In Conversation with Sascha Oliver Neumann of Volkswagen Classic

VW Vortex was lucky enough to be invited to Coming Home 2017 last weekend, a celebration of the GTI in which owners of the hot hatch par excellence were invited to Wolfsburg to hang out under the shadow of the factory whence they sprang fully formed, though not always finally formed, into the world. While there, we had the chance to speak Sascha Oliver Neumann, the Volkswagen Classic department’s spokesperson, about how he got there, what it’s like to work there, and the hurdles the brand face trying to preserve its history.

Before working where he does now, Neumann was first employed by Volkswagen’s events department. There, he helped set up celebrations and shows, some of which were of the classic variety. Specifically, he worked alongside the classics department on historical rallies and at Techno Classica in Essen, an annual celebration of old metal that rivals any of the world’s great shows for the sheer volume and variety of cars represented. He must have done well, because two and a half years ago, he was asked if he’d like to move from the events side to Volkswagen Classic. Naturally, he accepted.

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The department has a garage full of about 130 cars in Wolfsburg, not far from the factory, says Neumann, and another in Osnarbrück that’s full of nearly 120 Karmann cars. If that sounds like a lot of cars, that’s because it is, but the collection is anything but static. Constantly changing and evolving, Volkswagen Classics is constantly being asked to make difficult decisions about what should enter the collection.

“We have the end of production cars, the last one. They go to the department,” says Neumann. But “as you can imagine, not every [car makes it], because as you can imagine it’s an enormous amount. So there has to be a strategy as to what we will preserve and what maybe someone else can preserve.” Volkswagen Classic is constantly looking at its collection and assessing it, though. “Some years you look at your collection and you see that there are some gaps,” he says. “You don’t have all cars, you don’t have the right condition, you might have to buy some.” In this case, VW shops for cars the same way you and I do, by trolling the classifieds, looking at the German equivalent of Craigslist, and looking for the right car. Their requirements are just a little more stringent. “Originality is the most important.” Although he admits that modified cars are beautiful, Volkswagen Classic’s mission is to preserve cars as they would have left the factory.

Maikäfertreffen 2017

Helping them along the way are the classics departments in other markets. Brazil, say, has a department all its own where it keeps its own historically important cars. Even then, though, Neumann says the department can’t help but preserve some of those cars, too. There is, for instance, an SP2 in the German collection, as well as a handful of South African models.

Although originality matters a great deal, low mileage isn’t necessarily Volkswagen Classic’s highest priority. Neumann says he understands the urge to keep cars in museum quality, but he believes that the cars in the collection ought to be driven. “I think cars are meant to drive, that’s what we do. Let the car be a car,” he says. In many ways, Volkswagen Classic “is quite opposite to a museum. They have to bring the people to the museum and we do it quite different, we bring the cars to the people” and have them participate in rallies.

Classic Days auf Schloss Dyck 2017

Another important aspect of the job is preserving history through texts. When they go to events, Volkswagen Classic often goes armed with booklets and flyers about the history of cars. Neumann recently wrote a booklet for the 40th anniversary of the GTI as well as the history of e-mobility. Although we talk about electric cars like they’re futuristic, the history stretches back nearly as far as the gas-powered car, and VW has been tooling around with the idea for decades. Neumann and his department help share that history with fans.

And ultimately, Neumann understands that his responsibilities are to the fans. “It’s very important to have a significant heritage and this is how we get people close to the brand.” He is sensitive to the fact that the company can’t get stuck in the past and must look forward, but he admits that it can make his job difficult sometimes. Looking out over the crowd of fans gathered at the factory, though, he is vindicated by the size of the group assembled at the Volkswagen Arena parking lot. “Brand loyalty is very important,” he says. And shows like these, full of classic cars, fans, and history are how you grow that loyalty.