For the subject of this post, one need look no further than my profile picture. As a recovering vintage Volkswagen addict, these relics of the Third Reich hold a special place in my heart. Exactly why, I cannot say.
Most likely, this all goes back to my first sexual encounter, which took place in the back of a yellow squareback sedan. Parked in one of the scenic turnouts along Trail Ridge Road high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, it was a magical convergence of nature, libido and machine. The moonlight reflecting off the snow-capped peaks, the lights of Estes Park twinkling below and the bold yet unassuming lines of the minimalist interior combined to leave an indelible imprint on me. If memory serves, a woman was also present, but that seems almost inconsequential now.
I was particularly enamored of the microbus, having owned a total of four and – like Gollum caressing his ‘precious’ – I cherished them all. Despite many and varied mechanical quirks, they fell into a category that VW owners refer to, with great optimism, as “daily drivers.” Typically the term is held to a pretty loose interpretation. So long as the vehicle can be started (pushing is allowed), attain a speed that keeps you from being run over by traffic coming up from behind (a stiff tailwind is the vintage Volkswagen driver’s best friend, thanks to an engine that produces roughly the same torque as a ceiling fan), and then brought to a stop, the basic criteria have been met. Should things like the heat, windshield wipers and turn signals work, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
My first was a two-tone camper – the quintessential “hippie van” – hand painted by its previous owner. To the man’s credit, he did use an exterior latex and a short-napped roller. One of my early attempts to tune up the engine resulted in a minor fuel leak. The ensuing fireball was quickly extinguished and my eyebrows grew back in only a few months, but the vehicle was known from that time forward as “The Hindenburg.”
Defined as anything Before Radiators, these vintage models are not for the timid. Handling and maneuverability are on par with your basic soap-box derby entry, and often times the road is visible beneath your feet due to a tendency of the floors to rot away like vampire flesh caught in a shaft of sunlight. Every trip requires a stockpile of spare parts, along with the ability to install them at a moment’s notice. It’s been said that, to fully appreciate the air-cooled driving experience, one must develop a Zen-like acceptance of breakdowns as part of the journey. That and a knack for reaching your “happy place” while your flesh is being seared by red hot engine parts. Peace, love and pass the metric tools, dude.
Thanks to an intervention where friends forced me to watch Little Miss Sunshine for three days straight, all that remains of my addiction is an old oil stain on the garage floor. But even so, we still loves our precious.