1958 Volkswagen: Found in Derelict Shape
John Hanson was in the Army in 1986 and he moonlighted as a mechanic at a nearby garage that specialized in Volkswagens. He had grown up in Beaver Dam, Wisc., where his pharmacist father often had Volkswagens for delivery cars.
Ten years later, Hanson re-entered civilian life. While on a road trip he visited a former employer who pointed out a car he thought Hanson might like — a derelict 1958 Volkswagen.
The best thing that Hanson could say about the VW was, “It was essentially all there.” The sunroof was inside the car on the back seat, he recalls, and it had two engines, the spare one lodged where the right front seat should have been. The car had to be dragged out of the weeds because the wheels wouldn’t turn. Smacking them with a sledgehammer loosened them, Hanson remembers.
He saw something in the car that eluded everyone else who saw it: Fond memories. So he did the only practical thing he could do, and bought it. With a pair of boat trailer lights attached to the rear of the Beetle, and the front secured to a tow bar behind his pickup, Hanson headed home.
His father, Thomas, was enthusiastic when shown the VW. Once he had unhitched the VW and secured it in a garage, he noticed that the cords were showing through the rubber on the left rear 5.60x15-inch tire.
Records indicate the car was built in Wolfsburg, West Germany on June 26, 1958 and was delivered to the original owner in Anchorage, Alaska, on July 4, 1958.
“It was a well-traveled little fellow,” Hanson observes. He says his VW was a bare bones car with no extras. With his father’s assistance, Hanson tore apart the ugly, green 1,565-pound car — cataloging everything. Rust dictated that a new factory floor pan be installed. All four fenders had kissed too many obstacles to be ironed out, so four new fenders were found in Denmark.
“The most expensive parts of the car,” Hanson says, “were the reproduction chrome bumpers with overriders. The trunk handle, door handles, and rear ‘T’ handle were all replated, along with the dashboard chrome trim.” The air-cooled 73-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission were rebuilt and a new clutch was installed.
Five pints of oil keep the 36-horsepower engine lubricated. The 10.5-gallon gasoline tank is under the front hood. The dash has no gas gauge, therefore, a one-gallon reserve tank can be accessed with the turn of a lever; fuel economy is advertised at about 32 miles per gallon. Even with a new fuel pump and carburetor, Hanson says, “72 miles per hour is all it has.”
The well-balanced Volkswagen rides on a 94.5-inch wheelbase and when new, Hanson says, it had a base price of $1,705. Driving is made easy because VW enlarged the rear window on the 1958 models for vastly improved visibility. Six years to the month after the VW was dismantled, it was back together again in time for the Father’s Day car show. Now it wears a coat of glacier blue metallic paint with a blue and gray leatherette interior.
“It’s not the quickest car in the world,” Hanson says. “It takes a while to get there.” He reminds us of the Beetle’s durability by saying, “Set the valves every 3,000 miles and it’ll run forever.”