The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
Although this column usually features classic American cars, there was a time when there were so many Volkswagen Beetles chugging along American streets that it was easy to forget that the car was of German origin. It was not always that way. The first Volkswagen was imported to the U.S. in 1948 by Ben Pon, Sr., who became the first official Volkswagen importer. Pon sold a staggering two vehicles that first year, but by the mid-1960s, Volkswagen was selling hundreds of thousands of the well-built and reasonably-priced cars in the U.S. every year.
Jorge Reyes, of Land O Lakes, a retired police officer from Bridgeport, Conn., refers to himself as a Mustang and Volkswagen guy. He has owned several of each, including a 1958 Volkswagen with a ragtop sunroof and semaphore turn signals. He currently owns an immaculately-restored 1955 Volkswagen, but he was actually in pursuit of a 1967 Mustang when the Beetle caught his eye.
“When I retired and moved to Florida, I actually owned a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, which I sold last March, after having it for eight years,” Reyes says. “I went online and found a 1967 Mustang in Georgia that I was going to buy.”
A couple of days before he was scheduled to travel to Georgia to see the Mustang in person, Reyes spotted the 1955 Volkswagen on Facebook. Since the car was located in Lakeland, Reyes and his wife decided to go ahead and check it out.
“When the guy pulled the 1955 out of the garage, it was beautiful and I fell in love with it, so I bought it,” Reyes recalls.
Most of the car is all original, although there are some upgrades that improve performance without altering the look of the car.
“When the guy I bought it from first got the car, it had pretty much been restored, but he put a lot of money into it to get it to the way it looks now,” Reyes says. “He had a 1,914 cubic-centimeter, 135- horsepower engine from Chico Performance Racing installed in the car as well as headers. Also, he installed an electric fan to help cool the motor. The transmission is original, although the parts were modified to handle the power of the new motor.”
The rest of the car is pretty much original, including the manual steering, drum brakes and optional auxiliary lights. The interior, while sparse, has been redone in leather, rather than the standard cloth or vinyl interior, yet it retains the look the car would have had in 1955.
While Reyes appreciates the performance modifications, he prefers the original factory appearance of the car as opposed to the numerous custom alterations that have been done to Volkswagen Beetles. Since he has owned the car, Reyes did add the roof rack, and he installed xenon HID headlights.
“There is not a lot of room in the trunk so people would add roof racks to carry luggage and stuff,” Reyes explains. “I added the roof rack just because I like the way it looks. I replaced the headlights with HID bulbs, which provide more light, but still look like stock bulbs.”
With the more powerful engine, Reyes 1955 Volkswagen is definitely fast, but he tries to keep his foot out of it. “The car is so light that when you get up to 65 or 70 miles an hour, the wind can shift the car around,” he explains.
Reyes says that other people seem to be just as infatuated with the car as he is. “Every time I go out driving it, I have people racing up to me giving me the thumbs-up,” he says. “I have had it less than two months, and I have already gotten two trophies with it. People love the car.”

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