I've owned exactly one German car, and here it is!
Seems like car lovers and German car lover are synonymous, but not for me...
I know there are a lot of German car fans on DriveTribe, and with good reason. They're... well they're supposed to be a lot of things and my understanding is some of them are most of those. Something about dynamics and precision?
Truth be told, I'm not a huge German car fan. Around Oppo I choose to believe I'm well known for not having any German project cars. Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few I respect, admire, or even think "that'd be neat to own!" but when it comes time to spend my hard earned cash of a vehicle, I always turn elsewhere. If you look at my current lineup of four beaters (and the C30), you'll notice a very European but not German vibe. In fact, if you look at my car history you'll see three Swedes, two Americans, two Brits, three Japanese, one Italian. ..
And one German car.
Yup! I owned a German car once. I even liked it... sort of.
It was also the quintessential starter German car... sort of.
That is right. I owned a Volkswagen Beetle based Dune Buggy.
Back in 2014 I'd just sold my first project car, my albatross of an International Scout, and was pretty sure I'd never buy another project car. The Scout had gone so poorly on so many levels I figured I just wasn't cut out for project car ownership and should stick to buying from dealers. But, such is life, time dulled the pain of owning and selling the Scout and soon enough I was ready to love again.
While we were on a camping trip there was a dude piloting a little RC 4x4 thing and I thought that was super neato. Having some knowledge of those, I remember they were pretty expensive and only fun in seven minute increments, so my mind drifted to gas powered toys. I didn't want anything... normal, and quickly honed in on the Manx style dune buggy. Cute, inexpensive, and, most importantly, road legal... it sort of seemed like a win win win.
As with most impulsive car adventures in my life, I scoured the internet for every available buggy on the market. Eventually I found "the one". It was close by, a little rough, and a little too expensive, but it had been for sale for several months with the price steadily decreasing so I figured it was worth a punt. It was a 1963 chassis, to date the "oldest" car I've owned, with a 1973 ported 1600cc engine, 4-speed manual transmission, nice looking wheels, and custom "roll cage" and engine cage. I contacted the seller and arranged to meet him halfway between us, in Joplin, MO. I hopped in the car with a friend of mine, pocket full of cash, and headed up there fully prepared to drive this thing the 2-hours back to my place.
Photo from the for sale ad
When we got there I looked the thing over and it was pretty much as described. The gel coat looked like shit and the windshield was cracked, but otherwise it was in pretty decent shape. No rust on the floorpan and the engine ran sweet.
The test drive... did not go well.
The thing had a short shifter on it and the four gears were millimeters apart. Every time I went for 1st I'd get either nothing or 3rd. It was infuriating and embarrassing. I ended up having the seller do the test drive for me and it was ridiculous. But, that said, we did get a lot of looks haha.
After having a local VW mechanic take a look at it and giving it a clean bill of health, we got to negotiating. As is my usual I lowballed him, but as it turns out he was firm on the price of $4,500. After going back and forth a bit I finally agreed to pay asking if he would deliver it to my house in Tulsa. He reluctantly agreed, and just like that I had my 2nd project car. (Fun fact! This remained the most expensive project car I've ever purchased until I bought the S-Type R for $4,700 in 2019. Of the two...)
I owned the Buggy for almost two years exactly and in that time did just a whole bunch of work to it. First off, I tried my hand at plastidipping for the first time and it went super well. Suddenly this ugly duckling was starting to look alright! Not quite turned into a Swan but like... swan-adjacent.
I swapped out the terribad Hurst-style shift knob for an 8-ball, which helped with shifting immensely. While driving I noticed it liked to hop around when I hit bumps and I spend a lot of time and money trying to fix that, replacing kingpins, bearings, tires, and steering components. Finally I just accepted it was a consequence of the style of vehicle is is and moved on. The engine ran fine initially, but after adjusting the points I realized the whole thing was a house of cards. I finally ended up replacing the carb and upgrading to solid state ignition before I got it running right again. I also quickly replaced the glass pack exhaust with an actual muffler, which quieted it down and made it somewhat less embarrassing/annoying to drive.
But it was mostly good times. Despite being basically impossible to drive, it was also a lot of fun. I'd occasionally drive it the 35 minutes to work, just for the hell of it. For the most part the buggy was just relegated to beer and food runs. Pulling up to a valet with four people in a bright blue dune buggy is an experience I hope never to forget.
By the end of 2015, however, I was pretty over it. The jittery steering meant there was no such thing as a relaxing drive in this monster and the lack of power from the 1973 1600cc engine meant it was more or less a liability on the highway. After completing our cheap car challenge and deciding to keep the Alfa, the Buggy's fate was sealed. After failing to sell it locally, I ended up listing it on eBay. After a little back and forth a gentleman from California bought it, wired me the cash, and had it picked up. Apparently the truck driver dropped it in some random parking lot about 2 hours from his house, so his first experience driving it was 2 hours, in the dark, up a twisty mountain road. I imagine he was not relaxed, but he made it and I never heard from him again. (Which is how I like it.)
I didn't hate the buggy, it just... wasn't the right car for me. Despite enjoying how much people loved it, I hated having to wave back at people all the time, lest I look like a jerk. The steering and and lack of power meant it was never actually fun to drive. I found myself driving it more out of obligation than desire, and that isn't right. Ultimately it was a good experience and one that I am glad is over.
Will I ever own another German car?
Oh probably. It isn't like they're going to stop making them.
I might even buy another Beetle, though their steady price increase over the last few years may torpedo that plan. Ultimately, I am happy with my random fleet as-is, for now, and will take my next German if and when it comes. I did ask for right of first refusal when my friend sells his tuned manual Golf TDI, so who knows?
In the mean time I'll remember the beer runs and surprising practicality of the car and try to forget all the bad things. I hope it is enjoying California.