Jim Harbaugh Once Cruised Michigan’s Campus in a Rusted-out Beetle

© MLive Media Group/The Ann Arbor News/Robert Chase

It’s no secret that Jim Harbaugh likes cars. The University of Michigan football coach, who on Monday led the Wolverines to a College Football Playoff championship with a 34–13 win over the University of Washington, used to own part of Panther Racing, a winning IndyCar team, and he drove the Chevrolet Corvette pace car at the 2013 Indianapolis 500.

And in 2018, he did doughnuts on the Michigan Stadium’s turf field in an 840-horsepower Dodge Challenger Demon. While in college, he even worked as a security guard for a General Motors plant, reportedly checking IDs and lunch boxes.

So what did he drive when he was playing quarterback in 1983–1986 for Coach Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan? Something cool?

Not so much, judging from a 1986 story in the now-defunct Ann Arbor News.

He drove a faded red 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. In the Ann Arbor District Library archives, there is a photo of Harbaugh sitting on the rear bumper of the VW. The caption says, “Bo Schembechler is high on Harbaugh, but not his fender-flapping VW.” Harbaugh’s car “should not be allowed on the streets,” Schembechler once said.

In the photo, “It looks like I’ve got a cell phone,” Harbaugh said, quoted in a story from 2015 that appeared on a University of Michigan website. “And there’s the old VW. Driving this car was like Fred Flintstone. You could put your feet on the ground. The whole floorboard was rusted out and about to go. In the winter, it got so cold because it had no heater that worked. The frost, I had to scrape from the inside.

“The car got condemned. I paid $400 for the car at a used car lot on Stadium (Boulevard), the muffler fell off. And I did a really funny thing with it. The shifter knob broke, and I drilled a hole through a baseball and put the baseball over the top of it so I could shift it. And the brakes were really bad.”

He spoke about the time he was driving the Beetle from Ann Arbor to his parent’s home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a 100-mile trip, when the car became stuck in third gear. “So, I just had to keep going 55 (mph). I could brake, but it would go right back up to 55. I drove it that way from Jackson to Kalamazoo and right into the driveway without coming to a stop.”

Sketchy as it may have been, the Beetle helped shepherd Harbaugh around during his time at Michigan, where he cemented a legacy as one of the football program’s most celebrated quarterbacks. Since returning to his alma mater in 2015 to take over as the football team’s head coach, we’d bet he’s been cruising the campus in something a fair bit nicer. That’s probably for the best.




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    Probably to patch the floor of the VW. I had one during college in Ohio, know exactly what he’s talking about. Scraping frost from the inside 🤣

    Yes several in High School would scrap and drive.

    We had one but it was a Karmman Ghia. That got rolled. We used it for a go cart and pulled the body off. The pan was rusted and a ditch we jumped broke the car in half. We would have needed several signed to patch it.

    When he was in college–he should have taken a bus to Texas where VW Beetles could be had in excellent condition for less than $400 bucks! I know–I used to purchase them in great shape and drive everywhere in them. The owner of the car lot where he bought this VW Bug was criminal to sell the car to a college student in such condition!

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