COMMON.GEAR/Shoreline Antique Auto Connection:
Sue's 1964 VW Bug - The Original "Thrashwell Snailbee"
(new as of 5/31/2008; updated with
text & accompanying image from February 1991 New Haven Register article as of 6/4/2008; also updated with "Thrashwell Epilogue" as of 6/10/2008; updated with "The Origins of Thrashwell Snailby" by John John Kitzmiller as of 11/8/2009 - this entire page also REGENERATED as of 11/8/2009)

Thanks to John Kitzmiller's input for finally solving the riddle of the origin of the name!

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Origins Of A Classic Family Car Name...

One day in late May, 2008, after having gotten our old 1950 VW Bug reactivated to "driving status" again after a period of approximately 3 years of "dormancy," I had to pick up my daughter at her school for something and decided to drive the '50 Bug. Listening to how it sounded, I was reminded of the name "Thrashwell," which is a name that my sister-in-law Sue invented back in the 1970s for her first car, a 1964 VW Bug.

"THRASHWELL" plate on the front of Sue's 1964 VW - photo from the early/mid 1980s, Guilford, CTIf you could hear how our '50 sounds--nothing obviously "going south," or anything--it's just a *very* well-worn old VW--and has always sounded this way, ever since we've owned it), you'd understand, I'm sure how that name would come to mind!

Knowing that Sue has the "family copyright" on that name, and would probably re-activate it some day, if/when she ever gets herself another old VW, I nonetheless asked Sue if I could "borrow" the name, perhaps to use as an occasional nickname for our '50--perhaps with "Junior" added as a distintive suffix... I was also interested in what further details Sue could possibly relate about how the name originally came about.

In a followup e-mail dated 5/28/2008, Sue wrote:

"...I would be happy to have you use the name. I do have to admit, it was not an original name - my first boy friend was a car nut and always had a variety of car magazines strewn all over his dorm room. One day I was reading a story in one of them and the car in the story was named 'Thrashwell Snailbee' - I really liked the name, and the car in the story seemed to have a mind set not unlike my VW - so the name was bestowed on her. So do feel free to use it - it is a name worthy of being passed on..."

Hearing what Sue had to say prompted me to do a bit of googling and found *no* matches for "Thrashwell Snailbee," though when googling on "Thrashwell" alone, I found a couple of vague references on a couple of apparent British (or some other foreign car) message boards about some fictitious car make called "Thrashwell Snailby" that was apparently invented by some car magazine (which corresponds to Sue's recollection). In a follow-up note, Sue wrote:

"...I bet that was the one...This guy had a thing for Austin Healey. He had an Austin Healey Sprite up on blocks in his back yard, always planning to get it running - but alas never did. It was the same thing with the purple motorcycle he had in crates, in fact it was kind of the story of his life (sad to say). But looking back, I do believe that was the spelling in the magazine, I changed it a bit. This must have been in the mid '70s when I was up at UConn..."

In later years, Sue and Thrashwell were featured in a New Haven Register article about people with a certain "attachment" to their cars. I recall the title of the article was "Love Me Fender," and if I can find a copy of it, I'll try to perhaps get a photo, and transcribe the portion of the article that focused on Sue and Thrash (*6/4/2008 update: The complete article has been transcribed, along with a scan of a portion of the article layout on the newspaper page, below!).

Whatever became of Thrashwell? The last we saw of old Thrashwell was shortly after the above-mentioned New Haven Register article appeared, and an executive from a local (North Branford, CT-based) high-end automobile wax company contacted Sue to see if she's be interested in selling Thrashwell. After Sue made a deal with the wax company guy, we helped deliver Thrashwell to the wax company headquarters a short time later, and never heard about Thrashwell ever again.

It is also interesting to note that "Thrashwell" wasn't the last old car that Sue owned--a few years later she and her older brother Rob took joint possession of a 1964 Alfa Romeo, that to this day, remains in her family--now co-owned by their younger sister Pat and Pat's husband Pete--you can view a bit of recollected history about the Alfa on the dedicated page about it we put together a few years ago: "Pat & Pete's 1964 Alfa Romeo," located online at: http://members.aol.com/foxcraft/PPBlackAlfaRomeo.html (webmaster's note--sorry, since October 2008, that link no longer works--we need to find the time to regenerate that page, just as we've done for this one--sorry once again for the inconvenience)

We greatly appreciate Sue's allowing us to borrow such a wonderful name for our '50 VW, and we promise to always remember the original Thrashwell Snailbee.

BELOW: Here's a picture (scanned from an old original photo print--slightly faded, sorry) that I took back in the early/mid 1980s, of Sue's original "Thrashwell Snailbee." The location of the picture is Guilford, CT. An attempt to crop and enhance the photo to show detail of Sue's custom-made "THRASHWELL" front plate appears elsewhere on this page. Note that Thrashwell was an original Sunroof Bug ('64 being the first year for the metal sliding sunroof for Bugs). I also posted a higher resolution copy of this photo recently at the AACA Photo Gallery, on this page: http://photos.aaca.org/files/3/4/2/2/2/thrashfrontcrpexp1.jpg

Sue's Original 1964 VW Bug, "Thrashwell Snailbee" - photo from the early/mid 1980s, Guilford, CT

Sue and Thrashwell's appearance in the New Haven Register, circa February 1991

(the following article appeared on the front page of the "Living" section--section E--of the Sunday, February 24, 1991 issue of the New Haven Register newspaper--also, click HERE or on the image below of a portion of how the article appeared on the page, to bring up a higher-resolution copy--a scan from the printed newspaper page of another color image from the article, featuring Thrashwell's dashboard, has been inserted below, about midway through the article)

Sue and Thrashwell's 1991 appearance in the New Haven Register newspaper, February 24, 1991

Love Me Fender - Memories of your first car can stay with you forever
By Jim Shelton, Register Staff (photos credit: Michael Kiernan/Register)

Susan Valley and Thrashwell Snailbee have been together since 1973, but Jack Berns dumped Ruby Plymouth back in '62.

Neither one of them is happy. They've got the First Car Blues.

Valley says she should've ditched Thrashwell years ago, but her attachment to the '64 Volkswagen Beetle is too strong. Berns curses the day he let go of Ruby, a red '49 Plymouth.

"I met my wife in that car," says New Havener Berns, 52, of Ruby. "We eloped in it...and I ended up giving it away for a radio."

As inanimate objects go, first cars pack a heck of an emotional wallop. You don't see people reminiscing about first lawn mowers. No one hangs fuzzy dice on first stereos, or gives nicknames to first refrigerators.

Most people had their most embarrassing moments in that first car. They also told their funniest jokes, had their deepest philosophical conversations and got into their biggest fights there. That's just for starters.

"It all comes down to sex," says Vincent DiGiuseppe, owner of Connecticut Auto Restorations in Wallingford. "I read somewhere that people aren't paying as much money for cars from the '20s. It's because there's almost no one left alive who first made love in them. The hot cars now have moved up to the next generation."

Ed Podbielski of North Haven, 31, sounds almost giddy when he talks about his first car, a '68 Pontiac Bonneville. He used to take it to Makeout Point at East Rock Park, which was something of a convention center for first cars.

"It was the summer of '76," Podbielski recalls, "Peter Frampton was on the radio and who could care. I loved that car. I even washed the thing."

Betty and Joseph Onofrio of North Branford met each other in Joseph's first car, a 1936 Buick Roadster called The Kissing Bandit.

Thrashwell dash image from the 2/24/1991 New Haven Register articleIt was the summer of 1950. Betty was out walking her dog when Joseph pulled up in the Bandit and gave a whistle. Betty wouldn't budge. The rest is car history.

"We've been married 40 years now," Betty says. "You could say that was quite a pick-up."

Even romantic misfires are enough to make a car memorable.

New Havener Marvin Shaffer, 70, says a girl once refused to date him after catching a glimpse of his 1936 Dodge convertible. Maybe she was turned off by the plastic tablecloth Shaffer used for a roof.

Fortunately, young love isn't the only element of a first car's mystique. There's also the adventure and freedom it represents, the notion of an exciting life out in a wide-open world.

"You drove it to the high school basketball fame on Friday night," says Steve Mierz, 31, of New Haven. "You drove it to college. When you get older, you associate those important things with your car."

Mierz's first car was an orange '71 Volkswagen Beetle. He remembers the time his left rear wheel came off on Route 66 and passed him on the road.

"Luckily there was no one coming in the other direction," he says.

Pretty much everyone has a good first car story.

* Joe Reis of Hamden drove his '46 Chevy Coupe into New Haven one night to show off, then promptly forgot it in front of a moviehouse and took the bus home.

* Linda Ungerleider of Orange wondered why tractor trailers always surrounded her '71 Fiat wt the gas station until someone suggested that she stop using diesel fuel.

* Louis Iannucci of Woodbridge once gave his sister a driving lesson at the summit of East Rock Park. They nearly took his '29 Model A home the short way.

* Bob Janicke of West Haven went over some railroad tracks so hard in 1946 that two guys in the back seat of his '31 Essex literally went through the canvas roof.

Some day17-year-old Peter Alfano of West Haven will have stories to tell. He got his first car, an '84 Ford Bronco, last fall. "It means my parents don't have to take me everywhere," Alfano says. "I know I'll never forget it."

For her part, New Havener Valley has been through three engines, a rear bumper and a ton of teenage angst with Thrashwell. "I sunk a big chunk of my life into this car," Valley says. "That's why I can't get rid of it."

"I couldn't stand the thought of her rusting out in a junkyard. The family has talked about a water burial," she says.

Ruth Drews of New Haven gave her car a send-off that would've made a Roman chariot warrior proud. She had her 1960 Rambler American towed to the top of a hill in North Haven. After a poignant farewell, she got in and coasted down to the junkyard below.

"It was an awesome demise," Drews recalls.

But as Joe Mongillo of North Haven can attest, first cars sometimes break your heart.

In 1936, a sixteen-year-old Mongillo worked nights at a garage (and sold his banjo) to buy a 1926 Maxwell coupe for $7.50. The car was a beauty, with an all-wood frame, he recalls. When he brought the car home to show his father, it wouldn't start.

"I'd seen the fella at the garage start it by pouring ether on the plugs and heating the manifold with a blowtorch," Mongillo explains. With his father waiting in the front yard, he ran to the garage, got the blowtorch and ether and ran back home. The rest is obvious to anyone who's seen a Three Stooges film.

"The car blew up and burned to the ground," Mongillo says. "But it started right up."

Thrashwell Epilogue

Unfortunately this "New England Bug" had seen better days, structural-integrity-wise (though a lot of "home"-style repairs had been done on it to keep it running and serviceable). The "magic of photography," probably also is responsible for the not-too-bad-in-pictures appearance.

Sue and Thrashwell's 1991 appearance in the New Haven Register newspaper, February 24, 1991 (crop from original scan)There was a caption that went along with the newspaper photo, that is semi-readable in my reduced-sharpness scan: "Susan Valley cherishes the times she spent in her '64 Bug. She stopped using it two years ago and is looking to give it to a new owner." - reference the original scan - or also the cropped detail scan of that photo caption, shown at the right (the caption was printed adjacent to the main article photo, to the lower right).

From what I can gather, a local (North Branford, CT-based, high-end; name begins with a "Z"--I'm sure you can figure it out...) automobile wax company executive read that, and contacted Sue to see if she might want to "give" it to him, so that he could (apparently) use it as some sort of "rags to riches" promotion idea for his company.

I was subsequently involved in transporting the (non-running) Thrashwell to the wax company's headquarters. Thankfully the open car trailer that I owned at the time had a winch. And we towed it there with our old '82 F150 pickup truck. Even got a little tour of the wax company.

And that was pretty much the last we ever heard of old Thrashwell

We guess that Mr. Wax Company must've taken a good look at the condition of Thrashwell and decided that the car wasn't worth saving.

I think Sue, however, is happier with the thought that perhaps somewhere Thrashwell lives on...

The Origins of Thrashwell Snailby by John Kitzmiller

The following is the complete text of an e-mail dated 10/24/2008, written by John Kitzmiller--we really appreciate John taking the time to write and enlighten us about the real origins of the name!

'..."Thrashwell Snailby SS" was the name of a car in a story by Stan Mott, featured in either Road & Track magazine or Automobile Quarterly back in the early to mid-1970s. How do I know this? I was the boyfriend referenced in your article.

My favorite memory of Thrashwell is watching Sue's dad trying to set the ignition timing with a strobe timing light and having absolutely no success. I pointed out that the timing should be set statically (I learned that from my '63 Karmann-Ghia coupe, "Ursula." - RTFM.). So Mr. Engineer took advice from the longhaired college kid and, voila, Thrashwell purred like an air-cooled 40hp kitten.

FWIW, contrary to Sue's memory, I did get the Bugeye Sprite running, but the cost of restoration was beyond my reach at that time, so I sold it. The purple motorcycle was a 1948 Harley Panhead basket case with a purple metalflake Knucklehead frame that followed me to Virginia. I subsequently sold it to a former schoolmate who never finished paying for it (you out there, Igor?), so I repossessed it and sold it to a cop in Willimantic. Apparently the Harley had been stolen numerous times in the past, but I made it legal by getting a title to it through the CT DMV. It is probably somewhere in New England still, so if anyone knows the whereabouts of 48FL3584, I'd like to know.

Please give my regards to Sue, I'm happy to learn that she and her family are doing well.

John Kitzmiller...'


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