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TO GOLF OR NOT TO GOLF??
Story by Lois Grace


I didn't want to like it. After all, I'm not really an admirer of water cooled VW's. I really tried not to like it. But, after almost a week of Golfing, I've become convinced that I probably would really love a newer VW. And, a GTI version would be just the ticket. OOOPS, poor choice of words.

There I was, minding my own business, when I suddenly got the chance to drive a friend's 1985 Golf. I say "minding my own business" because, as most of you probably know, I am not a big fan of "new" VW's. I remind you of this fact often enough. And, as a fanatically air-cooled VW person, it came as quite a shock that I could actually like a water-pumper. This Golf took me a while to like - I don't think it really convinced me until the second or third drive. Until that point, it just reminded me basically of my Saab: new (which is relative since neither are actually new cars), adequate, nicely finished inside, and (horrors) a sedan.

And, I noticed all the obvious stuff: it was peppy, the controls were well-placed and convenient, the seats were comfy and the handling was above-average. But once I got the chance to really try this little beast out, my outlook on "new" VW's changed. Most newer VW's (that is, the ones that don't look like the Bug, Bus, or Ghia) have always generally reminded me of any old Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, or Toyota Corolla. In other words, small, boxy and boring. The Golf was no exception. I never paid it much attention, really, other than thinking it was slightly sporty-looking and had a cute rear end. Once I got hooked on the GTI Idea, though, I began to notice Golf's and GTI's in a whole new light. I see one around my office here often - it's lowered, red, with tinted windows and a spoiler. While I might not have given it a second glance a few weeks ago, my week with Steve's Golf has made me drool over this one every time I do see it.

The Golf in question belongs to Steve, my trusty VW fixit guy an old pal. As I said, it's an '85 model, not a GTI, but still LOADS of fun, as I found out recently. With our club's Spring Meet coming up fast here in San Jose, my '58 convertible needed to come home from his rented garage. My daily driver, Bogart, got put away in Oscar's place and Oscar went to Steve's shop for some pre-show work. Normally, all this car-shuffling wouldn't be a big deal as I have the Saab to drive as my alternative. But this year, the Saab has had big problems: after over a year of driving on a marginally functional engine, I've found out that this car has either a warped head or a cracked head. We won't know which until we tear it apart (a job that I've decided to tackle at home, much to Rob's delight, I assure you) but until that time it remains a car that should be driven as little as possible. When Oscar came home and then immediately went over to Steve's shop, that left me without wheels till the little guy went back home and Bogie came back to stay. Steve very generously offered the use of the Golf, for a week, till Oscar got spiffed up. Steve's is basically the way it was born (with a few mechanical improvements, after all, he IS a mechanic) and is a lovely pale yellow/cream color with matching brown and beige tweed interior. There's a lot of space in that car, and the trunk is good sized for a small car. I rode almost 90 miles in the back seat of this car and was very comfy. I am still shaking my head in amazement at my falling so hard for a car like this.

I must say that I was expecting great things - after all, this car IS a Volkswagen. But with a radiator?? Water cooled? Engine in the wrong end? This car has more in common with the Saab than it does with any VW I own. The first time I drove it I got to try out the cruise control Steve had added, and play with the fancy stereo system. After a few miles I was thinking to myself, "I could get used to this thing." After a few more miles, my thoughts ran towards "WOW, this car really moves", and it wasn't long before I was thinking along the lines of "I WANT ONE OF THESE." Once I began thinking like that, my natural caution disappeared and I stepped a bit harder on the gas. The little guy sprang to life, anxious to please me and knowing that horsepower is the surest way to my heart. I then thought , "GEE, I could really drive like a JERK in one of these." Of course, I can drive like a jerk now, in my Bug, but it's so much easier when you can go fast. What happened?? Air-cooled VolksWoman, lusting after a water-cooled VW?? Can't possibly happen. I'd sworn it never would, but here it is: the proof of my obsession arrived a few days later when Rob spotted a "For Sale" ad on the bulletin board at work. "CAR FOR SALE, 1985 VW GTI, new a/c, new clutch, new muffler, AM/FM stereo cassette, 98,000 miles. $2500." ACCKKKKKKKK! A GTI of my very own, just waiting for me to go pick it up! When I made mention of this lunacy to our Autoist editor via email recently, I got the response I should have expected: he stated that he was relieved to see that there may be SOME hope for me after all. Showing that I might be interested in a "less than 25-year-old VW with a radiator and the engine not in the trunk" must have made him feel that I really wasn't ALL that weird after all. He even said something about Golf's and GTI's being much more fun to drive than "a 9-horsepower Beetle". And, I have to agree. There, I said it. Never thought I would but there it is. This Golf is FUN, and if the Golf is fun, then imagine my ecstasy in a GTI!! This car sticks the turns, leaps to life under my foot, and beckons me to make up errands so I can drive it a little longer. I can't remember the last time I felt that way about a car, even when the Saab was new.

Steve wailed when I called and told him about it. "BUT YOU CAN'T HAVE A GTI, I want one!!" Rob is constantly astounded at my longing for more horsepower - I would have thought he'd gotten used to the idea by now. If I have such a fetish for speed, then why do I drive old VW's? Chalk it up to laziness and frugality. I like the idea of knowing I can count on the same car year after year, and that same car has cost me very little to operate and keep up for the past 20 years or so. Given the fact that said car has just had a brand new engine installed kinda makes me pause for thought about buying something else to drive every day, but hey?? What does rationality have to do with it? And, the price is SO right! How can I say no to a $2500 car?? Especially a $2500 Volkswagen? And a "NEW" one at that! Just old enough to still be interesting, and new enough to be state of the art, compared to my old air-cooled buddies.

Now, with myself convinced that I really DO want this car, the logistics of it become the problem. Where to garage it? Where to keep it? How to insure it? What do I really know about cars with water-cooled engines in the wrong end, and driven by the wrong wheels? What do I do with my precious '69 Beetle, now that he's been essentially reborn with his new engine? And, maybe most importantly, how do I convince my hubby that I haven't lost my mind and I am most definitely NOT having a mid-life crisis of some sort? If that were true, the GTI I want would be RED, and the car I've found is white. The only thing wrong with this car is that it doesn't have a sunroof, apparently, but I could live with that. After all, I have a convertible!! So, I was prepared to throw caution to the wind and write that check for my "new" GTI.

After calling and calling and getting no answer, I gave up. My disappointment was so overwhelming that I began looking in the paper for GTI's for sale. After a few days of perusing the ads, I came to my senses once again (if you can call it that) and quit. I guess this particular GTI was not meant for me. But I also know there IS one out there for me, if I decide I need one. Meanwhile, the Saab sits in the driveway, under his cover, awaiting his valve job. Both my vintage VW's (I feel the need to specify now that there's a water-pumper waiting for me somewhere) sit too, anxious to get out to all the shows that are coming this summer. Bogart has his new engine (something he needed, whether or not I buy a GTI). Now, if I were really clever, I'd sell the Saab and buy the GTI and there'd be no harm done. But I can't bring myself to get rid of the old beast, bad valves and all. HEAVY SIGH. So for now, things remain static in VolksWoman's House of Vintage Saabs and VW's. But change is in the wind, and a GOLF might just be on the coming breeze.

UPDATE:

It's now the week after my Golfing adventure and I am back to Sobbing, ER, SAABING for a week or so. I climbed into my Saab, (it was running on all cylinders today, thankfully) and noted the differences between my old warrior and the newer Golf. Hard to compare the two, they are completely different, but one obvious contrast sticks out. My Saab is ponderous and bulky, the Golf is quick, nimble and zippy. The Saab plods reliably along; the Golf its hyperactive cousin. The Swedes build a fine car - refined, genteel, and very comfortable. But I've now also had a taste of what fun-loving Germans come up with and there's NO telling what might happen.

SECOND UPDATE:

And I DID buy my very own GTi, in 1997. Gus is phenomenal, for a 25+ year old car and I love it. I sold my Saab (sob, sob) to get it too. Gus and I have had many adventures together and I anticipate many more as I will never sell him.


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