Cincinnati car salesman Joe Mayer stripped his VW Golf Diesel just days before the car’s court-ordered buyback. The bad news: Volkswagen wasn’t feeling that, so the company postponed his appointment and then a judge cautioned against the practice. The good news: this gave me a chance to drive Joe’s VW skeleton, and holy hell was it amazing.
It was 8 A.M., and I had just awoken from a crappy hotel in Cincinnati after driving four and a half hours from Detroit the previous night to meet up with Joe, the owner of the famous stripped Volkswagen Golf TDI.
Joe had texted me his address the night before, and I was nearly there, slowly crawling my Jeep past house after house trying to make out the numbers. But there was no need, because I eventually reached a residence that very clearly had to be Joe’s.
The driveway was filled with two heavily-modified Mazda Miatas and a tall stack of aftermarket wheels and tires. Joe, an avid Jalopnik reader, lives and breathes cars. So much so, in fact, that he didn’t adorn his christmas tree with traditional decorations; he put up wrenches.
I point this out because without knowledge of Joe’s automotive obsession, it’s hard to understand why he dismantled his VW Golf TDI. And I mean more than it being a theoretical loophole for his Dieselgate buyback, a loophole VW doesn’t seem keen on accepting. Indeed, over the past few days, hundreds of readers have spewed vitriol about Joe’s actions, saying he’s “petty,” calling him a slew of nasty names, and saying what he did was a “dick move.” But Joe says those people are getting him all wrong.
Joe did not strip his car to spite Volkswagen. The point of his “weight savings” measures was to answer the question dozens of TDI owners have been asking on forum after forum: is stripping the cars OK? Joe, an avid wrencher, has the skills to put this to the test, and he figured it’d be a hell of a lot of fun, so he thought he’d give it a go.
After reading through the Consent Decree and FAQ shown above, and even contacting Volkswagen’s claims specialists four times, Joe was convinced that all VW wanted was for the car to be turned in with its powertrain in functional order.
He was also convinced that his car was going to the scrapper anyway, because Volkswagen has had over a year to find a fix for his car, to no avail. He says not only is the “likelihood of [VW] coming up with a fix that’s U.S. compliant...slim,” but that since his car was in an accident before, he doesn’t think VW would bother trying to sell it again anyway.
Joe, who isn’t averse to putting the car back together if VW gives him a good reason, says “I just wanted to see what would happen, and try to make some money off of it. I didn’t think I was doing anything so terrible.” He reiterated that he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, and that this was really more about testing the waters.
On top of finally getting an answer to the question everyone wants answered, Joe’s experiment was going to be a ton of fun, not just because of the tear-down process. (He did it in a single night with his friends and a case of beer.) It was going to be good especially once he got the lightweight torque-monster on the road. And boy was he right; the thing is a total riot.
Before we took it for a spin, Joe went to his basement, which was filled with the parts he had removed, and dug up four bolts so he could re-mount the passenger’s seat. You know, so I wouldn’t die. Here he is bolting it in:
Once that was done, we headed to an empty parking lot, and, well:
Yes, it does burnouts.
After he drove around a bit, he handed the reins to me, and then told me “Oh by the way, this is basically the first time I’m driving this on public streets.” Gulp.
About a minute after he told me that, we drove straight past a police officer who was stopped at a light, and who looked directly at our car. My heart pounded violently in my chest; this was going to be bad. Was the car going to get impounded? Was I going to get a ticket? Could they take my license away? What will my boss say? What will my mother think?
All of these thoughts raced through my head as I slowly cruised past the Ford Explorer Interceptor. But the light turned green in my rearview mirror, and the officer just went on with his day. I don’t know what it’s like to live in Cincinnati, but now I know that driving in a door-less, hood-less, hatch-less, interior-less car doesn’t faze the police.
The car did, however, faze other people on the road. Lots of drivers honked at us, taking pictures and yelling out their windows—not in disgust, but out of genuine curiosity
Driving the thing wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as it was fun, though. The car, with its closures, fenders, and interior bits missing, probably weighed about 400 pounds less than it did in stock form. Its curb weight is now probably close to 2,500 pounds; that’s not much more than a Miata, and with 236 lb-ft of torque, it’s got about as much twist per pound as a 5.0-liter Mustang. That made it a burnout king.
Keeping the front wheels from spinning out meant very, very light touches of the throttle, but once that turbo kicked in, those cold, hard tires might as well have been on ice. Even when there were other cars around, and I was trying to act as civilized as possible, the loud (remember, there are no doors) squeal of a front tire would sometimes startle me. I’d have to profusely apologize to the other nearby drivers.
The handling was also exceptional. I felt super confident chucking this little featherweight into corners. Though Joe had stripped the aftermarket springs, the stockers on this thing made it one of the most fun cars I’ve driven all year, even with its terrible tires.
Unsurprisingly, though, the coolest thing about driving this stripped Volkswagen was the view. With no doors and no rear hatch, it felt like I was in a go-kart, cold wind blowing in my face, tons of visibility all the way around, and lots and lots of noises that closures and sound insulation were meant to hide.
This car was a pure, raw driving experience. It was a simple manual transmission bolted to a loud, rattly diesel engine pulling around a big tub of metal with two grinning passengers inside having the times of their lives. How can you hate that?