The home of Sweaty Spice, the 'other' Spice Girl

When I was in high school, I was solidly in the “academic/college” track, and not the shop or trades track. Back then, (early 1980’s) there was the full complement of track and trades that you could pursue. And I was friends with a group of peers where were heavily into the auto shop world. Back then, they would start the year buying some old clunker, a 60’s vintage muscle car in need of major work, and they would spend the year rebuilding/fixing, and getting a solid education around working on cars.

At the time, I was an avid off-road motorcyclist, and I spent time pretty much every week working on my bikes. I would have enjoyed being in the shop classes.

Bummer.

But it did give me an appreciation of the life of a mechanic, and the ability to do most of my own work.

This is a long introduction to my experience with Volkswagen. On my other blog, I posted about a secret desire to have a “Hot Hatch”, and the natural choice is one of the many variants of the VW GTI.

My History with VW cars

In the way back time, I dated a woman who drove a 1989 Corrado, the replacement of the Sirocco, and with a 1.8l 4 cylinder with a supercharger, and it was an amazing car to drive.

My first VW that I bought was a bog stock, 1992 Jetta, 5 speed manual, manual window cranks, as you can imagine, it was pretty mundane. But the naturally aspirated 1.8l motor made about 105 horsepower, and it was really easy to work on.

I swapped that in 1995 to buy a minivan, as I was doing a lot of driving dogs to dog shows, and needed the space.

But the VW bug was still with me, and in 2000, I had some stock options that were worth something, so I sold and bought a brand new VR6 Jetta. An amazingly fun car to drive, pretty reliable (with caveats) and it gave a friend who had a BMW 328i with some sport goodies some headaches. The Jetta was faster, and turned better, out of the box.

But it wasn’t all unicorns and skittles.

The issues:

  • On the first Jetta, there was a weird ECU issue where it would just kill the engine (not allow it to rev, and no bueno on the freeway) that would require me to turn the key to off, then back on, and it would be fine. No fun on the freeway though.
  • It had front wheel bearings that went bad in about 10K miles. It was a weird issue, and the local shop was perplexed. Maybe the bearings were defective.
  • It also had a strange clutch failure at about 40K miles. One day at a drive through for fast food, the clutch just “broke”. No slipping, it turned out that the thrust bearing disintegrated. I had to have it towed to a local shop. The broken parts gouged the flywheel, so it had to be removed and resurfaced, new clutch, and hardware.
  • On the 2000 Jetta, it was mechanically awesome, but it had some weird issues. Mainly the power Window register. The register is a clip that is on the bottom of the window glass that allows the cables to raise and lower it. For some bizarre reason, VW designed it out of plastic, and in the 4 years I owned the car, I had to have it replaced 4 times.
  • Both of them: Really sensitive on adjustments of the gear shift. VW’s have some strange mechanism, and adjusting it was beyond my skills to do. But after 5 or so thousand miles, it would be out of adjustment that shifting became shitty.

So, while I have fond memories, I also have some frustrations. And later in life I worked with a fan of Audi’s, and we shared stories of the odd failures, and alas, it seems that VW has plenty of screwed up things.

But it is not all bad

While those failures are concerning, there are some very good things. Having owned a couple of VW’s as well as a Honda S2000, I can make a couple of generalizations.

First, the VW’s were over engineered. The drive shafts, the CV joints, the suspension parts, were all way over-engineered for the amount of horsepower in the car. On the 92 Jetta, they could easily triple the power with the drive train and have no issues.

The Honda on the other hand was engineered to be strong enough, and when people started adding power to it (superchargers are a popular upgrade) you have to spend a lot of money strengthening the drive train, transmission, and rear end.

Second, there are a lot of aftermarket for all the variants of VW’s. Bigger disc kits, turbochargers, suspension upgrades, cams, throttle bodies, and later, chips/mods to the ECU, exhaust, and a lot of full race goodies. Sure, you can get some of that for the Honda, but the ecosystem for VW is amazing. Additionally, since they share a lot of components with Audi, there is a natural path to higher performance.

Third, their engines are built to be bulletproof. I have been watching The Humble Mechanic (I highly recommend his Youtube channel) as he has rebuilt a couple of high mileage VR6’s, and one, with 215K miles has a bottom end that has a lot of wear left. Sure, you can blow a shift and destroy a head. But unless you do something really dumb (like not change oil, or let the oil run low) the bottom end will last forever. Like the old Mercedes 240D’s that could easily last 500K+ miles without major service, these bottom ends wear like iron.

So, what does it all mean

I have kindled a desire to step into the fun car realm. A hot hatch, built from a used VW GTI (the Audi variant isn’t sold in the US, so VW it is), and the question becomes do I find an older VR6 and get the naturally aspirated goodness, or do I get a later model 4 cylinder TSI motor that is turbocharged.

The latter will be more expensive, but likely to be less headache, as they will be newer.

But probably not. I haven’t the time for such a frivolous hobby.

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