My mother turned 86 years old this year.
On the same day that she was born, Vernon,
my Single Cab, turned 50 years old.
Mom was happy to know that her first 'grandchild',
the one she calls 'The Blue Bomb' (among
various other things), is still very much
alive and kicking. She was able
to tell Vernon this fact in person, since
we got him out for a birthday drive on
that sunny Sunday. Vernon has been
a part of my family since 1967, so he
is as much 'one of the kids' as my brothers,
sister and I.
Seeing Mom and Vernon together was great
fun. Of the two of them, Mom seems
to be holding up best, as she hasn't been
through a complete facelift and paint
job. And, she has traveled many
more miles than Vernon. As we stood
there marveling at both their accomplishments,
we began thinking out loud about how the
automotive industry and cars in general
have changed since Vernon (and Mom) were
built. Air bags, side impact beams,
fuel injection, anti-lock brakes, variable
timing, engine control computer modules,
more and more cylinders, and yes, even
TELEVISION has now become routine for
modern autos. The more I thought
about this, the more I had to wonder if
all of it was really a good thing.
The fact is, I buy cars. I rarely
sell cars. In fact, I've only sold
one in my entire life and I'm now sorry
I did, even though it was starting to
cost and arm and a leg to park it while
I figured out how to pay to fix it.
I don't buy cars on the basis of safety
ratings, practicality, or 'extras'.
I buy my cars based on my gut. If
it appeals to me because of looks, or
reputation, or sheer funkiness, then
that's the one I want. As a result,
I have never had a new car. New
cars just don't do it for me. I
don't care about electric windows or heated
bun warmers or '100,000 miles between
tune-ups'. To me, all of these modern
amenities are just more things to go wrong.
And, when they do, they cost a bundle.
I bought my newest car, a 1990 Golf GTi
named Gus, in 1998. I figured it
was time to give in to the urge for air
conditioning, something none of my air-cooled
VWs could provide. I chose the 1990
model because A) it was a car I could
afford, and B) I really liked the boxy
looks of the A2 model. (See, I told
you my choices were based on my gut)
Gus came home with me on Valentine's Day
and immediately settled into his new role
as pampered VW #4. It soon became obvious
that pampering had not been part of his
former life. The previous owner,
while most likely a really nice guy, had
not lavished any extra attention on the
GTi. Once Gus became mine, he started
needing things, most of which could have
been repaired or replaced during something
called 'normal routine maintenance'.
Being a big believer in maintenance, I
gave him what he needed.
Some of these things were items total
unfamiliar to me: a radiator, the
very strangely named (and even more strangely-functioning)
'box', and an assortment of belts and
hoses. All this attention did not
come cheaply, but I didn't begrudge Gus
these most important articles. It's
only been after a few such 'repair outings'
that I got to thinking about whether it
Vintage VWs are such simple creatures.
They are easy to understand, easy to fix
(most of the time), and easy to operate.
They don't ask much, and are happy with
the basics. They require no water,
and one belt does it all. The newer
cars are so full of modules and sensors
and regulators and resistors that finding
a problem when it occurs can require a
PhD. And, if the problem is found easily,
it can cost plenty to fix, provide that
they get the fix right in the first place!
There is no question that air bags save
lives, and ditto for side impact beams
and anti-lock brakes. But what did
people do before all this 'technology'
was available? Die in droves?
I don't think so. They went about
their daily lives, tried to drive safely
and didn't do things that might cause
other drivers to want to hurt them.
In this day and age, people drive 3-ton
'SUV' to feel safer, and drive like idiots
because of this false sense of security.
These so-called sport Utes are named such
because of their supposedly superior 'sport
utility' capabilities. HAH!
My own '59 single Cab, the same one that
recently celebrated his 50th birthday,
could probably climb (and most likely
has!) any muddy hill those SUVs would
dare to try, IF their owners would get
them dirty. On the freeways, these titans
battle it out for ownership of a lane,
while in years past drivers courteously
waved others in front of them, to avoid
the dreaded collision. No one seems
to care much about collisions now; their
vehicles are so oversized and bloated,
and their insurance costs so much, that
they must welcome the chance to occasionally
file a claim. These big rigs get
abysmal gas mileage, but no one seems
to care. Besides, they can drive
however they want, the air bags will protect
them, right? The power windows and
door locks go up and down, the burglar
alarms go off and on, the 10-speaker stereo
and CD player blares, while the driver
blabbers endlessly on the cell phone while
pretending to drive. And do we really
NEED all this?
No one needs a 3-ton 'SUV'. And, if you
were using a cell phone while you're driving,
then you'd darned well better be someone
important, like the President. Or
maybe a brain surgeon. No one needs
power windows and door locks, that's why
arms and hands were invented. And,
NO ONE needs a TV or computer or 'telecommuting
station' in his or her car! The
fine art of driving, and the even finer
art of enjoying this art, is rapidly disappearing,
in large part due to all the modern conveniences
of these newfangled cars. It started with
drink holders, and has run the gamut clear
through to television in the headrests.
Ridiculous! I have nothing against
progress. But are we really progressing
when we morph a machine designed to take
us places (and in the process, SEE things)
into a mere 'transportation device' with
entertainment? What do we need all
this for? And the answer to that,
my friends, is WE DON'T. My mother
is still going strong at 80 years old,
and she never even had a TV in her house
till the late 50's! So, I doubt
you need one in your car! Teach
your kids to look out the window, that's
the whole point of a Sunday drive anyway.
Provided, of course, that you're not stuck
at home repairing a module.