Unique set of June Beetle photographs puts Worthing on the world stage

Fifty years ago, Saturday, June 6, 1970, was, for us as a family, looking set to be much like any other Saturday. A fairly regular pattern was that if we hurried up, got breakfast down us and made the short drive from home in Findon village, we would start with shopping in Worthing town centre.

The rush was to get parked in one of our preferred locations in time to get enough sixpences into the parking meter for a full two hours stay, starting bang on nine o’clock shop opening time.

Our preferred destination by far was the parking bays in Portland Road to the north of Shelly Road. There were several distinct agendas behind that preference. For my parents, M&S and Boots lay a short distance ahead, just as they still do today. In addition, for my father, brother and I, not particularly well disguised dual ulterior motives also lay close at hand in the form of The Record Centre at 22 Portland Road and the showroom of West Sussex Motors, both of which our route would pass. Gamleys toy shop also had an established diversional attraction, although by 1970, that for me, at 16, was a dwindling siren.

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Saturdays would often extend, after shopping, to moving the car and walking along the promenade, Splash Point to west of Heene Road and back if time was of the essence. Better still was the longer stride out as far as my maternal grandparents, who lived in Withdean Avenue, just off Goring seafront, and back.

Montage of memories from Stephen Paul Hardy and his family of Worthing in the 1970s

What we could never have imagined though, when we parked up in Portland Road, was that particular Saturday was destined to be of lasting significance and a day on which we took some photographs that have become a very important marker in the recording of modern automotive history.

Having owned a camera since my eighth birthday, and by that morning on my third camera, I sharing my father’s passion for photography.

It was not surprising then that interest, combined with increasingly becoming a car enthusiast, keenly aspiring to when I could own my own car, prompted a spontaneous photoshoot on the forecourt of West Sussex Motors, en route to thumb through the latest LP releases in the record racks.

There, resplendent in bright orange, was a newly-delivered VW Beetle raised up on axle stands and carrying a promotional display board. In the bright June sunshine, it was an absolutely fabulous photo opportunity. Both my father and I ended up taking quite a few photos, encouraged by the sheer vibrance of the subject – an extravagance in the days when, for us, using slide film was comparatively expensive pastime.

Stephen Paul Hardy, automotive historian and journalist

The significance of our subject matter was not, though, fully appreciated until many years later.

Rationed to only one or two examples to each VW dealership, that Beetle was the very first of a series of promotional, or sales campaign, special edition models. As such, its paint colour was non-standard and in this case of Signal Orange, normally used only on the more exotic VW and Porsche models produced in the Wilhelm Karmann GmbH coach builders factory in Osnabrück, Germany.

While youth culture certainly brightened up a Britain heading into the ’70s, thanks the swinging ’60s as far as the car buying market was concerned, conservatism still ruled, driven by the fear of loss of resale and trade in value of finishes that stood out from the crowd. On mainland Europe, the Signal Orange Beetles were accompanied by three additional ‘pop’ colours that Volkswagen (GB) must have thought far too ‘loud’ for British tastes to be risked.

Photographs of any of such special editions on a dealer’s forecourt when brand new are few and far between and it was not until six years ago, while doing research for a dedicated website, that the full significance of that slightly flippant photoshoot back in 1970 fully hit me.

The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970

I am aware of only one other set of equivalent contemporary photographs that surfaced recently on Facebook of a VW dealership in Switzerland.

Our two sets of images taken that morning not only record in exact detail the June Beetle, as it was called, but thanks to my late father’s meticulous habit of making notes, they are recorded for posterity exactly to the date they were taken. A rare occurrence.

As a result of my having given permission for them to be published on that dedicated website, not only is the June Beetle now a very well documented part of automotive history but those photos have made West Sussex Motors and Worthing known the world over.

West Sussex Motors was, of course, established a very long time ago, way before it became one of the very first batch of Volkswagen dealerships in the mid-1950s.

The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970

Our family connections with the company included the purchase of several cars from the Portland Road showroom, as well as being regular service customers at the Ivy Arch Road premises between the late ’60s and the early ’80s, until, in fact, the UK importers withdrew the franchise from West Sussex Motors and many other similarly well-established and well-respected dealerships in a seemingly ill-advised image remodelling exercise.

It is, I think, rather fitting in retrospect that my parents purchased the very last new Classic Beetle sold by West Sussex Motors in April 1978, a model that was also a special edition.

What that set of photographs, taken with such spontaneous enthusiasm 50 years ago, reminds me is that photography is such a powerful record of contemporary daily life that sometimes, just sometimes, captures extra dimensions that may not be appreciated until decades later.

While writing this, I took a quick virtual trip around Grafton Place, Portland Road and Shelley Road on Google Street View, with tinges of homesickness. Many of the older properties remain much as I remember them in the 1970s and as captured in these photographs, but the forecourt that Beetle sat on looked to have gone through some sad times of emotional neglect.

Maybe, though, I am just guilty of suffering from nostalgia overdose and looking, retrospectively, through 70s orange-tinted glasses.

If you have known the area only as it is today, I hope you enjoy these colourful images of the forecourt as it was in its heyday.

The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970

We were fascinated by this set of images from 1970, so much so that we wonder if any other readers took photos of that Beetle, or even know who purchased it.

If you have memories to share, about Worthing or the Beetle, please email [email protected]

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The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970
The June Beetle at West Sussex Motors on Saturday, June 6, 1970