I am mostly of German extraction, with a dollop of Irish thrown in just for fun. As a consequence, perhaps, I have always owned German cars. I admire their quality, their precision engineering, and their performance. The Germans make cars for people who consider driving not a way to get from one place to another but a high art. And a sport.
My first car was a VW “Squareback,” a sort of mini-station wagon. It was perfect for my needs. I had a wife and an infant son. The cargo area could be configured to hold, perfectly, a fold-out “Port-A-Crib.” We’d set it up, throw the kid in the crib, and off my wife and I would go. Car seats? They didn’t exist. The kid, by the way, survived. He’s forty-five now and with no apparent injuries.
My first brand new car was an Audi 100LS. It was the second “sport sedan” (after the BMW 2002) to be imported to the United States. German, of course. It was brilliant: deep forest green exterior, soft tan leather interior, and drove like a souped-up roadster. After almost ten years, one day it seemed like the driver’s seat was falling apart. I could not imagine engineers in Germany building a seat that wouldn’t hold up for the life of the car. Eventually, it occurred to me to look under the car. It turned out that years of driving in New England winters, with salted roads during snow, had rusted the undercarriage. I was, quite literally, dragging my butt.
The next car was a top-of-the-line BMW Seven Series, their biggest, most luxurious model. I lived in Washington DC at the time and bought it, cheap, from a diplomat who was being deported. It was silver with a black leather interior. I gave my wife a test drive and complained that the seats made noise. She looked at me as if I were daft: “That’s the sound leather makes. It’s a good sound!” The car was rear-ended and totaled a couple of years later.
With the settlement (BMWs are very pricey) I bought two new VWs, one for my mother and one—a 1986 VW GTI (known then as “the pocket rocket” for its performance)—just for me. Its first license plate began with the letters, GIGI. So that’s what we called her: “Gigi.” This car gave her heart to me. I was once rear-ended by a school bus. I had major surgery. So did Gigi. She came out fine: me, not so much. A few years later, I hit a deer at seventy miles per hour. I was fine but once again Gigi was rebuilt and she carried on as if nothing had happened. She was an amazing piece of German engineering excellence. Then, when she was only 27 years old and had only 285,000 miles on her odometer, an older woman (I am sorry to say) cut in front of me pulling into a post office parking lot and Gigi was totaled. Gone. Written off. Insurance companies have no respect for age and excellence. Though pristine, she was nearly worthless in their jaundiced eyes.
Unwillingly, but having no choice, I bought another car. German, of course. A new VW turbo diesel, super fast and touted as having the cleanest combustion engine in the world. I bragged about it to my friends. I gushed about it. I made a fool of myself.
Because VW lied. They put a kink in the car’s computer code so that it looked like it produced few pollutants when it had an emissions test. Its normal driving, however, produced forty times more emissions. VW diesels were and are a fraud. For me, it was decades of trust shattered. A conscious and nefarious betrayal, this was. Volkswagen, a reliable, precision-engineered German car maker, beloved by loyal drivers everywhere…lied? For years?
It is like your wife saying, “Oh, by the way, I’ve been carrying on with the next door neighbor. But never mind…