After many years of being an avid reader of Jalopnik and lurker in the comments section, I have decided to start writing about my automotive adventures.
I figured the best way to start is by introducing myself and discussing how my automotive journey has a bit of a twist in it. My name is Katie, i’m 37 yrs old, and I work in the I.T. industry and have been since 1996. When I was younger I was never really into cars nor knew anything about them other than them being transportation to get form point A to B. I grew up with a mom that was a P.A. and a dad who was a retired steel worker. Neither one of them were car enthusiast nor knew how to work on cars. Hell my dad didn’t even know how to check the oil. I attribute his lack of car knowledge to being because he didn’t get his drives licence till he was 50 years old.
I bought my first car in 1996 when I was 16 which was a 1984 Honda Accord sedan. It wasn’t the greatest car in the world but it gave me freedom and because of that I love it!
In 1997 I had my first car crush when I saw ad’s for the new VW Beetle that was going to be released later that year. It was the first time in my life that I wanted a certain model car so badly. I even went to the dealership to get a brochure and even bought a VW Beetle pin in Galactic Green. Being 17 yrs old at the time I thought I could never afford one but dreamed that one day I would own one.
Fast forward to 2002 and after trading in my 1996 Nissan Sentra that I bought in 1999 I finally found the VW I dreamed of owning. I spent a week of driving all over North Carolina with my friends with me going from dealership to dealership to find it. On the last day we found it! It was a 1999 VW Beetle in Midnight Blue with a 5 speed manual transmission, heated tan leather seats, and no sunroof! After owning it a few months it had a few issues like the catalytic converter need to be replaced which thankfully under VW extended factory warranty, the window regulator broke causing my window to fall into the door and shatter but thankfully also under the VW extended factory warranty. Those were both known issues with the Beetle at the time that I had no clue about. I only cared about having the car of my dreams and I loved it!
Now here is where the twist comes into the story. I bought the VW Beetle because yes I thought it was very cute and pretty but I also bought it as a form of expression to express who I really am. You see I was assigned at birth as male but since my earliest memory at 3 years old i’ve always felt like I was a girl. I tried to express that many times growing up but it was not accepted at the time. I had a father who was a rough and tough guy who loved sports and hated that I was so skinny, frail, and hated sports. My mom was not really home much due to working late hours in the hospital or going to medical conferences. So she would just console me when I was upset about not being myself and it was just left at that grown up. So yes I am transgender and I transitioned over 6 years ago and I am extremely happy with my life now!
The Beetle to me was a way to express myself more because growing up I tried to just fit in as a skater kid but that didn’t work out. It also brought my mom and I closer in an odd way because I found out that she had a Beetle in the late 60's when she was younger. So about a week after I got my Beetle she bought a yellow 2001 1.8 Turbo Beetle. She also at the time bought a 1999 Audi A4 Avant 2.8 Quatro with the S package. She bought the Audi because at the time my dad had to use a wheel chair due to losing motor skill caused by advanced altimeters and dementia.
The Beetle brought my mom and I closer together for the first time in our lives but after my dad passed 3 years later we both got rid of our Beetle’s due to things going on in our lives. I had gotten married after feeling it would help me not need to be my true self and could just push those feelings away, and my mom getting married again a year after my dad passed away.
In the mid 2000's my now ex-wife had a certain magic ability to her of killing cars no matter how well it was maintained by the dealer. She would somehow kill it. This includes in a short span of a year her 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer, my 2001 VW Jetta, her new at the time 2005 Toyota Matrix XR. Then in 2006 she got a 2007 Mazda 5 because we found out we were having twin boys. Somehow she got another lemon and the car would just die when accelerating hard. I found that out the hard way when trying to drive her to the hospital when she was in labor. After having the engine replaced by Mazda and even them having the engineers coming over form Japan to figure out what was causing it they decided to take it back.
After all that I had enough of being stuck at dealerships all the time. So since I had been just laid off from my company at the time due to the second .com burst and was now a stay at home parent to new born’s. I decided to use my newly acquired free time to learn everything I could about cars so I could just work on them myself. I also searched to find the most reliable and almost indestructible car for my then wife so she hopefully wouldn’t kill it. Enter in the 1986 Volvo 240 sedan!
Since we were kinda broke after she brought our wonderful twin boys into the world and me being jobless, we could only afford a 1986 Volvo 240 sedan that we found on Craigslist for $900. I told her that if she could keep that car alive and not somehow kill it for a year I would get her a newer Volvo as long as I was back working again of course. During that time I learned everything I could about those B230F motors and man it’s really hard to kill them. She did end up keeping it alive and I kept my promise, so I bought her a 2001 Volvo V70. Which later I learned the hard way that the 2001 V70's were the worst model year to own due to transmission, throttle body, and suspension issues. Thankfully I learned quickly about known issues and did all the required maintenance which kept it alive till I was rear ended it in it in 2011.
Then in 2012 after being miserable with myself, hating life, and my brother dying I decided to finally be my true self by transitioning. During all this my wife at the time and I decided it was best to separate. We are still good friends and co-parent well together. I now have our boys full time which keeps me very busy while working full time but I love my boys and they have only really known me as Katie since I transitioned when they were very young.
This is where my automotive journey takes a detour because I’m having to re-learn life as a woman and life in general because after I came out I was “laid off” from my job. I guess it was nicer than being fired for coming out as transgender. I had to live in a crappy apartment that had mold in the walls that my parents thankfully got for me so I could start my life over again. I made a really bad mistake by buying a 1994 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon that I knew nothing about it’s history and because of that it constantly broke down. So I was out of work, broke, and had a broken car that even if I could work on it, my apartment complex would fine me if I did and I couldn’t afford parts to fix it at the time if I could work on it. Finally after a year of working crap jobs in a grocery store cleaning toilets and dishes I finally had a company that would hire me back in the IT field! Whoever said transitioning and starting your life over again is easy needs a swift kick to the head!
Well after a year of having my IT job the 850 Turbo finally blew it’s engine. Unfortunately it died next to a Hyundai dealer who had a 2011 Kia Soul I could afford. Financing a car after transitioning is almost as bad as doing it when your 19 yrs old with no credit and require a co-signer plus some money down. I learned to never to buy a car when you are in a bind because that Kia Soul was a soul sucking experience!
During all this I hadn’t had a project car to work on since 2011 and it kinda upset me because most people who because friends with me after I transitioned had only heard about me working on cars but had never seen me do it. I was too afraid to show them old pictures of me working on them as proof because most of my friends don’t know i’m transgender since I live my day to day life with the vast majority of people not knowing i’m trans because it’s personally nobody’s business, but if asked if I am trans I am honest with them. I live like this so my kids have as normal of a life as possible!
Now we get to the part where things get interesting! About a month ago I was told by my mom that my step-dad needed to have his left leg amputated due to complications with collapsed blood vessels in his leg. Well because of him now missing his left leg I have now inherited his 2002 VW Beetle because it’s a 5 speed manual.
This Beetle has a story that is typical of an elder car owner. It was only driven once every 2 months and started up the most when I would visit. The last major maintenance was done by me a year before I transitioned in 2010 when it had around 101,000. I did the timing belt, water pump, brakes, and replaced the front end due to damage from when they towed it behind their RV when they traveled across the country. So when I found that in 8 years it had been driven less than 9,000 miles I was shocked. Especially after finding that the interior door panels were broken and the fake leather was peeling off, the center dash panel was broken, the glove box and lower dash panel was so broken it was held in by hopes and dreams, the headliner was sagging, it smelled funky inside, and the engine sounded like crap but shockingly had no codes and the check engine light was not on. The brake pedal felt like it wasn’t there till it was midway down which scared the crap out of me a few times while driving it. Also the exterior of the car had not been washed in almost 6 years so there was a nice green fuzz growing on the back bumper of the car.
So I bravely decided to limp it back to our apartment with my kids, and girlfriend riding in my Hyundai Santa Fe with my mom who graciously volunteered to drive it back home for me since my girlfriend can’t see well at all at night. After that the Beetle sat for a week before I could do any work on it but during that time I made a laundry list of parts it will need to get back up to daily driver status. Those parts included 3 new motor mounts, new air and cabin filters, new control arms and ball joints, a new brake booster vacuum hose and fittings, and stuff for an oil change. I also was able to get out of work early one day to make a pull part yard run which was interesting since it was the first time I had been in one of those yards since I transitioned. The guys there were very nice and sweet by asking if I needed help but after a while they realized I knew what I was doing. Also before the weekend I was able to investigate the source of the funky smell in the cabin. To which I was greeted with the original factory cabin filter still being used and a bunch of decaying leaves.
So the next weekend somehow were able to get all the parts crammed into the back hatch so my boys, girlfriend, and our dog could fit into the Beetle to take it back to my moms house so I could work on it in the garage.
Once I started to dive into the repairs I was thankful about my hunch to replace all 3 motor mounts. I found that once the center mount was unbolted I could move the engine and transmission easily by only using 2 fingers with very little to no force at all. Again also on a hunch due to knowing the Beetle’s faults I found that the brake booster hose pipe and connectors had all cracked or broke all together. After all that was replaced the car drove and stopped like it was almost new again.
This past weekends project involved me replacing the window regulators since the cables were binding and ready to snap at any moment. Whoever the engineer was at VW that though using sealed interior panels to house a window regulator was a great idea needs to get the snot beat out of them! Those damn things are a massive pain in the ass to replace. On the plus side I now have working power windows and after being greeted with rotted speakers those were replaced as well as the stock radio. It now has a fancy and modern radio with bluetooth and HD radio.
I never thought after I transitioned that I would have a project car to work on again nor when I started thought I would have the happiness I have with myself and my life. I gave up and lost almost everything when I started to transition so I could be my true self but thankfully I never gave up and I rebuilt life into a happy one with a wonderful and loving family who accept me for me. Plus I have two boys who will now have no excuse not to know how to work on their own cars when they are older because this time this project car is one we work on together as a family!
I hope you all enjoyed my story. As long as everyone enjoyed it I will continue to write more about my automotive adventures and about the Beetle family restoration project.