Car list launches the 26th-greatest story of car misery ever told

Aug 22 2011 - 10:51pm

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Edmunds, normally a publisher of reliable automotive information, last week produced a list of the "100 Greatest Cars of all Time."

Atop the list you have the 1932 Ford V8, which Edmunds says was the first really great working man's quality car.

I don't know about that, but No. 9 is the Ford Model T, a real classic. There are many fine Porsche, Chevy and Mercedes products mentioned. The Duesenberg ("It's a doozie!") is here.

And what's this at No. 26? The 1975 VW Rabbit.

They have got to be kidding.

The only way "greatest" applies to the Rabbit's premiere year is that it was the greatest piece of garbage ever manufactured.

I bought a 1975, kept it for (sob!) 200,000 miles and only sold it when my mechanic put it on a lift and large stuff started falling off.

Yes, that sounds contradictory. "How can you say anything bad about a car that got 200,000 miles?" someone asked.

Easy:

  • 1975 was the first year VW made a water-cooled car after decades of the air-cooled Beetle. Lack of a heater in my 1968 Bug made me long for warmth. When the Rabbit came out, brand loyalty took me under its wing.
  • Right out of the hutch, the Rabbit reeked of lemon freshness. The car had a two-year "blanket protection" warranty for good reason. At random moments carburetor issues would make it feel, while driving down the road, as if it had suddenly hit a brick wall. Not pleasant.
  • Possibly because of the carburetor, the catalytic converter would either overheat and set the car on fire or clog up so the car couldn't run. VW replaced my converter when the car jammed up in Baltimore at 2 a.m., which was nice, but their car had me stuck in a Baltimore gas station at 2 a.m., where I was told baseball bats are useful to carry in that city at night. Fun!
  • After the warranty expired, my bunny's distributor developed a wobble that regularly burned the timing points. Replacing a distributor was expensive. I became adept at changing points, which were cheap.
  • In 1985, after years of replacing wheel bearings, points, plugs, valves, the carburetor, CV joints and pumps, the floor rusted out.

By now a brick held the heater fan housing in place and the dashboard lights had died. Even so, for four years, every spring, I had sheet steel welded over new floor holes.

Why did I keep this heap?

I'd paid $4,000 ($18,000 today) for the car new. I'd fixed or replaced half the car since. I wanted my money's worth. A year's work only cost two months' car payments, I was certainly learning car repair, and I'd made many friends at repair shops.

But in 1990 the frame was falling apart. I showed the car's many faults to my brother, who bought it to haul tools.

Two years later, the frame was so squishy he couldn't jack a wheel off the ground. "The jack went up but the tire didn't," he said. Also, if he drove fast, the front tires would point in different directions.

But the engine ran. He sold the car to some kid with either a sense of humor or a death wish.

While odds are slim, the car may run still. Why not? It is the 26th Greatest Car Of All Time.

I hope the owner appreciates this, but it would be better for us all if he has it crushed and made into a really great coffee table.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or email ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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