If you’ve ever wondered what happened to your first car, or considered trying to track down the one that got away, Amanda Dorset can tell you what it feels like to chase down a memory.
Two decades ago as a teenager, Dorset bought, restored and sold her first car, a 1975 Volkswagen La Grande Bug. A few months ago, Dorset was able to reunite with her Beetle thanks to a little help from the Internet.
“It’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me,” Dorset says.
Raised in Victoria, Virginia, Dorset had wanted a Beetle for as long as she could remember. Her dream car was likely inspired by her parents, who each owned a Beetle in their youth.
In 1996, she heard a classmate of hers was selling an old Beetle and pounced at the chance to see it. The La Grande Bug, marketed as a luxury model and one of the last Super Beetle sedans, was one of a line of limited-edition models with colorful names like the Sports Bug, Sun Bug and Champagne Bug, offering upscale touches like a wood-grain dash and a fuel-injected engine.
By the time Dorset laid eyes on it, the La Grande was not so grand. It still had its original Ancona-metallic blue paint and just 48,000 miles, but otherwise the Beetle was in desperate need of restoration. “It was a hunk of junk,” Dorset recalls. “It had trees growing from the floorboard!”
But Dorset was up to the challenge. Her stepfather even agreed to pay for the car, if she was able to rev up its engine. Thankfully – and much to their surprise – she was. “The dang thing had a little juice in her,” Dorset said. They bought it on the spot for $125.
Despite the car’s outward appearance, she painted her with a punchy coat of Plum Crazy purple and optimistically nicknamed the car “Pretty Purple Penny.” For months, she diligently worked with her mother and stepfather on fixing Penny part-by-part, replacing the car’s engine, floor pans, fender and seats.
“That car defined me because of the color,” Dorset recalls. “When I go down to Virginia, I say, ‘Hey, do you remember me? I used to drive the purple Beetle.’”
Dorset’s time with Penny was short-lived, but memorable. She drove her for eight or nine months before moving to New Jersey in 1999. During that time, she fondly recalls stories of getting lost, braving the weather and, once, thinking on her feet when she needed an unscheduled repair. “My defrost stopped working, so a repairman offered to bring it to his shop so he could fix it with beer cans,” she said.
Years passed, and Dorset wondered what happened to Penny. In the interim, she married a fellow VW enthusiast, and the two went on to own five other Volkswagens.
Late last year an old high school friend texted her a photo of a retired, purple Beetle in Meherrin, Va. Spotted in a Facebook ad, the plum Beetle was up for sale in a town seven miles from Dorset’s hometown. Was it her old Bug?
Although it was far from pretty – the car’s color had faded, and her wheels rotted – Dorset immediately recognized her long-lost bug. Yes, it was Penny, and she was looking for a new owner.
Right away, Dorset reached out to the seller and offered to buy the car on the spot for $525. Funny enough, Penny hadn’t forgotten her either. A custom decal, reading “Amanda” was still stuck on the car’s back windshield. When the seller “realized it was really my car, he says, ‘Oh my, your name is still on the back window,’” she said.
Today, Penny sits at Dorset’s father’s house in Green Bay, Va., awaiting their next adventure. Whether that’s on the road or as a static piece of history remains to be seen. “I don’t care,” says Dorset, “as long as it’s mine again.”