So here’s part one in a trio of strange, yet desirable in their own right, Volkswagens. There are plenty of popular Volkswagens that demand premiums, sometimes inexplicably. These special models have a draw and demand money that makes people laugh. Sure, in the car world, it’s become accepted that vehicles like the 21 window Samba are now $100,000 plus fully restored; however, tell that to my father-in-law, who grew up driving them, and you’ll get nothing but boisterous laughs. Other Volkswagens exhibit charm or were class leaders; the GTi, the Vanagon Westy, the Corrado – stylish in their own ways, with charm to match. Then there’s the Passat. Despite the serious popularity of the B5 and B5.5 chassis, I still feel like I need to explain to people that they’re really quite nice cars. Do you know why?
Mostly it’s because of the reputation of the B3 and B4 Passats. The B4 Passat will certainly not go down in history as the best made, fastest or even prettiest mid-sized Volkswagen. Poor build quality coupled with an unerring tendency of early 90s Volkswagens to rust heavily meant they’re an odd choice for the Volkswagen fan. And when I consider the B4 Passat, all I can think is that it’s arguably the most vanilla Volkswagen ever produced. I praised Volkswagen when they launched the B3; smooth, aerodynamic with a distinctive wedge shape, it looked very different than any other sedan on sale at the time. Most of that distinction came down to the grill-less front end, but regardless it was cool. It was so cool, in fact, that no one got it. Of course, it didn’t help that it was pretty expensive and not particularly reliable in the best trend of early 90s VWs. So it probably came as no surprise when the revised B4 Passat in 1995 went more mainstream. New wheels, mostly new body panels and some minor interior changes signaled its introduction, but that’s not what people sought. No, the big news was under the hood; Volkswagen moved the 1Z 1.9 TDi into the Passat – and behind the headlines of the Vans, Corrados and GTIs, it’s probably the most sought 1990s Volkswagen – especially in 5-speed Variant form: