by Tom Sedens (wildsau.ca)
This is a VW Rabbit adventure story.
It’s not so much about VWs, or Rabbits, or adventures specifically. It’s about a particular Rabbit. And how it helped carve indelible memories into my life’s storyboard throughout the two years I owned it.
Let me start at the beginning.
I came from a relatively well-to-do family, and I was spoiled. To prove my point, my first car (a high school graduation gift) was a new 1991 Audi Quattro Coupe – the lovely 20-valve sports car with the high beltline that had caught my eye in Germany a year earlier. It was my dream car and my dad barely hesitated when I pleaded my case. Yes, I was spoiled.
I had this car modified at a place in town called “The Auto Folks”. They catered to a German car crowd and were well-known to do whatever a customer wanted. I had German performance parts brought in for my beloved Audi and this is how my love affair with the Rabbit started. Auto Folks had a courtesy car – and every time I brought my Audi in to get modified further, I would get to take this courtesy car for the day, week, whatever.
This courtesy car was a 1979 VW diesel Rabbit. Not a turbo-diesel. Just a diesel. It was a German-made 1.5 litre diesel, notoriously slow but viciously efficient. The hilariously-named “performance” figures were 0-60 mph in a leisurely 17.8 seconds, and this beast could rocket through the quarter mile in a blinding 20.7 seconds. That said, it was known to get incredible mileage and that’s why people bought it. It still made diesel torque and was fun to drive. But here, my friends, is where things get interesting. Auto Folks had access to a lot of parts, factory and modified, domestic and foreign. In making this their courtesy car, and the year being 1994 – a solid 15 years of life having passed that car by, they determined that it would be a good idea to make this Rabbit special. And special it was.
Externally, there were only a couple of clues. The car had a German GTI grille with the 4 round lights, and it had GTI rims with some relatively fat rubber on them – 195s looked meaty on that car. They made further changes under the sheet metal. Suspension parts from European-issue GTIs were transplanted, dropping the car a bit and making it handle very well. Also, a 5 speed transmission with shorter gears and a clutch from a European GTI were transplanted. As far as what was going on under the hood, the Auto Folks would never say what was done – but the car didn’t respond as though it only had the 50 horsepower that the 1.5 litre diesel was purported to make. It felt faster than a GTI Rabbit did. And therein lay the fun. A clattering, smoking 2-door diesel Rabbit in a lovely burgundy, with tan vinyl interior, that could lay down a patch of rubber and out-accelerate and out-handle a lot of cars in those days. To say it was fun is an understatement of epic proportions.
The car had a name too. The first time I got it as a loaner, the Rabbit nameplate was broken off at the end, making it a Rabbi. I christened it “The Rabbi” and the name stuck.
I’m not ashamed to say I abused that car. Heck, I beat the living piss out of it. Every time I took that loaner home, I’d barely get out of their parking lot and I’d be laying the rubber down, squealing around corners with one of the rear tires off the ground, weaving in and out of traffic and in general, driving like an idiot. I don’t know what it was about that car, but it inspired a person to go crazy and it was fun to drive! Somehow it seemed to fuel life!
I do have video footage of one particular summer evening where my friend Rob and I took The Rabbi off-roading. Behind my house was a ravine, but there was a relatively smooth area of soil before the trees started – it was spring and it looked like a great place to kick up some dust. We flew off the main road and into the dirt field, and were plowing along just fine until the spring snow melt got the better of us – within 200 feet, we had sunk into mud and clay that was as solid as concrete and up to the bottom of the doors. We weren’t going anywhere. It took us an hour to find someone, but finally we got a friend to come and pull us out with his 4×4. As we got back on the road, the entire undercarriage and all the rotating parts were covered and packed with thick mud – so as we drove off, the entire vehicle shook as though it was having a seizure and massive chunks of clay were flying off the car at all angles, leaving behind a trail of muddy mess. We had tears in our eyes, we were laughing so hard. We headed to a field in southwest Edmonton, where a new rec centre and high school now stand. In those days it was a farmer’s field. Rob got out with the video camera and I decided I would see what kind of rooster tails this torque monster could kick up in that farmer’s top soil. To this day, Rob’s on-camera laughter while filming me off-roading in that car is infectious.
It was after this trip that I had a pang of guilt. I realized that this car had become on object of my affection, yet I was treating it poorly. I felt bad for it. In those days, I had far too much money and far too little responsibility. I made a lifestyle out of traveling to Banff, Alberta constantly. Over the course of two years, I spent over 100 days in Banff. It’s a magnificent national park, nestled in the Rocky Mountains – and it’s a party town as much as a hiking and camping destination. And I did both. I’d spend several weeks there with different groups of friends, come home for a few days and head back. I made a decision. I was putting too many miles on my Audi, driving the 400 or so kilometres each way on a regular basis. I needed a camping car.
I talked to the manager of Auto Folks, who was loathe to let their special Rabbit go, especially after all the work they’d done on it, but everything can be bought. I drove it home after a few days of negotiation. I proudly parked it on the driveway, much to my mother’s dismay. I went to work, making it my own. I had been collecting stickers of camping and back-country equipment brands, which I promptly decorated the ass end of the car with, I bought a Thule rack and box for the roof, and I put in a stereo and a subwoofer. And once I felt it was ready, I never took another car to the mountains as long as I owned the Rabbit – it was our designated driver.
You can ask any of my friends and they’ll back me up on this. There was something magical about that car. It just had character. Somehow it enabled or even empowered us to let loose, do stupid things, laugh louder than we had before, and live without regret. My friends and I could tell endless stories about endless camping trips – often prefaced by a 2 hour conversation over beers and nachos, and then 2 minutes of packing. The camping gear stayed in the car permanently.
I remember so many moments in that car. There was the time where my friend Brian drummed along to the entire Fear Factory album, using the air freshener hanging from the mirror as his cymbal. There was the time we dared my friend Lothar to order the worst sub ever at Subway – and he ate an onion, olive and jalapeno sub leaving Edmonton – the burps he produced for the next 3 hours were enough to melt the vinyl seats in that car. There was the time our friend Ron, who is the world’s worst gas producer, decided it would be a great idea to consume a family-sized bag of dried prunes and then spent the second half of the drive with his ass in between our front seats, dropping the deadliest farts I’ve ever heard, smelled or seen. The redeeming moment was when Ron literally shat his pants in Banff a few short hours later. There was the time I forgot to tell my friend Chris that the brakes were shot when we had traded cars for the evening – and the nearest miss he’s ever had in a car after having to put the brake pedal through the floor just to start slowing it down at an intersection. There was the time we had to rescue a friend in the middle of the night – in -30 C weather – and the car ran for 48 hours straight because we knew it wouldn’t start again in that temperature. I have so many more stories to tell.
I’d rather make an observation though, or perhaps a conclusion. I’ve been a car fanatic since I was a little boy. I’ve always read every car magazine I could get my hands on, I’ve watched any car movie I could, and I’ve subscribed to every car-related Youtube uploader there is. I have had access to incredible cars over the years and even owned some of them myself. I’ve always loved driving – some people kick a hole in the wall, some people punch someone – if I ever have a bad day, I get in my car and drive. I know all the specs for all the cars out there. And I know I’m not alone – there are many, many people like me.
What I’ve come to realize as I’ve briefly recounted my Rabbit ownership tale is that this car has had a bigger impact on me than any other car I’ve owned. It wasn’t because it was faster or more luxurious, because it wasn’t. It wasn’t because it was handled better or had more cachet, because it didn’t. It was because I had an emotional attachment to the car – an attachment that I couldn’t explain and still can’t. Somehow I connected with that car, and it came with two years of adventures and amazing times with amazing friends. And I’ll never forget it. It turns out that, for me anyway, it’s the moments I’ve experienced with a given car that make it so important to me, rather than what a car itself is actually capable of. I know now that these moments are what made The Rabbi so magical, and why I’ll never forget it, as humble as it was.
Sadly, I moved into an apartment that limited my parking spaces to two – I still had my Audi Coupe and a newer GTI – and so I cut my beloved Rabbit loose. I sold it to a guy who had never owned a diesel car and warned him that it was somewhat low on oil and needed to be serviced pronto. He painted it silver, drove it for three months without ever popping the hood and promptly seized up the diesel engine, writing off the car. A sad end to a great life for a great car.
There it is – my trip down the Rabbit hole. I miss you, Rabbi.