Archive for Sunday, August 25, 2002

Restored Volkswagen Beetle gains attention

August 25, 2002


If you spend much time downtown in the 700 block of Seventh Street, you've probably seen it.

Ben Kappen's dream machine.

He likes to park his restored 1961 Volkswagen Beetle in a place he can keep an eye on it, at the curb outside Game Guy, 7 E. Seventh St., where he works.

The car, which looks as if it rolled out of a time machine, gets plenty of attention from passers-by and motorists.

"People go real slow  it backs up Seventh Street sometimes. People have to stop and look. If someone sees me putting a quarter in the meter, they stop me and ask questions," said Kappen, 24.

"I get a kick out of it. It's pretty nice. I don't like drawing attention to myself, but I love cars. I think people should see it, because it's not something you see every day."

He's right. In a world of lookalike sport-utility vehicles and family sedans, a mint-condition, 41-year-old VW Bug does tend to stand out.

It's taken a major investment from Kappen to buy and restore the road-going antique, but he says it's been worth it.

"Every penny. Even though I put $12,000 into it, a new car costs about $20,000. And my car has more style than any of them," Kappen said.

The thing Kappen likes about his vintage Beetle is its automotive purity.

"That's the great thing about a Volkswagen. All it needs is oil, water and gas. And 90 percent of the time, you can fix it easily by yourself. It doesn't even have a radiator  it's air cooled," he said.

Kappen turns his nose up at the New Beetle, a heavily revised version of the old classic that was unveiled a few years ago.

"I really can't stand it. I think they're uglier than sin. They took everything about the (original) Beetle  all the simplicity  and stomped it. The new Volkswagens are like any other car you could buy," he said.

Stored in barn

Kappen  who's loved cars since he picked up his first Hot Wheels toy  grew enamored with Beetles after seeing a high school friend's 1968 purple VW Bug.

He later spent two and a half years combing through classified ads in newspapers to find the perfect car.

Kappen responded to an ad, placed by a man in the Kansas City area, selling a 1961 Beetle for $4,000.

It was love at first sight.

"I saw it from half a mile away, as I pulled up the street. And I said, 'That's it.' The shape, the way it sat on the street  it was very striking," Kappen recalled.

The car, at that time, was painted robin's egg blue, one of the original colors VW offered in the 1960s.

The Beetle was in excellent shape. It turned out that the car's first owner had kept it in a barn for 30 years and had barely driven it.

The second owner only had the car about a year, putting on new tires and installing a 1,600-cubic-centimeter, dual-port engine.

Kappen was attracted by the car's distinctive Wolfsburg badges  the German city where VW is based.

He bought the car, with 91,119 miles showing on the odometer, in 1999. Kappen talked the owner into letting it go for $3,000.

'Ripped it apart'

That's when the real work began.

Kappen took the car to Das Autohaus, 1045 N.J., to have it checked out mechanically. The garage fixed a snapped clutch cable, adjusted the engine valves and removed air from the brake line.

Mechanics also repaired the connections that secure the transmission and the engine to the car frame.

Then he delivered the car to Danny Brown of Brown Automotive Services in Kansas City, Mo. The shop specializes in maintaining and restoring Volkswagens.

"They ripped it apart  took it down to the chassis, took apart the body panels, all the windows, seats, the engine and gas tank," Kappen said.

Brown cleaned out the rust, repaired dents, gave the car a new paint job (black), put in factory-original seats re-covered in white vinyl, new carpet and a mohair headliner.

"I dropped it off in October 2001, and he had it for eight months. I knew he does good work, so I let him do it at his own pace," Kappen said.

It was about a $7,000 job.

"When he saw it done, he was glowing," Brown said.

After that, Kappen installed a high-powered, eight-speaker audio system with two amplifiers under the back seat. That set him back another $1,000.

Satisfied with his work, Kappen found himself with a classic on his hands  a real show stopper.

Though he's had generous offers, Kappen has no plans to part with his masterpiece. He's hanging onto it.

"I view cars as rolling art," he said.

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