9 April 2013

Your Cars: Sam Storey’s 1954 VW Beetle Ragtop

Your Cars: New Beetle or Classic? VW enthusiast goes retro


Yes, good things come to those who wait. Sam Storey won a new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle in a charity drawing, but when delivery was delayed he decided to accept the cash equivalent and shop for a classic. That led to the purchase of a 1954 VW ragtop that Storey adores and also “brings a smile to so many people here in Los Angeles.” Part of the reason the green Beetle is such a head turner is the green 1957 Schwinn Jaguar bicycle mounted on top. “I already had the Schwinn, and I thought they looked and felt exactly the same – except the Schwinn is a little faster,” Storey joked. “To match them up just seemed obvious.”

Name: Sam Storey

City: Los Angeles, Calif.

Vehicle(s): 1954 Volkswagen Ragtop, 2013 Volvo C30 Polestar Special Edition.

Hobby Background: I was obsessed with cars as a child. My mother used to call me “Buzzy” because I was always running around making car noises. I’d use my fingers as wipers and my eyes as blinkers and brights, too. I became a VW enthusiast as a pre-teen when my older sister’s then-boyfriend had one of the earliest “Cal Bugs” around. This was in 1982 or so. I’ve since built and owned many classic VWs, as well as other cars.

Why a 1954 VW ragtop?  I chose the ’54 ragtop because it is a “U.S. spec” car. Very few VWs were in the U.S. in ’54, and it is the last year they had “semaphores,” which are mechanical turn signals that stick out of the “B” pillars and glow.

Repairs and Modifications (planned or completed): This is a bone stock car with a perfect pan. I’ll only address parts that have already been replaced with later components – the interior, for example.

Hobby activities: I’m a member of Vintage Volkswagen Club of America, Stadt der Rosen VW Klub and Great Autos of Yesteryear.

Interesting Car Stories: I once owned six Volkswagens at once.

Favorite Drive: Along Farrell Drive in Palm Springs, Calif.

Memorable Moments: I had a ’63 Corvair that hadn’t run in a while, so I put a 2x4 between the seat and the gas pedal and was turning it over remotely while priming the carbs. Someone had bypassed the switch that prevents an automatic from starting while in gear, and when it fired up it was floored – in reverse – with no one in it. Luckily, I was jump starting the rear-mounted battery at the time and my Blazer was parked in the driveway just a few feet behind it or that car would have shot clear across the street and into my neighbor’s living room!

17 Reader Comments

  • 1
    bob lovely st louis mo April 10, 2013 at 14:47
    Hi great bug,I had a 63 whem i9n school and recently stated looking for one,but every thing in the midwest is rusty,would be cool if you could help me find one in californa,Im a member of Lambda car club,
  • 2
    Mitch Grand Rapids MI April 10, 2013 at 14:48
    My first car was a 1959 Beetle which I owned for 24 hrs. Brought it home, the next morning my dad wanted to drive it, came back totaled! Well I did get about 20 miles out of it. And it was from Florida.
  • 3
    Brien Brooklyn CT April 10, 2013 at 15:38
    The old VW Beetles are great to admire but they are very dangerous to drive out in traffic. I saw a video of a guy who was rear ended in one and he flew back and broke his neck in the rear of the car because the driver's seat easily detaches from the molded floor. The seat is only attached with a few bolts so with enough force from the rear, they tear away from the floor, and the driver is rocketed backwards. The poor guy was crying because he was an artist and was paralyzed from the neck down. He passed away a few months after he recorded the video. Please, if you are going to drive this car, reinforce the front seats so they do not tear away from the floor in the event of a rear end collision.
  • 4
    Barb Dulinl Pennsylvania April 10, 2013 at 17:09
    Great story! Had a '67 VW bug hardtop when I got married. My first baby had colic when she was an infant. The only way I could sooth her was to put a bed of blankets behind the VW back seat ,put her down in it and take her for a ride. The vibration of the engine below her put her to sleep every time and what a great car in the snow. The motor in the rear made traction on snowy days a snap. Fast-forward to Sept. 2011. I fell in love with the VW bug all over again when I bought my '74 VW Beetle Convertible--bright orange with a black top. Call it my "pumpkin wagon". The european vanity plate on the front says, "uber kool" (umlaut over the u of course). It had just been lovingly restored before I bought it and I just love it. Heads turn whenever I putter through town with the top down. It's simple, no frills transportation at it's best.
  • 5
    Tim Kent, WA April 10, 2013 at 17:32
    Nice car! I don't think your facts are correct though regarding the semaphores. I had a 1955 rag top in High School that had the openings for semaphores. Unfortunately all of the parts were long gone before I bought the car from a Junior High teacher in 1968 for $100. What did you pay for your car? Rather than try to find parts to replace the missing semaphores, I chose to seal over the openings while preparing to paint my car. Regarding rear end collisions, I once had somebody drive over my right rear fender while I was stopped to make a left turn. It was late night and I suspect they didn't see me until the last second cause of the small tail lights. Lucky for me the driver swerved enough to avoid a full on rear collision. The car didn't stop and I couldn't chase after him because the fender was crushed onto my tire. My other exciting incident was when my left front tire and wheel decided to leave the car just after coming off a winding mountain road. The 6 volt system didn't work so good in cold weather. I worked weekends at Crystal Mountain ski area and had to carry a 12 volt battery on the back floor to jump start my car at the end of the day. The wipers were a real treat in snow too. I had lots of fun with my VW and wish I knew where it ended up.
  • 6
    Robert Howell Michigan April 10, 2013 at 18:01
    Sam, Cool story! My first car was a 1959 Volkswagen. I was going to switch a 1966 body that fell to the dune buggy era. Never did it, but later bought a 1967 which I had for 10 years. It was an awesome car!! I wish I still had it. My name is Robert Storey: Any relation to Dick, David or? Blessings Sam
  • 7
    Karl Carmel CA April 10, 2013 at 22:32
    The comment about the seats tearing away from the floor pan (Brien Brooklyn CT) is ridiculous. The seats in vintage VW's are actually held on by a TRACK...not bolts. No way this could happen. Each side of the seat dove-tails into a track and it is not possible to remove the seat from that location unless done mechanically. Are old VW's dangerous in today's world? Yes. But not for the reason stated by Brien. Simply a story from someone who has never worked on one of these cars.
  • 8
    j. k. salser, jr. North Texas-Garland April 10, 2013 at 11:34
    You did the right thing by accepting the money in lieu of that 2012 VW--which you would NOT have enjoyed! Now, you have a car that will not only give you great joy but one that is coveted by the entire VW World! Happy Motoring! jay
  • 9
    Paul Florida April 11, 2013 at 06:19
    I had a 1958 VW bug,with the small grape shape rear window,not the split one.got it for $250. drove it from1965 thru 1966 in high school.my buddies would pick up the car and put it on the side walk.we were on the football team.We also took it to New York Friday and Sat. nights to have some fun. I would pull up to a parking spot and the four of us would get out and pick up the car and park it. Got a lot of looks ! One more thing,if you leaned on the left front fender,the horn would blow. first alarm system??
  • 10
    David Snellville, Ga. April 12, 2013 at 15:53
    i have 1958 Euro Bug right now, but I am looking for 1954 because that was the year i was born. Over the years I've owned over a dozen VW's of all years and types and have enjoyed them all. I'm sure your 54 will bring you a lot of joy. Good year too!
  • 11
    Paul Giovannini Staten Island New York April 12, 2013 at 17:29
    Love the store. Had a 67 VW myself. Bought it for $500 in the mid 70's during the gas wars. Kept my other car in my garage with a full tank of gas and syphoned out 10 Gallons at a time. In those day insurance on a second car was only $90 for the full year. Painted it Candy Apple Red in my dads garage with a new compressor my friend and I bought in Sears. In those days you painted a car with a lacquer paint job with $50 worth of material and a lot of elbow grease. We painted every thing in site. But the best part of the store is the "Schwinn Jaguar" bike. That was top of the line. They also made a slightly cheaper model call the "Schwinn Corvette". It didn't have the rear seat or the center pieces or the horn. They also came in 3 colors, Metallic Red, Blue or Green. The seats were 2 tone color coordinated, white and the color of the bike. All had white wall tires and chrome fenders. The spring loaded clamp on the front was great to hold a ball and glove. Best of all the were all 3 speeds like the English Racer of the day. Thanks for the Memories. Paul
  • 12
    Larry Ho Vietnam April 12, 2013 at 11:14
    I thoroughly agree with Jay that you did the right thing. You certainly now have a classic car that wherever you go it turn heads and you hear the whistles. The joy you get each time you bring it out for a drive. The white wall tires certainly add to the beauty of this car. The 54 Oval is one of our dream car and maybe one day we will get to own one. We are collecting parts for that day. Happy motoring ! Larry
  • 13
    Leonard Garland, Texas April 17, 2013 at 12:08
    I am with Jay on this. That is truly a great replacement for the New-New Beetle, although I do like the retro wheels they are offering. There is nothing like an aircooled VW, the smells, sounds, and problems are are unique. Old VWs are just like good friends, although I have a few that refuse to talk to me now, but they're there for me.
  • 14
    Ron Cedola Florida May 7, 2013 at 13:16
    Love the Car..... We have a '57 Oval. I was lucky enough to build a 1976 Super Beetle Convertible (appeared in It's Your Turn article) that ended up being a multi-award winning car. We then built a 1957 and have never been happier. I am always glad to see another one that was put back on the road. I love that green, as well.
  • 15
    Jonathan Ortiz Sacramento July 10, 2013 at 12:40
    I owned a 1959 VW rag top while going to college. It was my first car. I had a nick name for it: 'Dent". It had acquired numerous dents, some small and some a little larger, during the course of its lifetime prior to my ownership. I added one driving up Bancroft Way in Berkeley while attending summer school at UC in 1970. A young woman with a distracting walk and bouncing breast stole my attention away from a Dodge Dart ahead of me. Yep! I hit it. A trip to the junk yard fetched a "new" hood and left front fender. An afternoon under a shade tree and the damage was "corrected". I had one of my more memorable romances while on a visit to my old hometown San Berdoo and discovering that the cute girl from the 9th grade had grown up to be a foxy princess. The car and the girl were both marvelous. I loved them both.
  • 16
    Jeff bell hollister July 12, 2013 at 02:36
    I have a 54 bettle that i got 20 years ago for 2,800 and a surf board, I grew up in lake tahoe and had several bugs the best one being a 57, After moving to the bay area i traded the 57 for a really nice all fixed up 67 that was all complete cal bug. after having the 67 fow a while i was regretting trading the 57. i found the 54 and still have it getting ready to do a complete restoration soon.........Jeff
  • 17
    Karl Pallastrini Carmel California November 27, 2013 at 21:18
    I still own two VW's….a 1961 Convertible and a 1964 Sunroof. I have had MANY VW's over the years, and I can't think of a car that is more fun to drive, maintenance free and reliable than the old Bugs up to 1967. 1957 for some reason was a particularly good year. 1960 was not, because you have to remove the engine and transaxle to change the front transmission mount. I had a 1957 convertible that we used to drive through the creeks and in the middle of the river. It stalled once in the river. we removed the plugs….put the car in gear…pushed it about 30 feet…put the spark plugs back in and off we went. Karl

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