Life was marching on, and it was clear that my time with the Rabbit was over. I had graduated from Duquesne University and I was about to propose to my girlfriend. Adulthood was nigh.
The insurance company paid me $2,000, which was roughly four times the actual value of the car. I couldn’t help but ask how much it would cost me to keep the now-totaled car. For $50, I could keep it. So that was that.
I took the car to Baierl Nissan in Pittsburgh and traded it (“Push, pull, or tow, we’ll give you $4,000!) on a brand new 200SX coupe. It idled perfectly for every one of the ten years and 250,000 miles I drove it. I hated that car.
Before making the final drive to Pittsburgh, I removed a few select items from the car. The stock steel wheels went back on, although I kept the center caps. The stereo system came out, the leather boot for the convertible top, the fog lights, and one specific piece of fender trim that I had maintained a love/hate relationship with. I have no idea what I was going to do with this stuff once I got rid of the car, but it went into the basement anyway.
August 15, 1998
Eric and I pulled into a gig at Pier 12 in Wellsburg. Parked in front of the bar is a red Rabbit convertible, black top, terrible aftermarket wheels, and a missing piece of fender trim.
With some time to kill after soundcheck, we were hanging out in the parking lot. As we wandered toward the car, the following conversation ensued:
Eric- “Hey, what year is this car? It looks pretty close to yours.”
“Oh, they were all pretty much the same, it’s kind of hard to tell….
Huh. It’s got a crack in the windshield just like mine did….”
<looks a little more closely>
“It’s got the holes where we mounted the fog lights! It’s got the holes in the dash where my tweeters were installed…..THIS IS MY CAR!”
The bad wheels and missing trim made sense. I still had the original parts in my basement.
After tracking down the new owner inside the bar, we were able to piece together the story. After I traded the car (in Pittsburgh), the dealer auctioned it and it was bought by a shop in Steubenville. They patched it up, painted it red, and sold it to Charles Withers of Follansbee.
I made Charles promise that if he ever wanted to sell it….
Over the next couple of years, I would get fairly regular reports of sightings, mostly from Ron “Uncle Hozo” Gasparine. He lived in Brooke County and knew the car well. Maybe… someday...I could get it back.
Cat and I had moved to Morristown. She was now driving the Nissan, and I was spending my time in a Dodge Dakota. Great truck, zero personality.
Driving on State Route 149 near Morristown, I saw it. It may have been a mile away, but it was unmistakable. The Rabbit was headed straight for me. After we passed, I did an immediate U-turn and followed Charles to Barkcamp.
We chatted. I asked what it was going to take. He said $850.
My incredible wife supported this ridiculous decision completely. Is it any wonder why I love that woman?
On June 6, 2001, it was back home. Maybe, more than at any other point in this story, all was right with the world.
This time around, the car served a very different role. I was no longer counting on it to get me to work at the pizza shop by 4:00, or back to school in time for classes. It was a relaxed existence, although it was driven quite a lot.
On the way back from golfing with my brother, a persistent knock under the hood crescendoed quickly. I didn’t make it home. The car was out of oil, and the engine was cooked.
That original engine and its 74 hp was long overdue for an upgrade anyway. Out it came, and in went a larger more powerful (105 hp!) engine and a close ratio transmission from a VW Scirocco. Around this same time, I upgraded various suspension components as well.
This version of the car was by far the most fun to drive. The handling was tight, balanced, and the new drivetrain gave it enough pep to make any back road worth taking.
This was a time of rest for the car. I had stopped driving it and began preparing for another engine swap. I bought a 1988 16V GTI ($100!) that was intended to donate various parts. There were other donor cars (a Scirocco and a Cabriolet), and I did pretty well selling off parts I didn’t need to finance the purchase of more parts I did.
While the Rabbit waited patiently, life moved on. Cat and I were busy with our careers, we built our first home, and began to grow our family. Time was limited, and the car wasn’t getting any of it.
I decided to move the car to Cat’s grandmother’s garage. It was safe there, shielded from the elements, and out of the way. I planned to come back to it someday, maybe when the kids were a little older. Maybe they’d even want to help!