Thursday, November 2, 2017


While stationed in Nebraska from 1987 to 1991 we started out with one car, a 1983 Volkswagen Jetta, standard transmission, the color was aptly described by Homer (maybe) -
Then the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, answered him: “Therefore of a truth will I frankly tell thee all. I declare that I am Mentes, the son of wise Anchialus, and I am lord over the oar-loving Taphians. And now have I put in here, as thou seest, with ship and crew, while sailing over the wine-dark sea to men of strange speech, on my way to Temese for copper; and I bear with me shining iron. The Odyssey, Homer, Book 1, Lines 178-184 (Source)
I do believe that Volkswagen designated the color as "burgundy," which is a wine and is also a color (of that wine, I do believe). Summat like this...

Which is most emphatically not the color of the Aegean Sea. (What? You didn't chase that first link?)


As The Missus Herself wished to learn how to operate a motor vehicle and as my patience and transmission were not going to survive her attempts to drive a standard, we purchased a Ford Tempo with an automatic transmission. Used, of course. Tech Sergeants are not wealthy people. At least I wasn't. (Why we needed an automatic was touched upon briefly here.)

As time went by, her attempts to obtain her operator's license came to naught when she had an accident during her driving test. The examiner said "Turn left here." She, thinking it a command and not a suggestion, did so. Into oncoming traffic. She did not get her license, she did, however, receive a citation. The examiner got rather more than a piece of my mind. Violence may have occurred had not a member of the local constabulary been present. Well, he was armed wasn't he? (The cop, not the examiner.)

Long story short, the Tempo was never quite the same again after being repaired. The old Jetta had also been in an accident early in his career. (Not my fault, really.) Both cars were starting to require rather more maintenance than I was willing to pay for so a plan was needed. As only one of our merry band had a driver's license (moi) it also seemed somewhat profligate to have two cars. Research was done, what we were paying out in maintenance on the two spread over a year versus a new car payment made buying a new car an excellent idea. So we did. (Automatic transmission in case you were going to ask. Even if you weren't.)

The Tempo and the old Jetta were traded in for a brand new Jetta. A white one. Why white?

Well, the car was brand new, sort of, it only had fifty miles on it, but it was purchased at the end of the model year, i.e. it was the only Jetta left on the lot. I looked around, it may have been the only new Jetta within fifty miles of Omaha. It was okay, I wanted a Jetta, a Jetta was what I wanted, a Jetta was what I got. They had a white one, so I bought a white one. Beggars meet choosers...

When I got the new beast home, The Naviguesser wanted to see the engine, so I popped the hood. Yes, the engine was right there, right where it was supposed to be, it was something else that made be sit up and say, "WTF, over."

For underneath the hood (the physical hood itself, not the engine compartment) I noticed that the interior was not the same color as the exterior. Everything not readily apparent to a passerby (wheel wells, inside of the trunk, etc.) was not finish coated. Gray primer, not that lovely "Alpine White" which graced the visible portions of the exterior, was apparently the paint of choice in those out of the way places which on the old Jetta had been the same polished burgundy as the exterior.

Odd that.

Then I started noticing something, all over the place, "Hecho en México," that's right sports fans, "Made in Mexico." This was my fourth Volkswagen (two Beetles and now two Jettas), the first three had all been built in Germany. Designed in Germany, built in Germany. By Germans, folks who have rather a well-deserved reputation for engineering, quality, and invading Poland. No wait, skip that last bit. Good engineers they are, big believers in building things to a certain Teutonic standard.

Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Mexico, her people, nor her culture. It's all very rich and colorful but, nowhere have I ever heard what great engineers the Mexicans are. That's a German thing.

So Sarge, big deal, your car was built in Mexico, but it was designed in Germany, nicht wahr? Details, engineering quality is in the details, it's all about the details. My first intimation that something wasn't quite right was the not bothering to paint the entire car the same way. The old Jetta was like that, both of the old Beetles were like that. Eventually I passed it off as a cost-saving thing. Some spreadsheet cowboy back in Germany no doubt told the Mexicans not to bother painting the entire body with the finish coat. They would save money by not doing so. Not a problem. For them.

Then one day we received orders to head for Germany, the vehicle was shipped one day, two days later the family was shipped. (Car went by ship, we went by aircraft, a tale I told here.) All was well and good when the vehicle arrived at Bremerhaven, well, other than a dead battery everything was fine. Then one day...

While driving to Waterloo (yes, that Waterloo) on the approaches to Brussels, a rather high pitched squealing noise began to emanate from underneath the hood of the car. I slowed down, the noise went away, sped up, it came back. After a while it went away. Thinking nothing of it, and as the manual said nothing about it, I pressed on. We accomplished the mission and returned to our pleasant little home in Waldfeucht, none the worse for wear.

Took the car into the local Volkswagen dealership where they assured me that nothing was wrong with the car. Okay, says I, not to worry, the car is fine. Trust me, the car is fine.

Things seemed fine with the "new" Jetta as the time approached for the family to mount up and proceed to the little Bavarian town of Oberammergau for training. What kind of training?

(Yes, I've been waiting months for the opportunity to copy Juvat use that clip.)

Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Decontamination training to be precise. Sounds very scary and in wartime it is, very scary stuff. In peacetime it's just uncomfortable. To wit...

Wear this for four to six hours, in the summer.
Yes, it's made of rubber.

But I have, once again, digressed.

We're off to Bavaria, a trip of roughly 432 miles requiring roughly six to seven hours on the road. Within sight of the Alps, just south of Munich (München, auf Deutsch), a rather high pitched squealing noise began to emanate from underneath the hood of the car. Slowed down below 40, it went away, sped up, it came back.

So the remaining portion of the trip was done at 40 mph, with Germans whizzing by, shaking their heads at the dumme Amerikaner driving as if they were in Boston and not on the wide open stretches of the Deutsches Autobahn. I even rolled the window down so I could yell out "Mein Auto funktioniert nicht richtig, es klappt nicht!" Which I did until The Missus Herself told me to "give it a rest, you're embarrassing us." Which I was, so I stopped.

Upon arrival in Oberammergau we checked into our accommodations and rang up the German version of AAA (no Juvat, not Anti-Aircraft Artillery), ADAC, the German automobile club, of which I was a member in good standing, yearly tribute, er, dues being up to date and all. A couple of young Bavarians showed up and checking things out told me that my oil level was too low. So they topped it off and told me that I was "good to go."

A few days later, we're driving over to this place -
(Which is a totally cool place to visit.)

When lo and behold, a rather high pitched squealing noise began to emanate from underneath the hood of the car. So I dropped down below 40 mph, tolerated the animus of the local drivers and Charlie Miked.*

Had a great time at the castle (if someone tells you it's more fun to walk up to the castle as opposed to riding one of the horse-drawn wagons, shoot them, in the head, you'll thank me) and afterwards headed back to the temporary quarters. Yes, I called ADAC again as we would be departing the area two days hence and I would not wish to stretch the six to seven hour drive to eleven or twelve and wished to clear up this malfunction.

I did happen to mention this on-going fiasco to a classmate who told me that it sounded like (no pun intended) my oil pump was going bad. Nevertheless, stopping at the recommended service station upon Saturday in the wee hours at the beginning of our trek back to Waldfeucht, the very "knowledgeable" Mercedes mechanic (for it was a Mercedes garage, not Volkswagen) told me that I had too much oil in the car.

Not enough, too much, what would the next guy tell me, "just right"?

Anyhoo, he drained some of the oil, after I had mentioned the title of the post to him, which, you may have guessed is "oil pump," auf Deutsch. He laughed and said, "No way, you have too much oil, see, I checked!"

So he did his thing and off we went. About a half hour down the road, a rather high pitched squealing noise began to emanate from underneath the hood of the car. I pulled over and utilized the emergency phones spaced along the autobahn and called ADAC.

"Hallo?"  (Hello)

"Guten tag. Sprechen Sie Englisch?" (Good day. Do you speak English?)

"Nein." (No.)

"Ah, natürlich, wunderbar..." (Ah, naturally, wonderful...)

I managed to convey the issue with my automobile (replete with sound effects and all) and the nice non-English speaking chap indicated that help was on the way. Which indeed it was in the person of a bearded old Bavarian guy wearing lederhosen and everything.

He popped the hood, checked a couple of things and he pronounced the verdict...


Well I knew that, didn't I?

He pointed out that at the next exit there was a Volkswagen garage who could fix me right up. Just keep it under 60 kph, dontcha know?

Which I did. Upon arrival at the garage I was made to wait by a snooty Kraut bastard who informed me that I needed to wait my turn, didn't matter that I had miles to go before I sleep, no siree Bob! When it was my turn, the same former camp guard chap informed me that as my vehicle was built to American specifications and they only had German oil pumps in stock they would have to order the part and would I mind waiting until Tuesday, if so he knew of a pleasant little Gasthaus just down the road owned by his Mum and Dad.

"Nein, danke. And might I use your phone?"

"Certainly, ten marks please."


"You need to pay ten marks for the phone call."

[Sigh, much gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and wailing followed.]

I gave the unrepentant storm trooper fellow his ten-bloody-marks and once again called ADAC. Why yes, they could send a vehicle over to haul myself, the family. and my sick vehicle back to Waldfeucht. But...

But what, I asked, expecting the worst. Seems that their nearest vehicle capable of hauling the vehicle and the tribe of the Old Air Force Sarge back to Waldfeucht was over in Austria and it would be about four hours until they could get there. Was that okay?

Well, no, not really, but it beat paying the old brown shirt fellow at the garage more money to stay in his Mama's motel, just down the road. So I said that yes, yes, that would be fine.

While we waited, I went down to a little market that was about to close, made sure that it was not run by, owned, or in any way associated with the Volkswagen garage, and purchased food and drink to keep the clan happy and content until such time as the rescue party could get to us. From Austria.

The time passed slowly, but it was a lovely day. When it was time for the garage to close, Herr Goebbels the fellow at the garage told me that I couldn't park in front of the garage as they were closing. I suggested that he might want to run along wie ein guter kleiner Nazi, or I might just be forced to kick his scrawny little Kraut butt up to Berlin and back.

The Missus Herself was aghast, the progeny were amused, and Horst (I don't know if that was actually his name, but he looked like a Horst) was offended. I pointed out that we had won-the-bloody-war and unless he wished a repeat he should get lost. Macht schnell!

The rescue party arrived, driving this huge (yuge) 8-passenger flat bed monstrosity (which to me seemed to be the finest of conveyances upon this rather long adventure), and carried us home to Waldfeucht. In comfort, with nary a care in the world.

On the very next Monday I took the car to the local dealership where, no, we can't take your word for it, we need to check it for ourselves and yes, that costs extra, they replaced the damned oil pump. Car worked fine until one of the bolts holding the power steering pump in place sheered off and sent The Missus Herself and the progeny veering off the road, through a barbed wire fence and into a farmer's pasture. (Yes, by then she had obtained her driver's license. In Germany mind you.)

Everyone was fine, a bit shaken (not stirred) but fine.

We got that problem fixed by this amazing Dutch mechanic a friend referred me to, who simply shook his head when I commented that the car had been "Hecho en México."

That got fixed and, no kidding, true story, a few short months later we had a massive storm when I was at work. When it was time to go home I went to the parking lot and saw that a rather large oak tree had been blown over in the storm.

Right on top of my car.

Bought a new car a couple of days later.


Of course not.

* Charlie Mike - Continue Mission.


  1. Some cars are just plain cursed. You were obviously in the grasp of the Gods of Inanimate Objects!

    1. I do believe you're on to something there Dave.

    2. @Dave & Sarge/

      LOL. Such things used to be called LEMONS!Had a Merc Cougar in early 80s with all the bells & whistles, but no.. was forever a hanger queen. Being part of the "FORD FAMILY" I guess one could file it under Fix Or Repair Daily...Too bad blogs weren't around then to allow VENTING!

    3. Yup, it was a lemon all right. Too bad, it was a fun car to drive. When it was running properly.

  2. I remember that walk. Where you crane your neck to a 85 degree angle to gawk at the looming castle and think "how the heck does the road get from HERE to THERE?" Answer: steeply.

    1. Yup, you've been there, done that. I can tell.

  3. The Tempo. Back in the day I sold three or four a month. World's best no brainer car (not to imply you fit that profile). There are many people who want a simple car that starts, stops, and moves forward with minimal involvement of the operator. They wanted simple stove bolt reliability and the Tempo delivered. Sold one to a big time NFL player. Many more to Chinese.

    1. It was a nice little car, ran well, I took it down to Mississippi from Omaha and back, very comfy.

      Sad to see it go.

  4. When we realized that the Fiat 850 Spyder was never going to be a reliable daily driver we bought a used VW gasoline Rabbit.
    My wife had owned VW beetles and everyone knew of VW's reputation.

    Our experiences with the Rabbit meant that we would never, ever, under any circumstances own any VW product.

    Besides the times we spent dead in the water along the road, I remember one time when I was coming home from a Reserves weekend and the car suddenly spouted a thick cloud of oil smoke from the engine compartment. (picture in your mind a WWII destroyer laying a smoke screen) I put it into neutral, shut off the engine and coasted to a stop clear of the highway. A Philly cop dropped me off at a pay phone and my wife came and towed me home.
    One of the constant velocity boot had exploded and threw manual transmission oil all over the engine, and by luck no fire resulted.
    Problems. The CV boots do not contain manual transmission oil, they contain a thick dark grease. And there is no way that the oil from the transaxle could make it to the boot. After I looked at the diagram I realized that the axle was hollow and the open end that attached to the transaxle and faced into the transaxle was closed off by a plug. I reasoned that the plug had come loose, the oil had worked along the inside of the axle and filled up the rubber CV boot. When the centrifugal force of the rotating assembly got great enough, the force exceeded the ability of the rubber to hold it all in.
    After some time under the car I found exactly what I expected. I replaced the boot, staked the plug into place, and cursed VW again.
    But I don't think that we can lay the blame at Mexico's door, (la puerta de Mexico) as it is almost certain the car was built in Pennsylvania by my fellow Pennsylvanians.
    Now I must do some deep breathing and calming exercises.
    This post brought back some memories!

    1. Volkswagen lost me when they decided to go high tech and build their cars just like everyone else.

      I'm no mechanical genius, far from it, but I could actually fix my Beetles all by myself. All. By. Myself.

      Not so with the Jetta. Special tools, special test equipment. Bah, humbug. I tried American, Dodge to be exact (not counting the Tempo) after the Jetta. Air conditioner compressor blew in the first six months of owning the car. Head gasket blew within the first three years of owning the car. Brakes needed to be replaced more often than the tires!

      Never again. I only know two words when it comes to cars: Honda and Toyota. Reliable, efficient, and they don't break that often.

      In a pinch I'll do Hyundai, had an Accent for ten years. Simple and fairly reliable, though cheaply built.

      Cars, I don't want fancy, I want reliable.

    2. I'll second that on the Hondas. Bought a new Dodge Aspen station wagon in '78 and within a year parts were simply falling off while driving. I'll never own a Chrysler product again.

  5. Thank you for a highly entertaining post. I think that most people who have/had cars can tell such stories. Perhaps not as well or as amusingly, but automobiles create woes.

    Paul L. Quandt

  6. Cars, cars, cars. My first car was the family beater Datsun B-210. The only problems with it were the floorboards rusted out, which I replaced by siliconing asphalt roofing shingles on inside (made it easy to get to the keys in the ignition when I locked them in,) and the water pump. Took the first bad waterpump to the local garage, and the guy said the front housing needed resurfacing. He then spit on the concrete floor and smoothed the housing to a mirror finish. Replaced the impeller and gasket, and voila, good to go. Car finally rusted away. Miss that car.

    Second car was the 1972 Olds 98. Big honking car, with big honking engine, and an engine compartment you could climb into with the repair tech (I swear, it felt like I was working in the engine compartment of a PT boat.)

    Now? I buy my cars for utility. I have a Ram by Dodge, built by Fiat in Italy from a plant in Turkey. It runs, has ac, extended warranty, my wife and I can get in and out of it, along with the dog and the chair, and my days of long distance travel are in the past. But she is a surprisingly nice ride, for a van. But when I look under the hood? Why do I need a degree in pipe-fitting to be allowed to fill the wiper fluid? (And somewhere, under all that plastic and more tubes, pipes and hoses than an F1 rocket engine for the Saturn V is a transverse 5 cylinder. I am never touching it, ever. No way, no how.)

  7. Made in Mexico, designed in Germany. You just described my "bucket list" car, the VW Thing. It's basically an old Wehrmacht Kueblewagen, never mind the colors I've seen them in (burgundy wasn't one of them). I remember as late as the 1970s seeing those vehicles in service with the Bundeswehr (I was an Army brat in those days), but by the time I returned in 1982 they had vanished. Should I ever win the lottery I'll go looking for one, but local law enforcement would probably frown on the mounted MG34....

    1. I came within inches of buying a Thing rather than a Beetle.

      Go with the 42, it's easier to maintain.

  8. BTW, since when was NBC gear made of rubber? I remember my MOPP suit from the early '80s--heavy fabric lined with activated charcoal. The only rubber part of the suit I remember was the mask. MOPP4 in the summer was a bitch, but fortunately it doesn't get as warm in Germany as it does in PA in the summer (1983 was warmer than usual--in the 80s). Or as humid. But the MOPP suit was comfortable in the field during the winter. The mask was a pain though, one of my least fond memories was sleeping in the back of a jeep with one of those things on my side. Sleep was possible through sheer exhaustion, and waking up and moving again was painful. Of course, sleeping in a jeep is not recommended as it was not made for that. No one has backseat jeep fantasies for good reason....

    1. The rubber suit was for the decontamination teams, we used a lot of water and other chemicals, the fabric suits would not have lasted long. The suits were German.

      I wore the US MOPP gear in Korea, for hours at a time. Almost impossible to maintain aircraft wearing that mask, can't hardly see.

      The chem gear issued to the Germans was superior to ours. Better fitting, the boots were better. But our mask was far better than theirs.

      The "good old days," eh Jenk?

  9. A Gasthaus owned by his parents? Jeez, so "mud-farming" isn't an American invention after all. Who knew...?

    1. Heh, part and parcel of the human condition I think.

  10. Since I know pretty much nothing about car repair, I drive a Toyota. My husband drives my old Toyota (close to 300,000 miles). Problems are few and far between. The hubby spends enough time working on the tractor, lawnmower, weed-eater, etc. He doesn't need car problems too. We owned a Honda back in the day. It was also a great car with no problems, except the upholstery came unraveled after a few years.

    1. They're both mechanically sound vehicles, which is why I like them.

  11. Here in this place I wrote a post that I just wiped. MVL rules.
    Owned a VW bus for about 10 years. Could fix it in every regard and maintain that pancake engine no worries.
    On year 18 of ownership of VW Jetta. What does that tell ya?
    Yea, like me, it was born in Germany.
    Still cherry.

    1. The ones built in Germany were great little cars.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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