My mother just turned 86 years old.
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
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 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 was all-necessary.
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
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