Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Little F*cker"

I don't believe I've covered this yet in my previous blog posts, but with very few exceptions, I've always named my cars. There's been no particular reason I've done this aside from it's just something I've always done.

I called my first 240D the Bluesmobile, after the Dodge Monaco police cruiser in the Blues Brothers. In fact, all my Mercedes have carried that name, right up to the project I'm working on now (Bluesmobile 2, Bluesmobile 3, etc). I've always called the Vanagon "Magic" after the Who song "Magic Bus". The 1994 Subaru was Rudy.

Eventually, I came up with a name for my Volkswagen Rabbit, too. I'll get to that a little later.

I wasn't really looking for another car when I bought the Rabbit. I'd finished the garage restoration of the 1981 Mercedes 240D a few months earlier, and I'd recently finished converting the car to run on vegetable oil. I was without something to wrench on. I spotted the Rabbit on Craigslist, not far from my office. It was a 1980 2-door model (built in 1979 in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania) with diesel engine and 5-speed manual (which I later found out was not original to the car - factory four speed - and not correctly installed) transmission. The part that really interested me was that it also had a Greasecar conversion kit (incompletely installed). I knew the Rabbit was capable of 50 MPG or better on pumped diesel. With a WVO conversion, that car represented a potentially large number of free miles I could drive. I went over to check it out after work one day in October, 2008.

The car was rougher than I'd counted on. Even with 99,000 on the odometer (which I do believe was accurate), the body had seen many better days. The interior was dirty, but in otherwise good shape. The guy selling it was a bit of an oddball. He was in his 40s and wouldn't stop talking about all the dope he'd smoked with people while buying and selling cars in the past. Oddball or not, he seemed to be more or less on the level. I don't remember why he was selling, but I think he'd just inherited a newer car.

The Rabbit had its share of problems. I should have been more worried when I couldn't stop the car during the test drive. The brakes were nearly shot. I actually got out and requested that the seller complete the test drive, just so I could see the engine and transmission work. Aside from the brakes, the car seemed to work OK mechanically.

I had some concerns about the body, most notably the obviously Swiss-cheesed floor. I made an offer, contingent on the seller driving the car to my house for me. He agreed, and we made a deal. A few days later, the Rabbit was sitting in my driveway:

You'll notice the hood is up. The car had a parasitic power drain that killed the battery if it was left hooked up.

VW nerds will also note the incorrect round headlights. At some point in the past, someone had removed the square headlights and grill and replaced then with rounds. They hadn't changed the radiator core support body panel, though, so there was a gap underneath the grill. I found a VW parts packrat locally and bought a correct 1980 Westmoreland grill complete with square headlights and headlight buckets:

I didn't do much else before the winter. The Rabbit mostly sat out in the ice, with a piece of plastic over the broken quarter window (which I later replaced):

Long story short, the car had a metric ton of problems. In the spring, I rebuilt the vacuum pump and got the brakes working marginally better:

Even as the car's problems kept snowballing, I kept working. At one point, I had given the car a proper name, but soon started referring to it as "Little F*cker", which eventually took over as its name. In April, I reluctantly sold the 1981 240D, partially so I could concentrate on the Rabbit. I started in on the Rabbit's body issues in late spring. Here, you can see some weird blue primer applied by the previous owner to cover some rust:

The worst part was the car's floor. I thought I could fix it, like I did with the 240D, but it turned out to be much more difficult to repair, due to the way the Rabbit was constructed. Finally, one day in June, I hit my breaking point. One Saturday afternoon, while working on the Rabbit, I threw down my wrench on the garage floor, marched in the house, conceded defeat, and posted the car for sale on Craigslist. I removed the Greasecar kit and sold that separately. In all, I got most of my money back and the Rabbit, and it went to an enthusiast.

If the car had been in better shape to begin with, I might have enjoyed it. I did enjoy the several test spins I took around the block. It was fun to drive. But, in the end, it was way too far gone for my taste. For all I know, though... it might still be out there.

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