When Parker James was 4 years old, his mother rented Herbie Rides Again, the second in a series of movies starring the eponymous white Volkswagen Beetle. James sat in front of the screen, mesmerized, watching the movie over and over again. Now 28, James still remembers his favorite scene: when Herbie’s gang of Beetle friends follow him to rescue an old firehouse.
Since then, James has built a Beetle gang of his own. His collection includes 647 models given to him by family and friends in addition to 16 different full-size Volkswagen vehicles he’s owned over the years, the first of which was the four-speed 1963 movie-car replica that James and his father restored together when James first learned how to drive.
James has invested heavily in his cars since then. He estimates that his collection has cost him nearly $50,000, not including restoration and upkeep, much of which James does himself.
“Volkswagen is more than a car,” says James “It is a passion. There is something about them – what you see is what you get.”
This passion comes through in the knowledge that James has amassed over the years, uncovering the facts of each Beetle that interests him, right down to the paint job. When he picked up a 1972 standard Beetle from a friend who had lost interest in restoring it, James painted the car the original clementine orange color.
James says he frequently relies on the community of VW owners to find just the right car. He bought a 1974 standard Beetle from the original owner who had all the original receipts and records going back to when they bought the car new in 1975. She even ran a background check to make sure the car was going to a good home. In a separate instance, James bought a 2002 Volkswagen Beetle with 72,000 miles on it from the original owner. “They kept it in a garage on carpet floors. I use it as my driver to this day,” James said.
One of his most exciting finds, though, was a 1974 Beetle convertible that James went from his home in Hollister, California to Oakland to retrieve. Upon arrival, he recognized the car as a Sun Bug. Out of the 12,964 VW bug convertibles produced in 1974, only 300 were Sun Bugs. James lamented the missing original seats and door panels, but listed the details still intact: the Sun Gold Metallic paint under a coat of red, a Rosewood dash trim, January 1974 production date, four-spoke steering wheel and black VIN tag.
In addition to the Sun Bug, James hopes to add a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and a 1973 Volkswagen Thing to his collection soon. For now, he and his father are restoring a 1974 Super Beetle Convertible.
Even as his Beetle fleet grows, one of his most standout memories is still connected to that old movie. In 2005, for the Herbie Reloaded premiere, James was in the thick of the action with his replica, driving across country as part of a cruise and parking in front of the theater. “People were taking pictures at stop lights and at gas stations coming up to me telling me stories about their cars.”
There’s just something special about your first Beetle, no matter how big the collection.