Home » That Time I Flew My Beetle 84 Feet Because I Was Young And Stupid

That Time I Flew My Beetle 84 Feet Because I Was Young And Stupid

84feet Top
ADVERTISEMENT

When you see me doing something stupid, I’m sure there’s some part of you that has to be at least a little impressed. Wow, I bet you think to yourself, that level of idiocy is really remarkable, and he seems so comfortable with being a moron. I bet he’s been at it a long time! And you know what? You’re right! I have been an idiot for a long time, which is why I manage to pull of impressively dumb things with the cool aplomb of a well-trained chimpanzee-astronaut. Today I’d like to share with you a particularly stupid automotive thing I did way back in 1989, a time when there was CompuServe but not the internet as we know it, and you could still legally buy Certs with Retsyn, before it became a controlled substance and destroyed so many lives. It was a wild time, and I was a product of my era, an 18-year-old dipshit full of hopes and terrible ideas. One summer day in that year when both Heathers and Crimes and Misdemeanors came out, I wrecked my 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle by flying it 84 feet in a wreck.

I’ve written about my high-school car, the 1971 VW Super Beetle before, because that was the car that was so loud I had to turn it off when I picked up my girlfriend because her mom didn’t like Jews, especially ones like me, in loud cars and reeking of Retsyn. That car was my primary high school car, purchased from a friend’s sister for $600 because she never once put oil in it or even checked the oil or, I think, even opened the engine lid. So, I bought it with a seized engine, but, as luck would have it, I happened to have a re-built engine from my first car, a Wrigley’s gum/band-aid-colored 1968 VW Beetle that was wrecked when some dummy didn’t yield while turning at a light, smashing into the front of my Bug, hard.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The wreck wasn’t my fault, something surprising considering I was barely 16, but when my dad drove by and saw me there in the intersection, he still screamed JJAAAAASSSSOOOOONNNN like I was in big trouble.

Thesuperbeetle

Anyway, I had a perfectly good engine, even if it just has single intake ports. VW switched to dual intake ports in 1971, which, combined with those 1584 cubic centimeters of displacement, made the ’71 Beetle a screamer at 60 wild, ravenous horsepower. The rebuilt engine from my ’68 had only the single ports, which meant it only made 57 hp. That’s just a three horse difference, but I made up for that with my youthful vigor, no problem.

ADVERTISEMENT

This was also a Super Beetle, in fact the first year of the Super Beetle, also known as the 1302. The Super Beetle differed from the standard Beetle mostly just in the front end; the Super had MacPherson strut front suspension instead of torsion bars, and that, combined with a widened and re-shaped hood, allowed for an 80% bigger front trunk! It was a big deal! The trunk was pretty damn big!

In 1973 VW updated the Super Beetle to the 1303, which featured a curved windshield and “real” dashboard as well, because VW thought they may have to cram airbags into these things.

1302 1303

This isn’t really important to the story, but it’s not bad to know, in case you’re ever confronted at knifepoint and asked to explain the difference in the two generations of Super Beetles. You’re welcome.

Anyway, that’s just introducing the car, which sort of is important. I really liked my silly little banana-cream-colored Beetle, and enjoyed driving it, often stupidly, which included things like putting it in first gear and letting it just idle and move slowly forward and then standing on the running board with the door open and steering from up there in an idiotic stunt I liked to call “Road Captain,” or just driving too damn fast and too damn recklessly.

ADVERTISEMENT

I had one street in particular that I really liked to tear ass on; it was in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up, and it was called Green Valley Road. At the time, it was a long, winding road with lots of curves, a big center island, and golf courses on, I think, both sides. I liked it because you could really wring your car out and go hard into those turns, and it was just a lot of fun.

Neverloses Greenvalley

For whatever reason, I decided that nobody but nobody would beat me on that road, so if there were other cars on the road, I made sure I was faster. I mean, sure, 99% of them likely had no idea they were in a race with a shitty little yellow car with the same horsepower as the number on the Heinz bottle, but knew, dammit, and that’s what mattered.

The road was curvy enough that I got to learn a bit about oversteer, because the Beetle, being rear-engined, was more than happy to do that. I learned what that tail-happy sensation felt like, but, significantly, I resisted actually learning what to do with an oversteering car, really. I just knew it was fun and made lots of exciting screeching sounds.

Anyway, one summer early evening, I was driving with my friends Charles and Jeremy, who were both well aware of The Way Of The Green Valley: if I’m on that road, I’m hauling ass. They knew this going in. This was how it was.

ADVERTISEMENT

Still, this time “how it was” should have been a bit more flexible, as the road itself was not “how it was,” at least not normally. You see, Green Valley was in the process of being re-paved, and the surface of the road was scraped up, and was now covered in fine gravel, punctuated with the occasional metal lump of a water meter or manhole cover. It was a very different surface than the usual asphalt.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate the significance of this, because when I hit the road that dusk, I didn’t change my approach at all, which was a grave mistake. I launched myself onto the road with the usual madness, only this time the road had much, much less grip than normal. I’m not entirely sure when I realized this, viscerally; it was probably as soon as I hit the first turn, way too fast, and my back end started fishtailing around wildly.

As soon as I felt the back end break loose, I entered that strange state of focused panic that sometimes happens, where your concentration narrows to a tiny point and, even if you have no idea what to actually do, you’re really committed to doing it. I was sawing at the wheel trying to get control of the car back, and I’d have moments where I thought I was, but then lose it. Braking just made it worse, so we kept gaining speed. At one point I thought maybe if I put it in neutral and coast, I’ll have better luck, but when I grabbed the gearshift it broke off in my hand.

This could be because at the time my gearshift looked like this:

Shifter

ADVERTISEMENT

My friend Al had gone somewhere tropical and brought back this wooden tiki-like head, which I drilled a hole into and used for a gearshift knob. It was a little too big and heavy, and I think that may have been a factor in why the stick snapped off at the base. But, at the time, all I knew was that I was holding my un-tethered shifter in my hand and everything seemed to be going very, very wrong.

Then, I have a memory of seeing one of the front tires improbably going between two raised water meter things, snagging for one brief moment, which really made me lose control on the loose gravel. I then hit the median’s curb, popped onto the median, and hit a young, springy tree right where the front fender met the running board.

Treehit

Something about how I hit that tree let the tree act like some kind of level or leaf spring or catapult, because at that moment I saw out the windshield the green of the grass and the deep blue of the sky exchanging places, rapidly. I think we flipped on both axes – at least that’s what witnesses told us afterwards.

Bothaxes

ADVERTISEMENT

That tree-assisted launch sent us flying – I remember looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing Jeremy, un-seat-belted in the back as was the style of the time, bouncing around like he was a ferret in a dryer. There was a moment of odd silence and then a deafening BOOM as we landed, thankfully, on the wheels.

From what I can gather, the whole event played out sort of like this:

Themap

I mean, this is a modern map and the path of the street may have changed and it’s not like I really remember the path, but this is generally what went down. The important part I want to note is that when the police came to do their police business, the measured where the skidmarks (the external, non-trouser variety) ended and where the tree was hit, and then where the car came to rest, and they said that distance was 84 feet.

I think I flew the car 84 feet.

ADVERTISEMENT

The first flight of the Wright Brothers, which occurred in the same state, just out by the coast to take advantage of the favorable winds, was only 120 feet. I managed to fly my Beetle only 36 feet less, and I had two more passengers and a hell of a lot less time to plan! Where’s my plaque?

After we landed, we all took a moment to look at each other, make sure we were all okay, and then we exited the car, now perched on the grassy hilltop of the median. There was a crowd of plaid-panted golfers around us, as they’d seen the Beetle Cirque d’Soleil-ing through the air and they must have heard the boom of 1800 pounds of Teutonic engineering smacking into the ground.

They seemed surprised to see three uninjured teenaged dumbassess emerge from the car, and for some of them, maybe just a little disappointed. I was in shock, but thrilled no one was hurt. I remember walking around my car, which really didn’t look too badly damaged, but that was deceptive. The impact was hard. In fact, one deeply strange detail I remember was that there were blades of grass trapped between the tire and steel wheels, presumably because when the car hit ground, the tires must have deflected enough to come off the rims, and then when they rebounded back, pulled out grass that had been in the ephemeral gap between tire and wheel.

Grass

I mean, I think. I can’t figure out how else that would have happened?

ADVERTISEMENT

I got very, very lucky. I mean, yes, I lost my beloved car (I kept the engine, though, and very soon put that in the 1973 Beetle I still have today) but I was fine, and my two friends were fine. Had that gone any differently I have no idea how I’d have dealt with that. But, thankfully, it didn’t. The tree hit the Beetle at a particularly strong point where the floorpan spreads out to full width, and I think that’s why the body remained so intact; we landed on the wheels instead of the roof, so all of the suspension parts could do their job to absorb some of that impact, and, perhaps most thankfully, there were no other cars around me that could have become part of this ridiculous disaster.

For years after the wreck we talked about the 84-foot Flight of the Beetle, marveling at how lucky we were, feeling perhaps a bit invulnerable, thanks to the wonderful delusions of youth. Now I look back on it and see not invulnerability, but the haphazard hand of chance, swinging around wildly, and, somehow, at that moment, we managed to avoid getting slapped too hard. I don’t know if there’s any actual reason, but I do know I’m wildly thankful that’s how chance played her hand that day.

This remains – and I hope will remain – the biggest wreck of my life. And I, along with two friends who I still know and love to this day, all walked away, for the most part without a scratch (actually, I think Jer had a big scratch on his back, probably from the rear ashtray or something). By modern automotive standards, that old Beetle was about as safe as a modern Volvo, but only if you’re currently getting stabbed in that modern Volvo, over and over again. It was, charitably, a deathtrap. Almost everything on the road was a deathtrap. And yet, somehow, when I needed it to hold together, it did.

I don’t think there’s a way to completely avoid driving like an idiot when you’re a 17 year-old dummy. But, it’s probably worth trying, because the sort of luck I managed to get is not something you can count on.

Also, I still claim to be the Undefeated Champion of Green Valley Road. So there.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Relatedbar

It’s Time To Address A VW Beetle Horsepower Mystery That’s Been Bothering Me For Decades

This EV Converted VW Super Beetle Uses A Milk Jug In Such A Fun And Clever Way

How My Teenage Girlfriend’s Anti-Semitic Mother Made Me Learn Why VW Beetles Sound Like They Do

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
78 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Max Headbolts
Max Headbolts
7 days ago

My first car was a 1988 Suzuki Samurai tin top, never enough power to get into too much trouble, but it could roast the tires at will from a stop light.

One sunny afternoon I pull up next to a cute girl in a white Mustang, and rev at her, I like to think she smiled, but she probably didn’t even notice me. Light turns green, I rev it to the moon (no tach, so probably 5500) and dump the clutch to roast the rears off.

It was then my exhaust snaps off at the front of the chassis, drops right into the road, and then catches on a lip in the pavement pole vaulting the rear wheels off the ground.

I’m sure I made quite the impression.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
11 days ago

I haven’t flown a beetle, but I’ve floated a Subaru GL Wagon across a river and drove out the other side. Those Subaru GL were tough..until they got rusty.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
13 days ago

Wow, reading the comments I’m impressed how many of us made it to an old enough age to reminisce semi-fondly about our idiotic driving mistakes.

My best related story was when a friend got massively airborne without meaning to. Me and a couple buddies had found a big empty subdivision where they’d just finished building the roads but no houses. One stretch was easily a 1/4 mile long plus run off, you can probably see where this is going. The cars: my ’88 Firebird TransAm, my friend’s ’89 Firebird Formula, and our other friend had a ’96 ex-cop car Chevrolet Caprice with the LT1. My friend with the ’89 ‘bird had a gadget called a GTech that let you record quarter mile times and horsepower. Late on a friday night we went out, pushed aside the road closed signs then pulled them back into place behind us to help ensure no one wandered into the area.

The two of us with the Firebirds had already scouted in the daylight and done a few pulls another night so we knew how much runway there was to work with. Now the Gtech was a fiddly little thing, that used gyroscopes or something and wanted to be perfectly level and stay that way during a run. The friend with the ’96 Caprice had never used it before, he watched as the two of us who’d run it before did a couple of warm up runs. He started a run but the Gtech hadn’t started recording. He started a second time, but got even less far. At this point he’d probably gotten a good 200 or more feet down the track from where we’d originally set as our start point. He got a better launch this time and took off into the night. Far down we see some brake lights come on and hear some screeching tires but then nothing. We figure he came in kind of hot and took the corner kind of hard, but we don’t see lights anywhere. After a few more minutes of waiting we drive down to the end. He’s gone…then we realize he’s at his car some 50 plus feet out in the field, car steaming and having plowed two deep furrows into the muddy dirt. This end of the subdivision had been built up on fill over the natural grade by about 20’, he’d hit the curb basically dead on and gone airborne. His airbags had gone off and he more or less seemed ok outside of being stunned. We were able to dig it out and push it back to the embankment and then pull it up with my daily driver Jeep. His landing had bent the frame of the car! He really did wind up being ok, probably thanks to being like 19 or 20. The car was sadly a goner, which I know bummed him out, it was a fun daily driver with 4 doors and probably just as fast as the two firebirds. Basically a stripper Impala SS.

Electronika
Electronika
13 days ago

While not 17 (I was 20) I had something similar happen. When I was in College in Illinois my old man had a little 84 4cyl Mustang that he let me drive when I was home to visit. One long weekend I was home and took the Mustang for a drive around the rural area of central Illinois where he lived. My friend Ben and I were driving on back roads between farms and there was an unprotected railroad crossing with a large hill. I don’t remember what stupidity possesed us but we backed up about a quarter mile and hit the gas as hard as the little pinto engine could muster. I must have hit the hill at 50mph and launched the little Mustang about 50 feet in the air. I think it was about 10 feet in the air that I realized that I had made a horrible mistake. Any dreams of Ben and I being Bo and Luke Duke evaporated in a pile of dust and broken sheet metal when we hit nose down. Blew the front two tires, bent the frame and smashed most of the front clip. Ben and I had to walk 3 miles to the farmers house to call my old man to come and pick us up. Was a loooooooong ride home..

Elhigh
Elhigh
13 days ago

It’s all very entertaining except for one small detail:

That crash was entirely your fault.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
13 days ago

Let me tell you about those times I got lucky because I was age 17 to 29…..

Oldcurmodgeon
Oldcurmodgeon
14 days ago

Jason, you should have gone to the “kiss me quicks” (Lake Brandt Rd.). Automatic launches when jumping the hump in the road with many digs in the asphalt when you land. You want curves. Try the curve from Lawndale to Lake Brandt Rd. If that’s not enough go to Witty Rd. Back in the 70’s it ras rock/gravel with many curves and very few houses. Gravel, curves, and speed. Nough said. So much fun in the early 70’s. BTW did you like my repave job on Watauga at the top of the hill towards Vallymede with both Road Huggers, Coopers, and Kelly Springfields!

Tim Connors
Tim Connors
14 days ago

Dang. I hope you aren’t a gambler Torch, because it seems like you used up a lifetime worth of luck right there.

Also, branching out into including bits of comic book level illustrations is great.

This bit about young people doing dumb things in cars hits me hard personally right about now. I’m a teacher, and I recently had a former student get himself killed by rolling his hooptie of a Ford Focus. I definitely can’t put myself on a high horse though, I did some dumb stuff too. Some of it driving recklessly, some of it just being inexperienced and innattentive.

Dodd Lives
Dodd Lives
14 days ago

So many memories. I wish I could get that feeling of invincibility back, even for an afternoon. Three teenage highlights:

  1. There was a particularly raised railroad crossing on a gravel road between our farm and my older sister’s place. I discovered if I hit at 120 km/h or more, I could successfully get an extended-cab GMT400 completely airborne. Not sure how that truck is still in one piece today.
  2. A good friend’s first car was a mid-70s Corolla. In the mid-90s. Didn’t wash it, because pieces would always fall off. Had to drive with windows open due to exhaust leak in cab. In winter, we somehow managed to slide more than a full city block past his house while sideways, without hitting any parked cars.
  3. My dad and I fixed up a ’79 CJ5. Another friend and I decided the best thing to do on a summer evening was to repeatedly ramp it off the edge of a gravel pit into the (relatively) soft gravel below. On my way home, I noticed oil pressure quickly dropping. Put it into neutral, shut off the engine and coasted in the farm shop. That’s when I discovered we’d installed one motor mount upside down, and I’d landed hard enough, enough times, for the corner of the motor mount to beat a hole into the oil filter.
JumboG
JumboG
14 days ago

I, too, flew a Beetle in NC. Intersection of Rush St and S Wilmington St in Raleigh in the early 90s. Wrapped a fender around a street sign, which lead to me installing shaved fenders up front. Also, not only did my 69 have dual port heads, I also had duel Solex 34 carbs on mine, which let me leap out in front of any stock Beetle next to me.

Eventually that motor got installed in a homemade dune buggy (which originally had a 40HP motor,) which enabled it to lift the front tires off the ground on a hard launch. Pretty impressive for 65 or so HP.

Jade Hancock
Jade Hancock
14 days ago

What an adventure! and the fickle finger of fate decided nah, let’s let this be a teachable moment.

In my younger days I had a mishap in a Skylark that resulted in sliding sideways on grass at least two carlengths. When I felt unrattled enough to start driving again I discovered a tire was flat … same reason, grass had gotten stuck between the rim and the tire during the slide. Most interesting part of the incident other than the fear of the car flipping, thankfully.

(passing someone late at night on an otherwise empty two lane, discovered too late they had slowed to make an un-signaled left hand turn. Not sure if there was issue with their brake lights or I was just clueless in the moment, but they sure did not bother to check on me after I zoomed right in front of their turn-in-progress and spun out in the ditch! screw that guy!)

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
14 days ago

So THAT’S why your heart nearly exploded! IT WAS ALL THE GOSHDARNED RETSYN!!!

Winsome Badger
Winsome Badger
14 days ago

When I was 16 my friend and I “borrowed” his grannies Austin Allegro. There was a nearby humpback bridge over a railway with a 20mph limit which always made a car light and was covered in gouges on both sides from cars bottoming out. So of course we went as fast as possible.
After the loud bang as we came back to earth, we had become closer friends: the front seats started out 6″ apart but were now touching.
We immediately assumed that the car was broken in half and pulled over knowing we were in big trouble. Turned out all four seat rails had ripped out of the rusty floor and fallen over.
A visit to a hardware store for giant washers got it fixed, and she never knew, so she left it to him in her will. It lasted a couple more years before rusting out completely

Sklooner
Sklooner
14 days ago

That ferret in a dryer statement sounds way too familiar

Sayhota
Sayhota
14 days ago

I remember looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing Jeremy, un-seat-belted in the back as was the style of the time, bouncing around like he was a ferret in a dryer. 

This is an incredibly specific reference. Unfortunately as a kid, my brother’s ferret liked to sleep in the dryer. I didn’t check once. I lost a load of laundry and he lost his slinky friend.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
14 days ago

My friend had an R53 Mini is college; bright yellow with white wheels and a checkerboard roof. I had just purchased my first digital camera (which was a big deal at the time) and we decided to record a video of him and our friend barnstorming down KR in Kenosha in the middle of the night. I stood in the middle of the road and he took off through the twisty bits. At one point I heard tires skidding, gravel being thrown about and then nothing. After a frightful 30 seconds of standing in the middle of a county road wondering if my friends were dead, I see headlights round the bend and a 2002 Cooper S sloooowly pull over to pick me up.

SooperDooperPooperScooter
SooperDooperPooperScooter
14 days ago

Grew up in Greensboro. Absolutely ripped Green Valley in my 98 Accord V6. Now, the cool kids race on Wendover.

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
14 days ago

Great story. I have a similar one except mine was on Quick Road in Penninsula Ohio through the park. I was 16 driving a 77′ Olds Starfire. The road was part of my commute to work so I got to know it well. I was coming home from work and they had recently chip sealed it, being 16 I ignored that detail. I used to use the second hand on the clock in the car to time myself. I got out of shape on the loose chip seal shot across a roadside ditch went airborn and rolled it 4 times.

Ffoc01
Ffoc01
14 days ago

I know I’m a bit late to the discussion here, t please tell me there was a Jaunty 60’s surfer guitar tune on the radio as this was playing out. If not Herbie’s theme song, at least something close!

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
14 days ago
Reply to  Ffoc01

Wipeout! seems appropriate.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
14 days ago

THE FLYERBIRD
My first car was an ’89 Thunderbird super coupe (yes with a 5 speed manual). Our local school redneck had an ’84 Firebird with the V8. Being a redneck he was all about Ford vs The General, sided with GM, and was totally unwilling to accept that mine was the faster of the 2 cars. We had a local railroad crossing out in the sticks and if you were trying to design a jumping ramp you couldn’t have done any better. They were so well known, locally, that we referred to them simply as “the tracks” and people knew what we were talking about. One day we were horsing around on that road and I recklessly blew passed that Firebird like it was sitting still. A redneck GM lover cannot allow himself to be embarrassed so by anyone driving a Ford and he was hellbent on getting back around. As we approached the tracks I slowed down to avoid certain firey death and redneck (I forgot his name) saw his opportunity. As he celebrated his victory he hit the tracks at who knows how fast (speedometers only went to 85 mph back then) and, in a scene straight out of Knight Rider (because Firebird), cleared the farm fence by a significant margin and ended up deep in a field. Does anyone remember the episode of American Top Gear where they banana’d a Cadillac by running it balls out on a motocross course? It was a lot like that but far far worse. Somehow the people in the car were all unhurt. A few years after I graduated a group of teens in a Mustang were all killed doing the same thing.

Last edited 14 days ago by Rusty S Trusty
Jeff N
Jeff N
14 days ago

The only thing I have that is close is when a buddy of mine and I were hauling azz on a 3-wheeled solid rear axle Honda death trap with big balloon tires. I slid to on a curve and the next think I knew we were headed head-on to a steep sloped embankment. We went up that slope at speed but didn’t fly. We were briefly airborne almost straight up before the front end cartwheeled up and over the rear. We went all southern hemisphere, landing on my buddy’s back, me on top of him, the trike on top of me, and still in gear and still running. We were flopping around like an upside-down turtle before eventually righting ourselves. He tried kicking the trike off us, but kept missing and getting me instead. Or, maybe since it was his trike, he meant to kick me in the backside…

ES
ES
14 days ago
Reply to  Jeff N

oh my. there’s a memory.

When i was a tyke, a slightly older, but still-too-young-for-a-license, male relative (who shall remain nameless, as i’m not sure on statute of limitations) took me for a ride on a new Harley surreptitiously borrowed from an even older brother-in-law. Cruising gravel roads in Ontario farm country was too tame, so he took to trails in the woods. Trails with gullies.

I don’t know how big that Harley was. Too big at any rate to jump a gully from a muddy track. Total nose dive into the creek with me catapulting from the pillion into a tree on the far bank, the adult helmet presumably saving my young life at the cost of the face shield. The owner-uncle discovered the missing ride when we limped back to my grandfather’s covered in mud and blood having left the bike in the creek.

I’m thinking the remainder of Dominion Day weekend was uncomfortable for some.

Last edited 14 days ago by ES
78
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x