When I was a kid, living in the grim, strange, pre-internet society, one of my favorite things was when a human being dressed in a uniform and driving something our own David Tracy got harassed by cops in would come to our house and provide us with the equivalent of a bunch of websites, in physical form. Mail. Bills, letters, magazines, wads of dog shit wrapped in newspaper (that maybe wasn’t actually mailed, our neighbors just weren’t fans) and best of all, JC Whitney catalogs. To a Volkswagen-obsessed kid like me, these were gold, full of all the crap I could dream about adding to my own Beetle one day. I saw Beetles with JC Whitney crap on them all the time, but now that I look back on these catalogs, I see some strange things I never saw in the wild. Let’s look at a few of those.
JC Whitney itself is sort of an amazing thing: they still sell car parts online to this day, and they started way back in 1915 as a scrap metal yard run by a Lithuanian immigrant named Israel Warshawsky. His son realized catalogs could be a big thing, and actually sold catalogs for a quarter starting in 1934, and then kept cranking out these massive newsprint tomes of car parts for decades and decades.
The stuff a well-adjusted normal human might consider “weird” in these catalogs was actually quite common, like the fake Rolls-Royce hoods and Continental engine lid kits and the grossly misshapen tragedies of fiberglass that were all sorts of alternative hoods and body panels:
These you could see anywhere, usually in their natural primer gray state. But as I look through these old catalog pages (helpfully scanned and up at thesamba.com) I see some things I’ve literally never seen in the wild, and I’ve been actively looking for at least four decades. Like this:
Sure, on VW Buses, I saw that front spare tire carrier plenty. At least half the buses in the wild had them, and they made a lot of sense: free room up inside, add a tiny bit of crash protection, all that. But on a Beetle? Never saw it.
Nobody was mounting their spare on the front bumper of a Beetle. I’m not sure why you would – sure, you’d free up a strange, narrow, vertical space inside the trunk where the tire once lived, but you’d lose your windshield washer (just follow the link) and the trunk would be hard to get to and I bet your fuel economy would be worse. I never saw this.
Okay, these I actually saw plenty, but I’m only including them because I always thought they were kinda silly. That vent just fed the interior air ventilation system, but so many Beetles had that air box gone or broken that I bet about half of these just pumped air into the trunk. Even with the fresh air system in place, I’m not really sure these would have done that much when you could just crack the vent window and get all the air you need? I don’t know, maybe someone liked these.
Here’s something that I literally have never seen on a Beetle in the actual world: rain gutter bling. I’ve seen lots of chrome aftermarket whatevers slapped onto Beetles, but so far I’ve never seen a Beetle with these massive gleaming arches tooling around any town, anywhere. I mean, I’d like to! They seem bonkers.
If you’ve ever owned a Beetle, but always hated the fact that when your battery died, you could still open the trunk and get out whatever is in there, then boy does JC have you covered: an electromagnetic hood lock! Now you can get locked out of your trunk and any access to your jumper cables when your battery dies! For minimal benefit!
These I suppose I likely wouldn’t have seen unless I was really getting up in someone’s business, but these little stick-on dash labels are really, um, of an era.
Das Drizzeleflippen! Warmercougher! Puttersparken! That one must be choke. Is this racist? Or does it get a pass because, you know, German? I’m not sure.
I wonder if there are English equivalents of these for Germans who had Chevys or Fords or Austins or something?
Here’s my 68 Beetle.
Pic taken in 1977 right after a fresh paintjob and a set of VW GT side decals directly from JC Whitney.
A friend of mine has those German labels in his Herbie replica. And I have what was a NOS one of those fresh air scoops that I use on my 70 Beetle and 72 Super Beetle from time to time. Silly, but kind of cool in a way. I think it may have actually put a little more umph to the air coming out of the vents on the dash as you were driving.
Man that brings back memories, used to love just pouring over the catalog, Beetle and Wrangler accessories galor, could practically build one new with from the catalog!
In 1982 we drove from Edmonton to Montreal in an VW Westfalia, went through the USA and stopped at JC Whitney in Chicago to see all the wonderful items in person. I still love the old catalogs though
Even back in the day, as a kid, was fascinated by the page layouts. Did they have a team of Polish emigres hand drawing all those illustrations?
“Even with the fresh air system in place, I’m not really sure these would have done that much when you could just crack the vent window and get all the air you need?”
Not defending the air intake here, but you’re bound to appreciate more cool air when driving through a southern thunderstorm in a non a/c vehicle.
I’ve never owned a beetle, but I have owned plenty of vehicles without air-conditioning. For this reason, I really love the manually operated fresh air vents on each side of the cab of my ’74 Chevy C10 pickup. Not the “smokers window” on the door, these are flaps inside the fender area (mounted below the dash on the sides) that won’t allow water into the cabin, but do bring in plenty of fresh air.
I do have vent visors on the truck now, but even with them, plenty of rain will enter the cab with the window barely cracked. This is especially a problem when you are forced to run the heater to defog the windshield, when it’s already insufferably hot.
The JC Whitney catalog went along with Mad magazine