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LIVING IN THE PAST
Story by Lois Grace


My 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 presence.

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 that point.  

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 baby!

VolksWoman

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