Eric Shoemaker had no real interest in cars. As a designer and entrepreneur, he primarily took an interest in hobbies like woodworking, furniture restoration, and photography. Today, however, he not only owns a business with his wife Amanda that restores air-cooled German engine components, but his website (1967beetle.com) is a go-to resource for tech tips, classifieds, and Volkswagen stories from around the globe. And what he attributes as the catalyst for his newfound passion is a 1967 Beetle his grandfather drove that almost ended up in the crusher.
Eric’s grandpa, Frank R. Shoemaker Sr., was 54 years old when he purchased the family Beetle brand new. As someone who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, Frank bought the car in December 1966 because it was economical and reliable as a piece of quality German engineering that could get him to and from work. For young Eric, however, the Beetle was more than a car—it was a vehicle, literally, for drawing the family together.
“I have many fond memories riding around in our ’67 Beetle with my family—that ‘Volkswagen smell’ and the cadence of an air-cooled engine,” Eric said, who lives with Amanda and seven-year-old twins in Decatur, Ga. “It’s special to me now for obvious reasons—nostalgia from the family history and the connection to my grandparents.”
As studies have found over the years, car culture and consumption are never simply about consumers’ making economic choices to meeting a material need—aesthetics, emotional responses and the ability to build relations are driving factors in the cars they choose to buy and drive. In fact, Volkswagen’s 2019 SUV survey revealed that more than 80 percent of parents today view their cars as a place where important family discussions take place, creating a new space for family time, whether they are running errands or on a family road trip. It should be no surprise that many fans of vintage Volkswagen models feel an emotional connection to their vehicles because of how it ties them back to their families.
For grandparents like Margo Huizing and her husband, Tony, their Volkswagen camper is a tool they use to build lasting memories with their six grandchildren. After retiring 10 years ago, the couple has spent their time split between living in a sailboat off the coast of Baja California and living out of their 1982 Vanagon Westfalia for eight months of the year. Since 2000, the Huizings have traveled to 49 of the 50 states in their van (Hawaii is out since they can’t get there by car) and have created a special way to connect with their grandchildren from afar.
“Our grandkids have grown up with our lifestyle, and when we’re on the road I make maps so they can follow us when we travel and color in all the places we’ve been,” said Margo. “I make a point to send them pictures and we bring them home things that are not traditional souvenirs—like volcano dust from Alaska—so they can learn about our adventures and we can teach them to follow their dreams.”
For Eric, the nostalgic tie between his family’s history and the Beetle came later in life when he learned that the car was sitting unused in his grandpa’s garage.
“I asked my Dad about it because I thought it could be a fun creative side project, then one day, my Grandpa called me up and simply said, ‘Come over, let’s talk about it’,” said Eric. His grandfather had all the car’s original records since it left the factory.
“The window dealership sticker, bill of sale, all service records, everything,” said Eric. “He proudly signed the title and handed over the keys.”
The car did not run well at all at first, and the restoration journey was long, so Eric and Amanda created their website in 2009 to share their progress on the Beetle. As he worked, the site became a canvas to tell his family story, and the catalyst for eventually launching their business, Lane Russell LLC.
The most rewarding moment for Eric, however, was when he finally drove the fully restored Beetle to his grandpa’s house for the first time. “I can still see Grandpa standing in the driveway as I pulled up the hill to his house saying, ‘Well, I’ll be damned, Eric!’” said Eric. “My Grandpa left us last year at 99, but our family ‘67 Beetle lives on as a symbol of hard work, creativity, and my family history.”
For Margo, the family Volkswagen symbolizes more than simply building memories, but an important tool to instill life lessons and pass on what she and Tony have learned over the years.
“I tell them: ‘If you can imagine it, you can do it,’ and I show them how through the way we live our life,” said Margo. “I want to instill in them that there is more to the world than sitting on the couch with a video game—there is the possibility of today. Our van gives us that.”