Think of it as a giant 11 story parking lot of a boat, moving thousands of brand new cars across the oceans.
Volkswagen is a global company, with production plants in dozens of countries supplying buyers all around the world. From the factory workers on the production lines, to the dealer technicians performing the final Pre-Delivery Inspection, a lot goes into putting a new car into the driveway of its owner. One important but often overlooked part of this process is the work done by the VW Logistics team, who are tasked with moving these cars around the globe.
Through the kindness of some enthusiasts working within this department, I recently had an opportunity to take an impromptu guided tour on one of these vessels, which I am delighted to share with you here.
The object of our attention is the MV Goodwood, a Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) ship with a gross weight approaching 60,000 tons - yes, sixty THOUSAND tons. My multi-colored 1996 VW Golf Harlequin weighs just a little more than one single ton, but it'll be calling the MV Goodwood home just the same.
The Goodwood started its current journey in Veracruz, Mexico, where thousands of Jettas, Beetles and Golfs were loaded onboard, having been transported from the Puebla production factory in central Mexico. It then traveled across the Gulf of Mexico to Jacksonville, Florida, then Charleston, SC and on to Rhode Island, unloading vehicles at each port. This is where Alexander H. at Volkswagen Logistics came in, via a mutual friend and enthusiast Rico A. at VW Driver Gear.
At 8am on Friday morning I was standing at a different US Port, preparing to ship the car that we had finished the restoration of just a few days before to Europe, destined for the 35th GTI Treffen in Worthersee, Austria at the end of May, and the express tour across a handful of countries that would precede it. Everything was on a very set schedule… until it wasn’t.
The vessel we had requested unfortunately wasn’t taking on additional cargo. Our booking was changed to a boat arriving 7 days later - 3 days after we would fly into Europe, and the same day I had planned to be driving the Golf around laps on the Nurburgring. This clearly wouldn't work. After a few frantic phone calls and emails I was left with these choices:
- Ship the car on a faster vessel to a much less desirable port for lots more money.
- Deliver the car to JFK airport, and have it flown there on a cargo plane. Pretty cool, but the cost is eye wateringly high.
- Talk to a friend of a friend at VW, whom I was only introduced to that morning, and see if we could pull off a crazy last minute plan on a VW vessel.
Option 3 wasn’t just the most cost effective option, it was also the most excitingoption. As car enthusiast, this was the manufacturer offering to help little ol’ me. The Mothership was essentially reaching out with an offer to help my old car, twenty years after they released it into the world. It's times like these that we are lucky that Volkswagen is at its core, made up of a collection of individuals, many of whom also happen to be car enthusiasts, excited about their own projects, and helping others with theirs. Luckily, Rico and Alexander knew all about the unusual Golf Harlequins, and knew even more about the famous Worthersee Treffen. Alex drives a modified Mk4 Golf GTI. Rico has spent countless hours working on his Mk1 Scirocco. They’re very much ‘one of us’.
The Goodwood had already left South Carolina, bound for Rhode Island, and the workers in the German offices of VW Logistics had gone home around 11am EST due to time zone differences. Through some speedy route checking, and estimations of how long it would take for the Davisville, Rhode Island workers to unload around 1,000 new cars, we estimated that the boat would be departing around 11am on Monday morning. Alexander and his colleague Franziska J. had a good feeling about being able to get everything processed to make it happen on Monday morning, once Germany was re-open for business again.
So at Alexander's guidance, I drove 300 miles from Pottstown, Pennsylvania to Warwick, Rhode Island on Sunday night and checked into a hotel near the US Customs and Border Protection office. When Alexander and his team at VW HQ in Herndon, VA would start work at 7.30am on Monday, I would be standing at a desk at Customs having the applicable paperwork processed, with the remote assistance of another contact, Bo J., electronically filing additional paperwork. Even with New England's late winter blizzard and the filing process normally taking 72 hours, through some skill and friendly Customs officers, we got all of the approvals done by 8:55am, and I was back in the Harlequin driving to the Port in, likely, record time.
As I drove in on the port access road, a white Audi Q7 pulled up behind me, belonging to Port Operations Manager, Mike D. (yes, like the Beastie Boys. No, he couldn't rap.). Mike’s the main guy on the ground at the port, overseeing every aspect of each car's time there - from when they come off the ship, to inspection, to installation of any manufacturer accessories, through to when they’re loaded onto the truck that will take them to the dealer. He is also the final piece of the puzzle about getting the Golf Harlequin onto the vessel, whose next stop would be Emden, Germany.
We hurried through one security gate, on to the final barrier that marks the difference between the mainland United States, and the secure dock side. At this point, I was politely instructed by the harbor manager to park the car and leave the keys inside. Thanks to my day job though, I just happen to have port workers’ security clearance, which allows me into the secure areas. So with the drivers still unloading the ship, we had time to not only know that the Harlequin would safely make the cut-off, but also to look around the ship. (I might have punched the air in celebration a little at this time.)
The MV Goodwood is fundamentally a huge parking lot, with adjustable height decks, and roughly one and three quarter football fields long. Space is money in transportation though, and they really know how to utilize it. Up to 5,000 new cars can be loaded on board per sailing, with great care and thought going into their orientation. The first car is parked against the wall, the driver gets out and closes the door, then the next car is parked in the same direction, but so close together that only the driver’s side door can be opened. This is repeated across the line until only the very end car door can be opened. Each car is then locked down with multiple straps at the front and rear, and the process is repeated.
As the Puebla plant produces Jettas and Beetles for global sales, different decks hold cars destined for different ports and countries; a lot of Jettas for the Northeastern United States, and almost a whole deck of Beetles for Europe. Here, I spotted a
ALLSTAR model[/URL] , which is a special edition offered in Europe to tie in with the 2016 UEFA European Championship Football (soccer) tournament, as well as multiples of the new Beetle Dune model.
The ship is all business inside; white and grey paint, low metal ceilings and not a soft edge to be seen anywhere. With a labyrinth of decks and stair cases, Mike and I were helped by one of the crew members, a friendly and slightly surly Bulgarian. He explained the strict guidelines about where and where not to walk, and that the crew on board will spend 6 months at sea, followed by 5-6 months off. With many of the port calls lasting less than 12 hours, a huge majority of those months is spent underway crossing the oceans.
The workers' pace never slowed as we watched the cars being freed from their straps, driven down the ramps and off the boat, with a van constantly shuttling new drivers. As this work continued, Mike showed me around the rest of the facilities back on dry land, where the cars are inspected and accessorized. Various upgrades, options and any last minute updates can be installed at the port, which Volkswagen considers the last point of the manufacturing process. Locking wheel bolts are installed on alloy wheels were the most common, followed by weatherproof floor and trunk mats placed over the carpets, and even a clear protection film being applied to the hood and fenders of an Audi S5.
Around this time, we got a phone call saying that it was time for the Harlequin to be loaded, so we jumped back into the Q7 (switching on the heated seats), and drove over to the dock via one more security ID check. One of the dock workers would be driving the Golf onto the boat, which made me realize that no one else had driven this car since restoration was completed last week. In fact, as the car was stored away in a garage before I purchased it to build for the 35th anniversary of the GTI Treffen in Austria, it'd likely been years since unfamiliar hands grasped the steering wheel.
I feel all the better for knowing that Volkswagen is taking care of the car during its journey to Europe, and I honestly cannot express enough gratitude to the team at VW Logistics for assisting. Literally every person that I met or worked with couldn’t have been nicer or more excited about the Golf Harlequin, which means the world to me, both as a car enthusiast knowing that a manufacturer does indeed care, and as a VW enthusiast knowing that our future new cars and their heritage is in such good hands.
To continue following along with the Harlequin's journey, follow along on Instagram at @xjamiexoe.
Special thanks to Alexander A and his colleagues at VW Logistics, and Rico A at VW DriverGear.
The Golf Harlequin was a limited edition model sold only in North America in 1996. Total sales numbers are debated, but a number of around 240 is generally accepted as correct. This particular Harlequin was owned by one family from new, before being taken off the road needing repairs. It will be collected in Emden, Germany, and driven through Germany, Holland, Austria, and France, with stops to sightsee along the way to the GTI Treffen in Worthersee, Austria.
Jamie Orr is the owner of Orchid Euro LLC in Pottstown, PA, a company that specializes in the importation of rare and unusual cars and car parts to the USA. The car has been restored there, with the assistance of Black Forest Industries, Perfect Metal Finishes, TConnor Customs, and a plethora of other friends. The journey will be documented online and in print, thanks to Orchid Euro, Performance VW, VWVortex, and Volkswagen UK. Full names have been hidden as applicable.