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New and Improved
Story by Lois Grace

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 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 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 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.

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