My ’56 VW Bug Didn’t Have a Gas Gauge—But It Had Character

Sweet memories of a quirky car, and our travels through Quebec.

1956 VW BugKen Morris /
Berthe says all VW Beetles, like the one shown, looked alike, but hers had “special” features.

Memories of My 1956 VW Beetle

When I was stationed at a Canadian Air Force base in Winnipeg in 1963 as a meteorological observer (Met Ob), I bought a 1956 VW Beetle. It had no gas gauge, but after a while, I noticed a small groove on the inside of the driver’s door that had a small pin inside it. Eventually, to my delight, I noticed that when I added gas to the tank, the pin changed position to the right—so I knew when I had to fill it up. The last owner must have installed it, because there wasn’t anything indicating what it was.

The heating system was also hard to figure out; I either froze or sweated before getting to know how it worked. My VW also had a gas pedal that looked like a coiled doorstop. It was awkward to use, especially with high heels, so I had someone install a makeshift one out of a piece of wood.

At the end of March ’64, my RCAF contract was complete, so I left for Sept-Iles, Quebec—where my fiancé had been stationed—to get married. He met me in Montreal and we set off on the 600-mile trek to Sept-Iles in my Bug. There had been a very big storm and the roads were barely open. We made it past Baie-Comeau, about 70 miles from our destination, when we went into a skid, blocking the road as we came to a stop. A car with four young men soon appeared. With a man at each corner, they picked up the Beetle—with us still inside—and put it back down, now facing the right direction.

Continuing to Sept-Iles, I kept seeing small road signs that read “Cahots.” The road wasn’t paved and had a lot of potholes. When I hit a big one and my fiancé told me to be careful, I said I didn’t see them coming. He asked, “What do you think ‘cahots’ means?” When he told me it was the French word for “bumps,” I said I thought it was the name of a small village coming up!

We kept that VW Beetle for a couple of years and even bought two more in the ’70s.

Next, check out one man’s fond memories of his 1963 VW Beetle.

Originally Published in Our Canada