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Simon Parkinson and his VW Beetle

Customer Stories pt. 2: The Beetle of a lifetime

Name: Simon Parkinson

The classic: VW Beetle

‘It’s been great fun and it has huge sentimental value for me. It was the family car, and the car I restored with my late father. I’ve toyed with having other things, and maybe now I’ve got more time I might well get another classic car, but this Beetle will never go.’

Simon’s VW Beetle has a long family history behind it, having been first bought by his father in 1957 before Simon was born. ‘The saga begins before this car,’ Simon tells us. ‘In 1955, my father bought a Ford Prefect but he didn’t like it at all, so he swapped it for a Beetle when he was in Torquey on holiday. That’s where the love for these cars began, really.’ Not long afterwards, Simon’s father moved to his second Beetle, which the family affectionately dubbed ‘BTE’ after the number plate. It’s the car that Simon still owns today. ‘He bought it in January 1957,’ Simon explains. ‘I was born two years later, and he took me home from the hospital in it as a new born. BTE was our family car until I was six or seven years old. I’ve still got good memories of that.’

Like its predecessor, however, BTE was then exchanged for newer model, this time a 1300 Beetle. ‘The car disappeared,’ Simon says. ‘It went through various owners, and we didn’t think we’d see it again.

‘One evening, however, my father and I were driving to church when a low-loader drove past us with a rusted, battered old Beetle on the back. I don’t know who recognised it first, but we both realised what it was. The truck pulled into the petrol station and we followed them, then asked where they were taking it. ‘The scrap heap,’ they told us. I don’t know why, perhaps it was one of those things that just happened: my father paid them £10, gave them an extra fiver to deliver it, and we went off to church. When we got back later that evening, BTE was once again sitting proudly on our driveway.’

The car that found its way home
The car that found its way home

Restoring a classic

‘Originally, the idea was to do it up and I’d then use it as my student car. We’d also discovered a recently formed owners’ club for early VW Beetles; today it’s known as the Historic VW Club. We joined, neither of us having any idea about car restoration, but the people there were incredibly helpful with advice and sorting parts. We learnt through doing it, we made mistakes and got things wrong but we had lots of people there to help us. I think that’s one of the nice things – certainly in the Beetle part of the classic car world – there is lots of help out there.

That autumn, my father and I took the body shell off BTE and restored the chassis by ourselves. When we put it all back together again, we went to our first classic VW event in 1978 or ’79. We won a prize in the concours d’elegance, which was a fantastic achievement for us having just finished it. Sadly, however, two weeks later my father died very unexpectedly, leaving his pride and joy in the garage.’

At this point, Simon was at medical school and couldn’t afford to run the car by himself. ‘It stayed locked up in the garage for the next four years,’ he tells us. ‘But the second year after I qualified, I bought a house in Bourneville and got BTE out again. I used it during my years as a junior doctor and started going to classic car events again, this time by myself. I also got more involved in the Historic VW Club and was the membership secretary for a while, as well as writing the newsletter for quite a few years.

‘Since then, I’ve done bits to it: it’s been reupholstered and I also had to rebuild the gearbox, but it’s still running quite smoothly. The amazing thing is that it was all done by a couple of amateurs in their spare time. We didn’t do too badly, really.’

The well-kept interior of BTE
The well-kept interior of BTE
BTE from the side
BTE from the side

A famous appearance

Simon quickly became involved in the world of Beetles again, with BTE even appearing on episodes of Top Gear and The Car’s the Star. ‘Andy Wilman, a BBC producer, called me and asked me to get involved. It turned out that they were filming just down the road from where I lived, which worked out well. They filmed The Car’s the Star closer to home, as I had the interview while I was sat in the car on my driveway!’

Simon also had the chance to learn more about BTE’s history, even writing a book on Volkswagen Beetles thanks to his connections at the VW Owners’ Club. ‘I got to know a delightful man called Ivan Hirst,’ Simon explains. ‘He was a British army officer with the Royal Engineers who, in late 1945, was ordered to take command of a car factory in Wolfsburg. He arrived as the Commanding Officer and found a large proportion of the VW factory still in working order, so they started to produce cars. The original plan was that they would produce cars for the British army, the Red Cross and civilian authorities before dismantling the factory as part of reparations. By 1947-8, however, the politics had changed and Britain decided that we should support German industries. So, in 1949, Ivan Hurst handed the VW factory back to the German authorities and went to work somewhere else.

‘One day I was chatting to him and I said, “I should write this down and put it in the newsletter”. “Actually,” he replied, “it would make a nice book”. I did just that. I documented Ivan’s story and wrote a book called VW Beetle: The Rise from the Ashes of War. I also managed to locate several of the other British officers who’d been at Wolfsburg and I wrote about their stories, too. So, all from my dad buying a Beetle in 1955, I got totally hooked on the things!’

A childhood car

Simon’s favourite memory of BTE comes from his early childhood, when he and his parents would travel to Manchester to visit family.

‘I can remember coming home in the evening and climbing behind the backseat. I had a blanket and a pillow with me, and it was nice and warm above the engine, so I used to lie there and drift off to sleep.

‘I remember it clearly; looking up through the windows and watching the street lights going past. Eventually I would nod off and then get woken up at home. I would have been around 5 or 6 and I’d do that all the time: fall asleep in the backseat in my little bed. I can’t fit now and if I did, I probably wouldn’t get out!’

Simon sitting in BTE as a young boy
Simon sitting in BTE as a young boy

Would you like the chance to be part of our Customer Stories project?

If you’re a Heritage Car Insurance customer and you’d like your classic drawn on one of our live drawing sessions, please send a maximum of 150 words about what your classic means to you and at least 2 images to marketing@heritagecarinsurance.co.uk

If selected, your classic will be drawn live by contemporary classic car artist Ian Cook. Here’s his drawing of Simon’s Beetle!

You can also submit your classic to our Customer Stories project by filling in the contact form below:

Ian Cook's live drawing of Simon's Beetle
Ian Cook's live drawing of Simon's Beetle