It’s Time for a Volkswagen BRZ

June 26, 2013 at 8:02 am

For the past few weeks, I cannot keep my mind off of oddball Volkswagens, especially those with a track record for being as reliable as often as a Kardashian is mistaken for an intelligent person. I’m talking about Vanagons, Sciroccos, and anything that came from the factory with a VR6. In particular, I have dedicated my search to a clean B3 Passat – yes, the one that looks like its perpetually frightened, thanks to its wide-eyed face and ticking timebomb of a motor.

While it’s not G60 levels of self-implosion, the first-generation of any motor is usually somewhat of a moving testbed, a prototype that you get the privilege of paying full price for without the pleasure of destroying when its mule-ish reliability wears thin. The factory gets to experience that joy, while you just find a way to live with it. However, it seems like the B3 is dying like it lived – quickly, and forgotten behind a mechanic’s service bay.


The reason I love this early Passat so much is because it was the most modern answer Volkswagen was willing to give to the windswept movement that has made most new cars look like a snow drift with headlamps. Instead, they took essentially the same rectangle-with-a-glass-bunker design language that defined every one of their cars and smoothed out the still-square headlights while rounding the very edges of the fenders. It was as if you could imagine ol’ Wolfgang screaming bloody murder that the suits wanted shapes that didn’t resemble a refrigerator and, after months of indifference, this is what he came up with. A gigantic brick of a middle finger to management, with a howling VR6 in the nose. God love ol’ Wolfgang.

My underlying affinity for cars like this is because they are no longer made, especially by the Germans. Congress began discussions recently that cars in the future will feature some sort of wi-fi labyrinth that will determine if a driver is using their phone when moving. Certainly we can all agree that distracted driving is a problem, but instead of improving drivers so they don’t kill themselves or each other behind the wheel, we once again further neuter the car from any sense of engagement because, well – most Americans have no interest in actually improving their response times or making the car the central focus of driving. From a styling standpoint, these amorphous blobs we now call “new cars” (I’m looking at you, Hyundai Elantra) are so lacking in design character that they’ve become both anonymous and identical to every other car on the road – all in the name of small improvements in fuel efficiency. I drive a boxy ’95 M3 that still gets 22 m.p.g. on the highway, a scant 6-8 miles difference (estimate) from today’s compacts. Big loss in the name of incremental efficiency gains.

I have to give the Japanese credit: they had the stones to see the BRZ asd FRS through to production, and they’ve been praised handsomely for it. It’s time for ze Germans – and who better than Volkswagen – to sell a stripped-down, rear or all-wheel drive platform with a nose-heavy VR6 and boxy styling. Otherwise, I’m going to keep looking for a Passat (like this one!), or a Vanagon, or Scirocco…or maybe a Quantum with Syncro….


Feel Special for $800

May 16, 2013 at 11:46 pm

It’s not often you see a Saab Special Performance Group (SPG) 900 in the wild, let alone one that’s sitting idle waiting for the next sadistic fool to take his chances on this Swedish chariot. But points must be given to the current owner of this broken banger for having the foresight to store it indoors for at least part of its hibernation.

I don’t know much about Unity, New Hampshire but I’m assuming its namesake doesn’t apply to the status of this car’s most important bits. They’ve been scattered a bit like ashes, with the body kit removed, a dead fuel pump and a blown turbo. Perhaps it’s unified in its project car status, or maybe united in its goal to bankrupt subsequent owners.


Whatever premonition the car’s location supports, there’s no denying its significance as a crowning achievement in the Saab lineup. The 160 bhp 16-valve motor made for spirited performance, but this one’s faulty components – primarily responsible for fuel delivery and delivering the turbocharged-rush Saabs are famous far – let down what is otherwise a truly special car.

It baffles me sometimes how cars can be torn down in what seems like a valiant attempt to bring it back from the dead. Unfortunately, whether life gets in the way, bills pile up or the spouse gets cranky, many cars lie dormant, victim of their owner’s ambitions. With only 7,000 SPGs imported into North America, its rarity is well documented – but will this one get out of a shed in remote New Hampshire town to return to the ranks of its limited production brethren?

Hopefully, time moves a little slower in Unity.

Two Words: Air Suspension

April 11, 2013 at 12:00 am

Sometimes project cars are laughable. As in, this is a car that will bankrupt you faster than a jaded ex-wife who didn’t like you that much when things were good. A 1973 Citroen SM is not just something you stumble upon. No, there’s always a good story with anyone who has a mid-level exotic with de-tuned Ferrari internals sitting in their backyard. The spoils of an illicit poker game? A gift bequeathed to its owner from a long-lost eccentric Canadian uncle? All of it is about as believable as Joe Six Pack picking up a vintage Citroen for the price of a Vespa.


Although I’m not normally drawn vehicles of the front-wheel drive variety, the SM is an exception. It’s a big, heavy, exotic cruiser, chock full of innovation only seen in re-runs of the Jetsons when it was first introduced. Self-leveling suspension – well, I’m a sucker for it. At a young age, I watched a British family disembark from their Range Rover Country only after the air suspension had fully settled; from that point on, this sophisticated method of exiting and entering a car has been burned into my brain. Of course, repairing a hydraulic suspension will make your first mortgage look like a tip at Burger King, but let’s not dwell on the negatives.

Low-mileage is normally a plus, but when you’re talking about Italian/French hybrid exotics sitting in a backyard in Connecticut, it’s probably more an indication of when it last turned a wheel then an attempt at preservation. This is clearly an American model, thanks to its ugly US DOT-approved single-round headlights instead of the killer plexi-glass encased six-lens European variety. Our traffic safety officials are unforgiving-ly lame, as these are the same people who sealed the car’s fate on our shores by declaring it in violation of federal safety standards due to the varying height of its adjustable suspension. Bastards.

This is a project car of significant proportions. To do it correctly, you will likely lose your friends, house, job and any semblance of a relationship with your spouse. But they weren’t there when those smarmy Brits stepped mere inches onto the hot blacktop from their once-lofty perch, and they sneered – oh, they sneered – when they saw you extend your legs full-length to exit the rental-car Civic. Someday, you thought, as your flip-flop fell off from trying to exit the perilously-tall crapbox, you would own a car that could bring you down to earth while putting you above the rest.

That day is today. 

Attracted to All-Trac

March 20, 2013 at 12:02 am

So, my daily finds for project cars have little rhyme or reason to them; really, it’s about what I find within a few minutes of searching that strikes me as the perfect project at that moment in time. Today we have Japan’s answer to Subarus with a snail; none other, of course, than the Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo.

I know, I know – a Japanese car? A dreaded appliance??! But really, I don’t consider this what one might label today’s bread-and-butter people haulers that have about as much character as a cup of Earl Grey tea paired with a piece of rye bread and lukewarm butter. Or something. So please, leave your Avalon references at home – this car comes from an era when the tiny country that is today known for global dominance of all things green and economical actually gave a damn about performance.


There’s a lot I love about this Craigslist listing for what appears to be an ’86-’87 Celica All-Trac Turbo. The seller says don’t bother asking what’s wrong with it, because there’s nothing to tell! A few bumps to the bumpers and nothing a bit of spit and polish can’t fix. JUST DON’T BOTHER HIM WITH YOUR SILLY QUESTIONS ABOUT MECHANICAL INTEGRITY. Harumph.

The seller might consider trades. In fact, he even lives in a town from Connecticut that is famous for accepting swaps (at least according to his information under ‘Location’). And don’t worry – although this is described as a project car, it can be daily driven with ease! Don’t ask its current owner if there’s anything stopping you from driving it anywhere, ’cause there ain’t. So quit the interrogation – can’t you see men are working here, trying to buy his All-Trac?


I don’t mean to chastise the guy, but since when does 1980s + turbocharged + all wheel drive + manual transmission + pop-up headlights + an actual professional rally driver who drove a near-identical car on the world’s greatest stages (in other words, hoon impressions likely) = Camry reliability? I think not. But I still want it.

Hell, according to Mr. All-Trac, all I need to worry about is a cracked mirror.

Copart Dreamin’

March 12, 2013 at 11:37 pm

OK. Bad news. The cheaper-than-an-Escort W8 is long gone, replaced by trusty Land Rover Disoveries and Audi TTs. But have no fear – Copart is here.

Copart is the Easter basket of bad ideas. It has a dedicated section just for cast-off projects, cars that were under a tarp in your neighbor’s carport yesterday. Heck, Hurricane Sandy’s victims are a common sight at Copart auctions, so if you’re in the market for a Chevelle littered with salt-cakes, give the Long Island district a call.

But enough chatter. On to Deal of the Day, v 2.OH NO.

A 1980 Saab Turbo. From Arizona, land of prison camps, undocumented citizens and rot-free Swedish goodness. This particular Copart special has a minty interior and the requisite aero bits, like a rear spoiler and those tasty pizza-slicer wheels. Good Lord, I love the 80s. It’s even baby blue!

Salvage title, but who cares. These cars are hard to come by and offer a perfect excuse to invest in rear window louvers and a set of obnoxious Bosch fog lamps. Need I say more?


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