Every morning around the same time, road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos comes into my office with a clipboard holding a list of cars so I can select what to drive for the night. Most of the time, the choices that survive past the senior staff are fairly pedestrian-Jeep Wranglers, Chevy Tahoes, and a few gems from our long-term fleet. Every now and then something hot-a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG or a Porsche 911-finds its way through the cracks, but even then I still dream of signing out something truly ridiculous. Petter Solberg's Subaru Impreza WRC racer. Or maybe a Pontiac Solstice drift car. Last week, it finally happened.
As nice as the base truck is, there's nothing special implied by the words "Volkswagen Touareg" written on a piece of paper. But if it then says "V-10 diesel," "Red Bull paint," "Pikes Peak hill climb," and "single-seater with roll cage," that's something different. I knew we needed to spend a weekend together, and since the senior folks in the office weren't too excited about dancing the roll cage jig, that wasn't going to be a problem. I grabbed the keys and ran to the proverbial starting line, only to see trouble in the pits.
How do I get in this thing? Between the dark steel bars of the roll cage, the darkness from the sticker-covered windows, and the many black belts wrapping the seat, this Touareg is a goth-rock dream. Just looking in makes me feel like I should paint my nails black and hate everything about the world. After a few deep breaths, I try to get in. I realize that Bo and Luke Duke had the right idea, but the General Lee was a whole lot lower to the ground than this Touareg. Five minutes and a few bruised ribs later, I'm finally in. Five more minutes and I figure out how to buckle up the four-point harness. Another two and I discover that it is indeed a five-point harness.
I drop the console shifter into reverse and realize that backing out of a parking spot is quite the adventure when you can't see any direction but straight ahead. The roll cage blocks what the rear-view mirror sees, which is just the inside of the stickers anyway. Side windows? They're covered too, and with the harness on, I can't turn that far anyway.
I reverse very slowly, and what could have been an expensive game of Bumper Cars turns out to be more stressful than it was costly. I then start the most dangerous descent in Ann Arbor - our six-floor parking structure - and by the time I get home, I'm so stressed out I need a nap. Which is a good thing, because it ensures that I'm well rested for the night's events.
Night one of the weekend is dedicated to a house crawl (think of it as a poor man's pub crawl) so Danny Sullivan's Volkswagen (his name is still written on the front fenders) won't be leaving the garage. But that doesn't stop me from coming up with a way to play with the truck. "A challenge is in order," I announce when the crawl reached my house, "who can get in the truck in under two minutes."
My buddy Logan, ex-owner of an Isuzu Trooper that starred in an automobilemag.com car shredding video a few months back, paves the way. Within seconds, it is decided that he will serve as an example of what not to do, falling to the ground elbows-first. Josh Cleveland's presidential descent (he's Grover's great-grandson) proves to be a valueless asset-he gets in, but needs help from two of us to pull himself out. My six-foot-three roommate, Mike, goes last and was tired of the bullshit. He sets his beer on the ground and jumps right in, feet first. "Impressive yoga skills, Mike, but you just one-footed tree trunked your lanky limbs around that steering wheel."
"Yeah, I'm not going to walk right for a week."
I wake up late the next morning with pains in my arms, head, and stomach. The first pain is a result of the roll cage, and the second due to the previous night's city-wide alcohol buffet. But the third is my big concern. I feel a little nauseous because I still have to explain to my girlfriend, Erin, that she will have to ride with me in a one-seat race car to Kalamazoo, one hundred miles away, to meet my parents. After a shower, a small sandwich, and a tall mug of black coffee, I head over to her house. "Heeey!!" Excitement is my only ally. I explain that dinner will be delicious, and fill her in on plans to hang out with some old friends later in the night. "There's just one catch, and it involves the ride there and a pillow." I explain that the seat bottom is gone because of the roll cage, but that the seat back and belts are still in place. Somehow, she doesn't mind and actually thinks it sounds fun. She's awesome.