Wow, this column sure has been gathering dust lately. What used to be this site’s most popular feature seems to have taken an extended vacation on the back burner. Parenthood Round 2 seems to be the reason for that. However, the kids are asleep and I’m sitting in a lounge chair on my new backyard patio in a cool breeze. It is dark, and lightning occasionally appears from a storm that is receding to the east. Quite an inspiring setting, really.
In the time since I last wrote, I have attended the Stirling auto market, but skipped out on Barrie. I have lucked into picking up two outstanding batches of plates, and I have listened from the sidelines while people raved about the ALPCA convention in Texas. Oh, yeah—I also received a testy message from some thin-skinned pinhead who didn’t like something I wrote.
So, where to begin...? I guess Stirling, the small automotive flea market in May that provides lots of treasures for young, old, and geeky. I brought my four-year-old daughter with me to go “treasure hunting.” Any time I spent looking through greasy crates of plates was inevitably matched in the form of looking through boxes of toys. I didn’t expect to run into Eric Vettoretti that day—he had something else going on—but his plans changed and he also got up insanely early to make the pre-dawn drive to Stirling. As is our custom, we joined forces and pooled all our finds into one pile, to be sorted out later. This is a very cool way to look for plates because it eliminates all competition and one need not stress out over trying to beat the other guy to the finds of the day. That worked well for me, since, with daughter in tow, I was looking through as many Barbies and plastic bracelets as plates.
In the end, neither of us found anything to add to our collections, but we did make a few YOM scores that we divvied up before parting ways. Sort of how it worked out last year, except for the Barbies.
A few weeks later, the Barrie automotive market was held. It was a painful decision, but I opted to stay home so we could host a garage sale. My home had become cluttered with surplus baby items, and I needed the space back to store my license plate collection, among other things. I read with interest the e-mail dispatches of various friends who went to Barrie and scored some interesting finds. Too bad I missed it this time around.
On Father's Day, I brought my daughter to the Kemptville Father's Day car show, just to take a look around. This event marked the first time that I had ever seen one of my sold YOM pairs attached to a vehicle-- and about time, too-- I had made about 210 sales at that point and was starting to wonder if I'd ever see my handiwork on the road. We saw a few interesting vehicles with YOM plates, and although my daughter actually took a couple of license plate pics for me (she begged), I think her favourite part of the show was the kiddie train.
In early July, the annual ALPCA Convention was held in Arlington, Texas. I wasn’t in attendance. Since I collect Ontario plates almost exclusively, I wouldn’t expect to find much of interest in such a southern location. Having gone to the Tucson convention in 2003 and found very little, I prefer to wait for the conventions that are located a little closer to home. Well, my family situation also prefers it that way.
Although I wasn’t there, I will nonetheless offer commentary on one of the displays there. I will not use the collector’s name here, but everyone who’s a member of ALPCA knows who is the mastermind behind the display of bashed number 1 plates (plates that were cut apart and reconstructed to appear as a short #1 issue). This display received a lot of attention at the convention and a lot of related web chatter ensued on the plate geek forums. I gather that the display wasn’t entered for judging on the grounds that it contained two absolutely fake plates made from balsa wood. However, had the wooden plates been left home, would it have been eligible for an award? Should it be?
The way ALPCA has “brought me up”, I’ve been taught that fakes are a no-no. You’re supposed to avoid them, surrender them to the club when you get stuck with one, and for heaven’s sake, don’t make them like Repro Bob does. Repro Bob is the scourge of the plate collecting world because he makes fake plates that get sold, swapped, and lost—and thirty years later, there’s no one left who has kept track of the fact that it’s a fake. Your super-rare 1938 motorcycle dealer plate? It was made in 1983 in some guy’s basement. Do you want to pay $80 for that? I thought not.
ALPCA’s stance on fake plates is as follows, and I quote: "An ALPCA member who offers, in a transaction, any plate not officially sanctioned by the proper issuing authority and manufactured during the period of intended original use as depicted by the validation marking on the plate, tab, or decal as appropriate, is subject to suspension from ALPCA."
This basically means that you can’t offer a fake plate for trade or sale to another collector. It doesn’t actually say anything about making them, which is counter to the general attitude of the club. We’ve got people who get up in arms when people sell real plates on eBay with improper date stickers, with the intent of making the plates seem older than they really are, to the end of circumventing the eBay 5-year plate rule. People get hot under the collar about that, and some even want ALPCA to suspend these people. But this isn’t against the rules any more than Repro Bob’s handiwork, and I suppose, the making of the fake-number-1 display.
Those who have no issue with the display are generally of the opinion that no collector would ever be fooled by a chopped, square-shaped, repainted number 1 plate. But what about a beginning collector? Someone young who has read about number 1 plates, but never seen one before. Caveat emptor, they say. That doesn’t sit well with me, and so I agree that fake plates should not be permitted inside the playground fence that is ALPCA. It won’t stop fakes from being made, but at least it will curtail chance that someone might burn themselves.
That bring said, I did enjoy the display. It must have taken a lot of work and hopefully, it was made entirely out of junk plates with missing sections or rust holes that would never otherwise see the light of day on a convention floor. I suppose the fact that it wasn’t eligible for an award is enough of a compromise for me. But with all the work put into them, you can bet they’ll be kept in a collection, and eventually, if they’re not swapped to other collectors, they may be dispersed in an estate sale. And once the buyer lists them on eBay or some other future sale forum, there’s nothing to stop these fakes from being misrepresented as the real thing. Oh, I’m so confused.
On July 11, I attended the 10th anniversary of the Merrickville Cruise and Shop for the first time. It was also the first time I had ever signed up as a vendor at a flea Market style event (not counting all those times I’ve had trade tables of plates at Acton / St. Kitts / Grimsby). I teamed up with Eric Vettoretti to sell, or try to sell, YOM pairs of plates. Foot traffic was high and I handed out lots of business cards while perfecting my sales pitch. In the end, I managed to sell a pair of 1965 plates, which alone more than paid for our vending spot. Eric sold a pair also, as well as a 1947 single. It was a neat show with hundreds of vehicles to see—Everything from a 1923 Model T all the way up to that dumb kid who cruised into the field in a Ford Focus and popped the hood. His car had chrome spinners and almost-no-profile tires, and all kinds of other cheesy aftermarket stuff, but face it— a Ford Focus is not impressive as a show car, no matter what kind of crap you hang from it.
This summer has been a good one in terms of pulling plates from the collecting netherworld into my world—meaning, picking up collections from people who have inherited collections, but are non-collectors themselves. These sorts of finds are really fun to sniff out when they bear fruit. For example, I discovered, through online sleuthing, that there was a nice run of older Ontario doctor plates needing a new home. I had been running them at one point, but gave up—and now I have a run going back to the 1930s, including a pair of reflective 1939s. I’m still not sure what to do with it—I know other guys who collect docs far more avidly than I—and some of these pairs are YOMable—or should I just keep them all? Decisions, decisions.
Speaking of adding plates to my collection, I was fortunate enough to acquire a newer red, black and white dealer plate from Matt Embro, which significantly upgrades the previous dealer plate from my collection. The previous one has a story behind it: It was confiscated because the user defaced the plate and tried to turn a “4” into a “1” by banging part of the 4 flat, and covering the dented area with some kind of tape. By the time I acquired it, the 4 had been hammered back and repainted, although the damage was still obvious. I have another deal in the works, but it’s a sensitive situation, and I can’t blab about it here at this time—but it’s a doozy and I can’t wait to add it to my collection.
I spend my summer evenings relaxing after the wife and kids are asleep. And by relaxing, I mean to say that I work in my garage, either tinkering with Volkswagen parts, or restoring old Ontario plates for my YOM sale stock. I typically have a cup of tea or coffee with me (beer isn’t conducive to performing quality restoration work), and I turn the radio on and listen to the Blue Jays game. My baseball fandom has surged and ebbed over the years, and right now, I’m in the middle of a baseball kick—all on the radio. I’ve listened to dozens of games intently, but only watched parts of one or two games in the past couple of years. If it’s a Saturday night, I turn my dial to CBC and listen to Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap or Saturday Night Blues. Then I stand there with the garage door open and just tinker into the night. A few years ago, that would have been far from my ideal evening, but as a parent of two, the tranquil quiet of a summer night is impossible to pass up.
In a summer of firsts, August 8 was the first time I ever brought a show car to a car show. I drove Greta, my ’71 Beetle, to Volksfest 19, which was advertised as the final year of the event, as the organizer was apparently bowing out (turns out now that Volksfest will continue next year under the management of the Ottawa Vee-Dubbers). The show is held in Embrun, Ontario, in the unfortunately named Yahoo Park. The park is divided in half by a row of tall trees. The larger west half hosts the water-cooled crowd, with their Jettas, Golfs, and other new VW models. The smaller east side is reserved for the air-cooled folks, driving their Bugs, Buses, Karmann Ghias, Things, and other miscellaneous VWs with air-cooled engines that rat-a-tat past you.
I pulled into a spot shaded by trees and got to work putting my spare Bug parts on the lawn in front of Greta. When I bought her, I also picked up an assortment of engine and exhaust parts, which were now crowding my garage. Volksfest turned out to be a great place to disperse them. I sold $100 worth of parts very easily, and all the large and bulky items went like lightning. All told, I sold a muffler, a set of heat exchangers, an electrical generator (predates the alternator), extra seat belts, a couple of fuel pumps, and various other items for cheap. The result? Lots of extra space in my garage, and a little more weight in my wallet.
I did bring my YOM stock and handed out a few cards, but made no firm YOM sales. I do have a couple of people interested in what I’m restoring, however. The Ontario YOM program has a long way to go—many people don’t know about it, or don’t understand the difficulty in locating a set of plates that will be registerable to a same-year vehicle. At the show, there were lots of older VWs, but mine was one of only two vehicles with sets of vintage plates legally attached. I did see a few stuck on the fronts of some Quebec-based cars, just for show. Quebec issues only a single rear plate, so you can put whatever you want on the front.
The fellow from whom I purchased Greta came to the show to look around. It was a bittersweet reunion for him—he misses the car that he named (I like the name, and have kept it). One day, when the kids are out of the house, he’ll buy another Beetle, but that doesn’t stop him from checking out Kijiji regularly! We chatted for a while and I showed him the few changes I had made—a large welded patch on the driver’s side floor pan, the Aussie speedometer that reads in kilometres per hour (quite rare), and the older-style steering wheel. He lives in Quebec, which has no special license plate program, but he wanted a plate that was befitting of a car like Greta. He pulled a few strings at the Quebec DMV and managed to get regular passenger plate 971-KDF. The mumber matches the year of the car, and KDF-Wagen was the original name of the Beetle back when it was being designed by Ferdinand Porsche, under Hitler’s influence, in Nazi Germany. KDF stands for Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy).
I drive a Super Beetle, which was a modified version of the regular Beetle, also known as the Standard Beetle. Both versions were sold concurrently through the 1970s. 1971 was the first model year for Super Beetles. The easiest way to tell a Super from a Standard is to open the front trunk and look for the spare tire. If it is standing up, you have a Standard. If it lies flat in a recessed area of the floor, you have a Super. But to look at a Beetle on the road, or parked with the trunk closed—how can you tell the difference? There are a few ways, some of which I have learned for myself. Although this column is supposed to be about license plates, I will now educate you on how to spot the difference between Standard and Super Beetles.
Look at the windshield. If it is flat, you probably have a standard Beetle. If it is curved, you definitely have a Super Beetle from 1973 or later. Further to this, the Super dashboard is different—it has a hood over the instrument cluster with all the other switches and lights in a horizontal area below. The Standard dash is entirely vertical with no hood. But Super Beetles from ’71 and ’72 have a flat windshield and the same vertical dash as standard Beetles. So how can you tell the difference for those years?
If you can look under the front fender behind the tires, you may see a MacPherson strut with a spring. If so, it’s a Super Beetle. If you see nothing back there, it’s a Standard Beetle using a torsion bar system for its front suspension. The MacPherson struts allowed for space at the bottom of the front trunk to lay the spare tire flat (torsion bars otherwise take up space and require the spare be placed upright). But let’s say you can’t get a good look at the struts. How else can you tell the difference? Move onto point 3. For months, I read in various VW blogs about a more “bulbous” front end on the Super, but I couldn’t figure this out without seeing them side-by-side—but Volksfest provided a great opportunity to compare:
From the front, on the trunk lid, the Super Beetle has a wider bottom edge that extends horizontally by a few inches. The Standard Beetle has more of a pointed corner at the bottom edge of its hood. If you look at the debossed areas on the hood to either side of the centre line, you can see that on the Super Beetle, they are wider. This same widening on the Super Beetle causes its headlights to be placed slightly further apart than the Standard Beetle. The fenders themselves may be a little wider on the Super than the Standard, but I didn’t have my ruler with me.
From the side, look at the handle on the front of the trunk lid. The Standard Beetle’s trunk lid (red, in foreground), near the handle, extends downward without any such forward bulge. The Super Beetle’s lid (beige, in background) has a way of curving outward toward the front in this area, not unlike the pregnant belly of a beautiful woman (sorry).
So, this is how my spring and summer have turned out—and I still have a few things to look forward to in the fall, such as Barrie, Grimsby, and ongoing restoration of plates for the YOM crowd. I hope I can do these things, at any rate—like I mentioned, having two kids can take unpredictable bites out of these geeky events.