Beetle reborn with Cougar pride

WSU fight song, Bob Robertson’s signature sign-off both grace a symbol of school spirit made by Bob Paine



Bob Paine restored the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle pictured above and turned it into a symbol of Cougar pride. The bug appeared on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay when it came to Pullman on Oct. 20.

DYLAN GREENE, Evergreen deputy sports editor

Inside Bob Paine’s warehouse in Wenatchee, Washington, sits three Volkswagen Beetles, one Karmann Ghia and two vans.

The Beetles aren’t like the ones that can be bought at a car dealer. They are roughly 50 years old and each has its own unique story.

The most meaningful one might just be the one born in 1968. With the WSU fight song on the hood, Bob Robertson’s signature sign-off on the roof and Cougar paw prints spread across the vehicle, this bug is special.

“I see that car and it just makes me smile,” said Ben Paine, Bob’s youngest son. “It conjures in me images of WSU, images of [Drew] Bledsoe to [Phillip] Bobo in the Snow Bowl.”

Bob, who graduated from WSU in 1969, designed this symbol of Cougar Pride that appeared on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay in Pullman on Oct. 20.

Bob has been purchasing run-down Beetles and renovating them with his own touch for roughly 45 years. He has lost track of how many bugs he has brought back to life over the years, but he estimates the total to be around 30.

“I’d always just keep finding bugs,” Bob said. “Once I got one done, I just wanted to do another one.”

The 71-year-old said all it takes is a little bit of cash and creativity. Bob scours Craigslist and the internet constantly to find any Beetle from the 1960s he can fix up.

He typically spends anywhere between $400 and $700 to purchase a Beetle and around $3,000 to update the wheels, tires, paint, interior or anything else he feels needs to be changed.

The Cougar Beetle featured on GameDay comes from humble beginnings. Bob found the car in Tacoma where a man had a garage filled with three bugs. The one Bob bought and decided to restore had roughly half of its paint sanded off when he purchased it.

When he towed it home, his wife Nita suggested he finish off the job and sand off what little original paint remained. He did, but only after doing some research to determine what was beneath the original paint.

Turns out it was silver, and that’s how the vehicle got its shiny exterior. The time and effort Bob pours into remaking the Beetles is hard to keep track of, but at the end of the day he doesn’t do it for a profit, he said.

“I lose money,” he said. “You’d have to rip someone off to make any money.”

Bob first got interested in this hobby while teaching at an alternative school in Vermont in the 1970s. He taught a three-week-long Volkswagen restoration class along with Cutter Wyman during which students got hands-on experience building a car.

When Bob moved to Wenatchee five years later, he brought the program with him and taught it at Eastmont High School for a limited time.

Bob said he never took any classes growing up or at WSU that taught him how to rebuild cars, but he credits Wyman and a book titled “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot” with helping him learn and spark his passion.

The car featured on GameDay was the second Cougar Beetle Bob ever made. Bob sold his first newly-designed car about 10 years ago to a man who gave it to his wife as an anniversary gift.

This Beetle was crimson instead of silver and Bob said he is thinking about resurrecting a third one in that same color.

Lance Paine, Bob’s oldest son and a 1992 WSU graduate, said the Cougar Beetle shows how his father is willing to convey his spirit for WSU.

“He’s not afraid to wear it on his sleeve and he’s not worried about what people think,” Lance said. “I think the kids would say he gives zero f-cks.”

The opportunity to get the Beetle on College GameDay originated from several connections Ben had made over the years with people at ESPN.

Ben said when GameDay made the announcement around 9 p.m. on Oct. 13 they were coming to Pullman, he immediately began looking for airline tickets.

By 9:05 p.m., Ben was contacting every producer he knew at ESPN to see if they would want to use the Cougar Beetle on the set.

It took several days before Ben got a response, so he ended up flying into Seattle the Friday morning before the game. He showed up without a ticket to the contest, a place to stay in Pullman or any idea if ESPN wanted the car on the set.

Tom Paine, Bob’s youngest brother who graduated from WSU in 1988, picked Ben up from the airport and they immediately began their trip to Pullman. They met Bob at Judy’s, a restaurant on Highway 26 in Royal City.

Bob drove the Cougar Beetle from his home in Wenatchee to this spot and from there they all rode together as Tom towed the bug the rest of the way.

Bob said the Beetle probably could have made it to Pullman on its own but he didn’t want to test it because a few weeks earlier it broke down on the way to another WSU football game.

Eventually, Ben was able to sort things out with ESPN. The night before GameDay aired he and his dad slept on a couch in the Acacia Fraternity while Tom passed out in the bug.

They woke up around 4 a.m. the next morning and went backstage at GameDay with the Cougar Beetle on the set.

Tom said every time he rides in the Cougar bug, he feels like he is in a parade and it helps him hold on to his school spirit.

“[The spirit] is a hard thing to give up as you get older,” he said. “That’s why we don’t.”

Bob, who retired in 2012 after teaching for more than 43 years, said the Beetle has a deeper meaning to him and represents how difficult it can be to support a team that is typically on the losing end.

“It’s easy to be a fan of a team like [University of] Alabama that’s always winning,” he said, “but when you’re a Coug fan, you got to put up with a lot of stuff.”