Classic of the Year: A VW love story

Classic of the Week isn’t a beauty contest. It isn’t about which cars are most original, or which have been most perfectly restored. It’s all about the stories behind the cars. One of the coolest parts of our jobs at Hagerty is that we get to talk with our clients and their cars. Classic of the Week is our way of sharing some of the fantastic stories we hear. It all starts with a conversation: Our clients tell us a lot of great stories about their classics. When we hear a particularly fantastic one, we’ll nominate it as a potential Classic of the Week. Then, the employees of Hagerty vote. The nominee with the most votes becomes that week’s featured classic. Then every month, we choose a Classic of the Month winner using the same process. And then the winners from each month are entered to win Classic of the Year. This is the Classic of the Year story for 2015.

Tom and Dawn Kerr’s story about finding true love through classic cars came to light during a phone call to Hagerty insurance, when they called to combine their insurance policies after their wedding day. Intrigued by the cars and the lively couple from Auburn, Calif., licensed insurance agent Alicia Spinniken listened to their heartfelt story and was so inspired that she nominated them for Hagerty’s Classic of the Week competition.

“We are honored and excited to share our love for VWs which resulted in love for each other,” Dawn Kerr said.

Dawn has been a proud owner of Hugo — her red 1963 VW Ragtop Sunroof Bug — since age 16, and when she purchased the car it just so happened to be 16 years old, too. “Hugo had an old license plate labeled ‘464 UGO,’ so everyone called it Hugo,” Dawn explained.

She drove Hugo throughout high school and college, when, she said, everyone had a Bug, but after the gas crisis in the ’70s there was a new trend forming: the California look. She lowered and had the chrome and bumpers stripped off for a cleaner look, and equipped it with a faster motor.

[Click here for the story of Dawn's friend, the late Ray Vallero, a VW drag racing pioneer]

“Hugo is the poor man’s hot rod. It’s the ultimate sleeper and really fun to drive,” Dawn said. “It’s my best friend that has been with me through school and my career, and it was there for me on my wedding day.” It was her only car for many years, and through Hugo Dawn met many friends and formed relationships that have lasted for decades, and now she found her life partner — all thanks to the Beetle.

Tom Kerr purchased Betty, his 1959 VW Transporter Single Cab Pickup, in Daytona Beach, Fla., seven years ago. “I love it, and I use the heck out of it. It’s been my constant companion,” he said. Through research, Tom discovered that the truck was built in Hanover, Germany, then shipped to San Antonio, Texas, where it was bought by a father and son team who owned a marine service in Jupiter, Fla. The company’s logo is still on the tailgate. It was involved in an accident and was hit in the right-rear and front-right corner, so a lot of sheet metal work was done. Tom has a soft spot for dressed-up, blue-collar Volkswagens, so he also added Deluxe trim.

Tom was born in Florida, but when he moved to California he promptly looked up the local VW club to meet new people. That is where he met Dawn for the first time, during his first club meeting at Mel’s Diner in Auburn, Cali. Dawn describes the moment she first set eyes on Tom; “When I first met him, my first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that truck!’ And my second thought was, ‘Wow, he is hot!’”

During the meeting Dawn discovered that Tom drove his old VW truck with all of his belongings across the country all the way from Florida. Meanwhile, his daily driver, a Toyota Corolla, was shipped. “All my friends thought I was insane for driving the VW instead of my Toyota,” Tom said, “but I got to see the country, and it was more fun that way.”

“That stole my heart,” Dawn said, “The biggest joy that I get is from driving my car, and I will never be a person to polish a car just to have it towed to shows; being behind the wheel is where it is at — the feel of the road, the smells and the wind brushing your face.”

Their first date happened unintentionally in January when Dawn used social media networks to set up a car club meeting at the Rainbow Lodge in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was 18 degrees, treacherously cold for old cars, and they were the only two people to show up. Dawn had brought a photo album full of memories of her VW to share with the group, so instead she and Tom sat by the Lodge’s fireplace, looked through the photos and exchanged stories late into the night until the Lodge closed. “They almost locked us in; they thought that we were guests who had paid for a room!” Dawn exclaimed.

As if that wasn’t fate enough, on the hour-long drive home, when they were halfway down the mountain, Dawn heard a loud howling noise coming from her Bug, and the needles on her speedometer gage were violently bouncing back and forth. She flashed her lights at Tom to pull over, and as Tom got out he said, “How did you know there was something wrong with my pickup?” Ironically, he had the exact same noise happening in his truck, at the same exact time, and he thought it was loud enough for her to hear it in her Bug. As it turned out, both vehicles’ speedometer cables were failing due to the cold, and they began to fail within seconds of each other. “The cars must have been bonding,” Tom said.

At around the same time all of this was happening, Dawn was working on the restoration of a 1966 VW 21-Window Bus — named Velvet after the name of the German green color by VW called Velvet Green —and she put a call out to her VW club for help hauling large parts to the shop. Tom had his VW pickup, and since he was between jobs he offered to help. They made trip to Skinner’s Classics — 1.5 hours each way — multiple times. “The first time they showed up, they drove separately,” said Robert Skinner, the owner of the shop, “but the second time they came to the shop, that traveled together, and it was like that ever since.”

The relationship blossomed through these trips, and Tom spent his time helping work on the bus. “A love connection happened here,” Robert said. “It was an amazing thing to be a part of.”  Robert was an integral part in the relationship’s development, and when the couple got engaged, they requested Robert to be ordained so he could marry them. “Here I am, this gearhead shop guy getting ordained,” Robert said. “I was honored.”

The wedding took place at the couple’s farm, and it was like a big VW show. All of their friends brought their cars and staged them in rows. Betty the truck conveniently transformed into a flatbed once the gates were dropped, and it acted as a stage for Tom and Dawn’s ceremony. To the left of the stage was the bridesmaid, Velvet the VW bus, and to the right was the best man, Hugo the Bug, and their dog acted as the ring bearer.

The wedding didn’t start until sunset, and since Dawn was fighting with her nerves, her wonderful friends offered to set everything up during the day while she spent the day racing. “I was actually a bit worried about winning the race,” Dawn said. The race was based upon a bracket of eliminations, so if she continued to win she could be late for her wedding. “I made it into the semi-finals and raced against a lady named Gloria, who proved to be great competition,” Dawn said. “I swear I didn’t let her beat me! I would have kept on winning and been late for my own wedding.” At the end of the race Dawn thanked Gloria for winning the race, because now she would be on time for her wedding. When Dawn returned from the race she quickly changed clothes and hopped up onto the truck bed with Tom. “I didn’t realize it until the ceremony was over, but I had the big blue race track band on my wrist the whole time — it’s in all of our photos,” she said with a laugh.

The Kerrs share a mutual love for their cars that has been proven time and time again. One example was when Tom’s truck was in an accident. He immediately texted Dawn “I was just in an accident,” and that text was immediately followed by, “Betty is hurt bad.” When Dawn read the messages, her heart dropped, knowing how much the truck means to Tom. “I continued asking about Betty’s condition for about five minutes, and as I was reassuring Tom that we would get her fixed, I paused,” Dawn said. “I had completely forgotten to ask Tom if he was OK!”

Tom said, “I wasn’t even concerned about my own welfare, I only cared about the fact my Betty was hurt.”Classics bring people together, and the Kerr’s story is a perfect tribute to the love of classics, and a love for each other and all the friends they have made along the way. 

“Take life in the slow lane; be present for the journey and don’t be so concerned about the destination,” Tom said. Dawn added, “The adventure is being out there and driving these cars — everyone has a story to share.”

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