Forget Flowers… Check Out the Shinier Side of Love
“You revolving sonofabitch. I am not taking your ticket."
Mabel Gray Powers, Born around 1890
I’m Susan Anderson (Princess Patina), that’s my great-grandmother, and this is the of the most beautiful Beetle ever built. Sure, I might be a bit biased, but once you’ve heard the story behind Miss Mabel – and if you ever get the chance to see her in person, you’ll probably agree.
Here’s how my dad tells the tale of his grandmother – verifiable if you meet up with any old-timers as you stroll around the square in Athens. It was the early 1960’s, and Mama Girl, as she was called, drove a Cadillac Fleetwood that went on for blocks. She pulled into one of the one-hour parking spots near the courthouse and went about her grocery shopping. When she came out of the store, she encountered Officer Kenny, a young rookie whose job it was to enforce the parking limits.
Officer Kenny would go around to all the parking spots and with a long stick with a piece of white chalk taped to it, mark the back tire of the parked cars. It took one hour for him to make his rounds. When he came back and saw said Fleetwood with its tire marked, he sprang into action with his ticket book.
About this time is when Mama Girl arrived and asked him what he was doing to which he responded, "Miz Doctor Powers, I have to write you a parking ticket because you have overstayed." He handed her the ticket, which she promptly tore up and stepped on, saying, "Kenny, you revolving son of a bitch, I am not taking your ticket." She got in the big Fleetwood and went home.
I can’t even tell you that was the only brush with the law Mabel had had. There was another instance that happened in the 1930’s at her home on 501 North Jefferson Street. It seems her husband was off at his hospital (you can still see the name Powers engraved above the door – now an apartment building). There’d been some problems with break-ins in Athens, and it was a hot summer night – long before air conditioning.
The door was open with only the screen door closed. Mama Girl saw someone out in the yard and shouted out for them to leave. They didn't and she gave no further warning. The perp jumped behind a tree and the next time he moved, shots rang out. He went down in pain, yelling, "Don't shoot, Miz Doctor Powers! It’s the police!”
Pop heard the shots – a distinctive .32 caliber Smith &Wesson top break revolver, also known as a lemon squeezer. It holds five shells, and on this occasion, all were fired. He counted the shots and said, "That's Mabel's gun. I guess I had better go see about it."
The perp, who turned out to be an Athens policeman was on the ground. Pop took him down the block to Powers Hospital and took the bullet out – probably at no charge.
You’d think a society lady, wife of the esteemed Dr. Alvin Dow Powers would have fairly limited dealings with the law. Flower arranging, luncheons, bridge, and a weekly appointment at the local clip and curl to get her hair and nails done (Cherries in the Snow by Revlon – every single time) – that would be how most folks would imagine a Southern lady’s daily life in the middle of the 20th century.
But you’d be wrong in Mabel’s case.
When you grow up hearing stories about a woman that feisty, some level of admiration sticks. I saw some of her legendary traits in my own grandmother, Mabel’s daughter – and have been told by some that that apple (me) didn’t fall far from that tree. While I chalk it up to Scot heritage and being raised in New Jersey, the fact that I now live just miles from the scene of these crimes makes them more relevant than ever.
So, it made perfect sense, when Spook and I came to an arrangement about a restoration he’d build for me, that her name would be Miss Mabel. Jim “Snoopy” Walker, the shop’s artist and one of the owners, as is his custom, balked at first – until the tales were told. Then he understood, and in short order created Mabel’s custom badge, complete with the one-finger salute (this I loved so much that I got a tattoo of it!).
Wait. What? You want to know about the arrangement by which Spook built a car for me? Understandable. After all, most folks end up spending a small fortune having a kustom VW built.
In my case, it was the perfect storm of ancestors, a deal between my writing firm and Airkooled Kustoms, finding the love of a lifetime, and a contest that formed to make Miss Mabel what she is.
The Ancestors Part
You see, my grandfather on my mom’s side was Joe Bowman, the first owner of Mojoe, a ’71 Super. When my brother brought Mojoe to Airkooled Kustoms, I thought he was nuts. Not that he brought it in, but that he was going to spend a ton of money fixing up what a car that, though fondly-remembered, was, at the end of the day… a Super Beetle. I knew next to nothing about Volkswagens back then and never imagined there was so much to learn – or that I’d soon have strong preferences and prejudices about various models, a burning desire to learn to weld, and much less that Spook and I would be in love. But more on that later.
Through a long series of conversations, negotiations, whiteboard strategies, and conference calls, Spook and I came to a business agreement. Back then, the Airkooled website was being held together with spit and duct tape, built on an old platform that was anything but user-friendly. It needed new content, a lot of help on search engine optimization, and an ongoing blog. The business needed press releases, someone to write feature articles for trade publications, and ultimately, a book that could help people understand more about the shop and the restoration process.
The agreement was simple: I’d do all that; Spook would build me a car. Based on market pricing, it was a fair trade, a barter deal that would likely take a couple of years or so to complete.
And then after a While, the Love of a Lifetime
Now, I’ve promised Spook not to get all mushy here, so let me just say this. Know how once in a lifetime you might meet someone you feel like you recognize, like, at your core? Know how there are some folks who, when you’re with them, you feel more like yourself than you ever have before? Know what it feels like to fall head over heels for someone’s mind – and then the rest of them as well? ‘Nuff said then. Months after the business deal went down, things took a more personal turn, and we’ve both discovered how right that song is that says love is lovelier the second time around.
In November 2014, the fourth element of a sort of perfect storm hit that upped the ante considerably. Spook had in mind that he’d build his 1959 Beetle ragtop for me – on the side, working bits of the project into his schedule when he had tiny gaps in his days. It would probably take a couple of years – and that was fine. It was taking at least that long to create all the content this growing business needed, anyway – and I wasn’t going anywhere.
The build plan changed dramatically when the shop got invited to compete in the 2015 Ultimate VW Build-Off in Las Vegas. Bring your best, you’ve got eleven months to complete the build and get it out to Vegas for the show. The only other rules were a parts cap of $20,000 and that the car had to have rolled off the assembly line as an air-cooled vehicle. It could be a client project or one made on the side. While a client project would make more sense financially, if the shop could be turned loose to just build the best car they could build, it would be more fun – and give them a chance to showcase goodies no client would ever know to ask for in a build.
Enter Miss Mabel. The timing was perfect. The build would meet several goals all at once. The shop would get a showpiece to bring to the competition and then to display for the next show season. Airkooled Kustoms and my company would be squared away. Spook would get to build a beauty of a car for his “wife-like being”. Perfect storm, right?
Miss Mabel had put in her time, doing the usual VW kinds of things back in the early 60’s. These cars were sort of considered disposable back then - so her engine and transmission were only originally designed to go about 20-30K miles. At some point, she probably had a replacement engine and transmission - but by the time Spook got her in about 2001, she had no engine and had spent the past decade (or nearly) in a dark, dusty corner of some guy's garage. While most cars of her advanced age would either be wrecked, scrapped out, or suffer from MAJOR rust, she was still solid. Now, restored as a piece of kinetic art, she’s even more beautiful, straight-bodied, and drop-dead gorgeous than she’d ever been before.
The shop took the classic red and black Bug and kicked it up past a 13 (on a scale of 1-10). The overall concept is classic with a modern touch. The goal with this one was to draw you in... and that the closer you look, the kooler she gets. This 1959 Beetle Ragtop melds original, custom fabrication, and computer designed elements, using everything from old school panel beating to new age 3D printers to bring the concept to life.
Spook said that as a professional builder, he liked the fact that there were no stylistic guidelines he had to follow for this project - in some ways, that made this project easier, and in some ways harder. It also gave the shop a unique opportunity to work with its suppliers and vendors, who are so good at what they do. About 85% of the vendors the shop works with on a regular basis chose to become sponsors of this build.
You really have to see Miss Mabel in person to truly “see” her. Even knowing what you’re looking for, it can be tough to pick out all the stealthy details – from the multi-layered paint to the custom interior and accessories. Nothing to jump out and jar you out of the inevitable mesmerized reverie she’ll induce, she’s the epitome of the shop’s saying that “stealth is style”.