…when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — G. Santayana
Wide-light Rabbits. As a child, I firmly believed that there were two kinds of VW Rabbits. There were awesome Rabbits, with round headlights and narrow taillights, and they had all been assembled in the Fatherland by white-lab-coated Germans who, prior to taking jobs on the hospital-clean Rabbit production line, had all been Messerschmitt 262 pilots or actual rocket scientists. Then there were awful Rabbits, with dopey-looking amber turn signals and thyroid-condition, reflector-pregnant asses, which were created by drunken Pennsylvanians who used eight-pound sledgehammers to install body-side molding and who aligned the doors by hanging on the hinges until even the most sausage-like of fingers could pass comfortably through the gap between crooked window frame and mis-welded unibody.
Keep in mind that I couldn’t drive, and that nobody I knew even owned a Rabbit. I received all this wisdom osmotically, hyperbole passing from the diarrheic prose of the Tony Swans and David E. Davises of the day directly from the page to my mind. German Rabbits good. American Rabbits bad. And when VW finally gave up and closed Westmoreland, didn’t that validate what the scribes had scribbled?
Time passes, and we are told that the new, “Americanized” Mark VI Jetta is a disgrace, a stain, a repudiation of all for which the fabulous Emm Kay Five stood. My drive of the current Jetta didn’t quite square with the conventional wisdom. Still, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that Volkswagen deliberately chose to repeat its history, that it made a conscious effort to once again dive whole-heartedly into the American market with products that are locally assembled and directly targeted at us. So far, it’s been a success, but the Bowdlerized History Of Cars fed to us by the color rags cheerfully omits the fact that the original American Rabbits were popular, too. The death of American Volkswagen production had a lot more to do with dismal dealers and champagne-priced, poverty-specced product than it did with Pennsylvania production.
Time to cleanse my palate a bit. Hertz still rents Mark Five Volkswagens, so I requested one and drove it 931 miles over the course of approximately forty hours. A final chance to figure out the truth, before the conventional wisdom becomes fact, before what everyone knows becomes the only thing anybody knows, before history repeats itself.