VW brings back memories of 1965 for Tipton family

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Ken Adams and his mother, Mary Lou, inside a 1965 VW Beetle. Photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

A winner of the Critic’s Choice Award at the Tecumseh Car and Bike Show in June, Ken Adams of Tipton has a special affection for his 1965 Volkswagon Beetle. Like most car aficionados, Adams has a reason for his lifelong love of Volkswagon vehicles.

“I think it’s because my earliest memory is of riding in a VW,” Adams said. “I loved that Bug. I got into them as a collector in 1987, when I was a student at University of Michigan.”

He remembers riding under the window of the back of his mother’s Beetle, and seeing a big semi-truck close in on the little car. His mother sold the car when he was about four-years-old, but Adams never forgot the car and was always intrigued by VWs.

“He always did love them,” said his mother, Mary Lou Willet.

The VW obsession can possibly be blamed on a neighbor of Willet’s who owned an earlier version of the Bug in black during the 1960s, and would let Willet drive the car around Adrian. After Willet’s first husband (Ken’s father) died unexpectedly in a work accident, Willet decided to purchase a car for the family, and with the help of her father, chose a 1965 pearl white VW Beetle with red interior.

“The first car that I was able to buy, I wanted a VW,” Willet said. She drove the car for two years before the poor heater made her get a car that warmed up better in the winter.

Willet remarried and her husband Bob remembers seeing her driving around Adrian in the little white pearl Bug. “I saw you riding around in the window,” he told Adams.

While Adams was a student at U of M, he needed a car, and found himself a green Bug. “He was so happy with that car, like it was a Corvette,” Willet said with a laugh.

Bill Rathbun helped Adams get the car up and running, and taught Adams the ins and outs of Volkswagon car care.

“Bill would let me stand there and watch what he did,” Adams said about his education with Rathbun. Over the years, Adams learned how to do basic maintenance and repair work on his vehicles.

Total restoration is not Adams’ desire. He prefers to find well cared for vehicles or ones well restored, and focus on fixing the little details often overlooked by people unaware of all the idiosyncrasies of the car brand.

While many people might not notice the rubber trim is black instead of a matching color, Adams notices and makes the change.

“I’m a preservationist and a rescuer,” said Adams. “I’m good at finding cars that have been restored right.”

The right VW will then receive his tender loving care. “I will go over every inch of the car,” Adams said. “I’ll spend weeks trying to find the right mud flaps.”

The green Bug was the first of Adams’ VW vehicles, which over the years have included the VW vans from the 1970s, as well his current fleet of a truck, military vehicle, and beer truck, not to mention his newer VW vehicles for everyday driving.

For years, Adams kept his eyes open for a pearl white 1965 Beetle with red interior. His grandfather had filed away the purchase paperwork for Willet’s VW, including the window sticker.
The moment of truth for Adams
came in 2004 on a trip to West Virginia with his wife to look at a 1965 pearl white VW Beetle with red interior. The owner had done all the maintenance on the Bug bought from the previous owner.

“His father had a white Beetle,” Adams said. “The car meant a lot to him. He was a neat old guy.”

It was clear the Bug was well cared for, and rarely driven. “He only put 500 miles on the car,” said Adams.

Adams happily bought the car, paying more than he had for any of his other VWs. The Willets were storing some of his other cars on their property in Madison Township, and Adams told his mother there was another VW on the way.

He didn’t tell her what the new addition was, and when the pearl white Beetle rolled off the truck, Willet cried at seeing her car from all those years ago. They pulled out the paperwork from his mother’s Bug, and were surprised to see the car was almost an exact match for his mother’s.

“It was a long journey,” Adams said. “Even the dealer options were the same on this car.”

During the warm summer months, Adams will occasionally take the Bug to car shows. Like it was in Tecumseh, the Beetle is always a crowd favorite.

But the little car doesn’t go far, and gets a thorough cleaning when it returns home. Adams doesn’t know what happened to his mother’s car, but suspects that like many VWs, the body rusted out or the car stopped running.

But finding this 1965 pearl white Volkswagon Beetle with red interior has brought nothing but joy and a reminder of a simpler time and happy moments for both Adams and Willet.




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