Project Caddy Van USA- Get in the Boat, You’re Coming with Us.

Just where did the Caddy Van USA project come from, and how the heck did it end up in Pennsylvania? This update is going to go into that, and cover some more history behind the story. So come with us on a trip to Wolfsburg, Germany, the historic home of Volkswagen, and a quick look at importing vehicles to the USA.

I have long considered doing a project such as this, partially for the challenge and fun of it, but also because due to the import regulations that are in place on vehicles entering the United States of America. Basically vehicles that are under 25 years old must be approved to comply with all standards for safety, which means that if the vehicle wasn’t sold here then it must be inspected and brought into compliance. There is an absolutely minuscule list of not-normally-for-sale-in-America vehicles that are eligible and capable of being brought into compliance, and certainly nothing modern in the Volkswagen family.

That basically excludes every Volkswagen (and almost any other major automobile model) built after 1991 from being imported. Searching online will bring up a variety of one-off odd-balls that are in the USA for whatever reasons, and if you dig deep enough you might find some talk of ‘if you remove the engine, it’s no longer a car, so you can import it!!1!’.

intocontainer

Allow me a moment to explain why this is wildly incorrect, which will take bring us back around to the Caddy Van USA.

It’s popular in the Hot-Rod world to build a brand new old school ride. Let’s use the ubiquitous 1932 Ford Roadster as an example. If your credit card limit is high enough, you can simply go online and order a brand new fiberglass body, a brand new steel chassis, a brand new engine, and whatever else you need. That fiberglass body might have been made in Sweden, the frame in China, and so on. You build up your brand new car in your workshop, and it’s finally time to register it, but you don’t have a title nor a VIN. It wasn’t a vehicle before you started, hence it never received a Vehicle Identification Number. Thankfully the USA market is set up for this common occurrence, and many States have processes in place to inspect the new vehicle and assign the brand new car a brand new VIN and a shiny new chassis plate to go with it.

But, and this is a big but, if the vehicle has previously been assigned a VIN by the manufacturer then it can’t have a new one. Any attempt to delete, hide, remove or otherwise mess with the original VIN is, funnily enough, considered VIN tampering which isn’t looked upon very nicely by either your local inspection place nor the Feds. It’s a dark road to go down, with incredibly serious repercussions. Hence why taking a foreign market car and removing the engine (or the VIN!) doesn’t mean that it’s not a car, or that it can legally be imported.

For us Uni-Body car fans, that poses a big obstacle. We can’t simply buy a brand new chassis, because the aftermarket doesn’t or can’t support building a complicated chassis, except in some kit car applications. And because the original chassis is the whole car, which isn’t allowed in anyway, we’re back to square one. So what if we could buy a chassis? Well, that might make things a bit different..

forkliftride

Volkswagen lists the part numbers for the chassis’ in their internal dealer parts program, along with a big warning statement next to ‘Body In White; Please enquire when ordering’: *Obligation for Dealership: documentation obligatory during sale, vehicle documents and passport must be copied and kept on file as proof for 5 years!*. Through my research I talked to multiple parties who repeatedly confirmed that this is taken very seriously by Volkswagen – up to and including revoking a dealership agreement if this is not followed. A number of reasons were suggested as to why; compliance with government guidelines, control of their parts supply, and one other reason kept popping up – to prevent theft of brand new vehicles from dealership lots which are then rebuilt using a new VIN-less chassis. This matched a US State requirement in Pennsylvania that all new built and rebuilt projects must present receipts for all major components so that the supply chain can be followed to ensure stolen parts are not used.

With this making locating a suitable chassis rather difficult, I continued to speak to various contacts for a couple of years, both internal to Volkswagen’s mothership, and anyone else that I could think of outside of it. Every now and again I would get word of a Golf chassis that might be available, but what fun would that be if I wanted something really different? I had dreams of a New Scirocco or a new Caddy or some other exotic model. The New Scirocco’s appeared to be too far out of reach – I was even told that the factory backed race teams were reduced to buying new cars to get the chassis’ they needed to use. And then finally I got word of a Caddy, brand new, literally never built, never assigned a VIN, and ready for collection in Wolfsburg.

lobby

My day job involves frequent travel to Europe and further afield to locate rare and unusual cars and car parts, and it just so happened that around that time I had a trip to Germany planned to collect a vehicle for a collector in the USA. A plethora of emails, phone calls, and crossed fingers later, I had my invite to Wolfsburg, along with a couple of Dutch friends to help and our company VW LT46 van that is kept in Europe, which would provide the transportation.

racecar

If you have any interest in the Volkswagen group, or mass manufacturing in general, and you have the means, I highly recommend visiting Wolfsburg. It is the historical home of Volkswagen production, and is quite simply a VW city (or car town, as a possbily more correct translation from Autostadt). As you approach the factory, you first see the giant stadium that houses the Volkswagen sponsored Wolfsburg Football Club, the famous giant towers from the power plant that stand over the factory, and the glistening Autostadt. The Autostadt is the face of both the factory and the Volkswagen group in general. All factory tours start here, and each manufacturer has their own dedicated display, with Porsche’s being the most recently added.

There are 3 huge glass structures inside the campus, two of which are fantastically designed car storage units. With a unique automated system of delivering cars from the production line, they house the freshly built cars until their new owners come to visit, at which time the vehicle is again handled by the huge robotic mechanism to be lowered to ground level and brought to the delivery area. If you’re visiting you can book a ride up the tower, which uses the exact same robot arm as the cars to carry you up where you have some time to survey the scenery both outwards across the factory campus, and inwards looking down through the interior of the glass building. A quick tip if you’re going – make sure to book this part of the tour early upon your arrival or even the day before as it does fill up, and if no English option has space don’t be afraid to book the German one – the views need no translation.

nardocoupe

The third glass building is the museum, which leads me to my next tip.. This museum is NOT the same Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg from which you may have seen the photos of the rare, early or unusual VW cars. That museum is a 30 minute walk away, across the other side of the canal, and although it’s slightly shabby in appearance it is well worth the hike to walk around its quiet exclusively Volkswagen collection. Thankfully the Autostadt museum does include a excellent revolving collection from across the VW family, and also features a world class selection of other cars, usually based around a theme such as ‘firsts of their type’ or ‘different fuels’ etc. You should definitely take the time to walk through the displays which during our visit included perfect condition NSUs, and some awesome cut-away sections from VW, Audi and Lamborghini cars.

The highlight of any trip to Wolfsburg for me though is the factory tour. I love seeing the tooling, the automation, the neat ideas for streamlining etc. It’s also pretty damn cool to see the workers zipping around on their Volkswagen factory bicycles and to really get an idea of just how much work goes into building a car from scratch, and how many people and processes are involved. Oh. Wait. That’s what I’m trying to replicate. Yikes.

assembly

So, back to the Caddy Van USA.. Although it was being stored in Wolfsburg, there’s a few things that I wasn’t able to ascertain on our trip there about it – namely why wasn’t it built into a complete car, and how did it end up there when that specific production is at a different plant. It may have been used for a display, or part of batch set aside for testing by engineers, or any other of countless reasons.

With our days in Wolfsburg complete, and the Caddy Van USA chassis now strapped onto our trailer – much to the amusement of seemingly every ‘normal’ German person who spotted it – we headed back to the Orchid Euro ocean container that would be heading to the States shortly after that.

donorcaddy

One thing that we did quickly realise was that due to the size of the chassis and the dimensions of the container, that we didn’t have a forklift that would load it inside the container. Never one to shy away from a junkyard, I located a donor Caddy Van and proceeded to remove the complete rear subframe assembly including wheels. This, in theory, would allow to the van to be ‘wheelbarrowed’ around temporarily. Learning lesson through; there’s two different wheel base Caddy vans available, and the Caddy Van USA was not the same as the hastily found donor, so the rear spring leafs didn’t technically bolt up right. They were close enough for what we needed though, and it was a reminder of just how involved this project is going to be.

In the few weeks since my first update, we have now successfully confirmed and test fitted that the front subframe is, as our parts program detective work suggested, exactly the same as a 5th generation Volkswagen Golf. We have a donor Mk5 steering rack coming from Autohaas in Paterson, NJ which will enable us to confirm that as being the same too. We’ve only got 3 weeks until the first public showing of the project which will be at this year’s Waterfest in Englishtown, NJ.  That means we’ve got a ton of work to get done, as we want to have the van rolling on it’s own wheels and working suspension by then. Now where did my torque wrench get to…?

Thanks to: Ms. Lucka and the staff at Autostadt for their hospitality during our visit, to StickerDUMP, and to Autohaas for the steering rack help.