The VW bug and the ‘Blizzard of ’78’
Cape Cod’s Outer Beach has a long history of strandings during storms over its long history, but none were quite like the one that occurred during the weather event known as the “Blizzard of ’78” on Feb. 6-7, 1978.
However, this wasn’t one of the 3,000-plus shipwrecks on the Outer Bar — we’re talking about a blue 1964 Volkswagen Beetle here.
According to the Feb. 10, 1978 edition of the Cape Codder, it was 10:45 p.m. on the night of Feb. 6, when four young people made their way into the Coast Guard Beach parking lot to watch the wild weather. Over much of Eastern Massachusetts, a record-setting snowstorm was raging, but over the Outer Cape, the precipitation had turned to rain.
Bob Seay of Eastham, who interviewed the quartet for WVLC radio in Orleans after the storm, recalled those events during a 2008 interview.
“They thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to drive down to Coast Guard Beach and see the storm?’” Seay said. “This was a storm of tremendous magnitude.”
The storm hit during a high tide at the new moon, hitting over 14 feet above mean low water, or four feet above normal. Combine that with wind gusts hitting 92 mph — it was no wonder that the barrier beach’s dunes were completely leveled, and the beach’s bath house and parking lot were destroyed. A 50-foot long concrete septic tank was unearthed near the bath house.
“They decided to go down there in the dark,” Seay continued. “The problem was, when they entered the parking lot, in their headlights, they couldn’t see any water, but what they didn’t realize is that the waves were breaking behind them.”
What followed was a life-threatening experience for the group.
“So all of a sudden, they’re driving down the parking lot, and this wave lifts this Volkswagen up in the air; their lights go out,” Seay said. “The Beetle comes back down into the parking lot; they try to open the doors, there’s swirls of water. They’re up to their waists in water.”
Fortunately, they were able to escape the vehicle.
“The rain, they said, felt like bullets; the wind was so strong,” Seay said. “The only thing that saved their lives was that they looked up on the hill, and there was a car parked by the Coast Guard station with its headlights on. They literally crawled their way up the bank to that car.
“Without those headlights, they believed they would have perished.”
Once in the parking lot, the foursome noticed a Ford Triumph approaching the beach parking lot. They began shouting in the direction of the Triumph, whose two occupants thought the voices were coming from the about-to-be submerged VW. Down to the parking lot the Triumph went — it too was swamped by waves, stranding the vehicle, although not in nearly as much danger as the VW was.
The Triumph “suffered no ill effects,” according to the Cape Codder.
The next day (Tuesday), the VW was towed from the marsh, and all of its fluids were changed. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the key to the VW was turned at 12:07 p.m.
“Damned if the thing didn’t start!” Seay chuckled. “Volkswagen should have been there for their commercial!”
First published in the Cape Codder on Jan. 31, 2020.