IN THE PAST
50th article for AllAirCooled started
out being a discussion of which are
better: old cars or new cars?
I've been told - more than once -
that I live in the past. This comment
is really hilarious to a vintage car
lover, because what would we admire
if we didn't live in the past?
I used to think this was some sort
of subtle insult or something. Not
any more! To me, it's nearly
a compliment. Let me explain:The latest
episode of this came not too long
ago, when I was griping to a friend
that my cassette tape deck in my Beetle,
Bogie, had quit working. My
stereo is not an expensive unit -
you have to make major modifications
to a Bug dash in order to get the
really good stuff to fit in there
- but it worked for a long while very
well, and sounded really nice.
Until the CD craze hit.
The CD craze meant that my cassette
player was now obsolete, according
to my friend. I asked (semi-jokingly)
if there was a 'multiple cassette
player' I could install in the trunk
(provided that the installers could
actually locate my trunk in this car)
of my Bug, some device that would
hold 10 cassettes and play them in
order, like the remotely mounted CD
players do. My pal laughed and snorted
'2011 calling Lois! 2011 calling
Lois' He contemptuously informed me
that there was no such animal and
I might as well submit to the inevitable.
The inevitable WHAT?
Following each and every new technological
wonder like some yuppie lemming??
No thanks. I wanna know WHY
there isn't such an animal. I bet
I could make a lot of money developing
something like that, but I won't now
because some quick-thinking, VW Club
of America entrepreneur will read
this and do it instead.
My poor stereo has now seen much better
days - the tuner works but the indicator
does not so you never know what station
you're on. The little groovy
green light that illuminated the face
burned out quite a while ago.
The AM/FM works fine but in addition
to never knowing what station you're
on, you cant see the numbers on the
face at night because of that burned-out
light, a fact that doesn't bother
me much because the aforementioned
indicator doesn't move. The
cassette player quit last summer.
The only thing that keeps it going
are the two speakers in back and the
graphic equalizer I have installed
in the glove box. So, do I buy
a new one or not? My friend
made it plain that he thinks I'm 'stuck'
in the past because I actually ENJOY
my cassettes. Another asked where
I stashed all my '8-tracks and player'.
HAHAHAHA, see me laugh.
I have always thought that new stuff
was fun. But that doesn't necessarily
mean its any good. That also doesn't
mean its any better than the old stuff
I have already. CD players skip when
you go over bumps. I do know that
CD's have much better quality sound
than cassettes - but one ride in Bogie
(or any air-cooled VW, in my not-so-humble
opinion) and you'll see why the glories
of CD sound would be totally wasted.
Who can hear John Lennon blowing his
nose in the background during Paul
McCartney's solo above the whirr and
whine of a mighty 1600cc, air-cooled
engine?? And who wants to?
I mean, get REAL. If you turn
it up loud enough you can hear anything,
you say?? Yeah, probably, but bleeding
eardrums get pretty annoying when
you're trying to drive. If CD's
are so great, why would I have to
turn it way up to appreciate it?
See, it makes no sense.
I ran into this 'Newer is Better'
phenomenon a while ago when a friend
of mine (not the same CD-crazed friend
but still a lover of New Things) bought
a new BMW. She raced over to
our house in the early morning to
show it off, and insisted on taking
me (still in my bathrobe) for a spin.
'Isn't this GREAT?' she crowed. 'Don't
you just LOVE it?' she asked.
Yes, her new car WAS nice, but where
was that familiar older-car, VW smell?
Her new car's interior was beige leather
and smelled deliciously of brand new
shoes, but the odd, 'VW-only' horsehair-vinyl-and-dusty
floor mat smell was missing.
That VW smell is comforting.
My Beetle is like a comfy old shoe
- I can put it on, it smells the same,
it drives the same, and it does the
same things it did 200,000 miles ago,
only I like it more now. Sure,
my Beetle behaves like a comfy old
shoe, but it doesn't smell like a
new shoe. Her car smells like
the new shoe, but it sure doesn't
behave like a familiar, comforting
Maybe it's me. Maybe I just expect
too much and tend to be disappointed
when things don't deliver the way
I think they should. New cars
have a lot to live up to - they are
supposed to be better in every way
than the model that came before them.
If they are a totally new model,
they must create the image that future
models will live up to. One
exception to this is the New Beetle,
who had the extraordinary task of
trying to follow in the footsteps
of the most popular car of all time.
The New Beetle has successfully carved
out its own niche in the Cute Car
Category and seems to be doing well
in spite of the fact that all of us
Real Beetle owners first scoffed at
it when the Concept One idea was suggested.
I have no deep longing for a New Beetle
(or a new, New Beetle) of my own,
a fact that my 'New Is Better' friends
find puzzling. I'm sure they
can't understand the reasons why I'd
choose to drive a Real Beetle when
I could afford a New Beetle.
I will grant them one fact:
New Beetles do offer things that Real
Beetles can't match. Airbags,
anti-lock brakes and a cutting-edge
techno look are just a few.
But preferring to drive a 30-year-old
car is not what I would call 'living
in the past'. I call it being
content and satisfied with what I
have, happy in the knowledge that
I know that car inside and out and
would drive it anywhere. That kind
of familiarity only comes with time,
and the New Is Better crowd doesn't
keep anything long enough to get to
If you own any car older than a year
or two, you'll probably understand
what I'm talking about here.
There are distinct differences between
new and old cars, and I don't mean
just style, price, and warranty information.
I'm talking PERCEPTION. For
instance, when our Saab got old enough
to need age-related work, Rob growled
'I'm not spending another DIME on
that thing. I'm done. YOU pay for
it'. That's the way he thinks when
it comes to 'old' cars - and how OUR
Saab became MY Saab. But me?
I don't care. To me the older
a car gets, the more interesting it
becomes. But another peculiar
phenomenon takes place: when
a car gets old, it needs more TLC,
more understanding. And that
usually translates into more money.
When my oldies break, I cluck and
fuss over them, thinking 'OH DEAR!
YOU POOR OLD THING! Don't you
worry, well have you fixed up good
as new before you can say OIL CHANGE!';
When new cars break, its nothing but
a headache: 'How can the alternator
be shot?? This thing is only
2 years old!!!'
When older cars break, Rob rolls his
eyes and moans 'AGAIN? I just
fixed that 400,000 miles ago.
Cheap garbage.....' When his
new cars have broken down, hed shrug,
look perplexed, and then phone our
mechanic. Even if the necessary
repair could cost him big bucks, he
doesn't begrudge the new vehicle the
repair! What is wrong with this
picture? It seems a case of
clouded reason to me. If he reasoned
like I do (the right way) he'd see
that cars aren't just rolling statuary:
they are machines (forgive me) with
moving parts that wear and conk out.
It all makes perfect sense to me,
but to Rob any breakdown is an annoyance,
especially if it happens 100,000 miles
and 10 years after the last one. He
doesn't give the poor thing any credit
at all for all those reliable miles
traveled. MEN. Go figure.
Old cars have personality and odd
quirks. I personally find the quirks
part of their charm, but others might
not be so amused. Nearly all
my vintage VWs have the extremely
rare (but for some odd reason, familiar)
Magic Key Feature. After a while
(say maybe 20 years or so) all my
VWs developed the ability to release
the ignition key while the engine
was running. I found this out quite
by accident, when I pulled up in the
driveway, pulled the key out of the
ignition and got out. I was
halfway to the front door before I
realized I hadn't turned the ignition
OFF, before removing the key!
The shop says its worn cylinders or
tumblers in the switch, I say it's
the Wolfsburg Edition Magic Key option.
Newer cars don't have to deal with
things such as hidden features like
this, because they haven't been on
the road long enough to develop any.
Right after I bought my GTi, I fell
into this Faulty Logic Thinking and
began blaming the car when my Golf
started needing a few things repaired.
I blame this on living with a new
car fanatic for many years.
As always, my own logic is again flawless,
but more on that in a bit. After buying
my 'new' GTi, it began doing strange
things. AGE-related things.
Things that only happen to older cars
presently in (as a friend told me)
a 'wear cycle' of repairs. I
was assured that my GTi would drive
happily out the other end of this
'wear cycle', my wallet a bit lighter
but neither of us the worse for wear.
But, using my strictly Vintage-Only
thinking, all I could think of was
how could this be happening to my
'new' GTi? The car was only
a few years old! How can things
like MAF sensors and radiators and
air conditioning and expansion tanks
need replacing now? The car's
nearly new! What I hadn't taken
into account were the 79,000 miles
BEHIND this car I'd just adopted,
miles that I hadn't driven with it
so therefore had no knowledge of.
My poor little GTi was CRYING OUT
for my attention and understanding
(not having had the benefit of my
tender loving care prior to this)
and here I was blaming HIM for the
breakdown! I hang my head in
shame, and stand corrected.
Part of the reason I bought this car
was the fact that everyone I consulted
for advice assured me that these cars
were 'practically bulletproof.' Others
told me tales of having 150,000 miles
on their Golf or Jetta, and never
having had the head off for anything.
Sounded good to me! But, just
as one head does not a human make,
one head is not the sum total of a
GTi. In fact, I am finding that
this car has more moving (and non-moving
but necessary) parts than the Space
Shuttle. Describing all of them
I've had the dubious privilege to
meet personally would fill another
column. But dealing with the
various little annoyances that have
surfaced since I bought him
has taught me a valuable lesson:
cars don't stay new forever, and nine
years, while not old, is definitely
not new. In the end it all boils
down to whether or not you feel your
older pal is worth fixing. If
'New Is Better' is your thing, then
you most likely will move on to another
new car rather than spend a lot to
fix the old one. That's just
fine with us Old Car People because
it greatly enhances the Old Car Pool
from which we love to buy our NEXT