Sunday, July 7, 2013

#3 - 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

Just as the car landed, I woke up. Unfortunately the brakes were of no use as the GTI tumbled down the E55 autobahn just south of Køge, Denmark, eventually coming to rest against a bridge abutment. It's my favorite car of all time, and the only one I ever destroyed.

I found the car in Sacramento as I graduated from college. It carried me across the country and then somewhat unexpectedly along the autobahns in the land of its parentage, mixing with German-spec GTIs to sometimes hilarious results. Silver with a blue cloth interior, it was fast, attractive, fun to drive, and economical.
The GTI was Volkswagen's greatest creation after the Beetle. On paper the car was under powered, managing just 90 horsepower from its 1.8 liters. But that engine only had to pull 2,100 pounds of Volkswagen, giving the car a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 108 mph (well, sort of—more on this later), while returning 36 mpg on the highway!

Don't just take my word on the greatness that was the GTI. Car and Driver named it to their inaugural
"Ten Best" list in 1983 calling it, “the car we've all been waiting for.” For the 1984 list the great automotive journalist David E. Davis, Jr wrote, "It’s tough to imagine anything that delivers more pure, uncomplicated fun than a Volkswagen Rabbit GTI. The car is eager to please, always ready to roughhouse, perfectly willing to cruise at the redline if that’s what turns you on... It is the modern BMW 2002."

One of the best features of the GTI, aside from a fun to drive quotient almost unmatched by any car in the 1980s, was its vast cargo space. The car was large enough to carry me and all of my earthly belongings from California to my first Army assignment, the Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

At Knox my path took a big change. Following training I was supposed to spend three years at Fort Hood, Texas, However, a fellow second lieutenant had a girlfriend in Oklahoma. Apparently struck stupid by love, he traded me his posting in Germany to be closer to her. 

And so it came to pass that in December 1985 I drove the GTI to Newark, NJ and put the Pennsylvania-built U.S. spec Volkswagen on a ship bound for the land of its design (after having the catalytic converter removed: in the 1980's Europe still only had leaded gas). It was the beginning of a great adventure, an adventure that nearly ended on that early Sunday morning just outside Køge.

1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI
Owned: 1985-1987
Music: Depeche Mode, Neil Young, and always Elvis Costello
Rating: 5/5 (The best car I ever owned - in death it saved my life)

1 comment:

  1. Very nice read! (quick side note: it's not called the autobahn in Denmark. It's called motorvej)