Ever since Volkswagen of America was established in 1955, the brand has held a special place in the heart of American culture. With the popularity of Volkswagen exploding in the 1960's, it's hard to find someone who doesn't have a special place in their heart for the brand.
The LeMay Car Museum is celebrating this heritage by putting on a 25-car “VeeDub: Bohemian Beauties” exhibit Jan. 11–April 11.
“It seems like everyone I've talked to has a Volkswagen story,” Collection Manager Renee Crist said.
Crist's own Volkswagen story involves buying a “Bug” when she was 17. She still has the car to this day, and it is featured in the display.
The event features cars donated by collectors, restorers and even some from Volkswagen of America. Bugs, buses, Formula-Vee race cars and even a dune buggy are all on display at the museum.
The exhibit had its grand opening on Jan. 11, with the donors unveiling their respective car, followed by a special movie marathon showing of the 1969’s “The Love Bug,” 1977’s “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” and 2005’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded” throughout the rest of the day.
Rarities in the collection include a 1943 KdF Wagen, the eighth oldest Volkswagen currently known in existence. Found in East Germany, the car was restored by the Volkswagen company and contains 95 percent of its original parts. It is one of three cars donated by Volkswagen of America to the exhibit. Produced during wartime, the car features no chrome, as the material was used in the war effort.
The Volkswagen was originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the Porsche car company. The exhibit features a 356 A as homage to Ferdinand and his work with Volkswagen.
“What's nice about, especially the owners, is they're all families. It seems they're all involved with the collecting of this car,” Crist said.
The museum's knack for tapping into “Volkswagen stories” led to many of the cars in the exhibit having a fascinating history. A military couple that took their Bug all over the world retired and restored it when they settled down. A father modified a Bug to be a replica of Herbie the Lovebug for his son, who loves the films. When the car was donated to the exhibit, it was given in the name of the son.
“The cars just put a smile on your face,” said LeMay chief curator Scot Keller, whose own Volkswagen story involved cruising around in his uncle's Bug as a kid.
As chief curator, Keller is responsible for crafting a vision for various exhibits. After the museum hosted a Corvette exhibit, Keller was looking for a different approach for LeMay’s next endeavor.
“While Corvette would bring in a certain type of enthusiast or bring a certain amount of enthusiasm for groups, Volkswagen is completely different,” Keller said. “And I would argue equally powerful.”
Keller aimed for something fun and whimsical when he landed on the choice of Volkswagen figuring that audiences would look forward to coming back to see it. Keller hopes the exhibit gets across both the elegance and enthusiasm people have for the brand.
“The cars just put a smile on your face,” Keller said.
With over 100 nominations, the LeMay staff had quite a time picking the best of the best.
“We literally sat down for hours and reviewed pictures and write-ups and discussed the different variations of the cars,” Keller said.
Narrowing down the cars was a three-month process that presented a lot of difficult decisions.
“It's just an embarrassment of riches,” Keller said.
The LeMay car museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week and admission is $14 for adults, $8 for children. Visit http://www.lemaymuseum.org.