Retro Tuesday - HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT - PART 4 - 1951 VW

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Walking the field, I saw this car. It was an unusual color green, almost an army green, but also somewhat appropriate to a color you might see on a 50's car. I decided to look a little closer. As I walked behind the car, I immediately saw the small taillight lenses and the "Pope's Nose" license plate lamp housing. Looking up again, I saw the side vents, semaphore turn signals and thought, "This is not your average VW".

"Pope's Nose" License plate light

A gentleman was sitting on the grass beside it. "Is this your car," I asked. "Yes it is," he said. "What color is it?" I asked. "Pastel Green," he replied. "Is that an original color?" "Yes it was...but it's one of a handful that were ever built." I asked the owner, Rick Bowers of Marietta, GA, to hear the story of his car. This is what he told me.

This VW was produced in October of 1951
"I had originally seen the car sitting out in a field next to a body shop back in the 80's. I asked if it was for sale, but they told me they were  going to build a race car out of it. I kept stopping and asking. They kept telling me "no" until I either became too much of a pest or they finally looked at the car close enough to decide it would never become a race car.

An over-the-top level of detail was visible throughout the car, right down to the woven wire insulation
When they finally said yes, I got numbers off the car to see exactly what year it was and what it was. To my amazement, I found out is was one of the original Hoffman imports*. It was built just after WWII, maybe before the roof was even back on the Volkswagen plant. It's one of only 390 1951 VW's that were sold in the US with "crotch coolers" and the "smoker's window".

"What's a "crotch cooler?," I asked. "Those are the vents on the side", he replied. "They connect to outlets under the dash on the side kick panel. Almost all vehicles sold in the US and the UK had them before air conditioning was available."

As our conversation continued, I was reminded that after the war, the British were in charge of getting the VW factory back up and running. They prompted the Germans to look at features common on many US and English vehicles as a way to create a car that could be sold here and in the UK . These vents were one of the first changes they made.

The insert along the diver's side B-pillar post houses the semaphore turn signal
The odometer shows the ORIGINAL 43,781 miles and YES, the clock still works. The knob at the top of the dash controls the semaphore turn signals.
"That's where this car comes in. It was made from a combination of newly tooled parts and whatever was leftover** from earlier years. Some may have originally been slated for use on the KDF. The transmission is fully un-synchronized, the 4 cylinder engine produces 25 HP, and all the numbers match the car. It sat on the ground from 1959, until I bought it. According to the odometer, it was driven about 43,000 miles. It was in terrible shape. If it hadn't been for it's rarity, I don't think I would have ever thought to restore it. But I did...after I cut down the tree growing out of it. I applied for the production records in 1989. That's when VW of America sent a representative out to see if they could buy the car. I told them no."

According to available research information the "smoker's window", as Rick called it, was added during the 1950 model year. 

The driver side window had a recess, a cut-away of sorts, allowing the driver to roll down the window just far enough to provide ventilation without opening the window so much it let in either water or wind. Information researched indicated this feature continued on until October production of the 1953 model year when side vent windows were introduced.
There is no fuel gauge in the '51 VW. When the car began to run out of fuel, the driver used a foot operated lever to open the reserve section of the fuel tank.
"Most of the car was there, but some parts were missing. The engine was fully rebuilt using NOS parts including a piston I had to get from Argentina. It's taken me about 3,000 hours of actual work time to get it where it is today. Despite all of the restoration work, the car still has the original tie rods and lever shocks. I made an entire wiring harness from scratch using correct color coded wires and woven insulation wraps.  While it was a lot of work, it was actually fun putting it back together."

Based on our research, it appears 1951 was the last year for both "crotch coolers" and the rear split window. Apparently drivers complained the vents let in too much cold air and the rear window obstructed the view. Earlier year VW's were equipped with a hand crank to start a car with a dead battery, using the large nut on the generator.

Thanks for the feedback and visits from so many VW enthusiasts. If you uncover additional details about these early VW's, please consider adding the information in the comments section.

*The Hoffman Motor Company was the sole importer of VW 1950-1953. My personal experience with the history of VW is that after 1953 the distribution of VW's into the US was handled by a group of Distributors throughout the US in conjunction with VW of America. Read more about Hoffman Motors 

** Our research uncovered a common practice of "running changes" vs. a model year defined production change for many items, meaning a new model year may have started on xx/xx/19xx, but an individual item (e.g.-vent windows, brake parts, suspension upgrades, etc.) may have been updated part way through the model year.