Washington missed the giant snails that were rumored heading east from California a few years back and managed to avoid the killer bees, but we may not be so lucky next time.

The Beetleboards are definitely on the way from Los Angeles and will be in Washington in a few more weeks.

Not to alarm anyone, a Beetleboard is a brightly painted, privately owned Volkswagen with coloriully designed decals along the sides advertising those products you see in magazines every day.

It is the idea of Charles E. Bird, who made a big name for himself in "Youth Marketing," a company formed five years ago in Los Angeles where trends are easy to start.

Beetleboards are now on the streets of more than 250 North American cities and can be found in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Brazil. But this is the firm's first attempt to break into the Washington area market.

The advertising gimmick is not new but Beetleboards have made a success of the idea. One company in Rhode Island had 30 VWs on the street but finally gave up on the idea.

Here's an idea of what a pedestrian or driver might be confronted with, maybe while waiting for a light to change:

A fancy old-fashioned bathtub with an oversized arm hanging outside the tub, holding a bar of soap.

A Disney-like stag alongside and on the hood grinning away while sking.

A pair of heads smiling from a pond with a pack of cigarettes in the background set in a mass of marsh grass.

Beetleboards once advertised a hotel in Texas by disguishing the car as a suitcase.

According to Brenda Wasser, whose title at Beetleboards is director of operations and who doesn't like to be called a "drum beater," there were 200-300 responses to an advertisement the firm ran here recently. She was in town to arrange for body shops, paint shops, artists, and to interview prospective "members." VW owners willing to rent surface space on their cars for advertising purposes.

Although the company uses only Volkswagens for Beetleboards, the firm has no tie-in with VW.

"Despite wise," Wasser says, "they look cute with ads running along the sides. They're like pets and the owners have cute names for them. It's more than a car to them."

Testimonials in a company brochure read as if the "members" have fun. Lynn Hall of Chicago writes, "Ever since my old beige VW 'Bug' was transformed into a snappy pair of Just Jeans," my life was changed.

"The guys on campus used to ignore me, but now they're asking me out. Naturally, they all want to go in my car, but I don't care - as long as I get to go out."

And Duane Stremlau of Middleton, Wis., reports, "Heads turn, Eyes stare. Children point and cheer. Adults smile. Driving my Irish Spring Bathtub is a total experience."

The Beetleboard people will pay the owner $20 a month, but in exchange there are rules to be followed when a contract is signed. The car must undergo a body check-up at no expense to the driver, and its milage must be checked. They are not concerned about the age of the ar as long as it meets their requirements and has no rust spots.

And there are benefits besides the $20 a month. Drivers get free tickets to sporting events so that the product advertised can be seen by more people.

The company likes to have from 28 to 30 cars ready for a client before they sell advertising space. They say they have a clienta cigarette company - ready to advertize in the Washington area, but Wasser would not give out the name.

Says Wasser, "The kind of people we are looking for are responsible drivers with good driving records who might also be extroverts or maybe people who just feel their cars are dull."

So far some of the better candidates on the application list are two policemen and an Army captain from the Pentagon.

Full-time students, doctors and nurses need not apply. "Students just park their cars on a campus and they sit there all day. Because of cigarette and liquor ads we can's have doctors or nurses."

Asked how she would feel if one of her products were stalled on the 14th Street Bridge at rush hour. Wasser frowned and said, "There are a few things we don't like to think about."

The ads are selected to fit the laws and customs of the area the members drive in. A state that is dry will not have Beetleboards whizzing around with tequila bottles painted on the side.

Wasser thinks the "cute little brightly painted 'bugs'" moving about Washington will make the streets friendler. Drivers have said that people stop and talk to them at red lights. "One couple in LA met at a paint shop to have an inspection and they fell in love and married."

Another happy couple writes in the brochure, "Dear Beetleboards of America: I'm sure you get a lot of letters from your drivers about their experiences. Let me add mine. Would you believe my girl and I got married in our White Stag Beetleboard."

They do have fun, writes Nancy Herman. "an Ole Tequila" Bettleboard driver in Boston. She hears people shouting "Ole" wherever she drives.

Some drivers talk about their cars as if they are members of the family. A letter signed, "Sincerely yours, Blue Bug," sounds as if the VW had written it.

"I was painted about six months ago and when everyone sees me, they think I am a brand new car and even the gas-station attendants try to put gas in the wrong place."

For me, I hope some company doesn't get the idea to dress up the Cadillacs. I prefer to leave the good solemn look of money alone.