Back on the Ranch

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By Lois Grace

Mendocino County, in northern California, is  considered the U.S. capital for pot-growers. But when my parents bought 40 acres there in 1963 or 1964, Dad just wanted the land for a “ranch” — his own getaway spot where he could escape with Mom, myself, my two brothers and occasionally my sister. And, once he had this land, he discovered it would be mighty handy to have a pickup to run up there and back every couple of weeks, because he was always hauling or building something. And, because Dad had been a longtime Volkswagen fan, the battered blue 1959 Single Cab Transporter he found seemed perfect. The sides folded down! It had a small engine, which meant great gas mileage! It was cheap to fix because (and maybe best of all) Dad knew how to work on VWs! In October 1967, 8-year-old Vernon came to live with us.

Obviously, Vernon had a rich history before Dad bought him, and his dents and missing pieces only hinted of his adventures. Not content with just one lower side door (to access the treasure chest underneath the bed) a former owner had cut another hole on the opposing side. This hole was covered with sheet metal and fastened down with one side of a hinge. The other side of the hinge was welded to the truck body below for a secure latch. His tiny round glass taillights were still there, enhanced by a pair of big plastic reflectors attached above them. In those very early days Vern looked as if he’d been ridden hard and put away wet. In other words, he’d lived a tough life.

Dad always made sure Vernon ran well and was in tip-top mechanical condition. The trip to the ranch was a 200-mile trip, one way, and spending time along the roadside when he could be at his place digging wells or pulling out tree stumps was not in the plan. Vernon suffered the occasional breakdown, but Dad would just pull over and replace the clutch cable, or whatever was ailing, and they’d get on home. Vernon never let anyone down, and in the years of those long trips to the ranch and back he was the reliable Blue Bomb.

Once up at the ranch, things tended to be a bit less predictable. If it was rainy, and Vernon sat for a while, there’d be a puddle on each side of the cab floor when you got in. The windshield flanges were badly rusted, and water would run freely under the rubber gaskets meant to keep it out. While driving, the flow was even worse: Many times we rode up to the ranch with Kleenex stuffed firmly into the rusty gap. When the Kleenex couldn’t soak up any more rain, the water ran out and over the dash onto our knees. At that point we’d wring the Kleenex out the window and stuff it back in for another few miles. The wipers were also mostly ineffectual in any real rain, owing to VW’s old 6-volt electrical system. 

Even more unpredictable was the local population. Because this was (and still is, supposedly) one of the biggest marijuana-growing areas of the country, the folks who lived there tended to be protective of their turf. Imagine yourself as an overall-wearing, shotgun-carrying, pot-grower living in the hills around Dad’s ranch and you see this blue Volkswagen coming up your dirt road. 

The fact that Vern was a VW truck and not a Chevy or a Ford meant that its driver might be one of you! Your first thought might be “COOL! Another dude to help with the harvest!” But actually seeing the driver, your second thought might be, “Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute...” when you notice it’s some guy and his wife and the kiddies riding and shrieking in the back.


In the ’60s, our family faced both scenarios,  and the second one is the contact you hope to never have. In that instance, rain was falling lightly and Dad was driving us up to a ridge behind his property on a dirt road. He decided the road was getting more and more slippery, so he stopped to turn around and we were suddenly confronted by the overall-clad Hill Man carrying a shotgun. Dad waved to the guy, and the guy charged at us and shouted, “You’re not going any farther on THIS road!” 

Dad quickly agreed and said “Nope! No, you’re right, we’re not! We’re turning around!” As he wheeled Vernon into a turn, the truck’s rear end slid off the muddy road and into a ditch. The ditch was running with about a foot of water coming off the hill, and we kids climbed out of the muck and stood on Vern’s back bumper, for traction. It worked great and Mom and Dad scurried off. They even remembered to stop and pick up us kids.

My older brother, Bruce, liked collecting old cars and had nearly restored a 1930 Model A Coupe when he discovered the Crosley. He found he could park two Crosleys in the space it would take to house a Model A Ford. 

We all enjoyed our time at the ranch, but Bruce had a building there and stored many of his collector cars and parts in the building. He began buying Crosleys at an alarming rate and getting gobs of spare parts for them in the process. At some point Bruce had a bunch of parts he decided to make into a “dune buggy,” designed and built for scrounging around Dad’s 40 acres. 

Now, you might think that after the shotgun incident we would be leery of wandering too far up any unknown dirt roads. And to be honest, we were. But Dad’s 40 acres were still HIS, and most locals respected the boundaries. 

Bruce took the chassis and two transmissions from his Crosley pile and an engine from a Renault 4CV and somehow cobbled it all together to make the vehicle. The two transmissions were mounted one directly behind the other, so the “dune buggy” was really more of a tractor than a vehicle. He began driving us around on the dirt roads we weren’t afraid to explore. This mutant creature had two seats at first. He later added a third seat, between and slightly over the rear wheels. 

We soon found out that only small people could ride in that third seat, or the dune buggy would tip backward. It wasn’t my favorite spot to ride anyway, because the rear wheels would spray whatever you were driving through all over you.

Once the dune buggy got to the ranch, it lived in the car building with Bruce’s other treasures, ready to have fun whenever we went there. The dune buggy got to the ranch the same way all the other cars and stuff got there: on Vernon’s bed. With Vern’s sides folded down, and two planks propped up against the rear end of his bed, the buggy was pushed and pulled up onto the ramps and then onto Vernon. 

With this odd-looking contraption riding piggybacked, Vern went north again. My brother and a couple of his friends followed to unload it. We all knew neither the dune buggy nor Vernon would be going anywhere very fast, so Mike (Bruce’s friend) got the brilliant idea for a “fake fast photo.” And to this day, it remains the only picture of Vernon and the buggy speeding.

But Vern’s main duty was to Dad and whatever Dad needed him to do. He pulled stumps (with a chain and trailer hitch on his rear bumper) and cleared land on that acreage, making way for a family to build a house and later move in once my Dad sold a 5-acre parcel. 

Because Dad’s place was a 40-foot prehistoric mobile home without running water, he built an outhouse for the woods. Poor Vern got the dubious honor of carting our A-frame outhouse 200 miles north. I would be very surprised if people weren’t snapping photos of this odd rig and its “skipper” all the way up Highway 101. 

Vernon has had a rich and varied history indeed. His life with my family reads like the memoirs of an eccentric uncle. The Kiles, and now the Graces, have owned him for all but 8 of his 55 years. The family that had him before Dad had also put him through many unique experiences, and it showed. It’s easy to look at Vern and remember all the great times we had with him. Trouble is, my memory doesn’t dispense them all at the same time, so I am sure you’ll be hearing more. Every Volkswagen has a story; all you have to do is listen. VWCA

Lois Grace | vlkswmn@sbcglobal.net 


  • CONVENTION 2014: Midwest VW Jamboree will be the site of VWCA's annual event.
  • GOLF 7 PREVIEW: Dealer staffers in Europe get wined and dined for the new model's intro.
  • TOUAREG TDI: VW's new R-line model makes this 2.5-ton SUV a standout.
  • GR8-PL8S: Members share their vanity plates and the stories behind them.


  • Driver's Seat - Cliff Leppke's views on the news from VW & Audi
  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
  • Retro Autoist - From the archives
  • Parting Shot - Photo feature
  • VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski
At his Northern California getaway, Vernon and his family found plenty of ways to enjoy life.

For longtime Golf fan, a tradition continues with new TDI

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By Fred Ortlip 

In 1975, I bought a groundbreaking new Volkswagen, introduced in 1974 as Golf but called Rabbit in North America, in what was the start of an affectionate relationship with VW’s unorthodox hatchback model.

Over the years, the new ’75 was followed by used models — a ’77, an ’89 GTI and a ’96 GTI. Then in what would be the first of two leasing forays, we signed for and drove away a 2006 Rabbit (regretting only the short-lived return to that awful name) and then switching to a Jetta in 2009.

After years of driving older cars, then six years of driving newer cars but having nothing to show for it after the clock ran out, it was time to make another long-term commitment. 

Given that I’ve long been enchanted by VW’s turbo diesel, selecting a Golf TDI was an easy choice.

The early models — the antithesis of today’s “clean diesel” — were industry leaders in fuel economy at the expense of being smoky, smelly, noisy and dog slow. Autoist correspondent Richard Van Treuren owned a 1982 five-speed Jetta diesel, producing all of 48 horsepower, and I still remember driving it around the neighborhood when he passed through town after a club convention. The car felt like it was dragging an anchor.  

“It was scary trying to merge with traffic going uphill,” Rich recalled recently. “You’d turn off the a/c to accelerate, and I had no problem because my 30-mile commute was flat and had only one light.”

Rich says he routinely got 42-43 mpg, an unheard of achievement in those days. “I got really bold once with (a space shuttle) orbiter mechanic friend who brought tools to allow a precise engine timing at about 40,000 miles, which included what was something like a richness setting on the injector pump,” he said. “Picked up 2 mpg and noticeable pep with that.

“When tire time came, I installed low-rolling resistance Pirelli P8 tires, picked up an honest 2 mpg with that. Amsoil synthetic gear oil for the tranny made a noticeable difference in ease of shifting, and another 1 or 2 mpg. For some reason Union 76 diesel fuel gave us consistently 1-2 mpg more than any other brand — now defunct, of course. So at about 80,000 miles if I could find 76 fuel and was fairly careful, we would routinely get 50-51 mpg.”

At the 90,000-mile mark, he tried Amsoil diesel fuel additive “and though they swore it was OK, we noticed a little fuel seepage on the pump. It was trade-in time anyway because we had to have a wagon. The fellow who bought it from the dealer the same afternoon just ignored the drip as long as we knew him.”

You’ve probably heard that in the three decades since, VW has made notable progress with its diesels. Today’s high-tech direct injection engine is dubbed a “clean diesel,” and the days of 3 yards and a cloud of soot are long gone. 

I don’t have the benefit of driving many cars to appreciate and compare their nuances, but using the five-cylinder 2006 Rabbit and ’09 Jetta as a bench mark made me realize how splendid the 2012 Golf TDI is.  

I assumed this Golf would be fairly comparable, after hearing how the newer turbo diesels were more like the gas engine cars. But it exceeded expectations. This TDI has some serious cojones, measured at 236 lb.-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm. By comparison, the 2009 Jetta is rated at 177 lb.-feet at 4,250 rpm. (The ’82 Jetta diesel cranked out 75 lb.-feet at 2,000 rpm.) 

In real-world terms, the TDI is a go-getter that’ll take only a couple of seconds to push you back in your seat. Factor in the electromechanical power steering, nicely bolstered seats, sport suspension and the six-speed DSG automatic with sport mode (plus the clutchless Tiptronic manual shifting option that includes paddles on the steering wheel), and what a combination of fun and economy this car offers. 

The engine note is no longer that disconcerting clatter but more of an understated rumble announcing something special is afoot under that hood. If ever a car offered a hand-in-glove feel, it’s this one. 

It even sips fuel like Richard’s old oil-burner. Remarkably, though the new Golf is 1,200 pounds heavier than his ’82 Jetta, its fuel mileage is comparable. A month into ownership, we made a 1,700-mile round-trip trek to Toronto, getting around 42 mpg (based on actual consumption, not the computer estimate). 

This TDI has many fine touches, including heated front seats and washer nozzles; premium sound system; Bluetooth streaming that turns my iPhone into a convenient hands-free device; multiple controls on the steering wheel; and the halogen fog lamps that turn on automatically to illuminate a dark turn. 

Attention to detail is notable throughout the cabin, with one glaring exception: the climate controls, which are nearly impossible to read. VW might counter with a “don’t you have those memorized by now?” and I’d say, sure, but that’s not the point. Even then, I sometimes have to take a second look to find the red indicator mark on the righthand dial.

I’m also developing a love/dislike for the three-stage heated seats. At level 3, you’ll get serious warmth within a couple of minutes, but if you’re able to stick with “3” for a little longer, you’ll gain a new level of empathy for the Thanksgiving turkey. 

I want level 2 to be my heated-seat cruise control stage, but even it can get too toasty at times and I have to downshift to 1, which soon begins to feel too much like “off.” 

Perhaps a serious cold snap will allow “2” to be more accommodating. In the meantime, I toggle while longing for the more-precise thumb-dial option in the 2006 and 2009 models. 

Another quirk (or annoyance to some, based on Internet grousing) is the jerking that can take place with the DSG transmission and TDI engine.  

Under normal acceleration, the upshifts are uber smooth. But braking to a stop in all conditions is a reminder that this is a different critter. 

Autoist correspondent Cliff Leppke explains: “Due to the diesel’s high compression ratio, downshifts and upshifts are often more obvious than on lower compression gas engines.

 “So you might notice some jerkiness, as the diesel has more braking effect when you lift off the throttle pedal. However, VW programs the engine management system to reduce this so that it feels more like a gasoline engine.”

But I’m regularly reminded that I’m driving a diesel. Picture a tug-of-war in reverse — it’s like the engine is pushing the brake pedal harder from the opposite side than the driver, who has to modulate the pressure accordingly and ignore the feeling that Superman has a grip on the rear bumper. 

In time you anticipate the downshifts and know when to ease off. Sometimes, in a gradual slowdown or when making a turn, you don’t have to brake at all until the last seconds. 

Cliff, who wrote in detail about the DSG in the Sept/Oct Autoist, said: “My only gripe is that the turbo diesel and the DSG tango more than I’d like under light throttle at lower speeds.”  

For the first three or four months, I was experiencing that similar shudder at 2-3 mph in a parking lot, where throttle response can be minimal. But after logging more than 7,000 miles, that seems to be happening less frequent, so perhaps muscle memory is combining happily with engine/transmission break-in.   

On just a handful of times, I’ve experienced a notable jerk or two when almost coasting at around 30 mph. The quick solution is to either get out of the throttle altogether or goose it. 

The situational shuddering is “inherent in most turbo diesel cars and trucks because the powerband is relatively narrow,” Cliff said. “That said, VW’s power delivery is fairly wide and easy-going for a diesel — good enough that some don’t notice that it’s a diesel.”

In the big picture, it’s not that big a deal. For me, it’s a quirk I’ve happily embraced, a characteristic that adds personality to the TDI’s unique package of power, economy and fun. 

Kind of like that 1975 Rabbit. VWCA 

Fred Ortlip | vwautoist@mindspring.com


  • 2012 GOLF: Cliff Leppke takes VW's venerable hatchback for a test spin.
  • WOLFSBURG TROPHY: Local Clubs have good reason to be judged as the most active.
  • CONVENTION 2013: The VW plant tour isn't the only attraction in Chattanooga, Tenn.


  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
Autoist Editor Fred Ortlip is sitting pretty in his 2012 Golf TDI, continuing a tradition that started in 1975 when he bought his first VW hatchback.

CHATTANOOGA: Our guys get an inside look at the new VW plant.

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By Cliff Leppke 

VWoA made a proposal. How about two VW Autoist correspondents driving a 2012 Passat to its birthplace? This trip’s gestation began January 2011 at the Passat’s Detroit preview. Tom Janiszewski was primed, he needed a getaway; I wanted to see VW’s latest assembly plant. Yes, Dad, I’m still crazy about car factories. Some kids never grow up! Passat loaners weren’t available, so we snatched a 2012 Beetle. 

As I’m writing this, VW’s weekly American output is about 900 Passats vs. 9,000 Mexican-produced Jettas. Zeros don’t lie. The new Jetta is a sales sensation, and they’re still ramping up Passat output. Therefore, Scott Neal Wilson, VW’s plant PR specialist, offered a two-hour Passat-building excursion. The facility isn’t ready to accommodate journalists or car enthusiasts. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped VW clubs from checking it out, says Wilson. His only proviso: Do not mention “America’s Team,” the Green Bay Packers.

I’m sort of from Milwaukee (aka Packerland). I also work for a TV station that broadcasts most Packer games. Wilson, however, is from Chicago (da Bears) and last year a certain game propelled one of those teams to the Super Bowl championship. I diplomatically replied, “And you want me to denounce motherhood and the NFL game commercials that fund my TV land paycheck?” 

Wilson’s first VW experience began years ago and involves his family’s Karmann Ghia. Later, he went to college in Chattanooga and he chose to live in the Volunteer State. 

■LEED-CERTIFIED PLANT: Tom and I checked into a hotel about two expressway exits south of VW’s plant. Its manager eyed our 2012 Beetle and said, “It looks like Porsche. Park it under our canopy.” Well, someone finally noticed the Bug. Later, we went to the nearby Waffle House where a spry waitress said, “If you’re hungry, we’ll cook.” With car compliments and an invitation to eat, who could resist?

The following morning, Nov 15, we meandered through two roundabouts, bypassed Ferdinand Piech Drive and then entered Volkswagen Drive. This led us to VW’s Operations nestled in a scenic valley. The complex looks squeaky clean; it’s LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design by the U.S. Green Building Council). VW’s plant blends into the landscape surrounded by hills the locals call outdoor heaven. It’s actually a former munitions brownfield that civil leaders dreamed would catch one big developer instead of several smaller ones. 

VW hit a home run; it cleaned up an environmental hazard, while generating new jobs. Wilson, says, VW’s investment affirms Chattanooga’s rebirth from decades of serious pollution problems. And it still has a sewer dysfunction that disgusted Automobile’s Jamie Kitman’s olfactory nerve. Inside the plant’s VW Academy, you’ll see dramatic before-and-after pictures of the nearby city’s changeover.

This bucolic setting lets VW demonstrate several ecologically smart practices: managing runoff, using hydroelectric power, reducing the heat island effect (white roofing), restoring streambeds and utilizing rail transport.

Tom and I met the amiable Mr. Wilson near the west entrance’s Conference Center. After the security officer issued us VW-approved photo IDs, we walked through shiny turnstiles and ambled across an enclosed, whimsical pedestrian bridge. This leads you to the assembly plant on the east side of a ravine. We had permission to photograph the complex’s exterior, plus two spots inside the plant. 

Wilson says all employees receive a two-week training course at the VW Academy. It teaches VW’s way and connects employees. Those recruited can further their education due to a partnership with Chattanooga State Community College and Tennessee Technological University. A dual admissions policy means one can get a two-year degree in mechanical engineering. Further schoolwork earns you a four-year degree in industrial technology. Fostering a sense of VW’s team spirit: All employees wear uniforms comprising blue shirts, VW logos and slacks. 

Besides VW’s buildings, eight suppliers are onsite. Parts arrive at the south and finished cars emerge from the north. Wilson says 85 percent of VW’s transportation needs are handled by rail. (Glen Miller’s hit inserted here.) Automotive plants are water hogs. Therefore, VW uses rainwater from the plant’s roof for much of its H2O needs. 

As we made our way to VW’s assembly hall, we learned that it’s called a “plant of short distances.” That’s because car bodies and chassis move on two tiers with periodic lifts and

turns that orient key components. This reduces the plant’s footprint and also minimizes the distance one must travel between processes. Stations along the way illustrate difficult-to-detect paint flaws such as seeding (those specs that mar a car’s finish). It’s intended to help the Volks-building folks flag flaws that would dimple VW’s reputation. 

■PEOPLE, ROBOTS AND JAPANESE AT VW: Inside the assembly hall are two areas: one where robots help people; the other where people help robots. An example of the former is dashboard installation, an example of the latter of the latter is body building. “Camptown Races” played as we strolled near the interior assembly area. That train-theme folk tune is Don Jackson’s idea. He’s a former Toyota Team manager who’s VW’s president of manufacturing in Chattanooga. It cheerfully indicates that someone pulled the “Andon” cord. Yes, Japanese is spoken in the German firm’s U.S. outpost. This alerts managers, maintenance and workers that there’s a process or quality problem. It’s part of a larger production control system called “Jidoka” that Toyota developed. And it’s a lot more pleasant than the blue-letter horn-blast alerts heard in Coen brother’s film “The Hudsucker Proxy.”

Wilson deftly carted us through the up/down assembly maze. We ogled the final inspection spot that spits out Passats like Romans did victims into gladiator arenas. At night, it’s a spectacular sight. 

Our focus, however, was on body making. Robots grab pre-stamped metal panels, which arrive from outside vendors, and twirl them as if tossing pizza dough. Then, automated welding takes over. Besides spot welds, VW uses laser-guided seam welding; it produces a stronger bond. It creates the Passat’s seamless transition from roof to side pillars. Accurate joining of body parts amazes the senses, as it would my metal shop instructor. 

Blue-hued robots guided by lasers are also employed. They check the unit-body’s alignment. This is critical because so much of what unfolds later is also highly automated. Therefore, the nude body must be precisely built. 

■MISTRESS OF THE MISTS: Stephanie Mattison is VW’s paint-quality production supervisor. Her mission: fantastic finishes, reduce paint-related environmental impact and lowering costs. When a Passat arrives at her section, it does a double somersault into a short bath of phosphate and an electrostatic coat or e-coat. VW doesn’t speak primer here. Instead, they talk about “electrodesposition” of paint film. That’s because, later, a Du Pont-developed painting process combines the traditional primer coat and the basecoat/color topcoat, eliminating one paint-spray step and an additional trip through an oven. 

Mattison proudly supervises the automotive art of water-based painting. Currently, there’s only one other automobile plant (VW’s Spanish facility) that uses Du Pont’s innovative double-coat technique.

After the e-coat cures, VW seals the body with PVC, inspects it and then sands it. Next comes the proprietary color coat that covers surfaces inside and out. A quick-change method lets VW intermix exterior hues running cars “black to back.” Nonetheless, sending batches of same-color Passats is more efficient. 

■PAINT IT GREEN: Besides trimming the usual primer coat and bake, which reduces energy consumption, there’s a lot of green surrounding a Reflex Silver sedan. That’s because VW uses a dry scrubber to capture paint overspray in crushed limestone. The usual practice is water intensive, generating gallons of potentially toxic liquid that is much more difficult to clarify. 

Of course, the car wouldn’t be a VW without an UV-protecting clear coat and application of rust-reducing body cavity wax.

After the cars are painted, all four doors are removed. They later rejoin their original carcass during final assembly. This makes it easier to prep doors and work inside the Passat’s shell. 

■HOLY MATRIMONY: Eventually, the marriage or union of the body and its chassis takes place. Bodies elevate to a second tier while their chassis are assembled on lower-level skids. Engines, transmissions, exhaust and suspensions are put together on these rolling platforms. Eventually, they find their mates. What unfolds next is astonishing: chassis rise and join their respective bodies. If you’re looking for people wrestling engines, transmissions and suspensions, you’ll be disappointed. The consummation of this union unfolds at the next station, just a few feet forward where workers begin the process of fastening shocks and subframes. 

After our whirlwind exploration of the Passat’s body shop, Tom couldn’t resist temptation: VW’s gift shop and its employee pricing. Need I say more? We dined at VW’s cafeteria and later dodged raindrops in order to capture eye-candy pictures of VW’s new American home. VWCA

Cliff Leppke | cliff.leppke@milwaukeewiti.com 


  • BEETLE HITS THE ROAD: Our guys head for Tennessee in the latest model.
  • CONVENTION 2013: The VolksFolks of Rockford, Ill. are queuing up for another big show.
  • HISTORIC BUS: Mid-1950s Transporter, said to be extremely rare, shows up on eBay.


  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • VolksWoman – Lois Grace
The entrance of VW's new assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., where Autoist correspondents took a tour in November.

2011 Touareg: VW's 'alternative to a luxury sedan'

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By Cliff Leppke 

Ask Dr. Jochen Boehle a Touareg-related question; you’ll get an answer. Want to know VW’s SUV diet secret that dropped nearly 350 pounds? He’ll direct your attention to a svelte fuel infill valve. It’s just one tiny example of VW’s impressive grosser wagen makeover.

Herr Doktor developed the first Touareg; VW produced 500,000 of those off-road oriented buggies. This time around, his boss, Dr. Martin Winterkorn, set higher mpg as one goal. According to Boehle, the original idea was to simply “reskin” the previous SUV. What unfolded, however, was a “friendly battle.” He argued that only a completely new platform would meet VW’s objectives. 

Boehle won. The result: a sleeker Touareg that VW’s David Sweet says is “an alternative to a luxury sedan.” Translation: no third-row, an on-road oriented machine. It has improved comfort, more interior room and added customer-oriented features like a sliding rear seat that now folds with a single release lever. The latter might not sound revolutionary. Nonetheless, it represents a major shift for the people-car company. For years folding a VW’s rear seat presented Americans with an inflexible Rube Goldberg maze. Now, it’s a snap—another customer-oriented feature. 

Touaregs come in three trims: Sport, Luxury and Executive with 18-inch, 19-inch and 20-inch wheels, respectively. The exception: the Hybrid rides on low rolling resistance 19-inch tires carrying the Executive treatment. 

Keeping with the triple-play theme, VW offers three power plants: a 280-hp FSI V6 (a 3.6-liter version of V-Dub’s narrow angle VR6 with direct injection), a 225-hp 3.0 liter TDI (direct-injection turbo diesel) and something new a parallel hybrid. This “Voltswagen’s” motivation: a supercharged 333-hp 3.0-liter V6 and a 47-hp electric motor. Total horsepower: 380. According to the Dr., this latter setup provides V8-like performance but consumes less fuel than the V6.

Each mill churns four wheels via an eight-speed automatic. And each can tow 7,700 pounds That’s without the former Touareg’s “creepy-crawler” two-speed transfer case. Now you get two high gears for ultra-low engine rpm. Torque is plentiful too. The diesel pulls: 406 lb.ft. There’s a meaningful bump up in fuel economy (four mpg on the base FSI and three on the TDI) and a concomitant drop in measured emissions. EPA numbers: 16 mpg city/19 combined/23 highway (FSI), 19/22/28 (TDI) and 21/23/25 (Hybrid).

Standard features include LED running lights, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, auto-hold brakes, navigation/entertainment system with hard drive (mine played funky German-themed music). Interior trimmings are sumptuous with supportive seating front and rear. A panoramic sunroof is optional. Six airbags, active head restraints and an assortment of mobility aids (ABS, ASR and ESC) enhance this SUV’s safety. 

Price: $44,500 for starters; the Hybrid tops $60,000. 

The Sport FSI tester’s three-spoke steering wheel provides a livelier interface between man and this machine than the old one’s truck-like four-spoke hoop. At low speeds, wheel winding is effortless; it firms up providing decent feedback on my suburban parkway loop. VW claims the speed-dependent variable-ratio direction finder is “more directly configured across the entire steering stroke.” With its reduced overall weight, lower ride height and quieter power delivery, the new Touareg is an altogether better go-getter. 

Underneath the 2011 Touareg, you’ll find suspension components borrowed from the old one. Inside, the dashboard’s instruments evoke the old as well (its tranny indicator is tiny). Take one for a spin; the Dokter delivered an improved luxury SUV. 

On driving the new 'Voltswagen'

VW’s Dr. Jochen Boehle is a no-nonsense car guy. You’d expect this buttoned up German to be all facts and figures extolling VW’s first hybrid’s reduced carbon footprint—you know…techno talk about saving the Black Forest, yada yada yada.

Instead, he brags about this vehicle’s robust towing capacity (7,700 pounds). What animates him the most, however, is the Touareg Hybrid’s “best take-off performance.” Faster than Demi Moore or Pandora Peaks (0.6 seconds), the electric motor kicks in an additional 47 hp plus 221 lb.-ft. of torque for max acceleration. This propels the tongue-twister Touareg SUV from zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds. Other vital figures: 333-hp supercharged V6, 380 hp combined and 428-lb.-ft. max combined torque. 

The doctor’s advice: “floor it.” When the doctor says, “step on it,” you do. I was only modestly impressed. Yes, it provides V8-like thrust, but nothing like a grown-up Mitsubishi Evolution. When the doctor heard about this complaint, he prescribed Viagra. “Put the shifter in ‘S’; try it again,” he advised. I did. And indeed, this Touareg goes.

Many hybrids have limited high-speed capabilities; not this one. Its top speed is essentially drag limited. What’s under the hood: a supercharged V6 that motivates the internal combustion engine. Unlike Toyota’s Synergy Drive, which uses a planetary gear set for propulsion, VW’s hybrid has a parallel drive setup. There are two clutches. One is between the engine and the compact electric motor. Another is between the electric motor and the eight-speed transmission. With these two clutches it’s possible for either the engine, the electric motor separately or together to become this hybrid’s power source. 

Thus one can ambulate via the electric motor up to about 32 mph, then the engine gently kicks in. An E-Mode, added after clinics showed customers preferred stealthy morning getaways, extends electric-only mobility to 1.5 miles. When decelerating, this Hybrid “sails.” It behaves a lot like a freewheeling Saab 96 (remember those?). The clutches disengage, allowing the engine to shut off. This saves fuel and reduces tailpipe toxins. If you’re braking, that energy can recharge the aft-mounted Sanyo-supplied 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack—chosen for its safety and reliability.

A stop/start feature automatically shuts down the engine rather than idling it while waiting at, say, a stoplight. Electrically operated components (air conditioning or hydraulic power steering pump) further improve fuel economy and reduce emissions under city driving conditions. A ready light confirms that the Touareg is “on.” 

Unlike many other Hybrids, VW’s doesn’t focus on fancy factoid screens depicting leaves, trees or other graphical representations of your low-emission driving. It does have the obligatory power transfer display, though. And one can select mpg figures from the standard trip computer. 

More tidbits: Unlike Ford’s Escape hybrid that sounds like electric traction streetcar due to noises such as the battery-cooling fans in the back, VW’s hybrid is doesn’t draw attention to its electrified motivation. Why? One reason, says Dr. Boehle, is the fact that his hybrid’s batteries are cooled by routing air from the passenger compartment. This means chilled interior air does the trick, permitting whisper-quiet operation. The motor is water-cooled too. After a cold-weather start, the engine runs heating the interior before the Touareg ambulates in E-mode. 

One VW objective: developing a hybrid that has “mechanical-like driving feel.” Indeed, other than the tachometer dropping to zero when you take your foot off the gas, this hybrid doesn’t announce its electrified “heart” or electronic controls. Steering action, aided by electric/hydraulic assist feels properly weighted and has some road sense—something missing in most hybrids. 

While the Dr.’s techno-savvy SUV is an intriguing — high — performance that’s lighter in terms of its environmental impact, it’s expensive medicine. VW admits it’s a ‘halo’ product. Available only in sumptuous Executive trim, this SUV’s all-wheel-drive setup tackles roads with all their toppings. It lists for about $60,500. EPA numbers: 21 mpg city, 25 highway and 23 combined. It’s an alternative to a premium V8-powered SUV. VWCA

Cliff Leppke | cliff.leppke@fox6now.com


  • THE NEW “VOLTSWAGEN’: VW adds new energy to the hybrid Touareg.
  • VWoA’s NEW CEO: Cliff Leppke gets insights on VW’s future from Jonathan Browning.
  • CONVENTION 2011: VW Club of Chicago is hosting its sixth gathering.
  • RETURN OF THE RAGTOP: Karmann will built soft-top Golf for 2011.
  • DO IT YOURSELF: Three projects you can do to keep yourself grounded.


  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Casual Collector – Steve Mierz
The next-generation Toureg has dropped 350 pounds and added some surprising customer-oriented features.

It's a Dune Buggy, But . . .

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By Steve Cooter 

I was looking for another “winter” project, so I decided to build another dune buggy. Since I had built a turbo charged and fuel injected buggy two years before, I was looking to build something different. I was not looking for speed but something that was comfortable to drive, easy on fuel and with a transmission that I wouldn’t have to constantly shift. 

I contacted Neil Decker, with Hawkeye Buggies in Texas, regarding a chassis that would accept an automatic transmission. He has previous experience in installing automatics in a buggy chassis, which was important since the rear forks are wider for the automatic. He offered to build a chassis and deliver it to me. The body I selected was a red Berrien Nostalgia buggy body.

A friend who deals in used Volkswagen parts had the necessary transmission: a 1975 bus automatic. He also had a 1981 VW Rabbit diesel engine that he was willing to sell. I thought that it might be fun to combine the diesel with the automatic.

There are a couple of considerations in doing this type of installation. The first is the axle length. The bus automatic, if installed centerline, has two different axle lengths. A machinist friend of mine, Jim Petty, cut, sleeved and tig- welded the axles to the required length. The transmission was installed with bus C-V joints inboard, and Beetle C-V joints outboard of the rear suspension.

The other consideration with the automatic is the vacuum modulator that controls the shift timing with the transmission. Because the diesel does not have manifold vacuum, the power brake vacuum pump would be needed as a source. Because this source is relatively constant, a control valve is needed to control the vacuum. 

I used a 1997 Ford F350 vacuum regulator valve to accomplish this task. This valve is normally installed directly on the diesel injection pump. Once again, I contacted my friend, Jim, to fabricate a mounting plate to control the valve with the throttle arm on the injection pump. With this setup, the transmission thinks it’s powered by a gasoline engine. 

I obtained an adapter plate and an automatic transmission flex plate from Kennedy Engineering to complete the mounting of the engine to the chassis. The engine also required a custom starter that would mount to the transmission, but would also have enough torque to turn the engine over fast enough to start. 

A VW glow plug relay and Cummins fuel filter/water separator completed the installation. A stock bus shifter was modified by shortening its height and narrowing its width, so the hand-brake could sit beside it. Shift linkage was accomplished with a push-pull cable, two heim joints and hand-brake cables, which were stock length. Cooling was taken care of with a old VW Dasher radiator and an aftermarket cooling fan. I used a VW Jetta expansion tank in the cooling system. The engine air intake was also modified to fit the body.

Another objective I wanted was comfortable seating. Because the chassis lacked a high tunnel, I installed a modified rear seat bench seat from a Toyota RAV4. I installed seat adjusters and headrests. The build was completed with four wheel disc brakes. 

Obviously, this vehicle is strictly a fair-weather car. I live less than a mile from the rural countryside in northern Illinois, so I enjoy cruising the rural roads. VWCA

Steve Cooter | modelac@yahoo.com


  CONVENTION 2010: Central Florida VW Club is gearing up for the 55th annual event.

  SO LONG TO EL VOCHOS: Iconic VW Beetle is at the end of its road as Mexico's taxi.

  ENLIGHTENING: Options for replacing or enhancing your headlights are many.

  STICKS AND TAPE: It doesn't take much to align a door on an old Squareback.

  VW'S NEW PICKUP: It's called Amarok, but will VW give it a home in the United States?


  Frontdriver: Richard G. Van Treuren

  Safety Matters: Tom Kravcar

  New Beetle Beat: Don Capestrain

  Local Volks Scene: Jack Lyman

Steve Cooter's VW-powered Dune Buggy was misidentified in the previous Autoist issue. He sets the record straight on his unique vehicle.

Not Your Father's Volkswagen: VW 9.150 ECE

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By Pete Frost

Picture this. It’s Saturday night. You’re cruising through Sao Paulo in a classic ’77 Brazilian VW SP2 sports car. Casually glancing upward, you’re startled to see a muscular and menacing looking vehicle looming large in your rear view mirror. It’s big. It’s bad. And it has a fat VW badge on the front end. What can it be? A split-screen VW bus on steroids? The star of the next Transformers movie? Or perhaps the A-Team has come out of retirement on a mission in their latest military van? Mr T would tell you in no uncertain terms; “No, fool! It’s the Volkswagen 9.150 ECE armored truck!”

What this metal monster lacks in the way of a catchy name, it sure makes up with immense street presence as the photographs graphically illustrate. Built by the truck and bus division of Volkswagen in Brazil, the 9.150 ECE armored and bulletproof truck hit the streets last year. 

The interior is distinctly lacking in creature comforts, especially for passengers, although one nice touch is a rear view camera with a display monitor on the dashboard. Powered by a hefty 4.8-liter inline four-cylinder turbo diesel engine mated to a five-speed transmission, its output is a modest 150 bhp but maximum torque is a stout 405 lb. ft., delivered between 1,600 and 2,000 rpm. This kind of pulling power combined with thick armor plating and bulletproof glass are reassuring as levels of robbery and urban violence in big Brazilian cities continue to rise, especially when stopping at traffic lights and driving at night. If you have a large and heavy stash of gold bullion to move, this is the ideal vehicle for the job.

One issue that contributes to the risks for motorists in Sao Paulo is the sheer number of cars. They number 6 million in the city, and traffic jams can be enormous. Armed robbers have been known to use this heavy congestion to single out vulnerable motorists, and it is often crimes like this that have driven people to invest in a “blindado,” the Brazilian name given to a bulletproof car.

More than 50,000 “blindados” are estimated to be plying Brazilian roads. The business has been growing, almost without interruption, over the last decade, with an increase of around 20 percent per year. In the last six months of 2007 alone, it is estimated that 7,500 bulletproof cars were sold in Brazil. 

A few miles outside Sao Paulo, at a factory producing bulletproof windows, the deafening sound of gunshots can be heard day after day. In carefully controlled tests, bullets are fired at the three-quarter-inch thick glass produced at the facility to ensure that it meets the standard. Large distinctive marks are left, but the bullets are stopped. The tests are meant to reassure prospective buyers worried about the more sinister threats on the streets outside, such as kidnappings or armed robbery.

Master Blindagens, a factory in Sao Paulo, is producing 25 bulletproof cars a month, and it is just one of 45 companies in the city. New vehicles are stripped down and packed with protective material and reinforced glass. The process can cost the equivalent of about $25,000 to $45,000. 

Any vehicle can be given the blindado treatment, from the humble VW Golf right up to top of the range Audis and Mercedes. In a market that was once the exclusive preserve of Brazil’s elite, it is now opening up to wealthier sections of the middle class, due to easier credit arrangements and a growing second-hand market.

The new Volkswagen 9.150 ECE armored and bulletproof van must surely be the ultimate blindado vehicle and is expected to compete with other muscular offerings on the Brazilian market, such as the Chevrolet Kodiak, International CXT, GMC TopKick and Ford F-650.

The only modifications that could enhance the street cred of this chunky but funky Volkswagen van would be a cool custom paint job and a set of 20-inch chrome wheels to put even the most garish Hummer in the shade. Hey presto! Blindado becomes ‘BLINGdado’! It can only be a matter of time. Until then, just keep an eye on that rear view mirror. VWCA

Pete Frost | vwpete@tiscali.co.uk


This Brazilian turns heads, stops bullets.

Volkswagens in Love

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At last, Tom asked me the question I’d been waiting to hear for years, and I answered with a huge grin and a happy yes. Tom’s next words were, “Call your mom.” My phone call that afternoon had been highly anticipated. It turned out Tom had asked my parents for permission to propose, and my mother had kept the secret!

He and I spent the evening calling a few friends and family members, sharing the happy news. We closed in on a likely weekend for the event, working to avoid VW events like the VVWCA show in Michigan and the Mid America show in Effingham, Ill. 

Seventeen days after Tom proposed, I bought myself the second dress I tried — a big fluffy one!

I trusted the most incredible graphic designer I knew with the paper details. Tom designed the invitations, various inserts and the thank-you notes, and included his 1965 Beetle “Herbie” as the centerpiece.

“Honey, this is supposed to be a wedding. Herbie is not getting married,” I said.

It became a common theme over the next year and a half. It killed me to talk like the monster bride-to-be stereotype, because I had decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be that girl. Then again, I didn’t realize then that I was going to be tussling with a Beetle for the spotlight. Several versions and a few painful compromises later, we had something we agreed on: a heart drawn a bit off the page, with a red and blue ribbon running through it, top to bottom.

One weekend, we traveled to Champaign, Ill., so that I could give Tom a chance to check out the site of the wedding. I mentioned parking the guests’ VWs in the smaller lot in the front of the church, and Tom was immediately determined to fill every space it offered. Suddenly we were going to invite everyone my husband-to-be had ever crossed paths with while attending a VW event. In my overdramatic way of thinking, we weren’t going to be able to have my grandparents attend to allow room to seat that guy with the ’71 Ghia. The guest list was growing at an alarming rate.

I scratched off all but four of my mom’s closest friends, calling to ask if she thought they’d be bringing their husbands. I drew a line through a dozen names of people I had baby-sat for. After a while, it felt therapeutic, like cleaning out a closet. Once my list was bare-bones, I started combing through Tom’s list.

The problem with being part of such a tight-knit auto organization is that after inviting the diehard core members, you realize you have a fabulous problem: more friends than you have room to seat! We are blessed to have such an amazing group of people in our lives. Having said that, at times I wanted to throw all my lists into the fireplace and elope. I was stressed out and exhausted. 

The rest of the decisions were so much easier—taking care of the cake, the flowers, the rental company, the food, including “Dippin’ Dots,” a unique ice cream treat for the reception. 

Tom decided to make goody bags for those who drove a VW to the event. I thought it was a great idea and wanted nothing to do with what turned out to be a very cool memento! 

Our friend Ryan Schulz designed and Tom ordered dash plaques. He needed an assortment of items to add to the bags, and we began our hunt. 

We combined with our mothers to comb Target stores all over to fill the goodie bags, the  highlight of which included Beetle Matchbox models. On a weekend trip with my boss, Amy Weiler, the boys I care for, and a friend, Allison, I was telling Amy about the money I’d saved here and there. After telling her about the guest book, she interrupted with an idea.

“I was thinking about buying you something for the wedding, but I wanted to run it past you first, because I know you’re worried about the car thing getting out of control.”

I couldn’t imagine where this was going.

“I’d like to buy you a Beetle—you know, a real one! A full size one. We’ll get a white Maaco paint job, and have everyone at the wedding—all the guests, sign it with paint markers! We could call it the Guest Bug, instead of book.”

I think I actually exclaimed, “Shut. Up.” And then translated my disbelief: “Like, a real car?”

She mentioned a green one at a small dealership in Crystal Lake, Ill. “I was thinking maybe we could have Kirk Schulz come and look at it,” Amy said. 

I was raised watching Sesame Street, and this forlorn little car—mostly painted a flat olive green, with the exception of one bluish-gray door, was definitely worthy of the name “Oscar.”

Amy told me she’d wanted to surprise Tom, and I decided I’d need a lot of help from our friend, Kirk, to find a “solid” Beetle. 

The dealership wouldn’t sell “Oscar” to Amy. Though she was standing there with checkbook in her hand, it was decided that more money could be made by selling it through eBay. 

Months later I heard about a beautiful ’75 Beetle. Amy and I drove out, wrote down the details, I called Kirk, and Amy and I made an appointment with the owner for a test drive the next day.

Amy doesn’t drive “stick,” but she was willing to be a passenger while I drove. It always takes a few cycles through the gears to get used to the clutch and the motor, but that explanation didn’t stop Amy from white-knuckling the handle in front of her and the loop next to the headrest, screaming that she thought she was going to die! We were laughing so hard that tears were rolling down my face. Just as I was about to beg her to stop, and tell her I could no longer see, we went over a set of railroad tracks.

“Holy cow! Did you hear that?!?” I exclaimed.

“No, what?”

“Nothing! The car didn’t make a sound! There was no rattle! My New Beetle is louder than that over tracks!” I turned around and drove over them again. It was amazing.

After the test drive, Amy and I looked over the car. The paint was an incredible shade of red, and the interior was recently replaced. The dash had a large tachometer and the padded steering wheel was smaller-than-stock. I opened the engine lid. Forgive the girl in me, but it was pretty. There was no grease, no oil and parts of it matched the red exterior. I noted the name on the carburetors and called Kirk later with a full report.

The next day, Amy and I drove back with a check. We told the owner our plans for it. He was thrilled to know that not only was it going to a good home but that it would be a special part of our wedding day.

We parked it in Amy’s barn for a while, then got it out to drive the kids to school or run errands now and then. 

The kids kept asking why we were driving this car? Whose was it? Why did we keep it in the barn? When did we have to give it back? Were we renting it? As 6-year-olds and 2-year-olds have a tough time with secrets, Amy didn’t want to tell them the real story. Soon we told them it was Joe’s car, and we were keeping it for him until he wanted it back. There was no Joe. But from then on, the car was “Joey.”

Joey was presented to us on our wedding day, at the reception of our dreams. Wait. Let me do this in order.

Our friend Pete Frost flew over from Great Britain the week before our Big Day, as Tom had asked him to be a groomsman. He accepted, and we were beside ourselves with excitement. Tom spent the week showing him Chicago and Woodstock, his collection of VW stuff—great and small, and Pete spent the week flirting with everyone he met.  

One perk of having Pete around was that he knew how to drive a Volkswagen! We had three cars to get down to Champaign, and now we had three drivers! I left a few days before the wedding, driving my yellow New Beetle loaded with plastic storage containers. Tom drove the ’74 camper, and Pete drove Herbie. This was late May and Pete drove Herbie for four hours down stop-and-go Route 47, with the heater boxes wired open. I think he sweated off six or seven pounds. What a good sport!

Amy drove her New Beetle down, and our friend Deb Junkins drove Joey down. Five drivers and five VWs were a good start!

The morning of the wedding day, a wonderful man, Bill Bowman, escorted me in the ’74 camper to a place on the University of Illinois campus for the wedding photos. 

Tom was already there, having arrived in Herbie just a few minutes before we did. Although rain was falling, the day couldn’t have gotten any better.

After several rounds of photos—with 12 attendants, three ushers, two ring bearers and 16 family members—we were off. Kirk Schulz escorted me (again in the bus, as my dress wouldn’t fit in any other car) to the church, while more than two dozen Volkswagens followed, bridal party in tow. We pulled in, and the parking lot was packed with fellow V-dubs, while the back lot was full of the various American and Japanese cars. I was bursting with excitement!

We had the traditional wedding ceremony, and at the end, we were declared, “Mr. and Mrs. Janiszewski!” We exchanged our vows in front of the pastor who married my parents, had baptized me and also led my confirmation class. The feeling was extraordinary.

Afterward, we greeted our guests, row by row, and they lined up just outside the doors, picking up a bottle of bubbles on the way out, from my little friend Patrick, and Tom’s young nephew, Christopher.

We pushed through the tunnel of bubbles our guests enthusiastically spewed at us, making our way to our “getaway car,” Herbie, the appropriately named Love Bug. Tom announced that we’d be cruising to a nearby forest preserve, Lake of the Woods, and the VW drivers began lining their cars up behind Herbie.

We had an exhilarating drive there, honking at everyone who passed. Many simply pulled over to watch our little parade, and traffic stopped at intersections to let us through. What a feeling! The assistant photographer stood with most of his body out of a Toyota SUV’s sunroof, getting action shots of our festive group. They had never done a wedding like this before!

Though a particular Sun Bug had a bit of trouble getting back, it was rescued by another cruise-participant. That’s what friends are for, right? Thank you, Mr. Silver.

Upon our arrival at the reception, the fun continued with bubbling grape juice, cake and a lunch of Papa Del’s pizza, Jimmy John’s and Famous Dave’s. Dessert had many courses, including popcorn, Dippin’ Dots ice cream and two chocolate fountains. Near the cake, a friend of ours, Mike Gordon, displayed a tray of milk and dark chocolate Beetles, made from a mold in his chocolate factory. We got one of the last remaining treats, as they were quite popular to eat and to take home as a souvenir!

After great speeches by my maid of honor, Robin Craig, and Tom’s best man, Kirk, Pete charmed the guests with a few jokes, admitted that the accent had gotten him places since he’d arrived a week before and blessed us on our special day.

Then Amy asked for the microphone. I don’t remember what she said, too intent watching everyone’s faces—especially Tom’s as she revealed that the “guest book” Beetle was awaiting outside.

As he grinned and gasped at the same time, Amy interrupted with a hug. While most of the people in the room were in on the story, those who knew laughed and cheered then flooded out the doors to see a red Beetle donned with black top hat and white wedding veil!

Amy stood with a basket of Sharpies, and I proudly signed “Mrs. Chandra Janiszewski” on the passenger side of the front hood as Tom winced. He hesitated then signed himself — on the driver’s side of the hood. 

Children drew little hearts and wrote special messages, just as I’d hoped they might. Everyone had an amazing time, writing on a car! My cousin and I talked a few weeks later, and at a wedding they attended after ours, his daughter asked, “Daddy, when do we get to write on the car?” He promised her that the red car was the last car she was ever going to get to write on! Oh my!

It’s October now, and the storage containers have been repacked, ready for their inevitable doom in the darkness of the basement, because though we don’t need to keep all of it, we can’t bear to throw it away. Not yet. The hard work and extreme fun are still firm in our memories! And when we need a little pick-me-up, we can always walk out to the garage and visit “Joey.” VWCA

They finally crossed that bridge! Tom and Chandra tie the knot before family, friends and VWs.

A Life Cut Short

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Julie Aleva was a livewire, with boundless energy and a sparkling personality that enabled her regularly to transcend life’s speed limit. Julie was so passionate about her 1974 VW 412 Estate Wagon, named Sparkie, that she proudly wore a tattoo of the car’s face on her arm.

But on this joyous road of life, friends and acquaintances were shocked to learn that Julie had died on Nov. 1, 2004. Though her health had been precarious for several years, no one saw this coming. How could someone so vibrant be gone at age 34?

Julie lived in Los Gatos, Calif., near San Jose. She was no shrinking violet, quickly becoming a fixture at VW shows and events in northern California by bouncing from car to car virtually nonstop. She once said, “I make it a point to be everywhere,” and that meant any Volkswagen show or event she could get herself and Sparkie to.

She and Sparkie were also four-time participants in the Gene Berg Memorial Cruise, taking part in cross-country VW caravans to honor another VW celebrity, the late Berg. When her health permitted, nothing would stop her from joining other VW enthusiasts in doing what we love.

I met Julie in 2001 on a photo shoot of our respective cars. We’d both been contacted by the same photographer who wanted to shoot the VWs for a calendar, and he met with us both on the same day. Julie was accompanied by her boyfriend, Ryan Holmboe, so Rob and I socialized with them for most of the day.

No one had more fun with her VW than Julie. Her smile and devotion to the hobby were infectious, and her energy and enthusiasm made it easy to love her. When the day ended, I felt like we’d been friends all our lives.

Julie caught the VW bug at age 11. She had a friend whose mother drove a VW 412 wagon for newspaper deliveries. That particular 412 was in rough shape, after having been used hard, but the moment Julie laid eyes on it, she was smitten. She considered this ungainly VW model nothing less than “mobile art.” For several years, she nurtured her dream of owning a 412, but she never gave up hope of having her own Estate Wagon.

When Julie turned 16, she inherited her mother’s 1984 Rabbit convertible, and although that was every high school girl’s dream car in the mid-’80s, she continued to pine for a 412. Julie drove the Rabbit happily anyhow and dumped her savings into the car for racing upgrades, transforming this previously unassuming little convertible into a slammed, GTI-powered force to be reckoned with.

At 17, she did a stint driving the Rabbit around the track at Sears Point Raceway as a student of the Bondurant Racing School. She even appeared in an issue of Car and Driver magazine in an article dedicated to young “enthusiastic” drivers.

Meanwhile, with her 412 obsession far from diminishing, Julie’s father found a used 1974 in a San Francisco classified, and they looked at it just for fun. Julie drove the car and was hooked. The only drawback was that to get this 412, she would have to sell the Rabbit. Three months passed and on a whim, she called about the 412, but it had been sold, and Julie was heartbroken. She felt she’d let her dream slip through her fingers.

But she was in for a surprise. About five months after Julie first saw the 412, her father called on her 18th birthday to say he was “bringing her birthday present over.” When he arrived, she threw the door open to see the beloved African Red 412 sitting in the driveway. To make her wishes come true, her dad had sold his own car to buy the 412 the two had looked at five months earlier. Julie’s love of automobiles, and Volkswagen in particular, was one she enthusiastically shared with her father.

In the 16 years of her stewardship, the 412 is a shining example of meticulous care and loving attention. The restoration was the ultimate challenge, given the relative rarity of the 412 and lack of popularity among collectors. Julie spent years just trying to find VW shops willing to tackle the project.

The stock red paint is complemented by a unique black and white houndstooth interior that Julie saw in a European car magazine on the Internet. Eventually, bodywork and multi-stage enamel paint followed in 1999. The engine was rebuilt to stock specifications at 200,000 miles, and the restoration was completed in June that year.

With the fabric glue on the interior still drying, Julie drove straight from the upholstery shop to Irvine, Calif. — 350 miles away — to debut Sparkie at the 1999 VW Classic at Irvine Meadows. The day of the big show happened to be exactly 10 years to the day that Sparkie entered Julie’s life. Better yet, Sparkie was honored with a second-place award in the Type III class — among some stiff competition.

This was the first time in the 15-year history of the VW Classic that a Type IV won an award, let alone in the Type III class. Since then, Julie collected even more trophies and awards, including a coveted position as the May pinup car in VW of America’s 2002 calendar.

Memorial cruise: On a Sunday morning in November, 20 Volkswagens carrying their owners, friends and relatives met for a cruise to honor Julie. It was a beautiful day, and she would have so loved to do what we were doing: driving our cars to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, south of San Francisco. A generous potluck picnic was set out and a small “memorial” to Julie was set up on one table, with candles and photo albums containing pictures of our friend.

After sharing a great picnic, we took a few moments to share memories and reflect on Julie’s passing. As we stood in silence, ringed by the 2,000-year-old redwood trees and watching the candles flicker, two crows that had been squawking above us suddenly stopped. As they flew quietly overhead, looking down on us, we could hear the flutter of their feathers as they passed.

Julie is survived by her parents, David and Donna Aleva; her maternal grandmother Marie Balog; her longtime partner, Ryan Holmboe; her extended family in Pennsylvania, a host of friends all over the United States; and three beloved kittens, Margie, Rita and Rose.

In addition to VWs, Julie was passionate about animal rights, maintaining a vegan lifestyle for 20 years. Her dedication to calling attention to animal cruelty inspired and influenced many, especially her mother, about whom she often said proudly, “If you think I am intense about animal rights, you should see my mom. I’ve created a monster!”

In addition to working with animal rescue organizations, Julie volunteered at Raphael House, a shelter for homeless families in San Francisco.

Memorial donations can be made to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; Feral Cat Foundation, P.O. Box 1173, Alamo, CA 94507; or Raphael House, 1065 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94109.

Julie was a tiny person, as small and slender as some children. But her personality and love for her friends and her VWs was limitless. Her wacky sense of humor, her bright blonde braids, those big eyes, and that Sparkie tattoo will live on in our memories.

We're Getting Warmed Up for the VWCA Convention 51st annual event to be held in Daytona Beach, Fla.

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This year’s convention headquarters will be right on the beautiful beach at Daytona. This former Radisson property is located just steps from a fabulous eating and shopping complex with high-tech movie theaters as part of the complex. There is also a water park for the kiddies and if we are lucky, a summer concert in the famous beachfront bandshell!

Room rates will be a reasonable $99 per night (plus tax and parking fee of $5 per night). Safes in each room are available for a small charge. We will have a hospitality room set up downstairs in the Osprey Room. The hotel has reserved 25 rooms for us at that rate, so don’t delay. (Do mention that you are part of the VW Club for the $99 rate.)

If you want an oceanfront kitchenette, the price is $114 plus tax. It is one of the nicest hotels on the beach and it was not damaged by the hurricanes of 2004. (Most of the others were not only damaged but some won’t be rebuilt; others will be turned into condos.)

The Plaza Ocean Club has a fabulous pool area and a nice wide beach front. There are inside corridors, handicapped facilities and elevators — just what you would expect from a nice hotel for more money. It is one of the few properties that have meeting rooms, restaurant and bar. (And one of the few properties that have not have already been taken through eminent domain to promote condominium high-rises.)

The banquet will offer a choice of Tuscany chicken or prime rib. Anyone who is not registered for the convention but is part of the club may join us for the banquet only for $43 per person. After the business meeting on Friday, we are planning a cookout on the pool deck.

This meal is also available to those who are not registered for the convention but are part of our VW group. The cost for this only will be $24 per person. Both meals are part of the convention package for those registered. Despite big increases in many event costs, we are holding the line on the convention registration to $69 per person.

Florida is a non-smoking state, so wherever you go in the common rooms of public buildings, they will be smoke-free. By request, the hotel has guest rooms that allow smoking. Handicapped equipped rooms are available on a limited basis so if you require that accommodation, please book early! Specify your request to the reservation staff.

Hotel reservations should be made individually and guaranteed with a credit card or check. The toll-free reservation number is (800) 874-7420. Please make your reservations before June 1 as they will not guarantee the room availability or rate after that time.

For the first time, we expect to be able to offer a credit card option for the convention, through PayPal. More info on that later by visiting our Web site, www.centralfloridavwclub.org.

And look for more details in the coming issues of the Autoist.
See you in Florida!

Exposed Rust Still Creeps

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Those self-appointed car experts, (you’ve heard them) tell us that new cars don’t rust. Vince Megna, a lawyer and author “Bring on Goliath: Lemon Law Justice in America,” says, “Rustproofing is nothing more than a modern day … secret potion in the traveling medicine man’s show. Technological advancement has virtually eliminated rust problems in today’s new cars.”

Not true: Heat, moisture and a catalyst, such as salt, help nature return metals, such as steel, into oxide.

While newer autos exhibit less exterior sheet-metal perforation and a superficial inspection of these cars would lead you to believe today’s cars don’t rust like old new cars, the nasty fact is corrosion still savagely eats, as Blondie sang, “Hondas and Subarus” and other cars, too. An auto’s sheet metal, despite numerous factory anti-rust processes, is vulnerable. One industry insider told me one car maker was using metal that’s more, not less, likely to rust. At first, I thought he was whining; he didn’t respect crash-absorbing, unit-body construction. Now as those cars age, I believe he’s right.

What You Can’t See Can Hurt: Corrosion is covered, and I’m not speaking about the warranty. For instance, plastic-fantastic body cladding, fenders, hoods and wraparound bumpers cover metal. Plus, gobs of chip-resistant body sealant—sprayed underneath the car and on rocker panels—hide the horrible truth—metal rusts. And because you cannot see rust, you probably won’t seek address under the vehicle’s rust-through warranty. Good for carmakers, bad for you—very bad. Corroding metal, covered by thick, chip-guard finish, actually rusts faster due to trapped moisture.

Worse than body disfiguring exterior rust-perforation is corrosion underneath the car. It attacks suspension mounts, floors and body reinforcements. A rusting undercarriage compromises structural integrity.

My camera found rusting not-very-old relics in my company’s parking lot. The rust-seeking quest wasn’t difficult. To wit: this Nissan minivan’s hood. Its top only hints at the dangers below. The entire front inner panel is, well, gone.
Additional find, not shown, is a 2000 Dodge Durango. Painted steel bumpers look like Swiss cheese, the rear lid’s inner and outer panels are puckered—a fault noticed during its two-year inspection—and the side quarter panels are perforated from the fender lip, where inner and outer panels are spot welded, migrating toward the side windows. A Dodge truck illustrates how discretely rust is disguised. Notice the vehicle’s tailgate. See that plastic panel? Look behind it. Rust is alive.

Ford Econoline vans, despite their much ballyhooed improved bodies, don’t fare well. For instance, this 1996 model, which was delivered in 1997, has holes around its body mounts, through the driver’s floor, part of the fire wall, lower rear quarter panels, and near the left seat belt mount. The insides of most doors are rusted. Look up. Large holes replace the “A” pillar, roof, gutters and side panel. Ford applies plenty of sealant, but it only hides the bubble-delicious frenzy underneath. Eventually, the caulk-like treatment pops off and the truth is told—where body panels join, rust attacks; when galvanized panels abut non-galvanized ones, such as the roof, there’s nothing but air.

Remarkably, exterior sheet metal—looks galvanized—rarely rusts where the paint is scratched. This is what leads experts to say cars don’t rust. But as the following examples illustrate, body cavities and sandwiched panels remain corrosion cauldrons.
GM’s mark is tarnished. For instance, GM’s rocker panels, floors and inner body panels vanish. This fuel filler is an example of how joined inner and outer rear quarter panels invite rust. A plastic fender covers perforated metal that surrounds this front spring’s tower. In fact, holes now replace metal where engine compartment wires and support struts formerly were screwed into the unit-body. Corroded ground connections and switches have stalled this vehicle.

Our last example is a 1995 Jetta (photos on Page 6). There’s rust where floor panels are welded to various other pieces. Sealant is the only thing that holds stuff together. The air conditioner’s condenser holder, a two pieces of stamped, spot-welded metal behind the front bumper is completely chewed away. A lower grille, mimicking a brake-cooling duct, hides this blight. Surprisingly, the front doors look rust free, but the rear doors’ inner panels have been mercilessly savaged by rust. This outer panel’s stains and bubbles are proof—a demonic rust strain is spreading.

Is rust proofing helpful? Yes. But unfortunately, application is everything. And that’s the rub. Most commercially rust-proofed vehicles I’ve examined, such as the Ford van depicted, aren’t rust proofed inside lower body cavities. Rust proofing was simply applied to the undercarriage’s exposed surfaces.

Rust proofing didn’t halt corrosion caused by this van’s poorly prepped metal or floor sections where multiple panels are spot-welded together. Yet, a proper rust-proofing job can improve a vehicle’s life.

I spray Wurth’s protective wax coating inside the engine compartment. Wurth’s inner-body panel rust proofing works elsewhere. This product prevents rust under a car’s hood or where emblems are attached. It is surprisingly good protecting fuel and brake lines. It even survives the tortuous environment found in wheel wells. It doesn’t prevent rust that’s forming underneath a vehicle’s undercoating—such as a Scirocco’s spot welded fuel system brackets or vulnerable areas were multiple pieces of metal are sandwiched (spot welded) together, such as the rear trailing arm’s body mount or double-wall floors.

Why Rust? For our purposes, I won’t make a distinction between corrosion and rust. There’s a difference. The reddish stuff found, say, on a piece of exposed iron is hydrated ferric oxide or rust. Aluminum, because it isn’t a ferric metal, doesn’t rust; it corrodes.

The Society of Automotive Engineers publishes papers that discuss rust, its causes and its prevention. Corrosion that afflicts cars includes a type caused by metal-to-metal contact and metal that is exposed to heat, moisture and a catalyst. The latter is usually salt poured on icy pavement.

What slows rust? Several rust-reduction methods can be found by surveying VW’s body-making practices. Until the early 1980s, VW relied on acid-treated metals (called etching), zinc-rich primers (paint) and sealant, such as undercoating. Its cars usually didn’t rust too quickly where salt wasn’t a factor. When VWs were exposed to salt, rust had a feast. One reason is that VW relied on body reinforcements, such as bumper supports, that were spot welded onto another panel. The two metals and a corrosive agent bred rust. Plus, spot-welding can damage a metal panel’s rust-protecting treatment.

Beginning in 1982, VW initiated its body protection program. The goal: reduce corrosion and improve car value. VW tried rust-reducing fasteners, inner fender liners, sprayed-on rust proofing, wax-coated body cavities and chip-resistant finishes on the newly designed Scirocco and Quantum. These methods slowed rust but weren’t perfect. For instance, rust would creep after it formed, spot-welded areas were vulnerable and some places, such as door reinforcements weren’t protected. For 1984, Rabbit (Golf) and Jetta bodies joined the war against rust.

At Audi, the company began constructing cars with galvanized steel. Galvanized steel has rust-resistant zinc treatment. It’s been used by other car makers—usually in rocker panels. Audi, however, innovated by using galvanized metal throughout the entire body, rather than a few selected panels. Wax-coated body cavities and spot applications of rust proofing offered additional protection. Audi’s engineers also improved metal fabricating techniques, such as crimping instead of spot welds.

According to my brother-in-law, these methods are effective. His Audi 90 Sport Quattro, which sloshes through the wintery Twin Cities, has impressive body life. Audi’s trim, however, could be better. For instance, steel inside rubber strips bulges and twists due to rust. Sometimes, trim chafes through body paint too. Yet, his decade old Audi casts a solid shadow.

VW, since the late ’90s, borrowed Audi-like rust protection. New metal attaching and shaping methods, such as tailored planks and rust-resistant fasteners, also thwart rust.

The gist is that many new cars have better rust protection than those made decades ago. Nonetheless, cars still rust.

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