Is It So Bad To Grow Up?

The Wallace Tartan. What does this have to do with cars? Read on…

Like many young adults, I had rock-n-roll dreams.  Dreams that involved touring the country while playing loud, obnoxious music that my parents wouldn’t like.  Meeting girls, sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, the whole cliche.  But the fact was that I had no musical talent.  No desire to practice either, really.  And to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t so much as picked up a guitar.  And let’s not get in to the voice.  My mom thought I did great in the 7th grade production of A Christmas Carol.  But she was my mom.

But still, I was young, dumb, about 50 pounds lighter and did unsafe things.  

Kind of like a car of my youth. 

The Volkswagen Golf was unleashed onto the motoring public in 1974.  Variations upon that original theme arrived in the following years – a version with a conventional trunk – the Jetta; a pickup version – the Caddy; and of course a performance version – the GTI.  The GTI was the rabble-rouser of the bunch, a lightweight, tight-handling and trend-setting good time.  The kind of car that would get you in trouble.  In addition to a thundering 90-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and up-rated sport suspension, it featured a sweet tartan interior similar to the pattern above.

The GTI was one of the first of many in a new category known as the hot hatch – a basic hatchback transformed with an injection of power and handling.  Followers included the Peugeot 205 GTi, Ford Escort GT and Suzuki Swift GTi.  This class of car wasn’t known for its refinement or passenger capacity, but rather for its low entry price and high fun-to-drive factor.

Now why the obsession with the tartan fabric?  Because of a certain musical genre that erupted onto the scene at about the same time as the Golf: punk rock.  Perhaps as a way to rebel against the establishment and those things which their parents approved of, tartan patterns gained acceptance among the young punks of that time period, accessorized with safety pins, sloganed t-shirts and wild hair.  Taking over where early heavy metal left off, the punks of the late 70s were rabble-rousers, scrappers and trend setters of their time.  

It was out of the Southern California punk scene that a young group of friends formed a band.  That band played loud, fast and aggressive.  That band was Bad Religion.


In 1980, Bad Religion was  group of young guys out to have a good time and maybe make some money.  They had dreams and probably an Econoline van.  Luxury and sleep were both hard to come by.  The group spent many nights on the road, playing concerts and driving on to the next gig.

Years passed by.

A second and third generation of Golf came and went.  Each got a little bigger.  The GTI followed along the same path – generally sporting the same attitude, but with a bit more girth to lug around than in the old days.  The cars matured.  Became a little more confident in themselves.  A little too comfortable, perhaps.  After a few more generations, and the passing of a new millenium, the Golf and GTI found themselves smarter, more luxurious and much, much bigger.  Years of growth, increasing safety standards, and added gadgetry added 50% to the curb weight.  Instead of a lightweight, sub-2000 pound scrapper, the GTI was now a 3000-plus pound bruiser.  Equipped with the option of 5 doors, all manner of comfort and convenience items, it was still fast, still handled well, but was no longer dangerous or as likely to get you in trouble.  It was in short, grown up.

Strangely, the same thing had happened to that young punk band from California.  I say strangely because the life of a punk band (and in fact, a punk) in those early days was notoriously short.  Sure there were changes – members came and went, but through it all, like the Golf, the band grew.  It matured, changed a little and learned some lessons.  Lead singer Greg Graffin collected post-graduate degrees like Cracker Jack toys and by the time the sixth generation GTI hit the showrooms, the band had released 15 albums.


Yes, that is a polo shirt and yes, those are harmonies you’re hearing.  

Fact is, most everyone wishes to eventually mature and aspire to something greater.  Why not expect machines designed and built by man to aspire to the same thing as their creators?  The Golf grew and matured and has become something that few early drivers could have pictured in 1980.  Likewise, Bad Religion morphed into a polished and intelligent band that a 19-year old fan would probably have scoffed at that same year.  But who are we to judge growth?  I’ve been known to criticize car manufacturers when they add unnecessary weight through additional gadgets and doo-dads.  Critical music fans likewise decry bands who “sell out,” but in the long run, both are simply maturing.  Would it be smart of mankind to not aspire to something greater?  

It’s not too far of a stretch to assume that greater thing in the automotive world is a higher level of safety and performance.  Sometimes those two things are not compatible, so something has to give.  In this case, there is no doubt the 2012 version of the Golf is safer than the 1980 version.  Also no doubt that it is a better performer on nearly every metric.  Most of that can be attributed to a power output of more than double the original cars’.  With over 200 horsepower on tap, the latest GTI can hit 60 miles per hour in less than 7 seconds on its way to a 149-mile per hour top speed.  Such numbers were firmly in the stratum of the supercar in 1980 (speaking of stratum, did I mention that Graffin has a Master’s Degree in Geology?).

It is also not a stretch to say that constant change and innovation in the music world is something to aspire to.  Will it alienate some fans when an album isn’t a carbon copy of the previous version?  Certainly, but at the same time, that change and growth is part of the artistic process.  A stagnant band is in imminent danger of collapse or at the very least, declining record sales.  Is the 2012 version of Bad Religion more polished than the 1980 version?  Absolutely.  Will they sell more albums and more concert tickets now then they did back then? Yup.

But – is the 2012 version of either better than the 1980 version?  Well, that’s just up to the person listening while they drive.


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