My first memories of my father’s car are of the VW Variant Sports Model 1966 car. I was very small when my Dad purchased his second car from Asmara for 6500/- Birr. I dredged for any old photographs and was able to get only two.
The little boy on the left is my younger brother, I am sitting in the middle, and my mom is holding me.
The photographs were taken at our house in Adowa, before my parents were transferred to Arba-Minch in the South of Ethiopia. This was a car with a 1600c.c. four cylinder boxer air-cooled engine. It was coloured the lightest sky blue, and was an impressive car. There were some unique features about this car which I still remember. first and foremost was the fact that this was a vehicle with an air-cooled engine. I Asked my Dad why he replaced his Fiat 1500 with this one, and he told me that the fiat’s radiator was susceptible to leakage, thanks to the gravel-roads that existed in those times!
The VW Variant sports model car was also a unique car because the rear suspension was designed in such a way that with greater speed, and greater weight, the rear tyres would spread out wards, thus increasing the stability of the vehicle! Another rather innovative feature of this vehicle was the fact that there were two carburettors which fed two cylinders each, and tuning both was a nightmare! Another innovative feature of this particular vehicle was that it had a rear mounted engine below a lid, which when shut down could be used as a spacious luggage compartment. During the days of Socialism, when there was stringent checking of vehicles, Dad would open only one bonnet. Thus there was a dicky in front as well as in the rear!
The death-knell of this vehicle was sounded when on a trip from Arba-Minch to Dire Dawa, the engine oil sump hit a rock hidden below water in a culvert, and a breach took place and all the engine-oil got drained out. This happened because I had challenged my father to go faster than a train running on a parallel track! My dad got the vehicle repaired at a garage in Soddo but they didn’t fix it right. We had the VW Variant for a number of years in Arba-Minch, and when my parents were transferred to Addis Abeba, my father drove it all the way. He met with some trouble when the front brakes began to play foul and gripped the front Disks. Later when he reached Debre-Zeit close to Addis Abeba, he was forced to crash it into a City bus when the brakes failed! Being a sturdy car, the damage to the front was minimal and he was able to continue to Addis where we awaited him! We kept the vehicle for some years, my father having got it repaired by an excellent mechanic. When I returned as a second year student from college in India, I was amazed to see that my father had purchased a VW.beetle. It seemed a let down after the VW Variant sports which had been a more powerful and sportier car. I was able to get another couple of photographs of the beetle which I have pasted below:
The above picture was taken before my dad got the car painted.In the photograph there is my Mom, my younger brother, and my sister.
In the above picture you can see my Mom and Dad in their relatively younger days!The above picture was taken when my parents along with my brother and sister were on the way to the crater lake in Debre-Zeit. Overheating was common in the VW Beetle, so you can see that the rear engine compartment lid is open! What made matters worse for both the models was the fact that they both had mechanical diaphragm petrol pumps which began to gasp as the liquid petrol turned into vapour when the engine over-heated!
The VW Variant car is an important part of my childhood memories because I grew with it. We travelled long distances in that vehicle and it served us faithfully. I remember going to sleep on the rear parcel tray, looking at the lights gliding through as my Dad drove large distances! The beetle gave a lot of problems, and I didn’t see it much as by then I was away in India studying in College!