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1993 Volkswagen Cabriolet "Collector's Edition": Ownership Update

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author photo by Sam Keller November 2017

When we last left off, early this summer, I had just bought a 1993 Volkswagen Cabriolet Collector's Edition from a friend's dad in New Jersey. It had been sitting outside for the past year on rotten tires, seldom driven. I came into the picture with $3,000 cash on hand, had the oil changed, replaced the tires and hit the road with my girlfriend riding shotgun. My first journey in the car ended with a $400 tow on a sweaty Friday afternoon, due to an overheated engine from a clogged radiator. Here's what's happened since.

To start: Since that fateful day when I took on ownership of this 24-year-old convertible, I've logged over 1,500 miles -- and I've also made three trips to the mechanic, starting with a front brake job, followed by a timing belt and wheel bearing replacement and ending with a new clutch, exhaust system, oil seal and valve cover gasket replacement.

When I published the first article, I was met with a flurry of responses, some congratulatory, and others of a cautionary tone. Fellow Oversteer writer Chris O'Neill commented and said that "living with my 6-year-old VW has become more and more… 'eventful' with every passing year, so I imagine a 24-year-old VW should keep you plenty busy!" First off, Chris was right. The car did keep me plenty busy. I bought a Bentley guide and got lost in forums trying to diagnose the problems I knew the car had. The long ignition start, the exhaust pop, a rattle that was only heard in certain RPMs and so on. My other thought was: What could go wrong with a 6-year-old VW? That's basically brand new! Another memorable comment came from reader Paddy Murphy, who congratulated me on my purchase of a "money sponge," and suggested I'd be better off if I just gave him the money.

I'll start with the good. I love the styling. The design of the car is iconic. The no-frills nature of the Mk1 and Mk2 Volkswagen Golf models pared the experience down to one thing -- the convertible top. Cruising in a convertible is a wonderful feeling. Even though the underpinnings are an economical 90 horsepower (which returns 30 miles per gallon!), the lightweight chassis and wind through my hair made the thing feel pretty quick on the rural roads of the Hamptons.

This also perpetuates my theory that you don't need a fast car to have fun. Sometimes the fun is just getting there (and by "there" I mean "to 60 miles per hour"). Although the car did spend some time on the mechanic's lift, brand new replacement parts were incredibly cheap. When I took it in for the clutch job, my mechanic said "at least it's not a Porsche," and proceeded to tell me that an OEM clutch for this car costs just $250. Even though my repair bills were high percentages of what I paid for the car initially, it still felt worth it -- largely because the car is in fact in great shape, and the problems I addressed came only from its age, rather than abuse or neglect.

Here's the bad. The car was small by yesteryear's standards. Today in 2017, it's basically a cockroach on the road, as my head is at headlight level with every passing car on the road. The side view mirrors are so low that I'm constantly blinded by what's behind me, whether it's a car, an SUV or a truck. The interior is cramped, and I'm constantly hitting the passenger's leg while I shift. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with driving a car of this age and size. Granted, there's a driver side airbag -- but according to Volkswagen, it should be replaced every four to eight years. This means that it should have been done as many as six times by now -- though I highly doubt it's occurred even once. Then again, I did spend six years in front of a recalled Takata airbag in my Honda Element -- so which is worse?

Here's the ugly. The car isn't exactly, er, a high-performance sports car with the thrilling, exciting, eye-catching styling to go with it. In terms of street cred with car enthusiasts, it's certainly not a Miata. It might not even beat a Chrysler Sebring. Still, I've gotten many compliments on the car, ranging from a waitress who followed me to the parking lot screeching that she was raised in a Cabriolet, to a couple who met while both driving one, to my mechanic who said I should hold on to it because it's a future classic. It may not be "car enthusiast cool," but it's absolutely a rarity on the road these days -- and pretty special.

Anyway, with the mechanicals (finally) sorted out after a nerve-racking summer spent staring at the coolant and oil temperature gauges (and playing "What's that smell?"), I'm moving on to address the small rust spots around the windshield -- and then I'll replace the original vinyl ragtop that has a minor leak and a few small tears at the folds. I already can't wait for convertible season to start again next year.

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1993 Volkswagen Cabriolet "Collector's Edition": Ownership Update - Autotrader