Sam Steps Back in Time
Roland Garros 2008
by Mark Winters|
Most fans wish gas prices were back at 1970s levels. Sam Querrey also longs for that era on the road, having missed it first time around.
Sam Querrey has a nearly antique VW van. Being able to afford almost anything as a result of being a rising young tennis star, it is a testament to tradition and utility. The van is a 1974 model that has ferried his friends around and has served as a "teaching implement" for those who needed manual transmission experience. It's more than just a mode of transportation; it's a statement.
Having heard about Sam Querrey's storied 1974 VW van that has, from time to time, transported his green chest painted “Samurai”, a group of his former high school pals who show up regularly when he competes locally, I decided to check it out for myself. On the day after Thanksgiving, I drove to Thousand Oaks, California to talk with Sam. As it turned out, it was anything, but a leftover turkey visit.
“It's the first time I've started it in about four months,” said the lanky 6'6” 20-year-old, (who had celebrated his birthday 16 days before), through the open driver's side window as the engine roared to life. “It always starts right up.”
Living in an area not far from the “Ventura Highway,” which the band America crooned about, and equally close to the beaches of “Surfin' Safari” Beach Boys fame, where vans in the '60s owned the California costal roads, makes sense for the Querrey family. They have a strong VW tradition.
“When I was very young, my father traveled to Europe with my mom in 1969 to get a Bug,” said Chris Querrey, Sam's mother. “Mike and I each had a Bug before we were married. Then the first car we bought was a VW Rabbit convertible in 1984. When I was pregnant with Sam, everyone said, 'You can't have a Bug with a child,' so we bought a VW Vanagon that we later vacationed in.
"We made many camping trips, with Sam and his sister Ellen, to various places in Northern California, and we took it to the drive-in movies many Friday nights when Sam was a baby. We owned that van for about 10 years until we moved to Las Vegas. It was just too difficult to cool, because there was so much internal air space. The AC just wasn't able to do its job.”
When Sam became old enough to drive, Ed Querrey, Mike's father, found a 1974 van for sale that was in bad shape, in Monrovia, California. Sam paid about $1,500 for it. His grandfather then located a man who restored VW's. He did them in five colors, and Querrey picked electric blue with a white roof.
True to the classic design of VW vans from that era, there is a tire mounted in the front, and as Chris admitted, “Sam's kind of old fashion. He isn't interested in speed. Thirty miles per hour max is just fine for him.”
Sam added, “The odometer has been stuck on 61,000 miles since I got the van. It never changes. Because the gearbox is old, it goes from first to third almost without using the clutch. The gas gauge is broken too, so I never really know how much gas I have. If I drive it to Indian Wells (the Pacific Life Open), I have to really pay attention to how far I've gone so that I stop for gas before it runs out.”
Today, most youngsters learn to drive using an automatic transmission. Like Sam, Ellen Querrey was an exception. “She learned to drive in the van, which was difficult because the gears are not in the best shape,” he said. “I've used it to teach my friends to drive a stick. It's a lot of fun.”
As primo as the outside is, the interior is rudimentary except for a fabulous speaker system. “I probably shouldn't say this, but when I was 15, I got one of those scratcher game cards at the market and won $400,” Querrey said with a beguiling smile. “My mother collected the money and I bought Bose speakers.”
In a New York Times Magazine ad for U.S. Trust Bank of America Private Wealth Management this past October, there are three men and a woman sitting on a beach in front of a VW van and the copy reads, “The most valuable car in his collection isn't the Ferrari, the Cobra or the Aston Martin, but a 1968 bus.”
In Sam Querrey's case, satisfaction is the 1974 VW van that's in the garage of his family's home in Thousand Oaks.
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