When Laura Stahl pulled into her rural Seymour home Saturday morning after a trip to town, she noticed her garage door would not open.
“I pushed my remote, but the door wouldn’t open,” she said. “I thought something was wrong.”
Unbeknownst to her, the door was unlatched because on the other side sat a restored 1971 Volkswagen Beetle for her 70th birthday.
The car also was an anniversary present, as she and her husband, Jon, who restored the vehicle over a span of 20 months, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary June 10.
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The former high school sweethearts first began dating in February 1963.
A few months after dating, Jon purchased a 1959 garnet red rag-topped Bug from money he earned working at a local filling station.
“It was a rare car. They only made that color in that year,” Jon said.
“I loved that car,” Laura added. “We spent a lot of time driving in that car. We took it to college with us every two weeks.”
In those days, Laura teased Jon, saying she would marry him one day just because she loved the car so much. That became a joke with family and friends, one that has lasted throughout the years.
“Even in the last two years, while I was working on this car, that joke would come up,” Jon said.
The couple have owned, restored and sold many cars, particularly various years of the Beetle, but the 1970 Yukon yellow one they owned when they were married remained Laura’s favorite.
Jon still has a photograph in his shop of Laura driving the car while expecting their son, Jason. But it had to be traded off to get a more practical car after Jason came along, Jon said.
“They were fun to drive. Back then, they handled really well and were light and maneuverable and easy on gas mileage,” he said. “They were a cute, stylish car. It’s an icon, especially for the 1960s.”
Laura’s take on the car is a little less technical than her husband’s.
“I like it because it’s fun to drive,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a really cute car.”
Jon found the 1971 version on the internet from a seller in California two and a half years ago and had it shipped to Indiana. He said he was drawn to it because of its condition. It had been in Fresno in the desert, so there was virtually no rust, and the car had not weathered, he said.
Laura said she believed he was working on his next project to restore and sell another car. After all, he had just restored and sold one less than a year ago.
She was wrong.
Jon knew when he bought it that it would be a gift for her 70th birthday and their 50th wedding anniversary.
Thinking back on their joke, he said she finally was going to have her own Bug that he wouldn’t sell. The car even came with an inscribed plate on the dash that reads “Laura’s VW Bug.”
“It’s definitely hers,” he joked. “I thought it would be neat and would be something she would love.”
Jon knew when he bought it that he would need time and a whole lot of work to get it ready.
After driving it over the summer, he stripped the car down to the frame and put it back together with new parts piece by piece, taking the time to reassemble it just right.
He even did the leather stitching on the interior door himself. The only problem occurred when it came time to paint the car after he had primed it. His spray gun clogged, and he ended up having a shop in town do it for him.
Another challenge he faced was finding parts that would fit or even work, given the car’s age.
As a retired home construction business owner, Jon was able to dedicate as much time as he wanted and needed to the project.
“Being retired, I had time to do all this,” he said. “I might work for three hours on it one day and maybe an hour the next. I can’t even estimate the total number of hours I spent on it, but I know it was a lot.”
But in the end, the work was worth it.
“It was heartwarming going out there working on it because I had been planning on this for a long time,” he said. “I can’t think of anything better to do than give her this car.”
When the moment came, Jon was eager for Laura to see it.
He invited their son and two of their closest friends to share the moment.
Jon first gave Laura a card that hinted to the fact she would receive her own Volkswagen Bug someday. As she finished reading the card, he opened the garage door. The moment she saw it, she got emotional.
“It was pretty sentimental,” she said, the memory fresh in her mind. “It brought back a lot of memories.”
Jon said seeing her reaction to the car was a gratifying experience.
The car is special not because of the make or model but because it’s from him, Laura said.
After 50 years together and a joke that has stood the test of time, it seems the joke is now finally on Laura.
The couple plan to drive Laura’s VW Bug for fun and take it to car shows along with their Porsche Spyder.