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THE DASHING MACHINE
Story by Lois Grace


All of you loyal readers are, I'm quite sure, well acquainted with me as a Vintage VW Person. As such, I have very little use for the newer VW's except to admire them for what they are: a necessary evil. However, I still find myself between a rock and a hard place about this, since every year one more model year is added to the ranks of "vintage" vehicles. My mother's 1981 Dasher wagon, while not quite yet of vintage status, is a member of the aforementioned Necessary Evil category. My mom and dad bought this wagon (WHY on earth, I wondered at the time) new, in late 1980. While I'm certainly not what could be called a FAN of these newer version VW's (sorry, but why lie?), they can be put to good use when one's own vintage Bug is undergoing the rigors of a clutch transplant. It is - shall we say? - MUCH better to drive a newer VW than to remain car-less for the rest of the day.

So, faced with losing my wheels for an entire day, I accepted my mom's gracious loan of Buster Brown (as he is known) , '81 Dasher wagon in question. And, as I said before Buster will not even be close to anything resembling vintage until the year 2006, if then. I was not looking forward to driving him. But, after having him as my escort for the day, I am anxious to give credit where credit is due. Even if I was wrong about him - I just wasn't prepared to LIKE him.

I should say right here that Buster is a diesel. OK, for the rest of you that are still reading, he's actually quite a handsome example of his kind. He's got a chocolately-brown (reason enough for ME to like him) exterior that blends quite nicely with his Saddle Tan interior. He's got air conditioning, a BIG plus with me. He's a 5-speed, another reason to commend him. But I was unconvinced at first. "HAH!" I smirked, pulling out of the driveway and heading Buster towards my office. "Gee, I might have to leave for lunch a half hour early, just to GET there", I thought aloud. HAR HAR HAR. What I found (instead of my snotty speed-possessed preconceptions) was that it was incredibly soothing to drive a diesel such as Buster. Not some great, hulking, clattering behemoth in the 18-wheeler mode, but a small, sedate wagon that moved along at his own pace. I quickly learned that no matter how fast I wanted to, BUSTER had other ideas. In short, Buster's gas pedal didn't listen to his engine. He seemed to be of the opinion that I could give him all the gas I wanted, I could pound my fists on his steering wheel in speed-induced frustration, and I could shift before he was ready, but danged if Buster didn't just growl on down the road at his leisure. This was disconcerting, to say the least. Since the gas pedal didn't seem connected in any way to what was going on under the hood, it was quite a problem at first, this power struggle we had. Taking his time, Buster's RPM's would simply wind up whenever they felt good and ready, and not a moment before. One starts driving a diesel like this with the silly notion that it'll behave like a "normal" car. And it will: as long as you have time to let it catch up with itself. Once I gave up and let Buster be himself, we got along fine. The lack-of-speed illusion quickly fades, once you have Buster up to speed. He'll cruise happily along at 65mph all day and not complain. I began the day comparing him to my vintage buddies, both of whom are equipped with the mighty 36hp engine. I'm no stranger to slow acceleration! Neither Vernon or Oscar are exactly equipped to blow the doors off anything - they'd more than likely gently PUFF the doors off. And, I get by just fine with both of them! So why was I so critical of Buster's lack of acceleration? He was very similar to driving a vintage VW - planning became key. With a diesel as with a vintage car, you need to plan your maneuvers well in advance, in order to execute them safely. With this diesel, I began plotting things miles ahead of time.

I'm speaking, of course, about not pulling out in front of anyone who is already moving. Even if the other car isn't moving, you have to watch out for him since they can get going so much quicker than you can. Hills present a special problem, since Buster looks as modern as the next guy. People can sneak up behind you and expect you to be able to roar right on up the hill, never dreaming for an instant that you're going to bog down as if you were carrying a couple tons of bricks in the back. They usually notice the little "diesel" logo on the rear hatch about the time they go flying around you, muttering and glaring at you. You, about this time, will feel as if your tires were mired in mud. There are also the Three S's to contend with: Smell, Smoke and Stink. As for Smell, Buster had hardly any, except for first thing in the morning. Smoke? Buster doesn't smoke and never has. I'm told that, like people, only diesels in poor condition will smoke. That brings us to Stink, which would only happen (I assume) if your diesel smoked. So, the Big Three Diesel Notions bit the dust with me that day.

Built before aerodynamics became popular, Buster has a square, classic wagon shape that would appeal to anyone liking the cracker box style. I tend to prefer this boxy look to the newer, blobby automobile shapes that are currently appearing. He has a look that definitely starts at one end, and finishes at the other - there's none of this "OOZING ON" feel about Buster. Since he wasn't a true personality in my family till a few years ago, my dad was fond of calling Buster "The Dashing Machine", as that's what he was for so long: a machine. And, while this wagon may be Mom's cream puff, it hasn't sat unused for 14 years. No, Buster has had a life. With 80,000 original miles, he's been driven to Nebraska twice and ferries my mother around the Bay Area. He is ever-so-handy at carrying groceries and taking her two dogs anywhere they need to go. Even though this wagon won't (in my opinion) win any beauty contests, my mother loves this car. As the original owner, she takes great care to keep it as nice as possible. And her efforts show, as the car is completely, totally original. During every one of those 80,000 miles, my mom has pampered Buster with the best of care. Nothing went unattended for long. And, in all those miles, the only real repairs this wagon has had consist of normal maintenance (belts, hoses, glows plugs), a water pump, a starter motor, a clutch, and most recently a head gasket. Buster never went down during these episodes - everything was discovered during routine procedures and was fixed before it could become a problem. My mom is proud of the fact that she can now spot a worn a/c belt as well as the next guy. And, speaking of a/c, in a diesel Dasher, it is QUITE the experience. You'd better be moving at a pretty good clip when you turn it on, because the resulting KICK from the compressor is enough to give you whiplash. It puts quite a drag on the engine, and I noticed this while driving him. He's not my kind of car - the rear seat legroom is a bit lacking and I found the seats all around to be under padded or something, a bit flat - but I did have to (grudgingly) admire him for what he is: a very well-taken-care-of newer VW. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I really do admire this car. Because, no matter what kind of car it is, if it's been lovingly taken care of and is held in such high esteem by its owner, who cares WHAT it might be? Original is original, after all, and a CLOCK that still works really means something! While he lacks that certain old-VW charm I know and love so well, Buster has become an icon in his own right, a sort of second-generation younger brother to my two oldies. He's a little guy no one would ever look twice at, and he seems perfectly happy being such a guy. I know Mom likes him this way - if he were flashier, she'd have to spring for a burglar alarm for him. Besides, she has her 240Z for those Wild and Crazy Days. Now, what I'd REALLY like to know is whatever possessed them to call a DIESEL anything a DASHER...........................................

VolksWoman

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