25 Years of Driving – My Automotive Journey
Aside from DJ’ing, my other passion in life is cars. My father took me to the NY Auto Show every year when I was a kid, and I continue this tradition with my son, having taken him to every show since he was born. Reflecting back on 25 years of driving, I thought I’d share my automotive journey, and how I entered the VW/Audi scene.
This was a milestone year and the beginning of my journey as I passed my drivers test on the first go. The criteria back then was basically not to run over anyone and make sure you can land a solid K-Turn. I had my eyes on a Camaro my cousin just picked up cheap and he was nice enough to sell it to me. It was a re-sprayed 1984 white Z28, but had a pretty rough life. Much like a watermelon, it was nice and green on the outside, but the red wrath of hell waited for me under the hood. I paid $2500 for the car and owned it for less than a year. I loved the car so much and it was a popular choice with the guido’s where I grew up in Queens NYC. I added a stereo and an Italian horn to keep away the evil spirits (aka guidettes). The car was as reliable as a meth head, contributed to Saudi wealth, and depleted my funds rapidly having to constantly focus on getting it running right. Fortunately we had some contacts at the time with a local Nissan dealership and my short but memorable time with Chevy came to a close.
I sold the Camaro and purchased a black 1991 Nissan Sentra SE. I was willing to endure the “Oh it’s you Bob” puns thanks to Nissan’s low budget marketing. I lusted over the SE-R but was already stretching the budget with the SE. This was a great car and served me well through most of college up to 103K miles, when the transmission decided it was tired of switching gears and would rather show off how fast it could go in first gear, only. I sold the car as is in 1995 to a nice gentleman who put a new tranny in it and handed it off to his son who I kept calling Bob. It seemed like a good fit, and thus began my journey with VW.
A fellow DJ friend of mine owned a 1987 16V Red GTI. I loved his car and he insisted that if I were to consider joining the German car world, I needed to learn how to drive stick. So one night after finishing up my DJ gig at the club we headed home around 3am and he pulled over and said it was time to learn. Rowing my own gears was a key turning point for me, and a skill passed on for which I am forever grateful. After a local search I found a re-sprayed (apparently I didn’t learn much after the Camaro) 1989 VW GTI 16V, which I paid $5500 for. I enjoyed the car for about a year (when it actually ran) and it drove like nothing else I had ever experienced. This dub had a soul, and I finally understood why so many people stick with the brand, and German cars in general. I grew accustomed to being stranded in the middle of intersections while inhaling governmentally illegal and unidentifiable bio-toxic fumes. Even though I loved this car so much, I eventually grew tired of waiting in repair garages reading Men’s Health and began to regret my decision to get a VW.
After a rough mechanical year with the GTI I decided that I needed reliability, sold the GTI for what I paid for it (it’s probably a couch in some art deco studio now), and financed a manual silver 1996 Honda Civic CX Hatchback. It had more “base” in it than Cerwin Vega. No radio- Check, No power steering- Check, Roll Up Windows- Check. It didn’t even come with hubcaps but it was a Honda so what could go wrong, right? Nothing did go wrong, ever, and the key objective of reliability was met. That didn’t change the fact that I hated the car, with the exception of the super smooth shifter and great gas mileage. Oddly enough I tolerated it for almost 4 years. On year 3, at the advice of one of my “wisest” friends, I traded in the Civic for a slightly used MK3 GTI, only to return it 24 hours later when the realization set in that my income didn’t align with my new, higher payments. Apparently the dealership used cutting edge models for evaluating credit worthy buyers. Thankfully they agreed to take the car back and my misery continued on for another year. On year 4 when my financial situation improved I finally decided enough was enough and I was ready to get back into a VW straight off the factory line from Wolfsburg, or um, Brazil.
After selling the soulless Honda, I proudly picked up a 2000 Silver Jetta 2.0. On the highway it sounded like a lawnmower begging for an oil change and had as much power as a bootleg superhero, but I didn’t care because I was back in a VW, and this time a reliable one. I added some aftermarket wheels, and happily drove the car trouble-free for the next 2 years. Life was good.
During that time I quietly started to lust after the B5 Audi S4’s from driving them in Gran Turismo, and seeing them randomly on the street. In the NY Post one of the local dealers was advertising a really good lease deal. Tempted, I headed over to the Audi dealership and of course they were sold out of the S4’s for that “special”. He asked if I would be interested in looking at a TT while I was there (bait and switch perhaps?). I said, “Sure why not?”, since I was already there. There was a black coupe on the lot and as soon as I jumped inside I was blown away. The interior felt like a spaceship nestled neatly inside a bath tub. I didn’t even have to drive it to know I was sold. The Jetta was gone within two weeks and I was the proud owner (um, lessee) of a shiny new 2001 Black Audi TT 225. I felt game again like 007 and although my oil slicks failed to deter the thieves who tried to steal it 3 times, it was one of the most special cars I’ve owned to date.
Along with the TT my significant other had been cruising around in a 2000 Acura Integra LS, which we got an incredible deal on new. It was her first new car and she loved it. Apparently so did thieves (time to move yet?), as it was one of the most popular stolen cars at the time. After getting broken into multiple times around Queens, one night they finally finished the job and we woke up to an empty spot in front of our apartment. We now needed a new car and I convinced her that a GTI was the way to go. My friends had VR6’s and all I had to do was hear that exhaust note and I was hooked. I started looking online and purchased a used, fully loaded silver 2001 GTI VR6 with 30K miles. A resonator delete, brushed aluminum trim swap, Eibach Pro Suspension, and a few other OEM+ additions would soon follow. Even today I still long for a return to that VR6 sound, scouring classifieds regularly trying to find ways to justify to my wife why we need to add another VR6 to the staple. Those conversations unfortunately haven’t ended favorably.
When the lease was up with the TT we spent the next 3 years enjoying the VR6. We saved up money for our next purchase, a 2007 Candy White MK5 GTI that was fully loaded less navigation. While it didn’t have the exhaust note of the VR6, handling was dramatically improved and VW returned to its roots delivering the best overall GTI experience since the MK2. 9 years later I still own the car, and made best friends with my fast.
With kids on the way the 2 door VR6 wasn’t going to cut it anymore, so we picked up a 2004 fully loaded manual B6 Audi S4 Avant with 25K miles. A unicorn indeed, with ridiculous power and an amazing exhaust note, but as the saying goes there’s nothing more expensive than an inexpensive German car. Overall the car treated us well but there were some expensive repair items such as replacing both radiators, wheel bearings, windshield washer motor and assembly, sensors, etc. I never experienced the dreaded timing chain rattle common on early B6 4.2’s but once we hit 90K miles, I decided that I wasn’t willing to continue my ownership experience playing Russian roulette. We knew it was time to part ways since the car was running right, and there were plenty of buyers who were eager to roll the dice. We replaced it with another German unicorn, but a newer one with a warranty.
German is German right? Sort of. We picked up a CPO manual 2011 BMW 328 xDrive Sport Wagon (E91 for the purists). This was the last year of the 3 series non-turbo inline 6. Critics rave about this engine and the fact that the 3 series is the benchmark for sport sedans. It’s no S4 but does deliver a much better ride quality, and neutral rear wheel drive biased handling. The exhaust note is not really heard until you rev the engine high, so I’m thinking at some point of adding a performance exhaust. I really like the car, but I don’t love it. I guess I’m just not a BMW guy. It’s like meeting a really attractive woman who has all the right qualities, but the spark is not there for some reason. In an arranged marriage I suppose people learn to love each other over time. I’m hoping the same will happen here.
So I’m currently sitting with the MK5 GTI, and E91. The GTI has aged really well and still looks near new (just hit 100K), but I’m ready for a change. I’ve narrowed it down to two choices, a CPO B8.5 manual S4, or a brand new manual Golf R. I’ll probably sit on it for another year since car payments are as appealing to me as watching an episode of I Am Cait. Whatever the next whip is, I will be rowing my own gears and it will absolutely be a VW or Audi. To the next 25 years.
True to my word, after almost 10 great years my MK5 GTI finally went to a new home. In its place, I added a proper B8.5 6 Speed S4 with the sports differential. The car for which I had been lusting over for years is now parked in my garage. I couldn’t be happier.