Historically, VWs, and foreign cars in general for that matter, were viewed with suspicion in the UK. How times have changed! Car buyers were slowly won over by a handful of trendsetters who put their faith in the first ‘strange German cars’ and started driving around in Beetles, Variants and early buses. One such pioneer was William Hart, who had his own photographic business in Stourbridge – an enterprise which continues to flourish under the direction of his two sons, Linton and Gordon – the former of which tells the fascinating and previously untold story of his family’s long-lasting association with VWs which started soon after WW2…
“Our father William R. Hart was stationed in Germany in 1947 while serving his national service with the British Army. This was when he had his first glimpse of a Volkswagen Beetle. The vehicle in question was owned by the British Army and was in British Army livery. William soon became aware of the history behind the Beetle and how the Volkswagen Factory in Wolfsburg was resurrected with the help of Major Ivan Hirst and the British Army.
“In 1958 my father started his photographic company – Hart Photography Ltd in Lye, Stourbridge, West Midlands. A large proportion of the business involved photographing weddings and commercial photography requiring the use of a reliable car to get him to his appointments on time. Unfortunately, most cars back then weren’t too reliable and a new car was out of the question due to money constraints. However by 1966 the business had become successful and he could afford to buy his first new car. He recalled the attributes of that first Volkswagen Beetle he encountered all those years ago – they had no radiator, so no water leaks or boiling over which was a common problem with many cars at the time. They were renowned for being reliable in all weather conditions hot or cold. So he decided to look into buying a new Volkswagen. Needing boot space to carry all of his photographic equipment a Beetle would be too small, so he decided on a brand new D-plate Variant instead which he purchased from his local VW agent Mill Street Garage in Stourbridge. This proved to be a good reliable car and ideal for his needs.
“Following the purchase he established a good relationship with the dealership and they subsequently hired him on many occasions to take photographs for publicity purposes. In 1966 he travelled to The Port of Ramsgate in Kent to photograph new Beetles being delivered from Germany and unloaded from the Arete. In 1968 the dealership hired him to take photographs of the frontage of the garage and the workshops. During this assignment William wanted to get a better vantage point while photographing the frontage so he flagged down a passing street light repair truck. The driver allowed him to stand in the cage and he was elevated into the air to gain a better angle for the photograph. You could do that sort of thing in those days!
“In November 1968 my father was booked to photograph a wedding in Germany. It turned out the groom worked for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg so while he was there he was given a tour of the factory. While on the visit he was asked what he thought of his Variant – they were extremely interested to know how he was getting on with the car and his thoughts on the service he was getting back in England. Bare in mind VW was still quite new back in Great Britain and there was still quite a stigma attached to buying anything German or foreign.
“In 1967 my mother, Mavis, passed her driving test in the driving school’s Beetle and my father purchased a beige 1964, three year old B-plate 1200 Beetle for her from Mill Street Garage. On August 1st 1968 he upgraded his car again and this time bought a brand new Devon conversion Camper from the dealer. Prior to taking delivery he had told me and my brother Gordon that he was having a new Beetle with curtains. Alas, we weren’t very impressed! However, we were relieved and surprised when he arrived home in the new camper van!
“In 1972 Mavis’s Beetle was exchanged for a newer red H-plate 1970 1300, again bought from Mill Street Garage with my uncle becoming the new custodian of the old beige Beetle. In fact, at one point in the ’60s both my uncles owned VWs!
“I took over ownership of the red 1970 1300 Beetle in 1976 as my first car. I kept it for three years and then swapped it for a 1100 VW Golf. My brother Gordon also kept up with tradition and had various other models from the VW family including an Audi 80 in the early 1980s, a Golf GTi and an Audi Coupé GT.
“Then, for a number of years the family was VW free – that was until I purchased a 1973 1303 Beetle for my wife in 1989. Unfortunately, despite looking good on the surface, it turned out to be in quite a sorry state. Not wanting to see a Beetle die I spent the next 18 months fully restoring it and also changing the colour from metallic turquoise to Porsche Guards Red. This car was kept for about three years before it was sold and replaced by a 1300 Polo. Then in 1991 my father bought another VW Camper Van, a T25 Autosleeper Hightop. He was thinking about retiring and bought this to do some touring.
“Sadly, there aren’t any VWs in the family at present but the air-cooled Volkswagen bug stays with us! Myself and Gordon now run the portrait studio Portraits by Hart.
I am an award winning photographer and digital artist and many of the digital art paintings that I create in my spare time involve Beetles, Campers and Karmann Ghias amongst other classic cars. The photographs that my father took of VWs all those years ago have been made available to view and purchase from The-Archive.co.uk.”