DADE CITY — His left hand bracing against the back passenger side of a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle, Tom Langhorne paused from talking, attempting to gather his emotions.
He recounted a story of being brought home as a newborn in that Beetle in 1968 back in his hometown of Hickory, North Carolina. He also thought the family lost the car forever at one point.
As tears welled in his eyes, he grew silent.
“That's my passion for Volkswagens,” said Langhorne who recently moved to New Port Richey. “And now my kids we're having fun in it.”
Sunday's 25th annual Pasco Bug Jam at the Pasco County Fairgrounds celebrated that passion for all things Volkswagen.
In addition to hundreds of Volkswagens, from Beetles to buses, there were also vendors selling items — clothing, decals, auto parts — related to the German auto company.
Langhorne spent years trying to get the Type I Beetle from is father. His father gave it to a mechanic friend who was going to work on it. Instead, it sat for close to a decade, exposed to the elements in North Carolina, rotting.
When Langhorne finally got the car in 1998, the body was rusted with large holes and rats had nested in the frame. It took three years to restore the vehicle to its stock form.
Nathan Hicks, originally from Tacoma, Wash., now living in Orlando, had only been at the fairgrounds for a couple hours Sunday, but was impressed by what he saw.
He brought his 1979 Super Beetle convertible and was looking for ideas to apply to his unfinished car.
“It's kind of like any other car, you get a following and people like them,” Hicks said. “I think there are a lot of cool styles. I like the fact that it's an affordable car to restore. You can make it affordable or you can make it expensive.”
Nearby Matthew Hutchinson talked about the 1972 Beetle that was his wife's first car. She bought it new for just over $2,300 from a dealership in Pompano Beach. They've since pumped about $12,000 into the car to restore it.
The car, originally blue, sports a white paint job with red fenders and Coca-Cola decals on the hood and doors.
“It's always nerve racking driving it because it's old technology,” Hutchinson of Apopka said. “We tried to make it better than it came out of the factory.”
Jarrod Sullivan of Seminole, picked up his 1978 Volkswagen van from a field in Trenton, near Gainesville.
After 2.5 years and 1,450 hours of labor, his supped up van now features an Acura engine, Porsche exhaust, Audi brakes, and BMW battery.
“It's just a feel-good vehicle,” Sullivan said. “I think it's good looking, even though it's a bread box on wheels. It's got nice lines and it's one of those things, you get in it and no matter what your mood is, you're happy.”
A few rows away, Langhorne said after finishing his family's Beetle, he later added the No. 53 decals and the off center racing stripe, transforming it into his version of Herbie the Love Bug.
Six years ago he bought a 1962 Beetle he dubbed the “Hippy Bug.”
The new project, which has amassed more than 400 hours of painting, is emblazoned with song titles and phrases from the 1960s. And, of course, there are flowers.
“I was going to slam it and make a custom street rod, real fancy, high-end, high-dollar car out of it, but after a couple years of working mechanically on it, my inner hippy came out,” Langhorne said. “I'm really into the 60s music, art, culture. That's all I ever listen to is 60s music.”
When his daughter first saw that beat up VW on the trailer about 6 years ago, she immediately named it.
“She said her name is Ruby,” Langhorne said, laughing. “And she's Herbie's girlfriend.”
Together, Herbie and his girlfriend Ruby are responsible for nearly 70 awards from different car shows.
Sunday, they drew a smile from most everyone who passed.