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After nearly five decades, VW Bug “flies” home to original owner

With its meager proportions, tortoise-like shape, and a name to make the fastidious hausfrau cry “Eek!,” the Volkswagen Beetle isn’t the kind of motor vehicle that would seem to inspire strong sentimental attachments.

Yet, the lowly Bug has won a veritable swarm of admirers – few of whom have been as passionate or as persistent as 80-year-old Mike Greene of Burlington, who was recently reunited with a vintage VW Beetle that he originally purchased nearly 55 years ago.

Greene’s star-crossed romance with this Herbie-esque “Punch Bug” began in the fall of 1969 when he visited the North Church Street sales lot of Maxwell Volkswagen and acquired the diminutive auto at a cost of $2,251.30. Some eight years later, Greene resold the vehicle to the late L.A. Hensley. Yet, as the years flickered past, Greene found himself gnawed by a growing sense of regret and yearned to get back behind the wheel of the humble old Beetle.

Not long after L.A.’s death, Greene tried to buy the car back from his son Ronnie, who proved a much tougher customer than he had supposed.

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“He said ‘you can’t have this car; momma just gave it to me,’” Greene recounted, “and I kept after Ronnie Hensley for 20 years to let me buy back the car.”

In the end, Ronnie chose to hand the vehicle down to his granddaughter Gracie rather than see it pass to somebody outside the family. But by the time Gracie was old enough to drive, the prospect of tooling around town in a half-century-old Punch Bug had apparently lost some of its sheen for the 16-year-old teen. So, earlier this year, she and her dad, Andy, decided it was high time to restore the aging Beetle to its original owner.

This offer from L.A. Hensley’s second and third generation descendants would ultimately warm Greene’s heart like the steady burn of an internal combustion engine.

“If it hadn’t been for Gracie and Andy,” he acknowledged, “I wouldn’t have gotten the car back.”

Greene’s reunion with the old vehicle has also delighted his long-time friend David Hensley. A distant relation of the car’s erstwhile owners, Hensley, who is now 87, admits that his own acquaintance with the Volkswagen goes almost as far back as Greene’s.

“I rode in it with L.A. after he bought it,” he recalled. “It just floors me that he spent all those years trying to get the car back. It’s like a long-lost relative who comes home after so many years.”

Equally thrilled over the Volkswagen’s homecoming is 86-year-old Carlton Terrell, who sold Greene the car while he was working as a salesman for Maxwell in 1969. Terrell acknowledges that he isn’t completely surprised by the lengths to which Greene went to recover the vintage automobile. In fact, he insists that the Volkswagen Beetle is simply one of those models that elicits strong feelings in people who own them.

“It just brings back memories,” he said. “Back in the day, it was about the cheapest car you could get. But you got a lot of car for that money, and we sold the heck out of them.”

The Beetle’s allure is, likewise, no mystery to 94-year-old Billy Maxwell, who operated the dealership where Greene had originally purchased the car.

“I’ve seen people do a lot of things to get a car back,” he confessed.

With all these well-wishers sharing in Greene’s glee, it seems inevitable that someone would try to get his consent to take the old car for a spin. But Greene admits that, after so many decades of forced separation, he isn’t about to hand over the keys to his prized set of wheels.

“I’m going to drive it myself,” he said with a grin.

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