The hot air you came here for...


A very brief recollection of the start of the (im)famous brand...

Today, I'm just gonna write about what I want... The past few weeks I've been trying to sit down and write a really concise essay on safety features available on modern cars and how they're making us lazy and irresponsible. I've started it three or four different times but I can't seem to make myself get down to it though it is a topic I have pretty strong feelings and pretty big thoughts on. This post is going to be about something else near and dear to my heart... Volkswagen.

In my previous post I've talked about my admiration for the brand and what Volkswagen has done for me, the freedom (and the frustration) they have granted me. So here is an earful on VW, the brand, the myth, the legend

Born September 5th 1875, in then Maffersdorf, Bohemia in Austria-Hungary, now Vratislavice nad Nisou, Czeck Republic; Ferdinand Porsche was born to Anna and Anton Porsche, being their third child. He was a bit a tinkerer early on and proved to be a bit of a wiz-kid by 13, installing electric doorbells and eventually electric lighting in his parents home by 16. He wound up in Vienna as a student at what is now The Vienna Technical Institute and a job at a local electrical company, working whenever he was in class. His father being a "panel-beater" and having a shop of his own, Ferdinand was regularly exposed to early automobiles by his teenage years as well. This seems to be where the of the obsession began, it wouldn't be long for little Porsche to get his own wheels turning down the road of "Automotive Legend". 

By 1906 Ferdinand was hired by Austro-Hungarian automaker, Austro-Daimler as their Chief Designer. Ferdinand was a having a grand old time designing cars on these guy's dimes. Then 1916 comes right around, the first World War in full swing at this point and our pal Ferdinand earns himself an honorary doctorate from the College of Technology in Vienna. Our man is a Doctor now!

The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hyrbid (Circa 1901)

He had also drawn up and developed some fresh technologies on his own time, including the world's very first hybrid automobile that was breaking Austrian speed records at the time- we're talking 35 miles per! Get that!

Porsche "Sasha" (Circa 1910)

Okay, I'll cut the satire, this new hybrid whip wasn't exactly burning rubber but it was undoubtedly revolutionary. Besides, our man Ferdinand was building some sporty two-seater carts to fulfill his tireless need for speed. 

1923 comes rolling around and our boy Ferdi recognizes that's it's time to wave the stiffs at Austro-Daimler "Auf Weidersehen". At this point he took off to Stuttgart, Germany to work for Daimler as their Technical Director. While there he received another honorary doctorate from the Stuttgart Technical Institute and he dreamt up some really fabulous, very successful racing cars for Daimler. After a few company mergers (Daimler joining forces with Cie-Benz to create Daimler-Benz) our mustached doctor finds himself looking to work for another automobile firm after a falling out with the board of Daimler-Benz over plans for a small, light-weight sports car. This concept would eventually become the sole focus of Dr. Porsche's vision and would be the basis of his future companies efforts. 

It's the early spring of 1931 in Stuttgart, Germany, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and Dr. Porsche was opening up his very own automotive consulting firm. And in proper German fashion, it had overly complicated name:  Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH, Konstruktionen und Beratungen für Motoren und Fahrzeugbau. And for those not privy to the beautiful German language: Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH,  designs and consulting services for motors and vehicles. With his own firm now open and properly staffed he got right down to business designing vehicles for German brands such as Wanderer, Zundapp and NSU and finding very good success at all of that. But the Doctor always made sure he had some left over time each day to design and develop his own autos for his own production. 

1933 NSU Type 32

This is where things get a little shady all thanks to a little known group of Germans so-called, "The National Socialist German Worker's Party". Kind of a mouthful, I know. We'll just call them the Nazis.

Cool it, Furher Cat!

It's 1933 and Germany is firmly under Nazi control, Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany in January 30th, 1930. Right away Mr. Hilter had a vision to mobilize Germany and he had a man in mind to help him do it: Dr. Porsche. It's important to remember that at this point Germany was still financially destitute. Only one in every 50 Germans owned a car and many of them still, couldn't have even afforded a motorcycle. BUT- The Nazi folk had a plan to get their citizens moving and much like their other plans, it was utter shit. 

As a part of "Kraft durch Fruede" (Strength Through Joy), a leisure program created by the Nazis to help promote fun in the Fatherland, ultimately a program to further indoctrinate the German people and fund the Nazi machine, the citizens of Germany would collect stamps by purchasing them regularly and adding them to their stamp books. When their stamp books were filled up, they'd be sent off to Berlin and you'd get your car, your very own Volkswagen. 

Familiar looking piece of German automobilia, eh?

So- each week you'd send in a nice bit of your paycheck to Berlin and in return you'd receive your very own KdF-Wagen, sounds like a dream. To answer the question that I know is on your mind dear reader- out of the hundreds of thousands of KdF stamp books completely filled by those with dreams of the open road, romping down the Autobahn with The Scorpions cranked on the stereo, impatiently waiting for their Beetle, all while, ultimately, supporting Nazi war machine, not a single one of those poor souls received a car. Not a single KdF-Wagen was delivered to any single family apart from a couple that had been made for Nazi party officials... Even the angry man with the bad mustache himself had a convertible Beetle delivered to him in 1938. 

Only a hand full of Beetles were produced directly before the second world war. The factory in Wolfsburg that was built to build the very first "People's Car", ended up being used to manufacture other Porsche designed vehicles, though these that were made, were a bit more... let's say, utilitarian. Schwimmwagens, Kubelwagens and other Nazi mobiles were built here to supply the German war machine. 

Anyhow, post war; production of the Beetle and Dr. Porsche were now under the careful watch of the Allies. Due to the Morgenthau Plan, production of the Beetle must be 10 percent of it's production number of 1936. It wasn't just Porsche that got the axe- NSU, Auto Union, BMW, Mercedes Benz, any German Automobile manufacturer had to meet the ten percent regulation, among many others. 

From there the rest is history, truly. Dr. Porsche created the Porsche brand after leaving the Volkswagen group to do its thing .The Beetle became a cultural icon because of some hippies that were too high to realize that it was terrible. The Type 2 could move an entire gaggle of Dead Head hippies that were too high to realize that the Grateful Dead were (and still are), terrible as well. VW became a legend it's self, truly became apart of American pop culture, an icon of a time now gone. The Summer of Love, Woodstock, other hippie nonsense, VW made it all groovy.  

The Type 2-  i.e. Rubbish

To end, VW has improved their reputation since the war. Most importantly; dropping the Nazi nonsense, thankfully. Though their future is looking a whole lot more electric, no doubt Volkswagen will continue to set trends and produce some truly unique vehicle. And, of course, continue to lie to people (see the "Volkswagen Emissions Scandal" [better known as "Dieselgate"] Wikipedia page). Despite the hippies and the lies, VW and Dr. Porsche- well their vehicles anyways, will always hold a special place in the hearts of many people, mine included... 

And we haven't even talked about Porsche yet...

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"Sometimes you need to ease off in order to go faster." -Sir Jackie Stewart

     Enjoying cars and enjoying driving are two very different things, that is just a fact. You've got some folks out there with a collection of cars that they gawk at, in their garages, or frankly, warehouses. They have one, or a few, cars trailered to a Concourse show for other people to drool over and post on Instagram with some ludicrous hashtags. They gloat about how few miles their 1962 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso has, they like to gab about the money they spent on it and how much it will appreciate over the year or two they own before they sell it for a profit. I fear that many cars that fill our dreams end up in this position; Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Datsuns, you name the marque, stuck in a garage destine to hardly ever be driven. Some car that you pine after is probably sitting in a museum or a private collection somewhere with a pie tin laying beneath the engine to catch any dirty, dirty oil that may soil the pearly white floor, not having been driven in years and may not be driven for sometime. And sure, we need to preserve these artifacts of open road for future generations, after all we're all just curators of these vehicles for our lifetimes, they'll always have a future beyond what we provide them now. 

     Anyways, I digress. No longer will I whine about people with too much money, who don't drive their coveted classics. I want to talk about driving, not the lack there of! I really began to learn something about driving when I got into my second car, my first manual car; a 2005 Volkswagen Golf GL. It was bone stock, mechanically speaking. It did have an aftermarket radio but unfortunately that didn't help with power output of the naturally aspirated 2 liter. A five speed gearbox mated the engine to the wheels with an open differential in between. The body was painted in the handsome Indigo Blue Pearl, clad with two pinstripes that encircled the car like a low laying halo. A black on black interior completed the package. What a magnificent thing it was. 

     I remember finding the car on the internet in the spring of 2014 and immediately fell for it. I had never really been into Volkswagen before this point, never liked Beetles, never really cared about Golfs or Jettas. Even earlier VWs didn't really tickle my fancy at the time; MKII GTIs , Rabbit Pickups, Type 3s, Scirrocos, nothing! But for whatever reason this car struck me like a bolt of lighting. My family and I tripped over to Downingtown, to Fred Beans Subaru, to check out the golf. As we pulled in, I was unable to find it in the sea of new Subarus and I began to get a bit concerned. Driving towards the back of the lot we saw some used vehicles of different makes and amongst all of the nonsense, there it was! It looked even better in person. An hour or so later, we left the dealership with a new, used MKIV Golf. 

     As a result of not knowing how to drive stick, my father took the keys and drove us home that evening. At one point very close to our house, I asked my dad if he would let me give it a try. I had to get it us up a hill, make a right, and we would be in front of our abode, that's it. We were right down the street at a stop sign. We quickly made a driver change and I, for the first time, in my 17 years of existence, prepared myself to manually shift gears. This was purity. This was driving. I slotted the shifter into first and slowly let the clutch out looking for the engagement point and fed it a a bit too little gas and stalled the car. Not being discouraged, I fired up the willing VW and tried again. For the second time, I slotted the shifter into first and let off the clutch and gave it a bit more gas, maybe a bit too much gas but we were off! Up the hill, I rolled through the stop sign at the top out of fear of being stuck on the hill. I pulled into the drive way and felt a bit discouraged. I realized that this was going to require practice. 

     I have always had an issuing with not being good at things. I'm definitely a bit arrogant when it comes to certain tasks that typically take practice to master. This time being no exception, I was frustrated with myself and my evident lack of skill. For a time after that evening, I was afraid to drive the car; Frankly, I had disappointed myself and had become completely disillusioned with driving a manual car. "Why does it have to be so damn difficult?" I thought to myself after a few more outings in the Golf. I avoided driving the car to school in order to avoid being laughed at (naturally). I remember having a date with a girl and asking her to pick ME up so I wouldn't embarrass myself in front of her. She had no issues picking me up, thankfully, and we had a lovely night. 

     One day, I texted a good pal of mine, named Will, to ask him if he could give me some pointers in my car. He excitedly accepted my invitation and agreed to pop over that weekend. (Sidebar: At this point in my life I don't think I had ever asked for anyone besides my parents for help. This is definitely an extension of my arrogance, beyond any doubt of mine. I've become so much better at asking for help these days and trying my best to not let my ego get the best of me. I even ask my wife for help, sometimes. Anyhow, the point of this tangent was to share how-ALREADY, this car, that I had only owned for a few weeks, was  teaching me something about myself: That I suck at driving and I won't always be great at things the first time around. In retrospect: They were invaluable lessons to learn at age 17. In that moment: frustrating beyond comprehension. This lump of german steel was embarrassing me.)  

     Some background on Will: He and his dad were diehard petrol heads. His father raced a first generation Camaro in the nineties and early 2000s and eventually was bitten by the Porsche bug so he ditched the American muscle for a black 1984 911 (that car would spark my interest and ultimate infatuation with Porsche). There may have been some other cars mixed in there but those are the two I remember Will talking about. Needless to say Will's father made sure Will could drive a standard transmission vehicle before he could use the bathroom himself. Anyways, Will came over that Saturday afternoon, if my memory serves me correctly, it was mid to late April of 2014,  the Pennsylvania weather was perfect. We tend to get pretty lovely weather during the springtime here in PA. It was an ideal day for a drive, I remember that. We drove over to my high school, to their large empty lot and got down to business. "A bit more gas, a bit less clutch!" he declared repeatedly. "Feel for the clutch's engagement point, you need to know where it is to gain the muscle memory..." uttered Will. It's important to mention that Will is, or at least was at this time, incredibly patient (I haven't talked to him in years), so he was calm, cool and collected as I was just about ready to tear my hair out because of my incessant stalling and clutch riding. "Where is the happy medium?!" I wondered to myself. We spent about thirty minutes in this parking lot before he told me something that should have been obvious to me from the get-go: "Slow down! Pay attention to what you're doing. Really feel for the engagement and take your time.". In that exact moment it occurred to me that no-one was behind me, no-one was going to honk at me or be upset I was sitting at a stop sign too long. I was rushing! Rushing was not a new concept. Most of my academic career was comprised of me procrastinating and then making up some awful garbage the night before a paper was due just to have something to turn in. Or rushing around to complete some homework or studying to get out of the house and go run about town with my friends. I was always rushing. This is something that couldn't be rushed, otherwise you'd be snapping your neck and getting a taste of your steering wheel all too often.

     Suddenly it clicked. "Take my time..." Granted the concept of juggling the clutch and the gas and the brake never eluded me, I just wasn't taking my time, I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing. My ego was in the way, making me not realize that this was going to be a skill that required practice. Clutch in, first gear, clutch out slow, a little bit of gas and feel for the engagement point. Step by step. Baby steps, if you will. That's just the way it has to be sometimes. 

     Months later, driving my golf was like walking in the park. I began to understand the little things about the car, the nuances of driving a manual transmission. Traffic on highways and through towns wasn't nerve-racking any longer, just routine. When I reached this point of my life, when I really felt like I was getting good, is when I really began to love driving. It wasn't just about being quick, 0-60 times and red-light drag races. Being fully engaged with the car and paying attention to it and the road, that was the exhilarating part. Working on more difficult driving techniques like finding the fastest line through a turn, rev-matching and ultimately, Heel-Toe down shifting, to name a few. I was regularly taking long drives, going nowhere in particular to find new backroads that offered new turns, scenery and ultimately new experiences. I took many midnight forays into the cool summer nights with the windows down, really stretching the legs of the mighty, naturally aspirated 2.0 liter, rowing through the gears, trying my best to drive certain bits of road faster and faster, driving as smoothly as possible. I used to time myself with my phone's stopwatch, starting it, racing along some of my favorite roads in the early morning hours over and over, often times forgetting to stop it after I passed my mark. I loved it. (I was always careful to drive safely, especially around pedestrians and other drivers. Often having the radio off and the windows down to best be engaged with the ever-changing circumstances of traffic around me. I may have often been driving quickly but only ever in the dead of night, on the most quiet of backroads.)

     I love driving, I imagine I always will and that's all thanks to my trusty old Golf. It's no longer with me but I sure do miss that piece of german steel (even with it's broken glove box door. MKIV problems, am I right?). My soul draining 2012 Civic is a spiritual burden and isn't exactly the most entertaining to drive but I try my hardest to get the most out of it and keep my passion alive. I'll get into something sportier and more exciting someday; a Miata, another VW, a MR2, even an old Civic hatch would be fun. So get out there and find your next favorite backroad with it's tight and winding roads. Or maybe one that brings you to some stunning scenery, a view that really makes your heart leap. Whether you drive a Ferrari 488 or your mom's old clapped out Jeep Renegade, just get out there and have an experience, go feel something.

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