“So … How much did you get for the Volkswagen?” My roommate asked when he got home from work, noting my beloved 1993 VW Cabriolet Collector’s Edition was no longer parked at the edge of the driveway with a “For Sale” sign tucked under the wiper. “Three thousand,” I replied, “the same as what I paid for it.” He then responded, “Wow! If I knew you were going that low, I mighta bought it for myself!”
I had purchased the car one year earlier for the same $3,000 that was now sitting in the palm of my hand — and I had spent an additional $3,000 on a number of repairs or investments (if you will) in the road-readiness of the VW. Those repairs included a new clutch, a new exhaust, new wheel bearings and a new coolant temperature sensor, along with other refurbishments like belts and tires needed from the few years the car sat seldom driven. While I’m not made of money, I didn’t mind the expense because the Cabriolet was simply just so much fun to drive, parts were inexpensive, and at the time I was committed to keeping the car for as long as I could and slowly getting to the remaining fixes until I was satisfied (or broke).
My desire to invest in the car was not unfounded. The tan leather interior was pristine. The body was in good shape, and rust was limited to a tiny spot at the base of the windshield. This is a known flaw with the Cabriolet and presumably MK 1 & 2 Golfs — and it eventually requires the windshield be removed for adequate repair. It needed a new top, as the original vinyl top had shrunk over time and began to tear at its joints. I addressed the latter by keeping the car garaged and by not driving in the rain, as a trickle of rain water would unpleasantly splash against my forehead during a rain shower.
Mechanically the car had a few niggles, but nothing catastrophic. Although I had replaced the coolant temperature sensor, it never resolved the light that would periodically flash on the dashboard. While that’s also a known flaw (yes, I know) of the Volkswagen, I let that one go. However, there was one other mechanical issue that I couldn’t let go of, and that was the extended amount of time it took the ignition to turn over and fire. If the car sat, it would fire right away. However, with daily summertime use, I would draw an occasional embarrassing stare as I sat with the key cranked for the 10-or-so seconds it took the engine to fire.
For me, this was the main issue with the car. My mechanic’s first diagnosis was carbon build-up on the cylinder heads, and my remedy was what’s known as The Italian Tune-up. The Italian tune-up involves loading up the gas tank with octane-boosting additives, then preceding to run the engine for a prolonged period at high revs (redline) or on a highway in the upper rev range. I did this multiple times over the year with little improvement, and that was as far as I got. While resolving this problem was a long-term goal, it didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the car during my ownership. The Cabriolet was my summertime beach car. I drove it a few miles at a time to work and around the quaint beach towns of The Hamptons, and I never asked too much of it. If it were my only car, I’d have been more worried about its long-term viability — but it was perfect as a summer junker, a term I use with the same affinity for the perfect winter beater, a 1993 Volvo 240 with a roof rack and snow tires.
Like the Volkswagen Cabriolet, which was produced from 1979 to 1993, it was also the final year for the Volvo 240 (1974-1993) as well as the first generation Saab 900 (1978-1993). One year later, BMW phased out production of the E30 (1982-1994) having introduced the E36 in 1990 — and with that, it was the beginning of the end for boxiness in automotive design. Although cars have become far more technology-laden, fuel efficient and safer since the early ’90s, there is a ton of charm in these freshman classic cars with their final model years now within the 25-year demarcation of classic car status.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was a great experience owning a second car dedicated to driving enjoyment. While I spent a little extra coin attempting to bring the Cabriolet back to its former glory, I feel it was all worth it in the end. My memories of top-down cruising in the Cabby will last forever, and I’m looking forward to owning a classic car again in the near future. My advice to those in the market looking at a summer junker is to be aware of the work required to get a classic back on the road. Even a garage queen has idiosyncrasies, and it’s best to know what you’ll be in for further down the road. Listen to the ignition, watch the idle, turn on the A/C and see how the idle changes with the additional load. Look for rust, especially at integral body points, and use your common sense. If you’re not happy with what you see, or feel that you’re in over your head, walk away. There are so many wonderful classic cars out there for every budget, and an informed buyer generally leads to a happy owner. Find a Volkswagen Cabriolet for sale
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