30 September 2010

Happy 25th Birthday to my 1985 Jetta!

I’m not a car guy.  Lots of people, especially men, are enamored of cars and other vehicles.  Not me.  (But if you know someone who wants to give me a pristine 1960 Ford Thunderbird I might be interested.)

Normally personal stuff like this is not the subject of my blog, but to paraphrase Leslie Gore, “It’s my blog, and I’ll write what I want to, write I want to, write what I want to / You’d write, too, if it happened to you”.

My car turns 25 today, 30 September 2010. 

Yes, readers, that means I bought it as a brand-new car on 30 September 1985.  A 1985 Volkswagen Jetta GL with a 5-speed manual transmission, purchased at Pete Lovely Volkswagen in Tacoma, Wash.

I was 29.  Now I’m 54.  If I’d had a child born that same year, he or she would be out of college and earning money to send me on a trip to Europe.

But since it’s a German car (made in Wolfsburg) and I’m of German descent, I guess you can say I get my trip to Europe each time I drive it.

In its youth (and in my early 30s) the Jetta transported me around Seattle where I lived from 1985 to early 1990.  Those were fun years.  Then the Jetta and I moved south because I got a great job in San Francisco.

For me it was back to California, but for the Jetta it was its first time in the Golden State.

Because I always intended to move back to the Pacific Northwest, the Jetta retained Washington license plate LWD 821 until 1994, and I retained my voter’s registration in Washington.

But as part of the the Republican tantrum of that era, Michael Huffington threatened to unseat Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate.  I could not in good conscience continue to vote in Washington and be at all responsible for Dianne's losing reelection, so I re-registered my car and myself as Californians.

The Jetta and I have been Californians ever since.  (And Dianne Feinstein has remained U.S. Senator from California.  Coincidence?  Not likely.)

But the car does not have the original California plate it got in '94.

Here's why.

The Jetta’s closest call with the scrapyard took place in October ’04.  I was heading back from running the Bizz Johnson Half Marathon in Susanville, when 12 miles west on Fredonyer Pass, a deer came from out of nowhere and collided with the front of my car.

The deer was killed, and the Jetta was nearly a goner.  Its front end was demolished, and we were towed back to Chico.  (Thank you, AAA Plus!)

The Jetta sat in a wrecking yard over on Park Avenue while I dickered with the insurance company and pondered the Jetta’s fate.

Needless to say, as a then 19-year old car that suffered major damage, it was totaled.  I received less than $1000 from insurance.  I researched buying a new car, buying a used one, and getting the Jetta repaired but since I’m writing this post it’s obvious which path I chose.  It cost me about $1500 over what the insurance company kicked in to restore the Jetta.

A local Chico body shop did an excellent job of bringing the car back to life, both cosmetically and internally.  (The radiator and other stuff in the engine’s front were destroyed in the accident.)

But remarkably the most visible sign of the car’s near-death experience was the fact that it had to get a new license plate.

The California motor vehicle code requires that cars which are totaled and then repaired, must get a new title and registration designating the vehicle as “Salvaged” so a future owner knows the vehicle’s history.  That's reasonable, but really, must it be called "Salvaged"?  How about "Redeemed" or "Enlivened" or "Made Frisky Again"?

Salvaged.  How insulting.

But in spite of the "Salvaged" moniker, I'm glad I had the car restored after the Fredonyer Pass calamity.

Some folks – and you know who you are – counseled putting the Jetta out to pasture.  But I didn’t feel like spending the money then for a new car, and the pickings for what I was prepared to spend for a used car were slim.

Not to mention the fact I have never tired of my car’s design, the engine has held up remarkably well over the years, and it gets mileage (37 mpg) that few cars now do.  And who knows what witchcraft those Germans used to mix the paint, but other than where the body work was done in ’04, the car sports the original, unoxidized paint as when I bought it in ’85.

And at 299,741 miles, it has the original clutch.

Yes, you read that right.  I have never had any work done on the clutch.

I do treat the Jetta with kid gloves, and I don’t put a lot of miles on it.  But it does get over to Fort Bragg, the Bay Area, and Reno at least once a year, not to mention all around Chico and vicinity.

When will the Jetta travel its last miles.  I can’t say.  But it’s been a great car that has managed the acceleration from 29 to 54 in my life with more ease and style than I have.  Thanks, old friend.

The Jetta and I would like to thank the following for their years of service keeping us both on the road:

- Fritz & Peter's German Car Repair (Oakland)
- In Staller's Garage (Chico)

And for the post-Fredonyer Pass total rehabilitation:

- Rozmartin Autobody & Paint (Chico)


Months after I wrote this post I was looking for other photos from my years in Seattle and I ran across one of me and my car.  When I wrote the post I looked and looked, but was never able to locate any.  I'm pretty sure this was taken early in 1989 after a heavy snowfall.  I'm proudly showing off the chains I attached to my car.  Just think, the Jetta was only a little over 3 years old here, and I was only 33.  A bit of Washington plate LWD 821 is visible.


  1. Unfortunately, MY 1985 Jetta from University VW in Seattle did not transition well to CA. The paint oxidized badly and it developed fuel line air bubbles when the temperature exceeded 85 degrees (not a problem in Oakland but a challenge on my EBMUD trips to Pardee Dam in the summer). I think I found it a good home, though. Glad your car remains productive in its golden years.

  2. I love the Jetta and I love you for keeping it for so many years! Both of you are one in a million... Jennifer Toll

  3. That is one amazing car. I know you love good value and the Jetta seem to embody that. Give it a Happy Birthday pat for me.

    Cheers, Jeri

  4. Greg, You are to be commended! In this "disposable" age, you have honored this wonderful car by your loving maintenance over the years. It really hit home how fast time goes...I can't believe you bought it when you were 29 and now you are 54! How does that happen!!! Your car is very lucky and, now, seems to have a soul.

    I say "Drive On"!!! xxooMartha

  5. Original Clutch? You Da Man.

    It's true, I said junk it but I'm glad you didn't.


  6. Great post, Greg! Incredible mileage. ...and permission to steal your "It's my blog, and I'll write what I want to" line - brilliant! - Alice L.

    1. Thanks, Alice! Permission granted. Of course, I never asked Leslie Gore if I could adapt her line. A friend of mine correctly noted that in fact I didn't paraphrase Leslie but adapted it. She was right - sigh...