The One That Got Away

For us as car enthusiasts, we’ve all had a car we regret selling.  A car that meant more to us then all the rest. A car that was just a little more special than the others.  It doesn’t have to be a great car or a classic or an expensive car.  It’s just a car that you owned that for whatever reason meant a lot to you and that you’d buy back in heartbeat if you found it tomorrow.  For me, that was my second car, a 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 syncro.

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In the summer of 1991 I was preparing to go away to university in Canada’s capital, Ottawa which is about a 4 – 5 hour drive from Toronto and my Father insisted that I needed an all-wheel-drive car.  Ottawa and Eastern Ontario get far more snow than Toronto and he wanted me to be safe on those long drives between home and school.  The car he decided on was the Passat G60 syncro.  It’s odd that we got this car in Canada while it wasn’t sold in the US.  The previous generation Passat, called the Quantum in the US and sold with AWD as the Quantum syncro was never sold in Canada.  So this was a Passat with the supercharged 1.8L G60 engine from the Corrado and a part-time AWD system developed by Daimler-Steyr-Puch (now Magna-Steyr) of Austria that utilized a viscous coupling.  That name may not be familiar but they built the famous 4WD and 6WD Pinzgauer and they also designed and continue to build the Mercedes G-Wagon. It was the same viscus coupling-equipped AWD system used in the Golf Rallye that sent 90% of the torque to the front wheels under normal conditions and could send up to 90% to the rear wheels when needed.   The car also had forged Fuchs wheels which someone told me were magnesium but I was never able to confirm that and it was only available with a 5-speed manual.

The car had a lot of features that made it a great long-distance winter cruiser.  Heated seats and mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, ABS brakes, headlight washers and a gigantic 9-litre (2.4 gallon) washer fluid tank.  And those headlight washers were really useful in winter because that car had the worst headlights of any car I’ve owned.  They were dim to begin with and the accumulation of salt and snow on a night drive in the winter meant they got a whole lot dimmer as you drove so it was great to be able to clean them off while driving.  The car also had a 70-litre (18.5 gallon) fuel tank which meant I could make the drive between Ottawa and Toronto on less than a tank of gas while exceeding the speed limit the whole way.  The trunk was huge – though slightly smaller than the FWD Passat due to its independent rear suspension and rear diff and the rear seats reclined so it easily and often transported 4 us with luggage for a weekend home.

 

That car was fantastic in the snow.  Well, it was far less than fantastic in the snow with the all season tires it came with and I soon installed a set of snow tires and that made all the difference in the world.  That thing was a like a little tank and it’s why we nicknamed it “Volks Panzer”.  I drove through some very hairy snow storms and that car never set a wheel wrong, just tons of grip and no slip and I always felt very confident driving it but never over-confident and hence why I never ended up in a ditch.  And there wasn’t any noticeable change in the car’s behavior as power was transferred between the front and rear.  It was a remarkable system considering how simple and compact it was.

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FWD Passat torsion beam rear suspension

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Passat syncro independent rear suspension

That car was a cold weather champ.  Ottawa winters are a lot colder than they are in Toronto as I soon found out.  Temperatures in January and February were typically -40 Celsius (-40 F) with the wind chill with it dipping to -50 Celsius (-58 F) on a few occasions. That’s the kind of cold that just makes you angry when it hits you.  It freezes your eyelashes and the hair in your nose and makes cars refuse to start.  I had outdoor parking at my apartment so my car was constantly buried in snow but every spot had its own electrical outlet for block heaters which I soon added to the car along with an electric battery blanket.   That car never once refused to start even on the coldest days and that’s when those heated seats were really worth their weight in gold!

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There were a lot road trips made in that car between Ottawa and Toronto with friends from school. Trips home for Thanksgiving and Christmas or just for the hell of it.  Many times we went to school with the car packed up so we could hit the road right after class and get to Toronto as soon as possible.  Weekends home were always so busy trying to visit friends and family and were over in a flash so getting there fast was key.  And I’ll admit that a few land speed records were set and I have a personal-best time that will never be broken because I’ll never be young and fearless like that ever again.  And I’m proud that despite my excessive speed, I never got a speeding ticket on those trips in that car.  And FYI, radar detectors are illegal in the Province of Ontario so I had no early warning system.

That car was special to me.  It was a unique model that was sold in Canada in small numbers, but it was so much more than that.  We all have our dream cars.  That 6 or 7-figure hyper car we’d buy if we hit the lottery.  But those aren’t the cars that mean the most to us.  My Passat wasn’t a dream car, it was just an oddly-styled VW sedan that never occupied anyone’s dreams.  The car itself, what it was and what it did, is only half the reason why it’s so special to me and maybe even less than that.  It’s the memories of that time of my life, of moving away from home to university and living on my own in my own apartment.  It’s the new friends I met and the hours we spent together in that car on those road trips.  It’s the music we listened to and the stories and laughs we had along the way.  It’s a reminder of the one time in my life that I was carefree and truly living in the moment and loving every minute of it.