Sometimes, a very little thing can have a big impact. What I’m about to tell you about is a very, very little thing. A typo. A silly, one-letter typo, the kind I’ve made millions of myself. The difference here is the typo was reproduced on such a colossal scale and was so obvious that I just don’t understand why it was never corrected. It was also a typo made by a company who prided itself on attention to detail, at one of their most successful points in history. It’s a baffling typo.
I first noticed this typo in my dad’s old 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owner’s manual decades ago, when I was a typical ‘70s car-obsessed kid.
That’s my sister and me by my dad’s old ‘68 Autostick Beetle, complete with some dealer-added overriders I’d love to find for my Beetle. That’s the actual owner’s manual, complete with spilled touch-up paint. I’ve always remembered what I’m about to show you, but I don’t think I’ve really gone back and checked on it until today. It’s this:
This is from the first real page of the manual, after all the title and legal pages up front. And the very first word of the very first subhead of that page has a massive, glaring spelling error. In a word with only two letters.
I mean, yes, I know it’s just a typo, basically, and I know they meant “It” and I am sort of delighted that those are my initials, but, holy shit, come on, 1968 Volkswagen. (Just in case you’re thinking that maybe this is some limited issue with just my manual, here it is in a PDF version of the manual I found online.)
You have to understand what a colossal screw-up this was at the time, and it has to do with the sheer number of Beetles sold back in the day.
This wasn’t some small volume Goggomobil or something. This was VW, at the absolute height of their power. 1968 was VW’s biggest year in America, with at least 400,000 Beetles sold. That means almost a half-million of these owner’s manuals were printed with an obvious, glaring type-set-o right up front.
Did nobody proofread this thing? It’s not some typo buried deep in the middle, it’s right there, on the manual’s metaphorical forehead.
I know it’s not a big deal. It doesn’t affect the understanding of anything, really. But it’s just baffling how it was never noticed, by fastidious Germans no less, and they printed so many of these things. It’s also baffling that they didn’t bother to fix it later, when someone had to have noticed. This was VW in 1968! They had tons of money!
So maybe they fixed it later, right? Think again! This is from the 1969 Volkswagen Beetle owner’s manual:
Unfuckingbelievable. That’s definitely the 1969 model year owner’s manual, and it’s not like it was just a reprint of ‘68. They changed the instrument cluster and added a rear window defogger in 1969, so they absolutely made changes to the manual.
Well, except for the stupid glaring typo at the very beginning.
Remember, this is Volkswagen we’re talking about, a company that used their near-obsessive attention to little details as a cornerstone of their image. They ran ads like this:
...and this incredibly famous one:
So if VW was willing to pull a car for a blemished chrome strip on a glovebox door, how could they let a glaring little error like “jt” get by for two years of owner’s manuals? It makes no sense.
It looks like by 1970 they completely re-wrote the intro page, finally getting rid of jt, and, if you’re curious, the year before, in 1967, they seemed to know how to spell “it”:
That said, I adore this owner’s manual. I pored over this thing as a kid, memorizing every page. I was the only kid in the second grade you could trust to change a Beetle air cleaner or swap out a sealed-beam, because I had that shit memorized.
Phrases from the manual still pop into my head, sometimes. Like this one: “A clean, smart car works better.”
I also think my love for automotive cutaways and space utilization came from my obsessing over this beautiful fold-out cutaway drawing at the back of the manual:
Modern owner’s manuals don’t have anything like this.
And, to be honest, I sort of love the “Jt,” too. Now whenever I’m with someone and they say “oh, jt is advisable...” I’m immediately transported back to being a kid, lying on a shag carpet, scrutinizing an owner’s manual that I’m pretty sure my dad never read.