Opinion – Rearview Mirror: Are You A Lifer, Or Is This Just A Phase?

I’ve been a Volkswagen enthusiast as long as I’ve had a driver’s license. It started 18 years ago with a humble ‘81 Rabbit. Since then I’ve owned a total of seven VWs, all of them Rabbits or Golfs, three of which were GTIs. I’ve modified them, restored them, raced them, and sat broken down on the side of the road with them. I even sold them in the early Nineties, a time when no one seemed to want them.

Without really thinking about, I assumed I would always own a Volkswagen. The GTI is a class-defying car that would always appeal to me. I figured if I ever needed something bigger, a EuroVan would make a nice addition to the garage. I even longed for a Vanagon Syncro Camper. Mind you, this was all before the Passat became a genuine mid-size sedan, before the Phaeton was ever conceived, and well before the Touareg came about.

Over the years, fellow ‘dubbers and I would play the old “what if Volkswagen stopped importing to the USA” game. What if there were no more new VWs available, then what would I drive? Inevitably, the answer was old VWs. It really didn’t seem to matter what the scenario was, the fact remained I always imagined I would own Volkswagens for as long as I was driving.

More than a decade ago, Volkswagen was a stepping-stone brand for most consumers. It was where you went after a Honda, but before you jumped to a BMW. In those days, it was expected that when you’d had your fun with a GTI, you’d graduate to a 3 Series, or maybe even a turbo Saab. Regardless, you weren’t actually supposed to stay in a VW forever – you were supposed to move up as your life became more complicated. Of course, those were Volkswagen’s dark days, before Ferdinand Piech took charge.

Things are different now. For a new generation that has grown up in Civics and Corollas and Altimas, Volkswagen has become a more aspirational brand, one that you choose and then move up within. It now makes perfect sense to transition from a Golf in your college years to a Jetta in your early adulthood to a Passat once you’ve settled down to a Touareg as you raise your family to a Phaeton as your nest once again becomes empty. Never before has the VW family been so complete, well rounded, and mainstream.

So why is it, at this high point in the company’s product history, that I can’t resist the urge to make a move? After all these years, shouldn’t things just be falling in place for me? I’m closing in on 35, have my first kid on the way, and a brand new home in the peaceful outskirts of Suburbia – the Touareg is screaming out for me. But I’m just not feeling it, and I don’t know why.

There are two possible explanations. The first is that I’m actually giving in to the old logic and feeling the need to migrate out of a VW into something a little more “mature and respectable”. After all, I’m not the boy racer I used to be, and today’s VW scene is made up largely of people that weren’t even born when I was in high school.

The second explanation is that I’m feeling the seven-year-itch about a decade too late. The best analogy I can muster up is marrying one’s high school sweetheart. You love each other and you’re comfortable together, but one day you begin to wonder what it’s like to be with someone else. Is it better, worse, the same? Truth is, none of that really matters – all that’s important is that it’s a different experience than what you’ve had. There’s magic in every first kiss, and as a car enthusiast, I’m looking to taste a little of that magic again. Call it a mid-life crisis, but I need to play the field a little, explore my options and see what I may have been missing out on all these years.

I recently picked up an old BMW (naturally) and am admittedly smitten. It’s familiar, yet at the same time different enough to satisfy my appetite for something new. We’ll see where this leads, but I’m not looking to get hitched to one brand again any time soon. Who knows, maybe this is just a little phase I’m going through. Maybe I’ll get it out of my system and find myself at the wheel of a new GTI again before I know it. Time will tell.

For more discussion on this story, click on the link to our discussion forums at the left.