Jim Armillotti Jr. recalls the night his grandfather arrived in his 1966 blue Baja Bug after driving cross-country from California.
In 1980, 10-year-old Armillotti was eager to see the modified Volkswagen Beetle. The automobile turned heads in Buffalo, far from its southern California roots.
In the early 1980s, Bernard Armillotti’s grandpa drove the “neat little car” from West Coast relatives around Western New York.
“He was really a remarkable guy,” Armillotti said of his grandpa, a World War II Merchant Marine and Ford assembly plant worker in Buffalo. “He fixed everything. He fixed everything. He fixed cars.
After the Baja transmission failed in 1983, such talents were useful. Bernard disassembled the automobile in his garage. After his wife got unwell, they went to California for a calmer lifestyle.
Armillotti bought the Baja after several years of storage and finished his grandfather’s repairs. Armillotti sold the automobile for a “few hundred bucks” and returned to school in his early 20s.
Life continued for 30 years.
Ford retiree Bernard Armillotti relocated to Florida and died in May 2000.
Jim Armillotti studied teaching at Buffalo State University after graduating from Erie Community College’s autobody repair program. Orchard Park’s ECC autobody repair instructor has taught for over 20 years.
Armillotti found a beat-up Baja Bug on Facebook Marketplace in September. “It was ripped apart,” he continued. It was in fields near a home. It split.”
Armillotti went on the next snap and noticed the Baja nose in a shed. He also saw a decades-old New York state license plate reading 173-WXL.
Armillotti had an epiphany.
He searched his images for the blue Baja and its license plate at home. He was right—the Facebook automobile for sale was his grandfather’s 1980 cross-country car.
The beloved insect returned after 30 years.
Armillotti dialed Jamestown.
Falconer-born Joe Bollman relocated to Jamestown eight years ago. He loves restoring old cars in his friend’s garage—his first automobile was a 1967 Impala his dad bought him.
Bollman and his friend bought two Beetles over a year ago as “projects” to work on. A 1971 Super Beetle and a 1966 blue Baja Bug were the two cars.
The Super Beetle could be restored, but the Baja was in bad shape.
Bollman listed the ’66 Baja on Facebook Marketplace after taking images.
Nothing occurred for months. In March 2022, an Orchard Park man called him, changing everything. They agreed to meet.
Last spring, Bollman met Armillotti and chatted about the Baja and looked at the pieces. “He offered and I countered.”
“As soon as we did that, he starts telling me this story and the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” he said. “There’s tears in his eyes and probably in mine, and he’s saying how he had the strangest feeling that his grandfather was there listening to us—that he put me and James together.”
Armillotti wanted to inspect the Baja and finalize the transaction before telling Bollman its history.
“I didn’t say anything,” he said. After paying him, I told him this story. It was significant, therefore I cried. He couldn’t believe it.”
Bollman thinks Armillotti sold and repurchased the Baja at least three or four times. Both are surprised the old license plate was never removed, indicating Bernard’s repairs were never completed.
Spotting the road
Since last year, Armillotti has been rebuilding the Baja with far more automotive understanding than 30 years before. He wants it road-ready by next summer.
“I’ve been putting it back together,” he added. “It’s coming together slowly. Joe found me some pieces. Great guy.”
He believes his granddad helped him find the automobile. After buying Bollman’s automobile, Armillotti found his grandfather’s bottle opener in the glove compartment, reinforcing that assumption.
“He’s right there with me,” he added. I worked on it for six months. It’s coming together. I’ll paint it and make it like he had it.”
Bollman enjoyed helping a fellow automobile aficionado. He stated they still talk.
“He sends me a picture every month on his updates,” Bollman added. “His grandfather must have wanted that car for a reason.”