The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors, Worthing, UK
“It would be dishonest if I used the cliché “It seemed like only yesterday” about our photoshoot of a new Volkswagen 1500 “June” Beetle on the forecourt of West Sussex Motors Ltd. on 6th June 1970 in Worthing, UK. It was a big chunk of my lifetime ago with half a century of time having passed since the day. Sure I remember it but with memories – as so many are – supported and kept alive by the photographs.
What would have been impossible for us to guess though on that Saturday morning heading into Worthing in a contemporary pattern of starting the weekend as family by going into town for shopping was how significant that day was to become.
That photoshoot was a spontaneous response to the sheer vibrance of the car in the June sunshine. A very attractive subject for us with family interests that included both photography and an enthusiasm for Volkswagens.
Photographs of any of such Special Editions on a dealer’s forecourt when brand new are few and far between: I am only aware of one other set of equivalent contemporary photographs that surfaced recently on Facebook of a VW dealership in Switzerland. The fact that our photoshoot included so many frames further compounds their value as a definitive historic record in that the external details of Beetle were effectively a 360° capture. The fact that the Beetle was was displayed with an advertising board above the roof fully detailing the package – and selling price – was, as it were, the icing on the cake.
As so often is the case with photographic evidence the slides speak for themselves as definitive evidence of the what the June Beetle Edition comprised of in terms of equipment and specification. What, in that era, cameras did not record though was the date of the frames having been taken on. I am thankful then that my late father jotted down details of when most of his photographs were taken in notebooks that remain with the photos to this day. It is for this reason the we know for certain the photographs were taken 50 years ago.
However those note books revealed more information as well. Until today I had thought that photoshoot was taken with two cameras – mine and my fathers. My set of sides having been “lost” to me over 20 years ago but my father’s remained stored much as they had been since being taken. It was from these I made the first set of scans back in 2014 in the very early days of getting involved in helping Colin E. Shinkin with his awe inspiring website work attempting to catalogue details of all the SEBeetle models. My clarity of memory will probably never fade about the email he sent me in response to my telling him about the photos: “thats rocking horse poo”. A phrase that has since become used on several more occasions since when for significant new SEB information surfaces.
Earlier this week I put together a nostalgia laced feature for the Worthing Herald newspaper to be published on 11th June. Even at that stage I believed there to have been just two sets of photos. Today however delving deeper into that notebook after noticing different processing dates on the slide frames I find there was in fact three sets of slides. The first taken on an Olympus FT and processed in September 1970. The second taken on an Olympus Pen D and processed in May 1971. The third set (mine) taken on an Olympus Quickmatic EE S.
The first two films were 35mm, 20 frame, Kodak Kodachrome II roll film which meant when used with the FT and Pen D which were both “half frame” format cameras they delivering twice the number of slides. So in this case 40 per film. The downside of course is that 35mm half frame slides are devils own job to scan to get a good resolution image. 3 slides survive from the FT batch and 6 from the Pen D batch making 9 in total.
The third film was a 120 cassette format, on this occasion Agfacolour. I cannot remember how many frames I took. I can account for four and believe there were more. One I can be certain of because it was used in the 1983 Volkswagen Audi CAR Magazine series of articles that I wrote in collaboration with Chris Barber. Three more I can account for because they were sent to me on short term loan by the current owner to scan for this celebration. Interestingly, and very sadly, the dye Agfa used in their processing has deteriorated noticeably giving poor scan results whereas the Kodachrome remains pretty true to its original tones and rendered good scans despite the challenges of working with such small frames of film. These three have never been published until today.
So in total 12 frames survive which is a comparative abundance of archive material.
The fascinating story of the 1970 “Spring Editions” of which the June Beetle was but one part is documented in SEBeetles.com. It is story that really started gathering momentum only in December 2014 when I picked up on a discussion thread on TheSamba.com website posted in the April of that year by an Italian enthusiast. A further boost to our research came with a “find” at the Beaulieu International AutoJumble in 2016. The work is still ongoing and whilst the period of SEB production has now become a finite one with Volkswagen’s abandonment of the Beetle as a model the tracking down of missing chapters of the full SEB production history would appear to be never ending.
It was a slightly sobering thought that occurred to me today in that the European production phase (by factories in Germany and Belgium) of SEB history totals less that 20% of the SEB timeline. Increasingly over the past three of four years the vigour behind SEB research has been provided by Jan Walter and whilst Colin E.Shinkin and I aspire to may more years active involvement yet in recording that history reality is that it is the passion of “young blood” like Jan is very much needed to keep the work moving forward in the future. After all it is a little scary to realise now that the story of SEB production is the history I remember from having been there …for 50 years.”
Stephen Paul Hardy, 5th June 2020.