Restoring a ’62 Beetle won the heart of a hard-core Ford man
Donnie McAllister was contentedly retired on Galveston’s West End, surfing and tooling around in a restored 1949 Ford “Woodie” wagon when the voice called out from behind.
“Two or three years ago, I was at this event in Sea Isle, listening to a band play, when this guy came up behind me and said ‘Hey, aren’t you the guy with that Woodie?’”
“He said he had a car just sitting in his dad’s backyard that needed to be parked right beside it,” McAllister, 69, said.
The car in question was a highly customized 1962 VW Beetle. It also was a textbook backyard basket case, he said.
McAllister, a retired building contractor who has lived in Sea Isle for 25 years, didn’t bite — not at first anyway.
“I’d never owned a VW before,” McAllister said. “They weren’t my thing, but finally he made an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
The bug McAllister trailered home from Houston had been a convertible, but the ragtop had been replaced with a fake palapa — that is a traditional Mexican beach hut roofed with palm leaves. Two surf boards were strapped atop the synthetic thatch.
The car had come from San Francisco, ground-zero for early ’60 Beetles, and had been in the care of a Google executive before it came to rest in Houston, McAllister said.
“It had been sitting in that backyard and wasn’t running,” McAllister said. “The tires and seats were all rotted. It needed a total restore.”
Almost immediately, McAllister got his first lesson in classic VWs.
“While I was taking it off the trailer, this guy drove up in a VW bus and started asking me about it,” McAllister said. “I told him I paid $1,500 for it and he said ‘You realize it’s worth $10,000 or $15,000 just like it’s sitting.’”
He soon got another bit of good news.
“The battery had gone dead from sitting for so long and I guess the guy’s dad who was taking care of it didn’t realize it had been converted from a six-volt to 12-volt system,” McAllister said. “I put a 12-volt battery in it and it started right up and ran fine.”
McAllister began the restoration with the idea of flipping the bug for nice a profit, but has since changed his mind, he said.
“I found out that VWs are lot of fun,” he said. “I had so much fun with it that I decided to keep it, so far.”
Although the palapa is long gone, McAllister kept a lot of the themes from the VW’s first customization, including bold Hawaiian prints on the seats and rattan trim pieces.
“It’s still a beach car,” he said. “I even put a hole in the floor so the water can drain out.”
His favorite thing about the car is not the car, however.
“I love the stories,” he said. “People either know what the Woodie is and love it, or don’t know and don’t care.
“Everybody has a VW story, though. They either drove one in high school or college or their mother or father or sister or brother drove one.
“It’s amazing to see their faces light up when they hear it run.”