When I was 16-years old, I bought my first car, a green 1964 Volkswagen Beetle. I paid $800 for it. It needed a tune-up and a polish, and over the next 12 months, I helped my Dad get ‘Bertie’ up and running.
It was a car that niggled its way into my heart and it’s the car started my Volkswagen obsession. I remember crying two years later as I watched it drive away for the last time with its new owner, ironically a 16-year old girl.
Fast forward to 2014, and Dad and I completed a long restoration of a 1965 Beetle. This car will remain with me. I’ve learned my lesson.
All these memories came flooding back when I visited my mechanic recently and saw another Beetle sitting in the corner of the workshop which caught my eye. All the panels were removed, it was resplendent in undercoat, and it was basically stripped bare.
It belongs to Briannen Holyoak, who is 16 and the daughter of my mechanic, Mark. She is restoring it on her own with the guidance of her dad. Instantly, I was reminded of the many hours I spent in the shed with my dad restoring my Beetle. Before even meeting her, I already had a connection with Briannen.
I wanted to catch up with her and follow her progress over the 12-month project, and luckily she agreed.
Strap yourself in for this series as we get to witness her putting this car together piece by piece. We will be there for the highs and lows of completing a project that not many 16-year olds can say they have done.
This first episode we put the spotlight on Briannen as we get to understand the person behind the spanner and screwdriver.
“I’ve been coming into the workshop since I was very small, so I’ve grown up with cars and car events – I naturally got into it,” says Briannen. “I’ve always said I was going to have a Beetle when I grew up. I just like Beetles; they’re cute.”
Briannen has loved building things since she was young, with LEGO forming a major part of her childhood.
“I remember Dad was building a Kombi LEGO, and he wouldn’t let any of us touch it, so we would have to watch him build it,” she says.
“Growing up and loving LEGO, you would sit there and watch your Dad put this Kombi together and I was like, ‘I can help!’
“I’ve always had the feeling that if I was going to be getting a car, I’d have to build it, and I was really happy with that because I like putting stuff together.”
Moving on from LEGO, and to the real deal, she remembers the day she set eyes on her Beetle.
“I came into work one day and Dad had a body of a 1968 Beetle, and he said, ‘that’s your car’. And I said, ‘cool!’,” she grins.
“It was just the body, and it was really rusty. You could punch a hole through that thing. And then he found the 1969 car, and we decided we couldn’t use the body from the ’68, so we would take parts from the ’68 and put it in the ’69.”
After she took a good look at the car, she realised the enormity of a task she had taken on.
“I was very overwhelmed because it’s a very big project to suddenly be introduced to – ‘hey, you’re to be building a car’ – okay, sure thing!”
But she sees the washer bottle half full.
“It isn’t that hard if you put it into sections. If I was told I had to build a car in one day, I’d probably have a mental breakdown,” she laughs.
Briannen has already made a start on her Beetle, beginning the journey in April/May. She’s lowered the front and back end and installed new brake pads.
And she’s already given herself an injury.
“We’ve done lino matting on the inside, which I don’t ever recommend doing. I sliced through my finger. It was very painful. I went to run my hand along the side of the lino to smooth it out, and it got me, because it is basically aluminium, and it hurts,” she says.
She showed me the finger where she cut it a while ago, but I struggled to see the scar through the grease. Briannen isn’t one to worry about breaking a nail, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The dirtier your hands, the more proof you have that you’ve been working,” she beams.
With 35 years of Volkswagen mechanical work under his belt, Mark bought his first VW at age 14, and is the perfect mentor for his daughter, giving her guidance every step of the way.
“Dad will show me how to do one side, and then I’ll mimic it on the other side, or he’ll just point at things, like ‘okay, undo that, that, and that’.”
And that’s exactly what happened when I made my first visit to the workshop. Briannen was sitting on the floor wearing jeans and a Kombi t-shirt that her Dad handed down to her, removing the old brake pad, while her proud Dad looked on.
So, what will her very first car look like once it’s completed?
“It’ll be a light yellow colour with a cream insert. It will have a honeybee on it somewhere because its name is Apis, which is the scientific name for a honeybee.”
I can’t wait to see how ‘Apis’ turns out. Stay tuned for the next instalment of Briannen’s Beetle soon.