Cars Of A Lifetime: 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI -The Black Death

(Pictures provided by Paul)

Remember when I promised you dear readers that I had purchased my last Rabbit? Well I did. I never paid a dime for this one (that’s because I didn’t want it). But this one really must have wanted me. Even getting rid of it turned into a nightmare.

Here is how the story goes: for some time we lived in Dallas Oregon. Our neighbor had a job he had to be at very early in the morning, and he owned this GTI with a very loud muffler. Every morning at about five AM it would start up like a jet plane on afterburners. No cranking, no coughing, just a sudden unexpected burst of resonating, droning sound followed by a few minutes of continues low pitched droning and then I would drift back to sleep.

Jerry, the owner of the car, and I became friends and I drove it a few times because he wanted to to see what it could do but was too afraid to push it hard himself. I am not sure if I frightened him going over those back country roads at ninety miles-per-hour at night, but if I did he was very well composed. The car handled as well as any Rabbit GTI should and was reasonably quick.

Later on, we moved to the countryside near Silverton, Oregon. Jerry came out to visit a couple of times. One day he called and told me the GTI was having charging trouble. So I had him bring it out to the farm. He was in the process of moving to Portland and had no place to park it anyway, so he said there was no rush fixing it. Several months passed, and I nearly forgot about the car sitting out under the trees.

Jerry called once and asked about the car, which reminded me that I should probably fix it. So I got busy and replaced the alternator regulator, which did the trick. But Jerry had not left me his new phone number, so I waited for his call. About a year went by and Jerry called once but when I called back I got no answer. I figured since he knew where I lived that he would eventually come and get the car.

Well, three or four years passed and he never came and got it. During that time I started it and ran it a few times, put some fresh gas in it and such. About the second year I raced it against my friend’s MR2 up the country road one night on a whim, and the GTI won by a hair. Beginning about the third year I started driving it around just to keep it alive. The muffler fell off one day but it made little difference in the noise levels. Eventually the expired registration made me stop driving it for fear of being pulled over.

It came to pass that my friend Chris needed a commuter car for his new job in Portland. So I thought, he could use the GTI, but I was not the owner. So I went down to our local Department of Motor Vehicles and had them send a registered letter to Jerry’s last known address. He never replied so the car remained in limbo. Since it had been on my property for over a certain amount of time though, and I had performed paid work on it, I could put a lien on the title.  And that is what I did. Eventually the title became mine and I sold the car to Chris.

Of course it had been sitting for some time and had developed some problems. The taillights were no-op as usual and it had some strange driveability issues.  But before Chris grew tired of trying to make everything work all at once he had some fun getting in trouble with the car. There is nothing but nothing that gets our local police more exited than a hatchback shit box with a loud muffler. Just ask my friend Gary who has been pulled over more times than I can count in his Geo.

The last time Chris came over to our house, now in Salem Oregon, he went roaring out of our cul-de-sac, drifted around the corner, and hammered the throttle the whole way. The neighbors came over and asked me if I knew him and I said that he was just some friend of a friend and that I really didn’t.  They were in the process of calling the police on him for endangering the neighborhood. I called and told him to lay low; the car was still unregistered so he was free and clear once he got home.

Chris called me some time later and wanted me to come drive it to diagnose a problem. Whenever he would turn right, the car would die. I came over, drove it up the street to a gravel lot, did a couple of circles around and determined that it did indeed die. And then someone came out of a building and told us he was calling the cops (seriously what is it with these cars!?). So I gave him the bird, threw up a bunch of gravel, which I was careful not to do before that, and took off like the irresponsible asshole bad boy that I am.

I had no idea what the problem was and thought that we should drop the gas tank. But by this time Chris was sick of the car and he sold it to my old Rabbit loving buddy Bill (who right now is working on an Omni GLH project, the sicko).

That was the last I heard of the car for at least a year or two. As part of the deal I had told Bill that under no circumstances would I work on, or even talk about the car. But then one day I got a phone call from Bill. He wanted to know if I wanted the car back. I told him that I really didn’t. But he insisted that I could sell it or something and that he would just give it to me. So I relented and took the car back. Of course I regretted it. Thus began an era of four wheel drifts around country corners (left ones that is) and saying “yes officer” in a nice civil manner alot. I got looked at and tailed and pulled over almost every time I drove it.

I didn’t want to do any work on it (because I hated it) so I never fixed the dying on right turns issue but I am fairly sure it was something wrong in the fuel tank pick-up. After awhile one of the CV joints started clicking. Knowing Rabbits all too well, I knew I had lots of time before it utterly failed.  So we kept on driving it.

As it would happen the CV joint failed at the worst time in the worst place. I was crossing a busy street on a weekend night in a trendy neighborhood in Portland when it broke. I was looking for a place to park at the time and now there was really no hope of finding a parking spot as the engine bore no connection to the wheels any longer. We coasted down a hill and had to park in front of a driveway. The people who owned the business that the driveway was in front of were very nice to us. And the patrons dinning outside told us that they wouldn’t let anyone tow it away if we wanted to go and get a drink while we waited for assistance. I suspect they thought we were homeless.

I didn’t have the money, nor would I have spent it, for a tow to a shop and the subsequent repairs. So I called Chris and asked him if he could come and tow the car to a safe spot and pick us up. It was a trip of about one hundred and twenty miles round trip. He was very busy, but our mutual friend Steve was not. So after some cajoling I was able to convince him to drive Chris’s Peugeot 505 turbo diesel up to help us (oh the irony!).

Steve arrived after awhile with a tow strap and I set out on foot to find a parking spot in the busy neighborhood. I found one and left Michelle to guard it while I went back to steer the GTI. It was a bit hairy trying to get through traffic towing a car at night and into the spot but we did it. I hid the key under a rock and tried to make the car as un-broken looking as possible.

After I got back to Salem I put an advertisement in the Portland Craigslist, “free car, first come, first served”. The next morning at the office I got a call from Michelle telling me that I had a whole bunch of calls. I had given her instructions to write the numbers down in the order in which they had called and I would get back to them.  As it turned out, she had had a chat with a few of the callers and disclosed the location of the car, unfortunately they were not the first callers. I called the first caller and he was not home. So I waited and called again, still not home.  So I moved on to the second caller, same story. Since I had not been home all day I wanted to give the first caller plenty of time.

But then I got a call. It was one of the callers, but I did not know which one. Michelle was not supposed to have given my phone number to anyone but the first caller, so I assumed he was the first. However, I asked him to hold and called Michelle. I gave her his number and she said he was the third caller; she had given my number to all of them! As well, she had disclosed the location of the car! I told the guy on the other line that he was the third caller and that I wanted to wait until evening for the first caller to call me back. He became irate and told me that he already had the car on a tow truck and was taking it to his house! I asked him if he thought that sounded fair and he told me he didn’t give a damn, it was first come first served. I told him how it was supposed to work, just then the other line rang, it was the first caller!

I told the first caller exactly what was going on and he was very nice and understanding. But I told him that I had set the rules and the car was his. I switched lines and I asked the third caller how he thought it would go when I called the police and told them he stole the car, and asked him what he was going to do without the title. He swore a bunch and told me he would put the car back. I switched lines and gave the location and key location to the first caller and got his address to send the title to.

When the first caller got to the car I asked him a few questions about how it was parked. I had parked it in a very hard-to-tow way, and there was no way one could put it back just like it was without altering it’s location a little. Based on his observations, we determined that the car had not been moved at all.

The new owner really wanted me to deliver the title to him in person and told me he would pay me a hundred bucks to do so. I think he was worried about a scam of some sort (it was very wise of him to be concerned). I told him I only needed the money for gas and that I did not require a hundred bucks. So I car pooled up to Portland in Chris’s 504 a few weeks later. Chris had to be dropped off at work and we were also taking another person to a house on the opposite side of town. I dropped off Chris, had the battery go dead on the Peugeot,  got it charged up at a shop that was near, got to the lady’s friend’s house, didn’t shut off the car, drove around and found a parts store, called the guy to tell him what was going on, bought a new alternator belt, installed it with the only tools available (a monkey wrench and a multi-tool), and finally met him near the parts shop. I gave him the title and he gave me fifty dollars for the trouble.

I got back in the Peugeot to go pick-up Chris and prayed it had run long enough to recharge the battery. I turned the key to the wait position, the light came on and I waited, and then I cranked it, it started! Finally, I was rid of all Rabbits and their kin, and as I drove back to Salem in a decrepit Peugeot, I thanked the Lord that it was not a Rabbit.