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Remember when, Arkansas? There’s a story behind the car in this old photo

by Celia Storey | September 13, 2021 at 1:54 a.m.
Dr. J.W. Buice, radiology instructor at University Medical Center (today's UAMS), attaches a big key to the rear of a Volkswagen Beetle owned by Dr. David M. Gould, head of the radiology department, to suggest the car was a wind-up toy. Arkansas Gazette photo by Larry Obsitnik dated Sept. 19, 1957. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Anyone recognize what's going on in this vintage photo from the Democrat-Gazette archives?

Hint: The license plate is dated 1957.

This photo appeared Sept. 19, 1957, in the Arkansas Gazette over the caption "You just turn the key and ..." It documents a prank.

In the popular mind in 1957, cars manufactured outside of the U.S. were "foreign cars" and generally lumped under two categories: zippy "sports cars" driven by movie stars, and "cheap economy cars" driven by subversives.

I exaggerate for humorous effect, but that was a common attitude. A cartoon on the Gazette editorial page lampooned it, with two old men criticizing car shoppers: "I tell you it's un-American to want a smaller car than your neighbor."

In 1956, J.R. Tait and Ralph Coppess opened a Volkswagen dealership near Capitol Avenue and Scott Street. They sold 104 of the German-made Beetle and Karmann Ghia models in their first year. Other foreign car dealers at Little Rock included Imported Car Center, 800 S. Hayes St., phone number MOhawk 6-8884; and Herbert Jones Motors, 1100 W. Capitol Ave., which touted its "European trained mechanics." Some Pontiac dealers offered the British-made Vauxhall; Buick dealers carried the German-made Opel; and Studebaker-Packard dealers had the German Goggomobile.

Humorists derided all these cars as oil-dripping midgets.

Still, Ford announced it was studying the idea of making one ... before releasing a 1958 Lincoln Continental with 131 inches between the front and rear axles -- Ford's longest sedan wheelbase ever.

The VW Beetle had a 94.5-inch wheelbase, and its shape suggested a wind-up toy to Little Rock radiologist Dr. J.W. Buice.

So, Buice, a radiology instructor at University Medical Center (today's UAMS Medical Center), attached a big key to the rear of the Beetle owned by his boss, Dr. David M. Gould. Gould (1914-1961) was head of the radiology department. Gazette photographer Larry Obsitnik photographed the prank.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled a 20th-century Volkswagen model, the Karmann Ghia.

Print Headline: Remember when, Arkansas?


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