Rearview Mirror: In Search of Fellow Junkies

Hello, my name is Bryan (group- “Hello, Bryan!), and I’m a junkie. My addiction clouds my ability to think rationally, obscuring my ability to see a vehicle’s shortcomings if it can lure me with the scent of rich leather, the warm depth of genuine wood or the sensual touch of Alcantara. It’s not easy to say this, but I am an interior junkie, a full-fledged dashstroker.

Like so many others, the first time I tried it was in high school, in the front seat of my ’81 Rabbit. It was one of the horrible Westmoreland-built cars with the abysmally Americanized fake wood and velour interiors. That wood had to go immediately, and in no time the dash bezel was covered with a light dusting of matte black spray paint. That was about all I could afford on the four bucks an hour I earned working at the mall. A short time later, the factory headliner did what they do best, releasing itself from the roof panel and descending into my outward rear view. I couldn’t deal with the thought of pushing thumbtacks into its thin gray skin, so I pulled the entire thing out of the car, stripped all of the old material, and re-trimmed it in a nicer material. After these first two experiences, I felt pretty good, sort of “happy” in a way that I hadn’t felt before.

With that Rabbit I had taken the first steps down the road to becoming an interior junkie. Ten years later I could be found in the corner of my basement, alone and huddled over the sewing machine, with countless pin pricks in my fingertips, frantically stitching together complete interiors from scratch. Or in the garage, asphyxiated on the fumes of contact adhesive as I tried desperately to make Alcantara conform to the compound curves of a Golf IV headliner. I had sunken deeper into my addiction; it seemed there was nothing I wouldn’t try.

Volkswagen has been my co-dependent partner in this addiction, producing some of the best interiors in the business in recent years. I admit that I was an easy target for the Mk IV Golf, replacing my aging Mk III almost as soon as the new model came out, the decision based heavily on the new model’s amazing interior. I’m sure thousands of others were likewise lured by Mk IV’s attractive, inviting cabin.

That Golf has left me now, and all my current projects are complete. I was making good progress with my rehab, but I recently fell off the wagon when VW released pictures of the new GTI and Passat. Both of these cars prove that VW still makes great interiors, even if its exterior designs don’t find immediate favor. I’ve already sold myself on a Mk V GTI simply because of its retro-cool plaid cloth interior (hook me up with a key for a white 5-door, please).

In the last few years, as the aftermarket scene has exploded, I’ve tried to figure out how I came to be such an interior addict while everyone else was bolting on bigger turbos and wild body kits. I’ve always taken a practical, low-key approach to modifying my cars, and because of that I’ve determined the two main reasons that I’m an interior geek. The first reason is rational: my hands and eyes spend more time on the inside of my car than the outside, and I build my cars to satisfy myself, not to impress the rest of the world as I’m rolling down the road. The second reason is a bit deeper: it takes more imagination and skill to modify an interior, two qualities so sorely lacking in most “project cars.”

For most of us, the whole point of modifying our cars is to personalize them to our own specific tastes, to use them as outlets for self-expression, and to convey our personalities to the rest of the world. The interesting dichotomy of today’s aftermarket is that while there are more companies producing more products for more cars, so many projects follow a fairly common formula, resulting in cars that have been modified, but not truly personalized. In other words, they lack imagination.

The common formula for a modified VW consists of a host of “bolt-ons,” typically an engine chip, a cold-air intake, a cat-back exhaust, lowered suspension, aftermarket wheels, maybe a short-shifter kit, perhaps a lighting upgrade. Anyone with a Bentley manual and a good set of tools can perform just about any of those mods in his driveway on any given weekend. It takes more patience than raw skill to successfully complete these.

From a creative perspective, the interior offers countless opportunities. You can always upgrade your factory interior pieces for better aftermarket items, such as seats and steering wheels and shift knobs. But if you want to get more creative, why not truly customize your interior? Before you even think about all of the color options, consider all the great materials there are to choose from: leather, suede, Alcantara, cloth, vinyl, wool, metal, wood, carbon fiber. Now take it over the top with one-of-a-kind accessories (I made a set of matching luggage with the left-over material from the interior of my ’84 Cabriolet!).

I know many gearheads who are just plain intimidated by doing interior work. It’s one thing to add a boost gauge or exchange shift knobs, but it’s quite another to change seating upholstery or recover a headliner. A Bentley and some patience only get you so far, especially if you’re making pieces from scratch. Skills like pattern making and sewing take time to master, often with numerous failures. But mastering them is a much more rewarding experience than simply bolting up off-the-shelf parts.

With the summer show season right around the corner, I’d like to challenge everyone who feels he has a great show car to spend a little effort on the inside. I’ll be out at several of the major shows this year, and I’ll be on the lookout for great interiors. I want to see some originality with colors and materials. I want to see something that’s never been done. And I don’t mean LCD monitors hanging from every corner; I’m talking wool carpets, a leather-covered dash, suede headlining and carbon fiber door panels. That would impress me.

I’m already putting plans together for my new GTI, and while I’m not revealing anything yet, the finished project is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen so far. In the meantime, share your cool interior pics with the group. I’ll share mine, and hopefully we can inspire each other. Like managing any other addiction, it’s easier when you have group support.

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