In the Headlights: a VW Conversation With John Stuteville
If you are familiar with the VW scene in Central Florida, there’s one name that brings instant recognition when anyone hears it- John Stuteville. This Florida native has engine oil in his veins, and it comes directly from the family VW traditions he’s known since he was a child.
His grandparents flew to Germany in 1966 to pick up his grandmother’s brand new, fully loaded red Type 34 Karmann Ghia, right from the factory. VW ownership doesn’t get more authentic than that! His grandfather always had a bug, “always orange, he loved that color”, his dad had a 58 beetle, and his uncle was “always driving a Volkswagen, and always wrecking them when he turned his head to whistle at a girl”.
When it was John’s turn to fill the family’s driving shoes he did it age 15 with a 1961 red and black Baja that he bought for $100. “I had to tow it home because it didn’t run”, and he completed his first full engine rebuild in his parent’s garage by the time he was 16. “I scared the heck out of my parents because it was my daily driver and I drove it 66 miles for work each day”.
But even that experience wasn’t enough to keep his ’72 autostick alive- “I got it for $900 I saved from mowing lawns, and man, that car didn’t last 6 months!”. After that he put autosticks in the rearview (“never again!”) and moved on to his first brand-new VW- a silver 1976 Champagne Edition Beetle, that he purchased from the dealership for about $3500. “I even wore a suit to pick it up!”.
These days you can find John all over the state going to VW shows (“7 this past year”) or visiting fellow Volkswagen friends and enthusiasts in either his bright red ’72 beetle Lola, or Mean Green, his 1972 bus. Meeting John is truly a VW experience in itself- never have I met such a kind-hearted soul, who just loves the cars and the life that comes with them.
As John says, “They bring everybody together. Everybody has some connection to a VW- either they have one, or their family had one, or they knew someone that had one- everyone has a Volkswagen story to tell”. He’s always happy to share a story or a Hotwheel (he has over 1,000 of them on display at his home in Lake Placid), and after owning/building 44 Volkswagens of his own, he has plenty of VW love- and advice- to share.
His first tip? “if your motor is perfectly timed, if your car is tuned exactly as it should be, your motor will always shut down at 90 degrees”. The angle, not the temperature, as my husband laughingly explained to me.
And the second? “Never, never EVER mount your fuel filter in the engine compartment!” Even I understand that one. Any last words of wisdom John?