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USF gets bitten by the Bull Bug

Published: Thursday, August 25, 2011

Updated: Thursday, August 25, 2011 01:08

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MONTAGE PHOTOS/LUCAS CANNISTRACI

Soto with his Bull Bug. MONTAGE PHOTOS/LUCAS CANNISTRACI

Camilo Soto has done a lot since earning his bachelor's degree in political science from the University in 2001. Turning the vehicle he drove during his college days into a green and gold creation might be his best work yet.

Soto was 15 when he restored his 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle, which at the time had no salvageable parts but the 1600 cc engine. He bought the car in 1995 for $500 from a lot in Fort Lauderdale.

"It was straight Flintstone style — no floor pans," he said. "But I kind of fell in love. I was bitten by the bug."

The vintage Beetle was the first car he ever owned and has had a special place in his heart since he first got behind the wheel. Soto said he's always felt a connection with the car and bonded with his father when he initially restored it.

Naturally, when the time came for him to leave home for college, he took the freshly fixed-up Beetle with him.

"Veronica — AKA "Veronica the Bull Bug" — spent four years driving around the USF campus until Soto graduated in 2001. It even took a road trip to Michigan when Soto went to law school at Thomas Cooley in Lansing.

After receiving his law degree in 2005, Soto decided to return to the Tampa Bay area, where he works for the city of Clearwater as an assistant city attorney. At that point, the car was still burgundy.

"I tried to drive around as little as possible in the snow because the salt does a number on your chassis," he said. "Needless to say, it still did a number on my car."

He faced a dilemma about whether to sell the car in order to buy one that could make the daily commute. Instead, Soto decided to once again restore his beloved Beetle, but this time with a twist. He saved up enough money to send Veronica to a shop in Largo, where the Bug was transformed.

He painted the Bug USF green and attached multiple USF logos, turning his beloved Veronica into the Bull Bug it is today. The interior has tan leather and a glossy green shift knob donned with the USF logo. The knob is custom made from North Dakota, and has a USF pin embedded into a resin cast.

"There's fanatical UF fans, there's fanatical FSU fans, why not a fanatical USF fan?" he said. "It embodies the love that I had for my undergrad with my love for Bugs — kind of combined two of my loves together."

Soto unveiled the finished version of Veronica the Bull Bug just in time for last year's football season. Since then, the Bull Bug has made an appearance at every home football game, many basketball games and this year's soccer opener Tuesday night.

Soto and his girlfriend, Arlene Gabriela, have been tailgating at USF sporting events with friends since he returned from law school. She graduated from USF with a degree in business administration. Gabriela said the Bull Bug is a hit at every football game and fans in the area can't help but get a closer look.

"He is too modest to get any credit for this, as he didn't do it for recognition," she said. "But I believe what he's doing demonstrates such loyalty and support to the school."

Though he didn't restore his car for attention, the Bull Bug is impressive nonetheless. Last year, the Bull Bug won second place in the Pasco County BugJam limited modification category, meaning every part other than the floorboards and wheels are from 1973.

While his vehicle certainly seems worthy of the homecoming night parade in October, Soto said he would rather just "hang out and enjoy the parade."

However, he does have big dreams for the vehicle. Soto said he has yet to fulfill his goal of giving Rocky D. Bull a ride in the Bull Bug for a double dose of school spirit.

Additional reporting by Joe Polito

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