So, I have a confession to make. Despite spending the past three years writing nearly every day about Volkswagens and Audis, I’ve never quite seen the appeal some do to own them. I’m into BMW, Porsche, Subaru, Mazda (the rotary stuff), and Nissan, but have not been able to find an attraction towards Audi/VW. That is until I had the immense pleasure of attending Euro District 2020 in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by an impressive population of VW, Audi, and a few BMW enthusiasts all inhabiting the parking lot, which overflowed with some incredible builds. This was only the beginning, as the show would happen the following morning, but I could already see the charm of this event.
While some of our crew turned in early, I decided to stay out and mingle, walk the lot, enjoy some beverages, make new friends, and check out some of the vehicles. As this was prior to my transition into VW enthusiasm, my attention was commanded by a bagged Alpine White E30 Vert, the yin to my yang. I was giddy to see an E30 touring and an E34 touring both meander their way into the lot. I also spotted a few E46 coupes and sedans, all sitting virtually on the pavement. However, these would not be a major focus of this show, as just a few hours later, I felt fully indoctrinated into VW enthusiasm.
During my evening, I spent time with one attendee, Pat, who drove a gorgeous MK3 Golf 5-door. While this would have otherwise been less than intriguing to me, what I found astounding was that he had crashed it on the way to the show from his home in New Jersey. Miraculously, other than some curb rash on the lips of his passenger side wheels and a broken throttle body, the car was otherwise unscathed despite his 70mph trip through a ditch and field beside the highway. However, in the accident, his throttle body had broken and left his pedal useless. He was able to limp it to the show the remaining few miles by hand-actuating the throttle cable and carefully parking it in the lot, where it would remain.
This was the introduction to my Volkswagen interest. I know in the BMW community when things like this happen, it can go one of two ways – either you are with some ‘old head’ vintage enthusiasts who will come together and help find a fix for you, or you have to do some old fashioned FB marketplace/craigslist searching and hope you can get the parts in time and won’t be screwed over by someone asking three times the price for what you need. In this case, I found that nearly everyone in the community had already heard about the accident and were all doing their part to help track down a replacement throttle body. More on that later.
Pat, while a bit miffed about his wheels, was just happy to be at the show. We knocked back a few beers, enjoyed the evening, and he educated me as we walked the lot and looked at VWs I would never have glanced at more than once. I could see his excitement as he pointed out rare bits and colors in interesting combinations. The eye for details that he possessed became immediately clear, and something I noticed many of the other Volkswagen enthusiasts I met also shared. While I have some experience geeking out with BMW builds, the rabbit hole just doesn’t go as deep in the BMW community. It’s a lot of the same thing repeated indefinitely. With VWs, I found the list of tech, specialty parts brands, creativity, and more to just wind into oblivion. As this new interest sparked, I eventually made my way to bed, ready to see everything in a fresh light the following morning.
Saturday morning, the day of the event, I was excited to see the show come to life. Our booth was set up, our cars were wiped down from the grime we accumulated on the trip, and the ‘impromptu’ event grounds began to fill. I say impromptu as, a mere two nights before the show, the original venue had decided they would no longer host the Euro District. In a last-ditch scramble, it was quickly moved to the hotel parking lot and surrounding satellite lots. I know that had this been something like the E30 Picnic or Oktoberfest, half of the attendees would bail, and most of the conversations during the show would have been strictly grumbling about the rapid change. I’m not bashing my BMW community, I just have experienced similar things happen and witnessed the results. We do not like change, being told ‘no,’ or adjusting our meticulously laid out plans. However, with the Euro District and VW community, I never heard a single complaint.
We all just said ‘ok, cool, it’s at the hotel now,’ and set up there. It wasn’t mentioned again, as far as I heard. I was astounded. It was such a laid-back and accepting group of people all just happy to share their cars and a weekend together. I found it to be something similar to the world of computers.
BMW owners tend to remind me of Apple product users. We don’t need or want to change much, we have a superiority complex about the initial build quality and usability of our machines, and are exclusively brand-loyal to anything Apple (BMW).
Inversely, VW/Audi enthusiasts are not unlike PC users. The hardware rabbit hole, customization aspect, and creativity available with the platforms are more like blank slates they make their own. They excitedly dig into their build, outfit it with their personality, and seek rare parts with brand loyalty that happens at the component level, all made possible thanks to the platform they chose.
VW owners take the empty box that is a factory VW and fill it to the brim with their unique touches, whereas BMW owners tend to want to remove as little of the BMW-ness as they possibly can. There isn’t anything inherently good, bad, right, or wrong, about either group, but until this trip, I would have called myself a strictly Apple/BMW guy and never saw a reason to find interest in the PC/VW side of life. As I walked the show, though, I felt that I could tumble into VW enthusiasm headlong.
Among some of the highlights were Brock (@dasvwswag) and his daughter’s BBS-kitted MK2, an example of perfection created between the two of them. I was blown away by EV Garage’s (@ev_garage) lineup of exceptional VWs, all perfectly pristine and detailed down to hardware most ‘regular’ enthusiasts wouldn’t even consider polishing, finishing, and using to accentuate the design language of their build. It was no surprise that one of their MK3s driven by @jesusmondragon7609 won ‘best in show’ with it’s immaculate shaved bay, unbelievably complex interior, and impeccable fitment.
There were static and bagged MK2, MK3, and MK4 Jettas, Golfs, and GTIs, all equally unappealing to me until I saw them together here. With my new education, courtesy of Pat, and another of his friends, Josh, I began to appreciate the time and energy devoted to these builds.
I also found much of what appealed to me were the people behind these builds. They were inviting, relaxed, and eager to explain anything and everything to me. Most importantly, nearly everyone was incredibly humble. There was very little ‘competitive’ spirit beyond friendly rivalries to help each other improve. Of course, with any community, there are the ‘elitists’ who, whether justified or not, are unaware the sun does not shine from their backsides. However, those were few and far between as the majority of attendees, from the most prolific in the community to the most novice, were easy to spend a weekend quickly forming friendships with over our shared enthusiasm for hand-built creativity.
Which is another aspect I would call refreshing – most of these owners all do the work themselves. From sourcing their rare parts to assembling the cars, fabricating the finishing touches, to stitching upholstery, and dialing in everything to perfection, it all happens with their hands, or with the help of their friends. Many of these owners are mechanics or engineers by trade. This is a major difference I noticed when compared to the BMW crowd.
I am not by any means the only one who isn’t afraid to excessively modify my vintage BMW, nor am I the only one who insists that I do it all myself, but I find many BMW owners, especially the older crowd, are more prone to having the work done for them. That’s fine and all, but to have a true bond with your car, you have to put more effort into it than just dropping it off at a shop and picking it up when it’s finished. You have to take the good with the bad, the difficulties, the busted fingers, and the ‘inconvenient education’ that comes along with building cars yourself. This is something the Volkswagen community seems to understand well.
As the day continued, I found myself more excited to spend time looking over some of the VW builds than any of the BMW builds present at the show. I, for the first time in my life, walked past an E30 touring to look at a rusty square back type 3 laying frame next to a beautiful Volvo 144 with a nasty ITB setup and a lovely Westy outfitted for #vanlife.
Some of the more ‘as it was found in a field’ builds also attracted my interest. Something about unrestored, unpainted, and perfectly aged patina just does it for me. I giggled like a schoolgirl at the sight of a lovely example of this ratty, patina’d style in the form of a diesel VW Caddy which sported an exhaust stack that poked defiantly out of the mini truck’s bed. The juxtaposition of its protective water cap and the overall crustiness of the caddy simply made me smile and laugh. I loved the thought of an owner who cares so much about something the rest of the world perceives as a pile of scrap.
Overall, it was perhaps the best and onliest way that I could ever have begun to appreciate these cars. It was thanks to the owners, the attitude of the attendees, the atmosphere of the show, and of course, the quality of all the builds present. I have not experienced something quite like Euro District before, but I will certainly be back every year. I can’t stop thinking about that community, either.
As I had mentioned, Pat, the owner of the blue MK3 that was run off the road, required a new throttle body so he could drive his MK3 back up to New Jersey. By the end of the show, a local had helped him track down someone with a stock of them a mere fifteen minute drive from the hotel. Not even Volkswagen, or us, for that matter, could provide the part quickly enough. However, through an excellent network of loving VW enthusiasts, he had his car back in working order before the sun was down that evening, presumably ready to drive the several hour trip north.
It’s stories like Pat’s that bring me immeasurable joy to experience. It’s communities like the one I found there at Euro District that make me remember why I love cars more than anything in this world. It’s the creativity behind these builds that pushes me to improve and find ways to become the best builder that I can be. Being there, discovering a new interest, I can’t help but feel an electric excitement at the thought of pursuing a new passion.
Finally, as we packed up our booth and moved our cars down to the waterfront for some ECS team photos, I realized I understood this world. It was a similar experience to the first time I saw Phish live. I had seen videos, I had been around plenty of people who tried to explain to me why they were so deeply invested in something like that, but I could never truly grasp it until I witnessed it firsthand. The entire experience created such a resonant impact on me that I am already looking for my first Volkswagen to purchase. Even I, a die-hard BMW enthusiast, could not escape Euro District without a sense of motivation to be a part of that wonderful community.
We at ECS Tuning would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Dinah and Brad, Eurotrash Apparel, and everyone who made Euro District such an amazing show. We were happy to have been a part of it and look forward to next year with excitement. After all the adversity 2020 has thrown at us, this weekend was something we all desperately needed. So, thank you to everyone who came out and made the Euro District such an amazing event. Thank you to Gary, Dave, Matt, Cheyanne, and Destiny, our ECS Tuning crew, for putting up with my often grumpy demeanor. Thank you, Pat, Josh, Donny, Ben, other Ben, and everyone who spent time helping me fall in love with yet another hidden gem of the automotive world.