Cars Of A Lifetime: 1987 VW Quantum Wagon – An Audi of Solace

If you have been following these ramblings of mine you might have noticed that I have (or did have) a bit of an affinity for Volkswagens and Audis. You might ask why, to which I might respond:  I don’t know. But there we have it, A VW Quantum wagon sat in front of my friend’s VW shop for sale. We were needing a better family car after the Suburban debacle and when I learned that it was a turbo diesel my interest peaked. For some reason I thought it might be a bit more reliable than my previous Audi designed car.

Now before we get any further, take a gander at this psychedelic Brazilian advertisement for the Santana (the European moniker for the Quantum). Perhaps that might explain my strange attraction to VW/Audi products at the time. But not withstanding the propagandist hallucinogenic marketing campaign for this car, I saw that it would be the perfect family vehicle for us. It was silver with a black leather interior, sunroof, five speed manual transmission, and my friend wanted eight hundred dollars for it. Well I of course didn’t have eight hundred dollars, but what I did have was a Honda 90 ATC that I had got in trade for my Cherokee and an engine hoist that I got to replace the one I traded for the Suburban. So for those goodies and a hundred bucks I ended up with the Quantum.

Now given that the Quantum was essentially an Audi with a VW motor (turbo diesel four, in this case), you may not believe me when I tell you it was great. In fact it was one of the least problematic, most dependable cars I have ever owned! It helped that when I got it, it was in great condition. As I recall it had a few small dents in the passenger side and I think that’s why the former owners got rid of it. It’s always a good sign when you find the original manual in the glove box!

We took that car everywhere and since I had no running trucks at the time it became my everything car. So it happened one day while shooting an AK47 from the window (not as sinister as it sounds, really) that I forgot about the ejection of the shells. The ejection was strong enough to break my windshield. Here is some video of me doing same after learning the hard way.

That was truly a sad moment as the car was mostly pristine otherwise. It got great mileage, made cheaper by ag fuel, it had enough power to merge safely unto the highway (with some planning), and it was immensely practical. My only constant wish was that it could have been an AWD Syncro, but you usually can’t have it all.

For some reason it had all the right Farfegnugen in all the right ways. I guess it really shows my predilection for foreign cars and how they are designed. Domestic cars of that era and shortly before, were designed around a living room. Lazy-Boy recliners up front, sofa in the back, the controls to the big screen in front of you at hand. All of these amenities were designed to keep the driver and passengers in a coma-like state in all circumstances. A state where the road had no tactile output to the driver but was merely a moving picture on the big screen of the windshield.

On the contrary, European cars were designed around the driving experience. The seats were firmer but more form fitting, the steering more tactile and responsive, the ride more lithe and crisp. To sum it up, a short tale: back in the days when German car companies still gave a crap about that sort of stuff, an American woman came in to rent a car in Munich. She looked at the selection and asked why none had cup holders. The German clerk simply replied “in Germany we eat in the dinning room”.

So why did you ever get rid of it you wonder? Well this time I didn’t (for the most part). One day I was driving to work, my drive took me through a smallish town of rather poor repute. I turned right, as I did everyday, after carefully looking both ways and seeing a completely empty street, into a two lane city thoroughfare. As I began to accelerate up to the thirty-five mile-per-hour speed limit, a Ford explorer came barreling up on my left side going the wrong way, cut in front of me and slammed on the brakes. I could see that it already had damage to the passenger’s side as the Quantum’s front end smashed into it.

The Explored pulled off to a side street and I followed. As I pulled up behind them, three tough looking young men got out and came towards my car. They were yelling obscenities and gesturing at me. I was on my way to work so as I stepped out they first saw my badge and uniform and then my gun. They instantly turned around and went back to the truck. Now a small young Hispanic woman got out of the driver’s seat and came over to me. She said that she was driving her mom’s car. I asked her for her insurance information and ID she said she didn’t have either but that the truck was insured through her mom.  So I gave here my insurance info but not my ID and wrote down her plate numbers and name.

The Quantum was still drive-able but it was pretty ugly now. A few weeks latter our insurance company, the cheapest one we could find, decided that it was my fault.  Never mind that they never looked at either car, never mind that the damage on the Explorer was supposedly worth five thousand dollars and that it was higher than the bumpers of my car, never mind that she had no license, nope all my fault. And no lawyer would touch the case because in the end it’s a losing proposition. So lesson learned about cheap insurance.

Now as to the poor Quantum; she was in a sorry state. Duct taped headlight, leaky radiator, etc. I couldn’t bear to see her that way, but it was not worth what it would cost to fix. So we pulled the engine to use in our Rabbit Pickup project and used the rest for target practice until the scrappers came by. And that was the sad inglorious end of a great car.  Would I own another? Maybe, but it would have to have lots of service records and be in excellent shape. As several readers have stated, maintenance is everything. Most vehicles are good when new, so keeping them like new, also keeps them good (with a few notable exceptions of course).

We replaced it with something much larger and much tougher to crash into. But that’s one for the future.

(pictures by Paul Niedermeyer)