Here is the first Volkswagen in California

Last week, we ran a story detailing Volkswagen's first foray into America. It was nearly a disaster, as you might recall: Ben Pon's 1949 Beetle was run out of every town up and down the East Coast. Pon soaked up the derision of journalists and dealers, sold one of his "Victory Wagons," paid for his room at the Roosevelt Hotel and booked it back to Rotterdam—only to be replaced by the domineering Max Hoffman.

Marshall Roath paid close attention to these proceedings. In 1952, Roath was fresh out of high school, living in Southern California and more than a little obsessed with foreign cars and sports cars. What's a high-schooler supposed to do? He bought a basket case of a Beetle for $200—and in the process, became the owner of the first Volkswagen ever registered in California.


It was a black 1946, split window, only the second year of production for the car. A GI stationed in Germany had bought it new that year and added cream paint to the sides. When he came back to the States, he brought it with him and gave it to his father who, according to Roath, "used it in a traveling road show along with a Mercedes staff car, and billed them as Hitler's cars." When Roath found the Beetle, it had been partially disassembled, the mechanical brakes were shot, and the GI had attempted to track down and replace a chipped ring gear. Neither he nor his father knew much about Beetles and the GI didn't know where to get parts.

Go to for the rest of Roath's story, including racing up and down to Pebble Beach with Robert Cumberford, and witnessing a nuclear explosion in the Nevada desert.

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