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Story by Lois Grace

I frequently find this computer in Rant Mode, and for some reason I am powerless to control it. It's doing this again today. I've said before that I would stop writing, probably, if life didn't give me such great inspirations for my stories. But they just keep coming. Lately, I've been having a debate with some friends about who has the "easier" time restoring a vintage VW: East or West coast folks? This is a subject near and dear to my heart (after having restored two vintage Volkswagens) and bound to spark controversy no matter where you live. Of course, no matter which side of the U.S. you inhabit, you're bound to think the other guy has it better/easier/cheaper. It's strange, but I seem to hear this lament most from the Easterners. That could be due to the fact that West coast folks probably know they have a better assortment of vintage cars here to choose from when they consider a restoring an old VW, and wisely decide to keep their whining about various things associated with the project to themselves.

In the vintage VW hobby, who does have it easier: East or West coast? Now, "easy" is a relative term so let me explain what I mean by that. At the risk of annoying (or at the very least offending) anyone living on the right side of Reno, I will attempt to describe things from a California standpoint (which should be enough by itself to really annoy most people). I hear a lot of squawking from East Coasters about how easy we here on the West side of things have it. Apparently, all of us in California (or Arizona, and occasionally, Oregon and Washington) have vintage Splits, Ovals and Buses (not to mention all the Hebmullers and Type III's) parked just around every corner, all of them rust-free and completely restorable with just the flick of a wrist. We all make millions of dollars a year, at jobs that we really love, so for us, money is no object. Parts houses abound here, everything costs just pennies, body shops and expert help are so plentiful that you practically trip over them on the way to the Safeway, and everything else is easily available to us with merely a phone call. Yeah, and the moon is made of cheese. SIGH. It is plain to me that those Easterners who think this way have never visited us here in "rust-free" ( another common misconception) California. I am getting a bit weary of the way the rest of the country perceives us "wacky" Californians.

Sure, California is the land of past-life regression, yoga, sun-worshippers, health foods, lunch-hour-massages, and inline skating. While the popular notion of Californians being totally nutsoid (and the strange behavior of some natives) doesn't lend credibility to those of us who live normal, everyday lives here in LaLaLand, it shouldn't make any less credible the many fine VW hobbyists who make their home here. These VW hobbyists - myself included - work very hard to restore their cars. I was born here in California and not counting a brief three-year stint in Boston (which I do not care to ever repeat - Massachusetts is a great place and I loved every minute of my three years there but I was only 5 years old, an age when you can still appreciate being snow-bound) was raised in the Bay Area. Contrary to popular belief, it DOES rain here in California, can get quite cold at times (19 degrees for a full two weeks in the winter of 1990) and of course we have to deal with those nasty earthquakes looming around every corner. A two-week cold snap is surely nothing to compare with the below-zero temperatures those in the East face. But let me set the facts (as I see them) straight here: nice, restorable vintage Volkswagens are hard to find, EVERYWHERE. Including California. We probably do have more vintage VW's here to choose from, given the fact that most of them do not rust away into thin air the way they can in other parts of the country. But we have major traffic here, and theft, and I would venture a guess that we lose a significant number of very fine, restorable (and restored) cars to both each year. So, if our cars aren't reduced to wet, red dust by rust, they are being stolen and parted out, shipped overseas, or they fall victim to some terrible accident that leaves them unrepairable. I will allow that we start out with the better vehicles, probably, due to the fact that we have no salty roads here in winter and our cars last longer. We definitely do not have the rust problem other areas do, but a 40-year-old car in California is still 40 years old - certainly not brand new! That is NOT to say we don't have rust or know what rust is! Another minor advantage I would be willing to admit to is the fact that we don't have to pay as much to get mail-order parts sent to us, given the fact that shipping costs less if you live in the state where the parts house is located. But we still pay to get whatever we need sent to us!

I suspect a lot of this East vs. West antagonism springs from the fact that Easterners just aren't conveniently located close to a big source of restorable cars. I know I'd be resentful if I was a geographically-challenged restorer. I would imagine that those people living in the Eastern US who want a vintage car to restore probably find that candidate easiest by making a trip West and buying one from our area. In fact, in looking through all the nationally-distributed VW newsletters I receive every month, there seems to be at least one ad for someone looking for a West-Coast vehicle. We have far less distance to travel to find that car, since we are already here! But that's not because we (most of us) CHOSE to move to the WEST coast so we could more readily find restorable cars. No, most of us ended up here by sheer fate or accident. Like myself, a vast number of us were born here; the rest migrated for jobs, housing, or whatever. Don't sit in Maine and whine that we have it so easy here - come and (what am I SAYING???) join us!

Assuming that you now have your restorable vintage VW - no matter which side of the US you live on - the time has now come to begin the work. So, you shop around for body shops, spend weekends dismantling your prize, and spend countless more hours poring over parts catalogs, again bemoaning the fact that all of us in California have it so much easier. HOW?! Does a paint job cost less in California? Do we have more swap meets here in the West? Are tires (and parts) cheaper to ship (assuming that you want that correct set of wide whites for your Oval and order them by mail) to California than they are to, say, New York? Are body shops and good mechanics and NOS or repro parts more expensive on the East coast? I don't think so. If anything, most of the really great deals (if you listen to the people that tell me these things) are to be had on the East coast. And why is that? As I see it, it's because all of the rare, valuable stuff (and even some not-so-rare but very needed parts) here in the West has already been bought and sold fifteen times over, by various collectors making an obscene profit. I doubt very much that here in California you'd ever run across an "old guy at the local swap meet" with that coveted Hazet tool kit (complete with tools, of course) for some unbelievably low price. Deals like that can only be had in places where the people either don't know what they have or don't care. Neither is true here in the Golden State. Everyone hangs onto everything, regardless of its worth at the moment, because it MIGHT be worth something someday. Even I've done this! Heck, I've even got 4 plugged-up 40hp intake manifolds in the garage right now, because someone might need them, sometime. Two of my cars are 36hp, the other is a 1600cc single port. What on earth do I need with FOUR (plugged-up, remember) 40hp intake manifolds?? I've learned the hard way to hoard this stuff : taillight lenses for '59 Transporters that used to sell at the dealer for $8 each (when I was in high school) will now go for $300 for the pair, if you can find them at all. You just never know.

All this whining about how great Californians have it is tiring. I haven't expressed this particular opinion before because it'll easily get my head snapped off by irate VW collectors everywhere, and if you think whining is tiring, try living without a head. Of course, I still think the vast majority of VW collectors think of all of us - regardless of where we live - as one big Volkswagen-loving family and would do anything to help anther collector out. At least, that's been my experience. I still think we are some of the best people around. While there are a few that will whine and gripe and complain, I still believe they are only a small fraction of our "family".

Hey, my computer has just told me that "Rant Mode" is over - it's back to normal now, whatever that is. You'll pardon me, I hope, as I have work to do. After my mud bath, I'm going out to unplug those $500 manifolds. You WILL call if you're in need of one, won't you?? I'll give you a good deal.

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