By on November 30, 2013

audi100

As you might suspect, this is a sequel to Luke’s Camaro, Part One. Full disclosure, there’s no Camaro content this time, which is part of the fun — JB

We had just crossed a set of long-forgotten railroad tracks when it happened. The engine died, the dash lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, and the big gray Audi rolled slowly to the side of the narrow country road.

“Son of a bitch.” Not an exclamation…more of a declaration.

I cranked the engine, hoping against hope that a wire had come loose or that a ghost had reached in and flipped the key off. I checked under the hood, looked underneath the car, and saw nothing. No loose wires, blown fuses, or leaking fuel. The engine cranked but wouldn’t fire. No joy.

“Son of a bitch.” I was stuck.

That fall afternoon 100 miles from nowhere in rural South Dakota summed up my adventures with old German cars. My overconfidence, my “how expensive could it be to fix?” laissez-faire attitude, my hubris laid bare by a 1992 Audi 100S Quattro with what turned out to be a broken timing belt. How expensive could it be? Well, try finding a mechanic who will work on an old Audi… in South Dakota.

Like the blackjack addict who wakes up in a dumpster behind a Vegas IHOP, I was having a moment of harsh self-reflection: I had to change my life, and fast. Way too much of my personal, professional, and financial well-being rested on the shoulders of frustratingly complex and needy German cars. That gorgeous Gunmetal 100S, a 5-speed car aggressively lowered on H&R springs with 17” TSW wheels, embodied all of my Deutsche Tourenwagen fantasies and was just too much fun on snowy days.

Unfortunately it was also a 1992 Audi. But this wasn’t my first German heartbreak; no Audi can break you the way a Porsche+Audi can. A couple summers before that very long day, I had woken up on a Sunday morning to find myself with more money coming in than going out. I don’t know how it had happened, but I had moved up the ranks at work to the point where I had honest to God free cash flow. I was so happy about this development that I did what any 26 year old idiot would do: I bought a 1986 Porsche 944 and started to give all that cash away.

I found it the car in the Sunday classifieds (remember those?), a fully documented Guards Red two owner car, originally sold to a Mayo Clinic physician in Rochester, MN. It came with a stack of records and receipts going back to its drive off the boat, and I assured myself that those records guaranteed long-term happiness and trouble-free ownership for me, it’s completely unprepared and uninformed new owner.

My first two months with that car were pure pleasure. I loved the punchy engine, the sweet gearbox, and the unbelievably direct steering. It made me leave earlier and stay later to fully enjoy my long daily commute, and even a drive to the grocery store become a 2 hour event. Everything about it, from the way the door latch snapped closed to the way the headlights popped up, exuded quality and a firearm-like, “of a piece” engineering. I took it on a Saturday rally to a nearby brewery with the local PCA chapter where some new “friends” recommended a full check up at a local independent Porsche shop “just to make sure everything (was) okay.”

Stupidly, I listened to them and, not surprisingly, it wasn’t. Ignorance truly is bliss, friends. The car needed a lot of work. Something like $4500 worth of it if I remember correctly, which was as much as I had paid for the whole car. Two shocks were leaking, the front control arms needed to be replaced, the steering rack was leaking, and about a hundred other things were either out of specification or nearing the point where they’d become a “real problem.”

I finally got online and started doing research and, while all of the things they found were well-known and completely normal maintenance items for the 944, I was utterly shocked by the cost, time, and possible frequency at which they’d need to be fixed. As Jack has pointed out in the past, there should
be a picture of a Porsche dealership parts counter in the dictionary next to the word “gouge.” What madness had I gotten myself into? I loved the car, though, so I started working through the list. Not yet confident in my own mechanical abilities, and not recognizing the chance to develop them, I wrote a lot of checks. Big ones.

The next spring disaster struck: an oil ring broke on piston #2, trashing the engine block and stranding me on a busy urban highway. My blind spot for needy creatures great and small being what it is, I decided to fix it. Thus began a long education with my generous new friend Fast Eddie.

Eddie was a software engineer in his mid-40’s, and he had hit it big a few years prior as the CTO and co-founder of a small company that was bought by a very big one. When I met him, he was very much enjoying his semi-retirement as a budding classical guitar player and Porsche Whisperer, complete with a fully equipped workshop and a trio of beautiful 930s. We clicked immediately.

Fast Eddie never shied away from a challenge and we dove into the little 944 head first using the internet and a bootlegged Porsche shop manual as our guide. Eddie loved nothing more than being elbow deep in greasy Porsche parts while pontificating on business, religion, music, politics, and philosophy, usually all at the same time. A practical engineer and patient teacher, he taught me the ins and outs of “how those assholes in Zuffenhausen think” and helped me build up confidence in my wrenching abilities. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We set reasonable goals. And we had a hell of a lot of fun along the way. After a couple months of weekends and the occasional late night, we had rebuilt the big 4 banger using a low mileage block and boxes upon boxes of expensive new parts. When all was said and done, it was turbine smooth and had far more punch than it had possessed when stock.

Basically, the 944 was perfect. So of course I sold it.

It was Eddie’s fault. He had let me drive one of his 930s for a few days, just enough time for the 911 bug to fully infect my brain. I had to have one, and the car I chose would broaden my mechanical skills and driving skills even further. I’ll save that for part 3….

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42 Comments on “Luke’s Camaro, Part Two...”


  • avatar
    claytori

    It sounds like a round of crack cocaine would have been cheaper.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I missed part one of this series; glad I caught up with it.

    Nice story. Old German cars can be expensive lessons, but at least you are learning and having fun along the way. Even if the Germans eventually break you, the wrenching skills will carry over to other cars.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m shopping for a new vehicle. Given my criteria, there are only 3 new vehicles that make the cut.

    One of them is German. Guess which one I am guaranteed not to buy?

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      How did it make the cut if you are guaranteed not to buy it?

      • 0 avatar
        eggsalad

        By “made the cut”, I meant that only 3 new vehicles meet all 4 of my criteria:

        a]has a hatch (hatchback, wagon, or CUV)
        b]4 cylinder, stick shift
        c]2WD
        d]factory tow rating

        Only 3 vehicles meet all 4 criteria:
        1] Mazda CX-5
        2] Jeep Patriot/Compass (They’re twins)
        3] VW Tiguan

        Apologies if my initial post was unclear.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Out of those four? The CX-5 wins, hands down.

          • 0 avatar
            eggsalad

            That’s the way I’m leaning. My only major gripe with the CX-5 is that if you want a stick, you can’t get colored paint – your choices are black, gray, and another gray.

            The CX-5 Sport automatic can be had in colors, but not the stick. Go figure.

          • 0 avatar
            eggsalad

            Also, comparably equipped, the CX-5 is about $7000 more. That’s a lot of coin.

            (The Jeep has a $2000 rebate. The CX-5 has a non-negotiable $3000 ADM sticker.)

          • 0 avatar
            Syke

            Screw the CX-5. No car is worth paying over sticker. Period.

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            I won’t fault a dealer for charging over sticker on a hot halo car. Personally I would never pay it. But if 20 people are calling about the new S2000 , or, to be more current, the new C7, and you have one, you can either have a drawing or increase the price until only 1 person is still interested. The latter is called the free market system.

            However, putting a “market adjustment” on a CUV, when you are already a selling a brand that, while having great products, is marginal in the US, is the kind of dick move that will just send people to another brand for them to never come back. Corporate has to be cringing at dealers pulling that crap.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            I would love to know how a dealer can slap ADM on a stick-shift CX-5. I would expect them to steeply discount it to get it off the lot. No way there is high demand for it.

            Same goes for the Forester.

            Keep an eye on those cars for sh*ts and giggles, just to see if they sell anytime soon.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            The one & only time I ever bought a new car was a 1988 Honda Accord for my ex wife and they had that B.S. ” Additional Dealer Markup ” sticker for (IIRC) $1,800 on it , I told the Salesman I wasn’t paying any extra over sticker , in fact I’d be paying far _less_ than sticker and he gave me some line about ‘ that’s how it is ‘ , in the end I paid well under sticker and got an extended warranty tossed in for $100 or so (that was wise , we used the hell out of that extended warranty) .

            here in Los Angeles , or most of Southern California in fact , we have more cars & choices than anywhere else in America so paying at or above sticker is foolish and uneccesary .

            -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          kvndoom

          Eh, Kia Sportage… unless they dropped the stick for 2014.

        • 0 avatar
          Sam P

          May I ask why 2WD is a “requirement”? By specifying this, you’re eliminating the Subaru Outback and Forester from your options.

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            I get the desire for 2wd for simplicity, but given the vehicles that limits a person to, given the other criteria, I would be tempted to compromise on the 2wd.

            Too bad Suzuki left the market, the base Grand Vitara would be perfect.

          • 0 avatar
            eggsalad

            Interestingly, the 2014 Outback is not rated to tow anymore, while the less expensive Forester still carries a tow rating.

            Like the Mazda, the Forester carries a $3k ADM sticker at Subaru of Las Vegas, the only Subaru dealer for 250 miles around.

          • 0 avatar
            Sam P

            ” the Forester carries a $3k ADM sticker at Subaru of Las Vegas, the only Subaru dealer for 250 miles around.”

            A few things:

            Towing capacity on a 2014 Outback is 2700 pounds per Edmunds.

            http://www.planetsubaru.com/forester-vs–outback.htm

            http://www.edmunds.com/subaru/outback/2014/features-specs.html

            You really need to jump on a cheap flight to southern California, I bet you could find a much better deal on a Forester or a CX-5 there, given the larger metro area and multiple Subaru & Mazda dealers.

        • 0 avatar
          segfault

          eggsalad, you need to find another Mazda dealer pronto if yours has $3000 ADM on a stick shift CX-5. Those aren’t exactly selling like hotcakes.

          • 0 avatar
            Tim_Turbo

            I sell Subarus, and assure you the Outback is still rated to tow for 2014. Up to 2700lbs with the 4 cyl. and up to 3000lbs with the 6. Since the car has been mostly unchanged since 2010 I find it odd some source is saying it suddenly is unable to tow.

            The “big stink” has been the Forester went from a 2500lb tow rating to 1500lbs when they redesigned it for 2014.

        • 0 avatar
          JJ_2

          3 series Touring :D

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I like this series .

    I’m another German Car loving idiot , I used to run a VW Shop and rebuild them on the side for resale , now I’m a stupid Mercedes DieselHead .

    Different lunacy , same disease .

    The skills you learn , can pay your bills .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      you are kind of on the receiving end of the money pit. So sure you like it. Repeat costumers not because you are so great, but repeat costumers because those cars break repeatedly :)

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    Haven’t been bitten by the German bug (though I did own a Merkur and wrenched on my brother’s VW Super Beetle).

    I’ve always been more on the British side of things. I remember an Egan column from years ago (paraphrasing) – British cars fall apart (and when they do they are easy and cheap to fix), German cars don’t fall apart they break (and when they do they are difficult and expensive to fix).

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      I remember Mr. Egans column and I believe his take on the German cars was ” it’ll never break and even if it did , you’re too stupid to fix it , bring it to us and we’ll have the special tools necessary ” .

      I guess I _was_ on the receiving end of the money pit , I grew up in the salad days of Volkswagen in the U.S. and was tinkering on them as a child , I’ve worked in Gas Stations (excuse me , back then they were called ” Service Stations ” and also sold gasoline) , used car lots , dealers , indie brand garages and junkyards , my all time favorite job was running the VW Shop/junkyard/resale , not big $ (1970′s) but happier I’ve never been .

      I also still enjoy owning , operating and working on , older American vehicles because they’re so simple and easy , not to mention cheap to operate .

      -Nate

  • avatar

    Had a 924 in Europe. VW lineage aside, the description if the steering is spot on. As that thing broke my heart and wallet, I sold it for pennies and a year later bought another one…

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’ve owned an ’87 Porsche 924S (to those not in the know, the more feminine 924 body, 944 drivetrain). Bought it at 116k when I was looking for an NA Miata. Took it in immediately for the cam belt change (the only service records was the reputation of the seller, a well-known local fixer and flipper of 911′s) and established a relationship with a local independent European auto shop of good reputation.

    Unlike the author, my experience was wonderful. Three and a half years, 14k put on the car, and it was about as close to bulletproof as you can get for a German car that’s legitimate for antique plates. Yeah, it was in the shop once a year for something in the $5-600.00 range, but that was it. I never deferred any kind of maintenance, never cheaped out on parts, and it paid me back with a wonderful ownership experience.

    The only reason its gone is that, after the death of my wife, I realized that I’d still never owned a roadster (remember, I was originally looking for a Miata) – and Patti’s death reminded me that just maybe I better not keep putting certain desires off. So it got traded back in May on an ’06 Solstice. A cruder, less efficient car, but in its own way just as much fun. And the top doesn’t go up unless its the kind of morning when I wouldn’t take the motorcycle to work.

    The hurting part: Seven months later, that good little 924S is still sitting in the lot at Patrick Buick/GMC in Ashland, VA. Sticker price is $3995.00 and they’ve only had one serious bite on it which the salesman blew (a 21 year old kid who bought my Contour in September). I see it sitting there every Sunday when I’m out cycling with my bunch, and I’m fighting the desire to go in and buy it back. That car certainly deserves better than what the last half year have given it.

    Seriously looked at a 968 convertible when I was shopping. Unfortunately, it was an automatic, which killed the car. Otherwise, just as beautiful a drive as the 924.

    And yes, when I trade the Solstice, it’ll be for another Porsche. I’m hooked.

    • 0 avatar
      highrpm

      Syke, have you considered writing an article about your 924S adventures for this site? That would make a great read.

      I think you would enjoy a 944S2 or 968 convertible more than the Solstice.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I understand how something like an Audi A8 or a Porsche Cayenne can just ruin someone, but I’m enjoying 4 years with my German car.

    It doesn’t seem like Audi has ever built anything very reliable. I would love an A4 2.0T with a 6-speed manual, but from reading Audi forums, it doesn’t seem like Audi has solved the issue of carbon buildup in the 2.0T engine yet. And that engine has been in the A4 since the 2005.5 model year.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Before I came to the US I toyed with the idea to buy a VW Golf wagon Diesel MT.(no, not brown but silver gray… but internet research revealed that i woudl be bankrupt by now. So i got a Mazda 3 hatchback as the closest reliable alternative available at the time.
    In addition all dealers in the netire midwest only had 2 wagons at all.

    When we bought our second car i considered a Golf (or my wife did, i read the internet). But the VW dealer experience drove us right out (“this duPont environmental package for $650 is already applied, so you don’t have a choice than to pay for it”)

    I don’t have enough dogh to even consider a BMW or audi. But I rather get bored in a Honda than to have the excitement of German cars. If going to the shop excites you.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      What are the issues with the Golf TDI? Curious as my cousin and her husband have a Golf TDI with a stick and apart from a couple A4 platform VW issues (window regulators, etc) that car hasn’t been too tough to live with.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        if you think a car is good despite “few issues” you probaby suffer from Stockholm syndrome.

        At the time inquestion the Golf-4 was sold in the US, so i would have been hosed.

        I know it is anecdotal , but my dealer experience and my father-in-law Jetta-5 are enough to keep me away from VW.
        i know the internet is anecdotal, but 10,000 anecdotes are called statistical proof.

        And how many US car mechanics actually know how to fix and service a TDI?

        • 0 avatar
          Sam P

          “if you think a car is good despite “few issues” you probaby suffer from Stockholm syndrome.”

          A window broke and wouldn’t roll down. Those kinds of things are annoying and I haven’t had to deal with them in the 4 years I’ve had my BMW, but the TDI also gets 45-50 mpg on the highway which is what they like. It’s never failed to start or stranded them.

          I wouldn’t call it “Stockholm syndrome”.

          “And how many US car mechanics actually know how to fix and service a TDI?”

          This is the shop my cousin took her car to when it needed a timing belt.

          http://www.zahntechauto.com/

          Here is another shop that the Seattle area TDI community frequents. I know about this place as I used to go here when I owned a Volvo.

          http://www.redmondwerkshop.com/

          Any other questions?

          • 0 avatar
            HerrKaLeun

            I’m sure this is agood shop if you cosin liked it. But interesting the shop of trust is not a VW dealer, which tells a lot about the VW dealers.

            Also intersting that they had to change the timing belt to begin with… most cars i like have chains without having that extra expense. so you are not really proving that VW is so cheap to entertain

            My Father in law typically only keep shis cars 1-3 years, so he never really sees a shop except for oil changes. Infiniti, BMW, Lincoln etc.
            The only car that was always in the shop was the Jetta.

            one time the battery failed (6 months old). It took the shop 3 days to figure out it needs a new battery. I don’t want to see how they fix a TDI particle filter problem…

            I know anecdotal. but the “fool me one…” also is anecdotal.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Most of the negative internet publicity for VW seems to come from anecdotal tales told by a friend’s roomate’s sister, with zero specifics. As far as I can tell from the internet, MKV and newer Golfs are at least average in reliability.

      I believe True Delta ranks them about average at worst. Edmunds TCO considers a Golf TDI one of the cheaper cars to run. Even reading vwvortex isn’t all that scary.

      The MKIV was bad enough that it will take a long time for people to forget, but with newer VWs I am more concerned about the dealer network than the cars.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        How do you know newer VW will hold up on the long run? Having new cars rate average is anecdotal for long term reliability.

        And is average what we aspire to? Is the bar for reliability so low that “average”is the new great?

        It is telling that VW fans are proud to now have average reliability.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        It would be interesting to hear what the actual issues were with “my father-in-law Jetta-5″.

        I read TDIclub from time to time as I occasionally think about buying one for the fuel economy and turbodiesel torque. If I changed jobs and ended up having to commute 40-50 miles a day I’d have no problem driving a TDI.

        Plus, then I could get something fairly impractical for my “fun” car like a 2011+ Mustang GT since the TDI would be the practical sedan.

        • 0 avatar
          HerrKaLeun

          it was a gasoline version. But the issues (rattling, battery etc.) were unrelated to engine.

          The VW shop was totally incompetent in figuring out any of the obvious problems.

          • 0 avatar
            brettc

            VW dealers aren’t typically the best place to take a TDI if you value your sanity and money. Of course there are exceptions but in general, most dealers don’t have anyone that’s an exceptional diesel mechanic. From what I understand the good dealership mechanics generally end up leaving due to politics and low pay.

            I haven’t had a great service experience where I bought my Jetta so I’m taking it to the other local VW dealer for its next free maintenance visit. We’ll see how that goes!

            There are a lot of independent mechanics well versed in TDI maintenance/repair. The hard part is finding them. But there is the TDIclub trusted mechanic locator which can make life easier if you own a TDI and need something major done to it and don’t want to deal with your friendly local VW dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        highrpm

        Anecdotal is the one case where some Toyota Corolla blows its transmission but most do not.

        Anecdotal is not a VW+Audi product where you are practically guaranteed window regulator failures, PCV issues, trans issues, comfort control module problems, sludge, etc.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Luke..I just read part one, and two. Good stuff keep them coming.


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