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Oct 3 2009

Retired English professor’s 1978 Super Beetle

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John Bowman’s 1978 Super Beetle

Retired English professor living in Wimberley misses the classroom, but he finds car restoration stimulating.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN

You have to be in the know about John Bowman’s passion when he admits he’s “crazy” about Iris, and it’s OK with his wife, Kay.

Iris is the Bowmans’ 1978 Super Beetle — the upscale model of the regular Beetle, with a bigger trunk, nicer wheels and upgraded bumpers, dash and upholstery — that has been undergoing restoration in his garage all summer. It was a gift Bowman gave his wife for her birthday and their anniversary earlier this spring. Now, the blue Volkswagen once owned by a little old lady in New York is a lot of work.

John Bowman bought a 1978 Super Beetle on eBay from an elderly woman in New York and gave the vintage car to his wife for her birthday and their anniversary in the spring. Since May, hes been in the garage restoring the upscale model of the regular Beetle, and he hopes to take his wife, Kay, out for a spin this fall in the finished product.

John Bowman bought a 1978 Super Beetle on eBay from an elderly woman in New York and gave the vintage car to his wife for her birthday and their anniversary in the spring. Since May, he's been in the garage restoring the upscale model of the regular Beetle, and he hopes to take his wife, Kay, out for a spin this fall in the finished product.

The VW is the couple’s way to relive the good old days of the 1960s and 1970s at the University of Texas. They hadn’t met, but both drove VWs. He was a bit of a hot-rodder then. He owned several muscle cars (not at the same time), including two Pontiac GTOs and a Chevrolet Corvette. “My 1969 Beetle was easier on gas and insurance,” he said. And he stopped getting speeding tickets on South Congress Avenue.

“Those were the days — going to Scholz Garten for a pitcher of beer,” Bowman said.

Back to reality and the more docile life of retirement in Wimberley and the very cute Iris. This is not Bowman’s first rodeo with restoring cars and trucks. The retired English professor has restored a 1970 Ford F-100 that he sold back to the original owner when the owner’s grandson was ready to drive. “That was our agreement. I kept it for a while until the boy was ready to enjoy a truck driven by his grandfather,” said Bowman, 65.

In his driveway today is a 1978 Ford F-150; in his garage is a 1993 Ford Lightning, a high-performance show truck, with 3,800 originalmiles on the odometer that he found on eBay. Bowman found Iris on eBay, too.

“It’s from the original owner, a little old lady outside from Hamburg, N.Y., so the story went,” he said.

Bowman snagged it and had it delivered on a trailer in May. He’s been tinkering with it ever since.

He makes clear that he’s not a mechanic or expert in restoring cars, but he mentions that he can understand manuals and “figure” things out. It took him all summer to remove the rust from the floor pans and metal heater channels from the engine to the cab of the car.

“I sanded the pans, applied Rust Stop paint and then applied fiberglass. Then I cut out Dynamat (sound proof material made of aluminum) and added new carpet on top,” he said.

Cleaning every inch of the car was paramount. Nothing that Armor All (an interior cleaner), Simple Green (a degreaser) and Gunk (an engine cleaner) couldn’t handle.

“From there, it’s just getting on your hands and knees and cleaning every part,” he said.

The engine is mechanically sound. Next up are the finishing touches that Bowman will enjoy adding: fender skirts, vintage VW mud guards, new chrome wheels with baby moon hubcaps and white wall tires. He went online and found vintage VW stores and people from all over the world who sell individual parts.The trademark small, ornate vase from a person living in Germany will go somewhere on the dashboard. A faux Iris will be placed there.

Lessons learned? “Patience,” Bowman said. “You can’t rush the job, and you live by the rule of what can go wrong will go wrong.”

He finds the work stimulating.

“I love the fact that I come up against something that doesn’t work, but then I figure out how to fix it. I miss the mental challenge of the classroom, but this work gives me a good feeling,” he said.

The Bowmans say they can’t wait to drive Iris daily sometime this fall.

“Taking the top down, driving it around these hills,” he said. “That’s good therapy. And the sense of accomplishment that I didn’t spend $30,000 by taking it to a custom shop.

“I can look at the car and claim her mine.”

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