After buying new cars in 1977 and 1981, I decided to try to save a little money by returning to something used. Both of the new purchases had been Volkswagens, and my overall experience had been good. Although I was working for a Volvo dealer, the Swedish car maker’s then-current lineup of 240s, 260s, and 700s were too large and staid for a single dude like me. I liked the fuel economy, hatchback utility, and front wheel drive of these German subcompacts.
In the summer of 1984, the dealership where I was employed, Smythe Volvo, took in a 1977 Audi Fox station wagon on trade. The outside of the car looked scruffy, but the interior was OK, there was no significant rust, and the mileage of 79,500 was about what you’d expect on a 7-year-old car. Besides, it was a stick (an automatic would have been a deal-breaker). The car was what you might call a “beater”, and my rationale was that since I was mechanically inclined, a beater would give me a cheap entry price and allow me to perform my own maintenance and repairs as necessary.
I spoke to Bill Smythe, one of the dealer principals, about buying the wagon. He seemed reluctant at first, but then relented, and sold me the car for $850 (plus tax & registration; they were kind enough to waive any doc fees).
The Audi Fox was the mechanical equivalent to the VW Dasher of the day (and not to be confused with the later VW Fox). As such, its engine sat longitudinally, not transversely like my two previous VWs. The Audi interior was likely a slight upgrade over its Dasher cousin. Other than that and an Audi grille, the Fox and Dasher were almost indistinguishable from each other.
The first issue I had with the car was oil consumption – by now, I knew the problem was valve stem seals, and I had one of the techs in our Service Department take care of it for me as a side job. I attended to the wipers/brakes/tires, to assure that they were good. The problem with the Fox, though, was typical of ‘beaters’ as they teeter toward the end of their useful lives: it was nickel-and-diming me to death.
Once I got the oil consumption conquered, the exhaust system fell off. The car ate front brake pads every 7-8,000 miles, and I didn’t know why. The radiator sprung a leak and needed replacement. That’s when I saw that every coolant hose was dry rotted. I blew out an almost-new Michelin tire on a sewer grate (not the car’s fault, but still….).
While each one of these repairs was simple enough, and none of them broke the bank, it became obvious that the previous owner had neglected the beast. Confidence that the car would get me to my destination and back began to slip away.
One of the final indignities was the fuel pump failure, which happened at a buddy’s house in Brooklyn. I borrowed a car to drive home and get a replacement part, because I had the bright idea to replace the pump in his driveway (in November) in order to save a tow charge. Sure, I got it done, but adding up the time and effort, towing it may have been the better decision.
By early 1986, after two and a half years, it was time to quit. According to the log book I kept, I got rid of it at 110,000 miles, which looking back, surprises me. My memory is of a car which almost constantly needed attention, yet, it carried me over 30,000 miles. Nevertheless, it was time to switch brands. After three Volkswagen products in a row, for the next car, I would be turning Japanese for the first time.
All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.