I was explaining the virtues of driving my 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel (aka “The Rabbi”, then later “The Whistle Pig”) and was greeted with a rather interesting response: “You’ll never get a wife in a car like that!” I found this a particularly shallow and unnecessary observation on his part. Of course I wouldn’t. I knew that. I had no plans of bird-dogging chicks at the local strip mall with this thing. No illusions of females swooning at the sharp turbine whistle emitted by the side-exit exhaust. The mismatched hatch would not make them weak in the knees. That isn’t why I found that car so appealing.
What drew me to it was it’s simplicity, the pureness of the driving experience, the excellent fuel economy (better than today’s uber-complex hybrids), and the fact that the $175 purchase price seemed relatively affordable. (Truth be told, the previous owner’s girlfriend told him to make the decision between her or the car, thus the quick sale and low, low price.) Yes, it is ugly, rough, and will mark its territory with the predictability and dedication of a terrier in a public park. I love the directness of the manual steering, the boost-induced giggles of a self-installed turbo system, and the honesty of its reluctance to get going on a cold winter morning. It has character. It is a bit special. Read more
It happened again. I left my driveway and started down the ¾ mile long gradual hill that leads down my road to the highway. (I use those terms loosely, since I allow others to use my road and the highway is just two lanes’ worth of crumbled concrete.) For whatever reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving my brakes a gentle squeeze test when I reach the slight flat before the final downhill grade that ends with a stop sign and heavy traffic. I feel better knowing that my brakes are slightly warm before asking them to pull hard duty. Either that or I’m just super paranoid about losing my life. I’m glad I became addicted to this behavior, since I had the wonder of complete brake failure during this test.
The first time this happened was in my BMW. When my foot went to the floor I was going slow enough that I could easily slow the car with the handbrake. (I always baby my vehicles when they are cold. I’m a softie.) The crisis was averted, and I could return home unscathed to switch into a “safer” vehicle: the Rabbi (1981 VW Rabbit Turbo-diesel). While many will argue that they’d rather die in a BMW than drive a Rabbit, I was in a bind and, frankly, I have low standards. The Rabbi has been a faithful (if not trying) partner over the years, and it responded to the call of duty and got me to my dinner date that evening. Read more
There was a time in my life when I could identify any car being produced. Granted, it was probably during my time spent in purgatory (also known as Junior High) when I had nothing better to do with my time than peruse the stack of auto literature my brother and I had. We amassed these annals from various car shows and dealer showrooms visited on family excursions throughout the years. Our shared bedroom was akin to a small, stuffy library of all things automobile and tractor. (Although the familiar scent of library mildew was missing, it was more than made up for by the fragrant bouquet of dirty clothes strewn about on my half of the floor.) Since, in our household, the television was seen as a treat on par with a day at the zoo or eating sugared cereal, we would spend rainy days perusing the various brochures, learning as much as we could about each model. We studied horsepower and torque curves, engine displacements, transmission options, and cylinder configurations. I could spit them out ad nauseam, and it often resulted in just that.
Perhaps even more importantly, we studied the body lines and trim details of each manufacturer. Designs seemed to actually carry a purpose at that time. There was a family resemblance within a brand, and each car had its own distinct design within the clan. A Ford looked like a Ford. A Mercedes was, unmistakably, a Mercedes. A Citroen, sadly, looked only like a Citroen could. Surprisingly, my hometown had a grey-market Citroen dealership that seemed to come and go with the seasons. Upon sighting a Citroen BX Break* kneeling curbside, passers-by would often change facial expressions from curiosity, then shock, and eventually ending in a lasting grimace of disgust. This fascinated my young, impressionable mind. I knew there had to be something intrinsically wrong with a company that could produce a car so vile on the outside, yet also had the audacity to sport a one-spoked steering wheel in the interior. There was no escaping itself.
*aka “wagon” or “estate,” but if owners of early-models are ever asked, the original name seemed aptly chosen by the factory