On the second Saturday of August for the past 28 years, classic-car enthusiasts from across the country have driven their prized buses, campers, Beetles and Karmann Ghias to central Ohio to celebrate what's known as Volksfest.

The Volkswagen car show and swap meet, sponsored by the Central Ohio Vintage Volkswagen Club, has been held at Watkins Memorial High School in Pataskala for the past 20 years.

Dublin resident Ryan Cisco, who's in charge of the club's membership, said owning a VW isn't a requirement to be part of the club or to enjoy the show.

According to the club's website, its mission is to "boldly go where Vintage VWs are welcome while spreading the camaraderie with fellow automobile enthusiasts. ... Nearly everyone has a VW story to tell."

A visit to the 28th annual Volksfest on Aug. 11 confirmed that statement.

Cisco, whose cousins owned dune buggies modified from VWs, said he lives vicariously through the roughly 200 members of the club.

"I'd like a VW bus," he said. "Overall, I'm just a car guy who has been interested in the VW."

Collection obsession

Cisco said club members tend to be collectors of more than just cars.

Gahanna resident Jerry O'Hara has accumulated thousands of VW toys, not to mention the real deal with 1999, 1998 and 1961 Beetles.

"My wife, Kathy, and I went to Europe to celebrate our anniversary and her retirement, and I had a duffel bag of toys," he said. "Everyone (on our trip) was looking for toys."

O'Hara said his brother's best friend owned a VW shop that first piqued his interest in the make.

"When I met my wife, she went to Gahanna Lincoln High School and I went to Canal Winchester," he said. "She bought me a toy VW from Gahanna Lincoln. The DECA kids made them and sold them in the gift shop. She put it on top of a cake when I was 15 or 16."

When they married, the couple rented an old farm house, where a few VW toys were displayed on shelves.

Since then, he has amassed a 3,500-toy collection that's in his basement.

"She collects Johnny Bench stuff," he said. "If she makes fun of my stuff, I say we can sell (some of hers)."

Gahanna's Bill Simon also was bitten by the Beetle bug when he was a youngster.

"My grandfather bought a new 1965 Beetle and had it for 10 years," he said. "Then he bought a 1974 Chevy Nova and gave my dad the Beetle."

The bug got sidelined after the fuel pump leaked gasoline into the engine.

"I played in it as a kid," Simon said. "Dad traded it for a tractor plow to pull behind his 1946 Oliver tractor. He probably got the better end of the deal, since it didn't run."

Beetle from overseas

Simon kept trying to get his dad to buy him a Beetle.

"I signed up for the Air Force when I was 17 and a half, and by random selection, they sent me to Germany," he said. "I worked as a general-purpose auto mechanic and I paid $50 for a (wrecked) 1966 Beetle and spent $150 for wheels and tires for it."

Simon said Air Force bases had junkyards and they were filled with VW Beetle parts.

In late 1991, the military sent him to Saudi Arabia for a six-month tour. All his money was being directly deposited into a checking account that he didn't have access to.

After his time abroad, Simon said, he decided to buy a split-window (two panes of glass forming the rear window) 1952 Beetle with the money he had accumulated.

"It was the most expensive vehicle I bought in 1992," he said.

Before the internet, Simon said, he read a national Volkswagen newsletter and found the car in its classified section.

"It was in Santa Barbara, California, when I bought it," he said. "When I bought it in 1992, it was $4,000. Now it's probably worth between $15,000 and $20,000. It's very sought-after and rare."

Simon said that make of Beetle is called a Hoffman car.

"The first guy who sold VWs was Max Hoffman in New York City," he said. "He was a Jaguar and Porsche exotic-car dealer. He was responsible for a lot of the early '50s German cars coming into America."

The veteran mechanic also owns a 15-window 1963 VW bus that he also found in California.

"1963 was the last year they had the curved windows in the back," Simon said. "I got it in the backyard of a little old lady's house. The tires had rotted in the ground. I dug it up and put it on a flatbed."

Simon also collects vintage bicycles and pre-World War II console radios.

A nostalgic choice

For Westerville's Carol Wilson, the purchase of her 1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in 2008 was sentimental.

"I went to Canton to buy a Beetle and I saw a Karmann Ghia under a lean-to," she said. "My first car was a 1963 Karmann Ghia."

Like many VW owners, she has given her automobile a name -- Kelly -- because it's painted one of her favorite colors, kelly green.

"My heritage is from Ireland," Wilson said. "I drive her all the time. She came from Arizona and has no rust. She's a lot of fun."

Columbus resident Mark Garrett, a founding member of the club, said Volksfest brings every kind of VW imaginable, old and new, to the show.

Proceeds benefit the Childhood Cancer Family Connection, an Ohio organization that maintains relationships with families who have lost a child to cancer.

"We started with 12 people in the club and have grown to 200 members from Ohio and surrounding states," he said. "Besides Volksfest, we do picnics, campouts and different events throughout the year. We're very family- and activity-oriented."

For more information, visit www.covvc.org.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla