New exhibit at LeMay-America’s Car Museum highlights the golden age of VW

A new show at LeMay highlights the golden age of VW

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Staff and volunteers move a Formula Vee race car next to a Beetle, part of the “VeeDub: Bohemian Beauties” exhibit at LeMay - America’s Car Museum. The exhibit runs through April 5 in downtown Tacoma.


Power to the people! At least as much power as an early Volkswagen could have delivered.

Volkswagen, the German brand made for the common man, is the subject of a new exhibit that opened Jan. 11 at LeMay-America’s Car Museum. The museum has partnered with Volkswagen of America and local collectors for its “VeeDub: Bohemian Beauties” show that runs through April 5. The exhibit displays 24 vintage VW models.

Despite its German origins, VW’s design and simple technology made the brand synonymous with post-World War II culture in America. But museum chief curator Scot Keller said it was more than just design that made the car popular.

“You have to capture people’s imagination. It all came together to create a magical period for VW,” Keller said.

Customization of VW’s popular Beetles and buses became popular with American youth. One of the hippie era’s iconic images is the customized VW bus, several of which are featured in the show.

“It’s a great platform for interpretation,” Keller said.

The show covers buses, Beetles, dune buggies, Formula Vee racing and a Thing.

Two Karmann Ghia models also are in the exhibit. One, a 1959 black top over a red body, displays its original sticker in a window. The asking price: $2,550 (plus $33 for the whitewall tires).

There’s even a work truck, complete with roll-up canvas covers, roof rack, four doors, skylights and pop-out front windows.

Several low-slung, open-wheel Formula Vee race cars are in the show in bright, primary colors. The cars, which still race today, are considered entry level in the racing world, Keller said.

The VW brand was designed in pre-war Germany by Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Porsche. Inspired by Henry Ford’s Model T philosophy, Porsche wanted to make a car for the people. A display in the show, along with a Porsche car, honors his contributions to Volkswagen. The show’s title, “Bohemian Beauties,” refers both to Porsche’s Bohemian ancestry and the car’s popularity with the counter-culture movement.

After the war, the cars, with their characteristic air-cooled rear engines, became popular in the U.S. The oldest car on exhibit, a 1943 KdF-Wagen, contains more than 95 percent of its original parts. It’s the eighth oldest Beetle known to exist. But it didn’t start out being called a Beetle, Keller said. It was the public that gave the name to the distinctive-looking car.

“That’s a case where a nickname stuck,” he said.

Other cars in the show include a Meyers Manx dune buggy, a Westfalia camper van, a panel delivery Combi and a Mexican wedding-car Beetle made of wrought iron.

The number and variety of locally owned VWs, along with the company’s contributions, overwhelmed LeMay, Keller said.

“We ended up with five more cars than we originally planned for because there was so much variety,” he said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

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