Cars weren’t really on Eric Shoemaker’s radar. A designer and entrepreneur at heart, his main interests were woodworking, furniture restoration, and photography. These days, however, he and his wife Amanda run a business that restores air-cooled German engine components, and his website, 1967beetle.com, is a great resource for tech tips, classifieds, and Volkswagen stories from people all over the world. If not for his grandfather’s 1967 Beetle – that almost ended up in the crusher – Eric would never have found his new passion.
Frank R. Shoemaker Sr., Eric’s grandpa, bought the family Beetle brand new back in December 1966. As a man who had lived through the Great Depression and World War II, his reasons for purchasing the car was simple: it was economical, dependable, and provided quality German engineering that could get him to and from work. It was a different story for Eric though. To him, the Beetle was more than just a car – it brought the family together.
“I have many fond memories riding around in our ’67 Beetle with my family—that ‘Volkswagen smell’ and the cadence of an air-cooled engine. It’s special to me now for obvious reasons—nostalgia from the family history and the connection to my grandparents.”
Over the years, studies have found that car culture and consumption have changed. People are not simply making economic choices to meet a material need. These days, factors that affect the choice of vehicles that consumers choose to drive include aesthetics, emotional responses, and the ability to build relations.
In a 2019 SUV survey that Volkswagen made, it showed that 80 percent of parents today see their cars as a place where important family discussions can take place, making a new space for family time, be it during an errand or a family road trip. These family ties are the reason why many fans of vintage Volkswagen models have an emotional connection to their vehicles.
For grandparents Margo and Tony Huizing, they use their Volkswagen camper as a tool to build lasting memories with their six grandchildren. 10 years ago, after they retired, they decided to split their time between living in their sailboat off the coast of Baja California and in their 1982 Vanagon Westfalia for eight months of the year. Excluding Hawaii, since it cannot be reached by car, the couple has traveled to 49 of the 50 states since 2000. With their car, they have created a unique and special way to connect with their grandchildren even from afar.
“Our grandkids have grown up with our lifestyle, and when we’re on the road I make maps so they can follow us when we travel and color in all the places we’ve been. I make a point to send them pictures and we bring them home things that are not traditional souvenirs—like volcano dust from Alaska—so they can learn about our adventures and we can teach them to follow their dreams,” Margo shared.
For Eric, however, the Beetle’s nostalgia did not hit until later in life when he learned that the car was just sitting in the garage, unused.
“I asked my Dad about it because I thought it could be a fun creative side project, then one day, my Grandpa called me up and simply said, ‘Come over, let’s talk about it’,”
A meticulous man, Eric’s grandfather was able to keep all the car’s original records since it left the factory, “The window dealership sticker, bill of sale, all service records, everything. He proudly signed the title and handed over the keys.”
After having sat in the garage for so long, the car did not run well and the journey to restoration was long. In 2009, Eric and Amanda decided to create their website to share the progress that they were making on the Beetle. As work on the Beetle continued, the website became a platform for him to share his family story, it was also the spark that launched their business, Lane Russel LLC.
For Eric, nothing could beat the feeling of the accomplishment he had when he traveled to his grandpa’s house behind the wheel of the fully restored Beetle.
“I can still see Grandpa standing in the driveway as I pulled up the hill to his house saying, ‘Well, I’ll be damned, Eric!’ My Grandpa left us last year at 99, but our family ‘67 Beetle lives on as a symbol of hard work, creativity, and my family history,”
For Margo, the Beetle was more than just the memories that were built, but also a way for her to instill life lessons that she and Tony have learned through the years to her kids.
“I tell them: ‘If you can imagine it, you can do it,’ and I show them how through the way we live our life. I want to instill in them that there is more to the world than sitting on the couch with a video game—there is the possibility of today. Our van gives us that.”