Curbside Classics from Neukölln and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf (Berlin) Part 4: The Americans, The French, VW and some cars from the mystery garage

I was unaware of Kaiser Motors until one summer in 2007 – by some twist of fate I was living in the very wealthy neighborhood of Wilmersdorf at the time – I saw a Kaiser Darrin driving past me. I had no idea what I was looking at, so, naturally, I followed the strange vehicle and tracked it down in an underground parking garage. Turned out the guy who drove the car had no clear idea either what he was driving (he showed me the engine and claimed it was a V-12!). He was paid by the owner to regularly move the Darrin (and its fluids) around the city so as to stay in good health. So imagine my joy when some 13 years later I ran into what I believe to be a Custom 6 (corrections welcome) by the side of Treptower Park! It’s on Bavarian historic plates (as indicated by the “H”) and I would guess it is a 1953….So, welcome back to CC Berlin, everyone!

I live in a curious part of the city, as my home is just half a mile away from the former border deviding (the formerly Western neighborhood of ) Neukölln from (the formerly Eastern neighborhood of) Treptow. The city actually installed a long row of cobblestones on an otherwise asphalt road so you can imagine the former borderline which runs by the end of the street where I live. And wouldn’t you know: Right on the formerly Eastern side of the border is one of two Lada dealers in Berlin – and right opposite on the formerly Western side is a used American car dealership and repair shop, where I “captured” this. I will let the experts guess the exact year of this red Corvette (it does read “L82” on the hood).

Here is another in captivity – a VW Typ 3 1600 automatic notchback. You wouldn’t guess it, but unlike the Beetle these cars don’t have a strong fan base in Germany. I see one on the road every 3 years or so.

This one was kept in nice enough shape.

The Beetle was really the last small VW that the US received. The Polo was never deemed worthy of importing. Here we have a post-facelift generation 2 model which was produced from 1990-1994. My sister managed to total one just like that just weeks before she wanted to get her license… There was also a “Coupe” model which was basically the same car with a more steeply raked C pillar and less usable space. And a sedan version which was not offered in the German market where very small sedans have a hard time selling.

Generation 3 brought a surprise return for the Polo (faux) sedan (the trunk lid reached all the way up to the roof making this technically a hatchback). It was in fact actually a rebadged Seat Ibiza and produced in Spain. This generation of Polos is said to have the best long-term durability and there are countless witnesses to this claim still out on the roads.

In the late 90s VW found a market niche even below the Polo. It was occupied by the very well built and beautiful Lupo (which was a Polo with even less of a trunk), then succeeded by the poorly put together Brazilian built Fox and after a break from building very small cars along came this: The VW Up. It’s not really a CC, but I thought I’d throw one in while I’m at it. I drove one as a company car and boy does it not feel like a small car. It has the structural rigidity of a tank and I never felt out of place on Berlin’s (speed limited) city Autobahn. One of the few modern cars I could actually imagine to own.

VW has a very conservative and boring image in Germany, that’s why I always smile when I come across one of these. The Scirocco was always the un-VW-like VW and that was particularly true for the crazy special edition cars like this “Tropic”. Painted wheels on a 1980s VW in Germany was almost on one level with going to work in nothing but a Speedo.


One spot below on the daring VWs of the 80s scale was the Cabriolet which was actually built into the 90s. I have good memories of these, involving hi speed Autobahn travel and twisty mountain roads to a weekend cabin of one of my friend’s parents.


VW got pretty cheap (or economical) when it came to updating the Cabriolet. Basically, it skipped every even number generation of Golf/Rabbit and resorted to some cosmetic trickery like slapping a pair of Mark 4 head lights on what was still very clearly a generation 3 based car. Up until that generation, the VW Cabriolet had a curious nickname in Germany, taking a clue from its roll-over protective bar spanning the B-pillars: It was called the “Erdbeerkörbchen” (strawberry basket), as strawberries in Germany at the time were mostly sold in little baskets with a handle. I still remember quite a few of the mothers from the classmates of my fancy high school doing their shopping in these.

And to finish off our VWs, here is a second generation Passat wagon (Quantum wagon in the US). I have a soft spot for these as the parents of my best friend from middle school drove one. The older I get, the more striking and timeless I find this car’s stern lines. It really has German no-nonsense written all over it.

This picture was actually taken at the parking garage under the hardware store which I have covered before. I have since found out (from friends who keep their T4 down there) more on why so many CCs are parked there. It is not cheap (at 24 Euros a day), but apparently you can claim that you have lost your ticket and then it is just 12 Euros per exit. If you drive your CC say twice a month you have a 24 euro a month heated and CCTV surveilled parking spot in the center of Berlin – hard to beat.

And while we are down there, let’s look at this gen 3 prelude. As a former Toyota owner I always find joy in my heart finding old Japanese cars. Unfortunately, there is hardly a scene for these beautiful vehicles in Germany and seeing a true gem like this can make my day.

It’s always thrilling to see a car for the first time in your life. I gather this to be a GAZ-24 “Volga”. It wears Potsdam historic plates. I was stunned by the presence of this car which is wider, longer and higher than the S123 Mercedes parked next to it. I’m no expert on either Russian or American cars, but I read somewhere the GAZ-24’s design was very much inspired by its contemporary, the Ford Falcon. Unlikely the Falcon, the GAZ-24 was built all the way up to 1992!


Ah, the BX! Originally a Bertone design for a small Volvo, Citroen knew a winner when they saw one and built this french Volvo. Fastback, partially covered rear wheel wells, hydropneumatic suspension! The stuff CC dreams (and serious cits) are made of. My favourite uncle had one when I was 5 and I couldn’t appreciate it at the time -maybe it takes age for taste to ripen!

And while the BX had  left child-me cold, the 2CV – my favourite uncle’s car before the BX – had scared me to death. I still remember sitting in the back seat and the sound of the little 2-cylinder engine just made me cry, even after my uncle bought me a fairly expensive stuffed polar bar. In retrospect, the buzzing noise of the little engine that could really should not have upset me this much, given that my father was driving a gen 1 VW Passat/Dasher wagon with the 1.5 litre diesel at the time. But then, for me there was always something about a diesel engine’s noise that calmed me down – maybe because my father drove me around in our Passat when I couldn’t sleep as a baby. I still remember when my uncle took it’s 2CV to the scrap yard – a very happy day for me. Once again, taste takes time to develop…

We leave the garage, but stay French, and even 2CV. I am not sure if this was offered by the factory or an independent coach builder, but these old french commercial looking vehicles enjoy rising popularity in the streets of Berlin.

What will be the fate of the ZX one day? It is, at least for a Citroen, definitely remarkable in how unremarkable it is. And while there is no hydropneumatic, at least the rear wheel wells are somewhat lower than one would expect….

There even was a wagon! This one has been sitting in the very same parking spot for a couple of months now…

It certainly is a more intriguing design than the hatch, faintly reminiscent of the XM wagon. Still, not enough ingredients for a future classic, if you ask me.


That is less true for the Xantia who has the all-important fully hydropneumatic suspension that qualifies this car as a true Citroen. My ex-girlfriend’s wealthy family had two of these (and two 2nd generation C5s, the last Citroen to feature a hydropneumatic suspension) and we usually kept one with us. The ride was so buttery smooth, particularly over cobblestone streets, that for years after I thought every other car had something wrong with its suspension. Curiously, the C5 was tuned very differently and much more in line with the contemporary fashion of sporty harshness the became en vogue at the time. Even in its comfort setting, the C5 was pretty busy and told you exactly what kind of road you were traveling on. The road my ex-girlfriend and I were traveling on certainly got bumpy at some point and no trips to Italy vacation homes across the Alps in the Xantia would help.

The wagon was a good deal longer than the faux sedan (which looked like a sedan but whose trunk lid extended into the roof like a hatchback). This is a very rare V6 with a manual, probably my second favourite Xantia, just behind the ultra-rare Xantia  Activa – a version of the sedan that featured a fully active suspension, good for 1.2g of cornering and the only car sold in Germany in the 90s thus equipped until the Mercedes C215 came along in 1999 with its ABC (active body control).

It is unlikely that the Xantia while ever be in the same league with the DS or even its technically somewhat simpler sister the ID.

More than half a century later this car still screams outer space to me.


And just when you think you have seen it all, someone parks his Renault Fuego behind a container behind a supermarket. A true Berlin CC situation. It’s got yellow French lamps and look at those wheels!

Thanks for tuning in. I’ll be back soon with some Opel, Ford and more!