Vintage VW – A Speedometer Story

’67 Volkswagen Beetle —  A Speedometer Story

When we traveled in our VW’s, each family member grabbed his one or two large paper grocery sacks and filled them with the gear that he would need for the trip. This was a quick and efficient manner not only for packing one’s personal effects but also for packing into the Beetle. Presto! Luggage is too space-consuming.

This became so routine that I could announce a trip at a moment’s notice and all four of us could be ready to go in short order. Even the miniature black-and-tan Dachshund, “Molasses”, knew the routine. He paid little attention, to the untrained eye–yet, as soon as someone reached for his leash, he was alert and present. He knew his spot on the front floorboard beneath my wife Neva’s feet and would stay curled there with a blanket covering him until we stopped for a rest break. Then, he would be all “business”!

Most of our trips involved going the 372 miles (yes, I calculated them carefully) from our front door in Garland, Texas to my parents’ front door in Lubbock, Texas. We usually got up at 2 A. M. and were loaded into a Beetle and out of the driveway by 2:30. By 3:30, we had exited Fort Worth, Texas on I-30/20 and were headed into the darkness that enveloped us in the nothingness that was west of that city.

Aside from a rest stop, the only other stop would be for gasoline; once.

Traveling this early gave several advantages. There was little traffic. Our two children were fairly sleepy at that time of day, so they busied themselves with sleep. Neva kept me awake, plying me with raw carrots, celery and other crunchies and something to drink–usually canned pop WITH CAFFINE! These items were stashed between the children in the rear seat or the space between the front and rear seats. They would hand-up anything that was “ordered”. In this way, we passed the time quite nicely.

But…on this occasion, I arrived home from work and we decided to leave for Lubbock during the late afternoon. It was Winter and quite cool. But, in the ‘67 Beetle with 4 individuals and the dog, we would stay toasty.

As was our custom, I headed around LBJ Freeway to I-30, west on 30 to Downtown Dallas, through the tunnel, across the river and to Grand Prairie and Ft. Worth. I-30 between LBJ and Downtown is paved rough with ripples or grooves from side-to-side–is it to give better braking power? At any rate, it makes for some tire noise. As we made our way on 30 towards Dallas, the speedometer began to make that ominous sound, warning of a pending problem. Now, I have had a speedo to make noise but this time it was different, more intense, beginning rather benignly and ever increasing in volume and intensity–to such a pitch that we were beginning to be unsteadied, when “SNAP!” and the needle fell to zero and we were on our own for determining the speed of the car. Maybe it was just the old speedo, maybe it was the constant vibration of the tires on the pavement and maybe it was the cold getting to the lubricant that was probably long-dried. Or a combination of these.

This is not too bad when in freeway traffic. I generally drove at about the speed that the rest of traffic maintained. Too, when you drive daily in a Volkswagen, the pitch of the engine eventually is the clue to what speed one is driving. So, we did okay. Once past Ft. Worth, there was no traffic, or very little, with which to gauge our speed–so I winged it.

It began to be colder with “stuff” blowing across the roadway. We continued. By the time we had passed Abilene and were reaching for Sweetwater, it had gotten dark and there was a mist in the air like a fog. This began to freeze upon the car. The heating system and our body heat kept us cozy but did little to tame the ice on the windshield. As we turned north onto Highway 84, it was pitch black. The headlights barely penetrated the dense fog that hung in the air. Using high beams was out of the question–that merely reflected in a ghostly whiteness that was more blinding than anything else. Fortunately 84 is a divided highway so that there is no danger of meeting anyone who is likewise blinded.

We drove at a reduced speed to accommodate the conditions.

Somewhere along there in the blackness, we caught another car. I decided that it would be a great thing that could help both of us if I ran in the center lane slightly behind the lead car and the lead car stayed in the shoulder lane. That gave us two pairs of headlights with which to penetrate the darkness. And, so we DID drive along like that for a time. Then the other driver decided that it was not a good idea. Perhaps my lights served to blind him in his side mirror. At any rate, he took off and disappeared into the night ahead and we never caught him after that.

I then drove squarely down the center of the highway. The white stripes flashed before us in our lights, helping to keep us on the pavement. Driving under these conditions kept me tense, to say the least.

We carried on to Post and then up the steep ascent onto the Caprock.

By the time we reached Lubbock, we were well iced. Neva reminds me that upon arrival my father had to pour warm water on the doors to thaw the ice in order for us to exit the vehicle. This took several trips to and from the house. Eventually we made our appearance, were welcomed by the folks and situated ourselves for the night.

It snowed! And the children loved it!

The next day, I used the telephone directory to locate a wrecking yard. Yes, there were still those “things” around in the late ‘70’s. I called one in Wolfforth, located just outside the Lubbock City limits, and “yes” they did have some Beetles there. I was delighted to find a good-looking speedo in a ‘67 Beetle like my own, removed it from the wreck, paid for it and headed home.

Having only rudimentary tools and the carpet for my “workbench”, I set about removing the bezel and thus to disassemble that speedo. Once inside, I cleaned and lubricated it and reset the odometer to the mileage on my broken speedometer. Installed, the refurbished unit worked like a charm. Was it luck; was it skill? I don’t know. Probably a little of both. But, I was glad.

’67 Volkswagen Beetle —  A Speedometer Story

’67 Volkswagen Beetle —  A Speedometer Story

’67 Volkswagen Beetle —  A Speedometer Story

To my recollection, that speedometer head never failed and was with the car until I sold it many years later.

’67 Volkswagen Beetle —  A Speedometer Story

Posted by Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs since 1976. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

  1. Jay,
    Good stuff as usual. Thank you so much for your contributions.

  2. Hey Jay! A whole different topic, but didn’t have another way to contact you! I had to replace the clutch hook on the pedal assembly, but unfortunately didn’t pay attention to how the clutch hook was positioned when I took it off; horizontal, or vertical? Thanks Dick

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