Kathleen Brooks purchased her first Volkswagen Beetle in December of 1966. Collecting a red 1967 model from Riverside, California, the Bug was affectionately dubbed ‘Annie’ by all those who sailed in her.
A true enthusiast, Kathleen used Annie as daily transportation for 51 years, racking up an impressive 350,000 miles – enough the circle the globe no less than 14 times. Brooks, now aged 73, still drives Annie the Volkswagen to work.
Brooks works with breast-cancer patients and survivors to provide comfort and cosmetic care during treatment and recovery. A three-time breast cancer survivor herself, Brooks says Annie was a constant conversation starter, but also “always there for me.”
Upon hearing about Kathleen’s special relationship with her Bug, Volkswagen of North America insisted on undertaking an unusual project – restoring Annie at the home of American Beetle production in VW’s Mexican Puebla factory.
Over the last year, a team of some 60 Volkswagen employees and apprentices reworked Kathleen’s Beetle and restored it back to factory-quality specifications. Several custom touches were also added to celebrate Kathleen’s dedication.
The separation between Brooks and her Beetle had proved a testing time, but this week the pair were reunited. Meeting the team who resorted her beloved Annie, Kathleen conversed with key members of the Volkswagen technicians who led Annie’s restoration to thank them for their efforts.
"We often hear stories of dedicated Volkswagen owners, but there was something special about Kathleen and Annie that we felt we needed to honor," said Derrick Hatami, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "The original Beetle launched our business in the United States. This isn’t just a Beetle, it’s a member of her family, and after all the time our employees have spent with this special vehicle, we feel Annie is a part of our family as well."
"I’ve said many times she and I are so much alike because she’s old, she’s faded, she’s dinged, she’s dented, she’s rusted, but you know what? She keeps running," explained Brooks with a laugh. "And as long as I take as good care of her as I can, she’s going to continue to run."
Even with Brooks’ best previous efforts, Annie required substantial work as the renovation started. The floorpan had rusted through while the suspension, transmission and electrical components provided cause for serious migraines.
Over 11 months, the Puebla team replaced roughly 40 percent of Annie’s parts and restored 357 original pieces, right down to recreating all the stickers that Brooks had slapped onto the body and windows over the last five decades.
To properly restore the Bug’s faded red paint – well beyond a patina state –, the renovation experts matched an original shade from the inside of the glovebox, sandblasted the body, repaired with a mix of period-correct and updated parts, and then reassembled.
To ensure Annie sees another 50 years, several vehicle components were restored to better-than-new condition, including disc brakes that were a upgrade found on later Beetles produced in Mexico and an AM/FM/Bluetooth stereo designed to mimic the look and feel of original Bug radios.
The wiring was completely redone; the transmission rebuilt and suspension upgraded. The engine was completely disassembled, cleaned, updated and rebuilt. Even the seats received a special touch, with 'Kathleen' and 'Annie' embroidered in a classic VW font over new leather.
The project goal, explained project manager and mechatronics engineer Augusto Zamudio, was not to ‘create a museum quality Beetle’, but to bring Annie back to a state where Kathleen could drive and enjoy her for many more years to come.
"When Annie arrived, our team members quickly understood the connection Kathleen had with her car and embraced this project wholeheartedly," said Steffen Reiche, CEO of Volkswagen of Mexico. 'Restoring this car posed a number of challenges, but also provided a demonstration of the dedication we put into every Volkswagen we build.'
When Brooks parted with Annie, she wrote a heartfelt note to the Puebla team members thanking them for their efforts and asking them to take care of her special car. Zamudio says the feeling is mutual – and the team wrote Brooks back a note of their own.
'This was a labor of love for all of us. It was emotional to see Annie go after all the time we have spent working on her, but we are happy Kathleen and her can be reunited.'