Curbside Classic: 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia – The Eighties Called

1984 Volkswagen Vanagon with Verizon pay telephone / phone

It doesn’t matter what two digits have defined my age in adulthood.  Certain things and scenarios will often put me in a mental and/or emotional state similar to when I first encountered such stimuli.  Part of the beauty of having three siblings in three different states is that when the holidays roll around, I also get to take a mini vacation away from Chicago.  (The only downside to this is paying for airfare, which I consider a relatively small price to pay to see everyone.)  I pinch myself from time-to-time (and perhaps I should do so more often) that I live in as incredible a metropolis as the Second City, but sometimes a little break from Cook County, Illinois is all that’s needed to return with even more appreciation for the place I call home.  Many of us have been in a situation where having spent too much time, unbroken, with a loved one or in the same place can be remedied only by a temporary hiatus.

1984 Volkswagen Vanagon print ad

Thanksgiving has normally been when I get to visit my older brother and his family on the East Coast.  What’s interesting is that my three siblings ended up with families I wish I had experienced while we were growing up, with warmth, laughter, humor, and sense of fun that was sorely lacking in our house when I was a kid.  Perhaps my siblings had all felt the same way and made their own “corrections” to their own families based on this and as they saw fit.  Regardless, I’m usually in my happy place when I go to visit any of them.

My older brother’s teenagers seem uncharacteristically aware and appreciative of all things ’80s, which has often left me dumbfounded in the best way.  Last fall, I wondered what firsthand experience my hip, handsome nephew could have had with the music of Donna Summer, outside of my brother’s and sister-in-law’s streaming music service or perhaps watching a rerun of a 2014 episode of “Bob’s Burgers”.  (Perhaps it was the Speak & Spell I had bought for him off of eBay when he was in preschool that kicked off his appreciation of the era of his uncles’ and his father’s childhoods.)

Speak & Spell children's toy

This past Thanksgiving Day, all of us hopped into their family minivan to drive to a picturesque park and take a walk next to the beautiful, majestic Potomac River.  Of course, I brought my camera, hoping to catch a few candid shots of the family on the sly.  I had limited success in that mission.  It’s sometimes painful to watch mid-’80s VHS footage my grandfather had taken of me, where I had turned eye-rolling and mean-mugging into art forms, so I can’t pretend I don’t understand.

Now being on the adult side of those exchanges (and may Grandpa rest in peace), I understand that he was merely trying to preserve a way to remember the youth in his extended family as they were in that particular moment in time.  Like the young me, though, my brother’s kids weren’t having it either, though I suspect they’ll thank me later for the few decent shots of them that I was able to manage.

1984 Volkswagen Vanagon, by itself

I’d say that having teenagers in the house has definitely given my brother an edge in staying on top of current music trends, while I haven’t listened to pop radio in years.  What struck me as we played the radio while en route to the park was how so many current songs borrowed heavily from the sonic palette shared with beloved tracks from our ’80s youth.  Befitting this mood and upon arrival to our destination at Cabin John Regional Park, this VW Vanagon was waiting for us… in front of a pay phone.  (For a source of innocent, generational fun, present a rotary telephone to a youth in your life and ask him or her to make a call.)

I know the model year of this particular example only because of a license plate search.  I have ridden in a T3-era Volkswagen Type 2 exactly zero times to the best of my knowledge, though I have ridden in more than a few T2s.  The front grille assembly, with its round quad-lights, was not offered from the factory on U.S. models and appears to be a swap from those used by the latter-day South African models.  This seems to be a popular trend, and I consider it an aesthetic improvement.

Verizon pay telephone / phone, by itself

While the exterior modifications to this vehicle would suggest that there may be more changes lurking under the skin, the ’84 Vanagon on your dealer’s lot was powered by a 1.9L four-cylinder with 83 horsepower, which was a 22% increase in power from the prior year.  This was for a vehicle that weighed about two tons.  Needless to say, I felt much safer riding in my brother’s Honda Odyssey through the hilly, twisty roads of suburban Maryland on the way to and from this park than I would have in the Westy.  Also, if we were riding in the older vehicle in the 1980s and it had broken down for any reason while on this afternoon outing, it might have been a long walk to use a phone.  Nostalgia can be great fun, but even a pop culture junkie like me can appreciate that many things have improved since the heyday of Atari.

Cabin John, Maryland.
Thursday, November 28, 2019.
Thanksgiving Day.