oil cooler and oil filter, and after-market air filter are gone. Eric Outland provided an original German short coil, and appropriately, you’ll see Eric Shoemaker’s handiwork, the restored oil bath air cleaner, sitting on top of the restored engine.
My greatest joy, is being able to say that both of my daughters, and my wife, Carol, are incredibly helpful as we restore this Bug. Anne, my 15 yr old, had the strong hands necessary to help me put the windows back in, after the car was painted. If you’ve installed windows in a Bug, you’ll understand when I say that Anne was the one who “pulled the wire.” Rebecca, my 13 yr old, is passionate about the Bug. When she has a choice refuses to drive in anything else. Becca and Anne did everything to renovate the doors and install the new door panels. As in its early days, the car was splattered across a garage floor, and a novice was attempting to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. I’m really enjoying the process, and especially encountering people for whom the Bug strikes a resonant chord that beckons a time in their youth. That happens a lot when you drive a Bug, especially the best year for Volkswagens — 1967!
Thanks Tom for sharing your story with 1967beetle.com.