Event Coverage: Waterfest 14

Englishtown, NJ, July 19 and 20 — We’re back from Waterfest 14 and gradually recovering from some nasty dehydration. Not a drop of rain was shed, which is quite unlike any Waterfest in memory, but show-goers suffered temperatures that topped out at 97 degrees on Saturday and 93 on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, the show area was still packed. According to Waterfest organizers, total attendance for the weekend was about 21,000, about even with last year’s tally.

Waterfest is one of few shows that hosts a variety of activities, including an autocross course and a burnout competition. Saturday’s schedule offers a popular exhibition area with a get-together-like atmosphere for those who want to show off their cars without the stress of trophy-hunting. Of course, the biggest draw is Sunday’s show car event, and the predominantly East Coast crowd is notoriously competitive.

As always, the recent models in the VW family will take the spotlight; the show area was dominated by MKIVs and MKVs showcasing well-executed variations on similar themes. We noticed quite a few trends amongst this crowd and were pleased to see that simple aesthetic changes are still the most effective.

Refinished headliners are one of the simplest ways to change the look of the interior; when the pillars are wrapped to match, it helps draw attention even from outside the car. We noticed the abundance of plaid pillars while walking the show lot and spotted examples on nearly every model. If plaid’s popularity is inspired by cross-generational Interlagos envy, well, we completely understand.

Audi wheels have been a popular upgrade for VWs since the heyday of the MKIs and MKIIs, when the few Audi 4000s cursed with FWD could serve some purpose by donating their stock Ronal R8s. It’s always been a relatively simple change that provides an elite yet OEM look. We can’t remember, though, the last time an Audi roller reached the ubiquity of A8 Turbines and A8L Monoblocks. These are two classy, timeless designs that, fortunately, suit Volkswagens particularly well. Original and polished faces are the most common ways to wear these wheels, but we spotted a Deep Blue Pearl MKIV R32 boasting Turbines with glossy black spokes and color-matched inserts.

Candy and neon wheels are another popular way to draw attention to an otherwise understated car. Solid gloss finishes appeared on a number of participants, with orange and lime green competing for top billing. We especially liked a black MKV Jetta sporting avocado wheels and a front grille badge, complemented by a pink intercooler. Purple BBS meshies and a matching grille stripe added an interesting twist to a white MKV GTI.

Although flat black paint has enjoyed a revival in popularity, we were pleased to see that amongst the VW crowd, this trend manifests itself in a more colorful interpretation. There were several examples of velvety matte finish cars in attendance, including a dark blue MKIV, a wintergreen MKIV Golf with color-coded wheels, and an aqua-gray widebody Audi A4. A particularly cohesive example of this trend was Jason and Kate Kress’ military-themed MKIII VR6 turbo Golf, which we found on display in the Kinetic booth. Keep an eye out for a full feature, coming this fall.

We were rather surprised by the extent to which the older classes have dwindled; most notably, there was little evidence of the MKI renaissance that took place over the last few years. Conversation with show-goers seemed to indicate that although there was a strong population of vintage watercooled owners in attendance, they enjoy the event more as spectators rather than competitors. We hope this decline is temporary, but the upside is that the older cars that showed were well-sorted examples. We particularly liked a light blue Caddy on ATS cups and a brown Jetta coupe with a 1.8T conversion. Early Passats made a small but strong showing, including a B3 syncro wagon on Omni GLH wheels and a gray B3 GLX sedan with a polished wood steering wheel and a bit of machine work on the engine. We also liked a sleeper-style B4 GLX with a nitrous system.

As usual, Volkswagen’s Garage drew quite a crowd, aided immensely by a few world-class show cars. As we promised a couple of weeks ago, the famed GTI W12 made an appearance in all its Pearl White glory. The car was built for Worthersee and has become a favorite of magazines and television shows worldwide due to its sheer power and completely unique body. It was quite a treat to experience its Stateside debut at Waterfest, and the crowd was appreciative of its presence. On several occasions throughout the weekend, the W12 was fired up to thrill the crowd with its exhaust note; quite the auditory experience considering the 650 hp crammed into the hatch.

A few other stars kept the GTI W12 in good company. Max, the beautifully-restored black ’64 Beetle that is the centerpiece of VW’s current ad campaign, was there with all his charming wit and wisdom. The black R GTI show car, built for SEMA, was on display alongside a turbo MKV R32 and a Jetta TDI Cup car. VW showed that they know what the people want; they hosted the kickoff of Kreuzerfest at VWGoA’s new headquarters in Herndon, VA, and VW staffers participated in the cruise with a few of their display cars.

By the end of the weekend, we were scorched and found ourselves wishing it had rained; overall, though, we deemed the show a success. We’d like to thank all who came out to support Waterfest 14, especially our readers who stopped by the VWvortex/Fourtitude booth to check out our display cars and say hello. We’re already counting down to next year.

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