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It’s been a little more than a week since the monsoon rains came and swept away the last of the 2004 Waterfest show cars, racers, vendors, and spectators from Raceway Park. We’ve all had a bit of time to wind down from the madness, and as such, we’d like to take a moment to offer our readers some individual perspectives on this year’s event. We’ve included some thoughts from VWvortex staff, a contributor, and a reader as well.
Jamie Vondruska – VWvortex Staff Member:
VWvortex is involved in sponsoring a large number of Volkswagen enthusiast shows each year and I get around to quite a few in addition to the ones we sponsor. None of them though comes close to the sheer craziness that is Waterfest.
I’ve got four Waterfest shows under my belt now and it still remains the definitive VW enthusiast show. Waterfest is by far the biggest, brings out the finest in VW rolling metal, drags a huge amount of vendors out and is in general the yardstick by which U.S. based VW shows are measured – you would need to go to Europe to find anything bigger.
For myself, Waterfest is something I look forward to every year, and we here at VWvortex are starting to paint ourselves into a corner in our attempts to always bring something special to the show. This year we were very fortunate to have a fifth generation Golf and a Bentley Continental GT on display in our booth. We literally didn’t know if we’d have the Bentley till the afternoon before we left to drive out to the show. The Golf V was a similar stroke of luck as the car had just arrived in port the week before the show. To further put things in perspective, this was the first public showing of a Golf V on U.S. soil at an event and something we were very lucky to have been able to pull off for our readers.
At about 4:30am, our caravan of bleary-eyed staff and friends headed out east from Chicago. We’ve made this trip for four years now and the amount of junk we need to take with us each year just continues to grow and grow, with tents, banners, flags, detailing gear, clothing, stickers, tables, Red Bull and lots more, overflowing our caravan of vehicles. Plus, there was the slightly stressful bit regarding the care of a $150,000 Bentley or a non-U.S. legal Golf on a cross-country trip to a show that has a reputation for its share of hooliganism. All in all, we had a great time seeing old friends and readers alike and all of us (including the cars) made it there and back unscathed.
So next year if you find your calendar lacking in social events during July, I highly recommend a visit out east to Waterfest. If you like Volkswagens, Waterfest is the single biggest event in the U.S. and one that you don’t want to miss.
Brad Beardow – VWvortex Staff Member:
I attended the very first Waterfest event, held at Rockland Community College in New York. It was before Adrian and I opened fifteen52design (then VW Sport USA), and I was living in Connecticut at the time. So it wasn’t terribly risky for me to take a short trip to the very first year of a revolutionary event.
Revolutionary? Yes, actually it was. You see, ten years ago, there were quite a few VW shows from which to choose, but for the most part, they revolved around the air-cooled cars and more often than not, most show organizers viewed the burgeoning crowd of water-cooled owners as little more than giant pains in the ass. But they sure did like our money, so they did the minimum they had to in order to accommodate us.
Rapid Parts saw the writing on the wall (ten years ago they were recently breaking away from a strictly air-cooled mentality themselves) and decided it was time for those of us who owned VWs with front engines cooled by good-old H2O to have our very own show. Waterfest was born, and back then, the name meant something much more than the flooding rains that bullied this year’s event – the name signified that we finally had our own event, and no longer would we water-cooled fans have to feel like some annoying younger brother, or a secondary afterthought.
I’ve actually attended all but two Waterfest events, and save for the first one, each visit was on behalf of my VW/Audi tuning company fifteen52design. Every year seemed to wind up as a last minute affair involving sleepless nights spent scrambling to complete the cars we hoped would wow the ever-increasing crowds. It was stressful, nerve-wracking, ego building and humbling at the same time… and I miss that aspect of the Waterfest experience more than I can say.
This year I attended my first Waterfest as a VWvortex staff member, and I can honestly say it feels good to be back in the mix of things again. But this time, instead of trying to build some killer show car designed to impress a group of increasingly jaded attendees, it’s now my job to sit back and critique the work of everyone else – yeah, I’m quite certain I’m going to enjoy my work here at VWV.
I must say this year’s event was as enjoyable as any, in spite of the lousy Sunday weather. The decision to make the show a two-day affair was a good one, as Saturday was sunny and beautiful. I was quite proud that VWvortex was able to offer such a large group of enthusiasts their first look at a Golf V in the flesh. The Bentley we had was rather nice as well, but certainly that G5 was more significant to what we do here at VWV. I saw a number of Vortex readers, old friends, employees, and fifteen52 customers, and I can tell you that seeing these people lifted my spirits to no end. Say what you will, but this community we all love to disparage at times has more than its fair share of wonderful people, and I’m thankful that Waterfest provides a yearly opportunity to spend some time with such a large number of them.
I do believe that Waterfest has found a welcome and accommodating home at Raceway Park, and I’d like to think it would remain at this venue for years to come. For next year’s event I’m thinking I might try my hand at building something for VWvortex that will be as memorable as some past fifteen52design project cars, such as Project X. And as a matter of fact, I already have an idea I think you folks are really going to like…
Bryan Joslin – VWvortex Staff Member:
For years, Stateside VW enthusiasts had no choice but to envy the Europeans, with their large-scale enthusiast events like GTI International and the Worthersee Treffen. Today, we Americans (and Canadians too) have no reason to envy our trans-Atlantic cousins. Now in its tenth year, WaterFest has matured into the benchmark for VW events in North America.
The two-day format, which debuted last year, is a welcome change, allowing for a more relaxed pace. There is actually time to take it all in. Well, almost. With drag racing, autocross, soundoff, burnouts, and the car show, there was always something to draw your attention.
The last time I was at WaterFest, I had two cars in the show – my 1984 Cabriolet and my 2000 Golf TDI. Preparing a car for this event took a lot of preparation, and the judging procedure left me on edge. I felt lucky to take home a second place trophy for the Cab that year. Given the sheer quantity of Mk IV Golfs at the show, I had no expectations for my TDI.
This year I elected not to show my current project in the show, but rather to display in the VWvortex booth. While not nearly as demanding as preparing it for the competition, getting the restored 1990 GTI out to New Jersey was challenging enough.
I was overwhelmed by the response to my Second Chance GTI, as readers stopped by the booth on both days to discuss the project and share their similar stories. It felt good to know that my work was an inspiration for others.
As impressive as the show itself was, the vendor area and swap meet were even more impressive. Several swappers showed up with the prime goods: seats, dashboards, and wheels. Anyone with serious project had a wealth of options to choose from.
WaterFest 11 should be every bit as exciting. Anyone who considers himself (or herself) a true VW enthusiast should plan his vacation time now for next July. There is simply not another event that offers so much. See you there.
George Achorn – Fourtitude Staff Member:
I went to my first Waterfest event in 1996. I’d just bought a Mk3 Jetta GLX and headed up in a caravan of Corrado Club of America folks that I’d met on the CCA listserver (listservers being the main source of communication for VW freaks back then). I think I’ve missed one of these events ever since, making that no less than seven Waterfests under my belt. Gosh, I’m getting old.
In those years since 1996, the event has grown into quite a spectacle. Over the years, I remember seeing the first Cabrio VR6 conversions, turbocharged Corrados, the projektzwo Golf IV, Scirocco VR6s and more. It was and remains today the place to show off the newest and craziest cars and conversions.
Over the years, we’ve watched turbocharged Quantums and the first prototype GTI Driver’s Edition hit the autocross course, though the traditionally tight nature of an autocross course meant the taller-geared Rabbit diesels would have the edge, rarely changing ratio as they scooted around the cones.
Today, Waterfest has graduated from the community college atmosphere and quirky niche following, to be in the spotlight for Volkswagen enthusiasts and Audiphiles from all over the country. If you can look beyond the stupidity of hotel vandalism and the cynicism of those who “saw nothing new,” you’ll probably be mighty impressed by everything you find within Waterfest’s gates and outside in the parking lot (that is a spectacle unto itself). In that regard, I’d like to raise a glass of water (what else?) to all who make the show possible from year to year, whether that be Waterfest Productions, tuners and support companies, participants or even attendees.
Adrian Jones – VWvortex/Fourtitude Contributing Editor:
Waterfest 10! Where has the time gone? I remember going to the very first installment held at Rockland Community College… It was a time when only a handful of us had 17” wheels on the A3 cars, Rapid Parts was the only vendor (after all it was their show), there were maybe 150 cars in the show and you had time and energy to cruise the parking lot to check out the cool cars there. You didn’t hear blow-off valves purging everywhere you went, the amount of vendors didn’t rival those of your state fair and DRAG RACING a water-cooled VW, or Audi for that matter, was just plain bananas.
But look at how things have changed – I guess by today’s standards I’d be termed an “Old head.” I’m a guy who’s (all too) rapidly approaching 40 years of age, who’s long since surrendered his manual transmissions in exchange for a Tiptronic, and when given a choice, prefers the comfort and performance of a bone stock Audi S6, S8 or RS6. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that W12 Phaeton I had the privilege of enjoying for the past week, courtesy of VWoA.
Ironically, the older cars were my favorite this year. Particularly, the A2 and A3 Golfs. Yes, I do like the A4 chassis cars, especially with all of the nice body components that are available for them and the MASSIVE wheels and rubber they can accept. I saw 20” on a Jetta IV and 19”x13” on the rear of a Golf. But there was something about the “clean” look that the cars from ‘85-’98 had that really stuck with me. Maybe that’s it – they were pure and simple. Not overdone. Great paint, stylish interiors (Recaros and maybe a dash from a later model), and some incredible engine swaps and upgrades. I can’t remember seeing as much clean paint (engine bays), chromed and polished engine parts and turbo/supercharger systems since the days when the “Bug Out” (a very popular East Coast air cooled show that’s been around for about 20 years) was the biggest VW event on our calendar. Then add to that, this year’s A2s and A3s had perfect sets of wheels. Many of them were the classic BBS RS 001 (a staple in the tuning aftermarket), but there were also Schmidt, Simmons, Fikse, I-Forged, MAE, HRE and a host of other high-quality, multi-piece wheels that were painted, polished and even chromed.
Two of my favorites were a yellow A2 Golf with a Shrick manifold-topped VR6 conversion, Rallye front, and a clean interior built around a set of Recaros. The other was a sick, red A3 VR6 Golf with damn near everything smoothed, chromed or painted black in the engine bay, a Jetta 3-converted front, staggered wheels with black-painted centers and the bumpers perfectly blended into the body of the car. Again – clean, pure and classic.
Overall, Waterfest has grown into the largest gathering of water-cooled VW and Audi enthusiasts and fans in the country. Like the show, I’ve seen the love that people have for the VW and Audi brands not only grow, but spawn a culture that now brings tens of thousands together to share in this two day event. The one thing that stands out most in my mind and has evolved more than any other aspect of this event is… quality.
Today people pour tens of thousands of dollars into their cars to make them “the best” on show day. And they spare no expense on huge wheels, turbo systems, motor swaps, 6-speed trannys, big brakes, paint and seats. Remember, when this all started, a lot of show cars had 17s with stock suspensions. Adding a set of fog lights and some stickers was “tuning.” Putting a VR6 in a Cabrio was about as ground breaking as it got. Now, people immersed in the culture seem to know how things are supposed to be, look, sound and perform, and I can’t help but think that this crazy show has had something to do with that metamorphosis. But then again what do I know – I’m an old guy who drives an automatic.
Erin Wilson – VWvortex Member:
Waterfest – A Mecca for Volkswagen and Audi owners from around the United States, who each year make their pilgrimage to the small town of Englishtown, New Jersey each year in order to pay homage to their VW roots.
This was my first trip to Waterfest and I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than the tales I have heard of wild hotel parties, a huge vendor area, and more cars and people than you can shake a stick at. All these tales were true. Never have I seen such a large gathering of Volkswagens in my life. As hard as I tried to see it all, I don’t think it is possible to fully take in every single thing Waterfest has to offer. Seeing the Bentley Continental Coupe and the not-yet-released Golf 5 at the VWvortex booth were highlights, as were the show cars. While hard to believe, these pieces of work that I had previously only seen in pictures, were even more astounding in person than I could have imagined. The racing, autocross, sound competitions, and vendor exhibitions were great for the spectators and participants as well.
Despite the rainy forecast, thousands came out for the greatest Volkswagen show on this side of the Atlantic Ocean and I am glad I am able to say I was one of them. I can’t wait till I am able to return to Waterfest 11 in 2005!
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