Rob, What a nice treat to find you here. I recognized your name immediately from the Roundel, which I have not read in years, after I no longer had BMWs. I have enjoyed seeing Sam Smith in R&T now too. Is he still on the Roundel team?
My first car was my best car. When I graduated from college, my parents offered to buy me a Honda Civic (~$4,000 at the time, spring of 1978) as a graduation present. I had seen an ad for the special edition 1978 VW Scirocco, which was $6,500. They agree to let me put my savings together with their $4,000 and get the VW.
I need to back up a few months here. My dad had replaced his 71 Saab 99E with a 74 99 EMS. He told me I could use the 71 in my senior year, but he would still own it. It was about as reliable as your Spit. I couldn’t drive it anyplace without having to fix something. I, too, had been a bike mechanic, so doing the car was not a big transition.
During spring break of 1978, we went to The Small Car Company, the VW dealer at the time in Westport, CT, and bought the Scirocco. I did not want to drive it to Rochester, NY, to return to college, since it is still the middle of winter there in March. We arranged to leave the car at the dealer, so it didn’t need to be registered or insured until I returned after graduation. A few days later, driving the Saab to Rochester, in a terrible storm, on a day I did not need to go, but did, because my passengers had classes on the next day (I did not), I got into a multi-car pile up on a frozen over bridge in Binghampton. Heard about it on the CB, couldn’t see a thing in the blinding snow, drove right into the back of the line… and then someone did the same to me. Fortunately, not at great speed.
We all waited for the police, and eventually gave that up. I guess they were busy with lots of wrecks that day. Swapped insurance info, and found that my crumpled heap still ran, so we continued. It was misfiring badly though, did not have enough power to get out of first gear. Made it to Rochester like that, then parked the car until graduation, by which time it was almost warm enough to pry the hood open and diagnose it. The problem was nothing more than a spark plug wire that had been knocked loose.
I drove the car back to CT, and took delivery of the VW, which was like a rocket ship compared to the Saab. Much smaller, but everything I owned fit in it, easily.
The insurer declared the Saab a total loss, but I made a deal with my dad, and the insurer, bought the salvage for $300, and my dad let me keep the Saab. I beat it back into some semblance of shape, so at least the hood could open and close. I remember tying a chain from my mom’s Plymouth Fury to the Saab’s radiator bulkhead, and using the Mopar power to pull the rad forward, so it was no longer touching the engine.
So, this left me with a cool VW, and a very roachy Saab. This set the stage for me always having a winter beater, and because of that, the VW lives to this day. In fact, I had it out for a ride this morning. One part at a time, I have converted it to something very similar to European GTi spec (the special edition already had the GTi interior), and it has been my good friend for 40 years now. The only part that has ever failed, leaving me in the lurch, has been the fuel pump relay, twice. Now I carry a little jumper wire so I can bypass it, if need be.
I am uploading a photo of the car that I took this morning. Eagle eyed old timers will look at the headlights with a WTF? They were an unusual option on a European version. I brought them back from Switzerland in a suitcase decades ago. Still have the original ones, too.
Nice to catch up with you, Rob. I learned lots from your columns in the Roundel. Thanks!