I was watching an older YouTube video of mine today and laughing my ass off because I let my friend (who was 19 at the time) drive my stage 2+ MK7 GTI on mostly bald race tires on a wet road. I was frightened to say the least and if you want to see the genuine fear in my face I will link the video below. After watching that video for the umpteenth time and laughing my ass off I remembered back when I was 18 and had my very first entry level job in the automotive business it was nothing for a customer to hand over the keys to their exotic rare expensive car to someone to be serviced without even thinking about who would be behind the wheel of their pride and joy. This was in 1998-1999 and I worked as a tire and battery technician at a Sears Auto Center in Chesterfield MO. I was 18 years old at the time and they let me do basic work such as changing and repairing tires and replacing batteries so I never really did anything very intensive to any of these customers cars but the fact that I got to experience them for even a short period of time was awesome. 1992 Ferrari 348TS was the year make and model of the one car that stands out the most. You see when I was 17 years old my mom took me to an auto auction for my birthday just to look at the cars. I had never experienced what a Ferrari sounded like before that and you could tell I was in love. The sharp sound of a small displacement V8 engine revving to the moon was addicting to say the least. My mom having a keen eye for things that she could tell I really appreciated bought me a red Ferrari MOMO branded jacket that day and I wore it with so much pride every day I could after that. She also bought me a Porsche T-shirt which I actually still have and wear to this day. So when I was 18 years old and had the chance to actually drive a Ferrari it really didn’t matter much to me what model or year it was because I was in love anyway. The Ferrari 348TS was not exactly known to be the “best of the best” of Ferraris, and even today you can see that in values as even the Magnum PI Ferrari 308s are selling for higher prices than 348s. I literally got to drive this car just out of the shop and I definitely killed the engine 4 times just getting it to go. You see I had just learned to drive a stick shift a few months earlier on another customers car (Eagle Talon TSI) and was unaware of the eccentricity involved with the Ferrari’s light flywheel and lack of low end torque. After pulling the car out of the shop I had a flash of genius that I should test drive the car because at the time this was common practice when we would do tire work to ensure there were no problems afterward. I had however only replaced the very difficult to reach battery so no test drive was needed. Even in my hot headed teenage days I knew better than test driving a customer’s 6 year old Ferrari so my drive ended at the parking space at the end of the lot away from potential door dings. There was a problem though as I went to get out. I had no idea where the interior door handle was! I panicked for a moment thinking I was stuck in a Ferrari and I had no idea what to do. As this was before the days of the entire internet being at my finger tips or in my pocket I had no way to search for the answer to my question. Suddenly I felt an aha (or duh) moment and I realized I just needed to roll down the driver’s side window and open the door from the outside. After doing this sheepishly I rolled the window back up and immediately returned the keys to the customer service folks up front. Just this small experience with an exotic car (at the time) was more than enough to set me on the path to wanting to experience more of this type of car for the rest of my life. I had originally decided just to continue working with cars so that I would always have the opportunity to be around a cool one from time to time and even get to spend some short time behind the wheel from time to time. 1998 was 21 years ago and I still work in the same business and I still work around cars but one thing has been different, I haven’t gotten to experience anything new in awhile. That is one of the reasons I decided to get into doing YouTube car reviews. If you have followed “Driven Channel” on YouTube for awhile you will realize that I used to do a lot more car reviews but I stepped almost completely away from them for awhile, there are many reasons for that but first and foremost the amount of views per video were actually very small in comparison to my VW content on the channel. Now anyone that knows me knows how much I love VWs and the Euro community as a whole and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. I do still want to experience other makes and models of cars and I have even recently put a roll call out to other car owners asking if they want me to review their cars. As I expected I have quite a few people excited to have their cars featured on YouTube whether it is on a small channel or not. So it looks like in March I will be back at car reviews, but this time I am going to do it for me and not for the viewers. If that means I am brutally honest with how these cars drive then it is what it is. I try to always focus on the positives of a car when reviewing it but as I look back over my past reviews I realize that doe no one any justice when it comes to actually explaining the story of a car. One in particular comes to mind that was actually terrible to drive but the review made it seem great, the Mercedes G63 AMG review I did. Two things stood out about that vehicle that were actually positive, the acceleration and the braking. Literally every other aspect of that vehicle was terrible including the interior. So be prepared folks I will be honest when I review your cars. If you would like me to review your car hit me up here on the website contact me form or just shoot me an E-Mail email@example.com
How I got my dream job in the automotive business.
Auto story by: Ryan Sieckmann When I was growing up a car kid before I became a car guy I always paid close attention to the cars. The little details like the grain of the wood dash and the shine of the polished chrome always had my attention. One of my favorite smells to this day is turbo blue racing fuel. I would frequently smell its sweet fruity yet chemically enhanced odor from under the hood of classic carbureted cars since the carburetors held a small amount of said fuel just waiting to be burnt. What I never considered was how the owners of said beautiful machines could afford to buy and maintain any of them. Since I was always caught up in the cars themselves I just didn’t pay attention to the owner’s job titles. I’m sure you can understand why one would be more attracted to an E-body Hemi Cuda more than the title “Dentist” but I digress. When I went to high school it really wasn’t any different. I went to class and drew doodles of Ed Roth style Rat Fink characters driving hot rods in my margins instead of paying attention in class. I had subscriptions to Hot Rod, Motor Trend, and Car and Driver magazines and would read them cover to cover and absorb as much information as I possibly could. None of this ever translated to good grades however. One class I was particularly good at was computer graphic design; I spent hours upon hours utilizing Photo Shop to customize cars on my computer screen. The cars were the only reason I did well in that class. Since I did well in this one class my mom thought I should pursue a career in graphic design and gently pushed me towards considering it as a career. Since I was young and I knew I was indeed talented I enrolled in a graphic design program at St. Louis Community College. Even though I was a full time student I decided it was probably a good idea to seek employment as well so that I had some autonomy. I decided to drive to the Chesterfield mall because my girlfriend (later first wife) wanted to apply at some clothing stores and this was the closest mall. While she was applying at JC Penney, I walked over to the automotive section of Sears. I asked for an application and was quickly taken to a manager’s office in the back. I had never seen what an automotive shop looked like behind the scenes and was intrigued like a kid in a candy store. The smell of fresh tires was so pungent it almost choked me yet it was almost intoxicating (to this day I still love this smell). I sat down at the manager’s desk and was soon greeted by a short Italian man named Tony. Tony was dressed as a mechanic and was clearly a hard working dude. He talked fast and reminded me a bit of Joe Pesci, he asked me a few questions about my automotive experience but assured me there would be on the job training as well. He then explained how the pay structure worked and about the union and how it worked as well. It seemed like less of an interview and more of recruitment. He offered me a job immediately and asked when I could come in for orientation. I had applied literally nowhere else at the time but I immediately took the job. I don’t remember much about my first days working there but I do remember my foot was solidly in the door of the automotive business. I was still 18 years old and going to school full time. While sitting in every class I would doodle in the margins just as I had in high school. Eventually I slowly started missing classes and picking up more and more hours working at the shop. I decided I liked earning my own money more than going to school. After 2 full semesters I dropped out of college and went to work full time. It was mind blowing being an 18 year old kid and getting to turn wrenches on cars ranging from a De Tomaso Pantera to a Ferrari 348. Keep in mind I was just responsible for installing tires and batteries for the most part so nothing that required much in the way of real mechanical knowledge. I worked there for about a year before I decided that there was little point in continuing to live in the St. Louis area if I could transfer with my job back to my home town of Columbia, MO, so that is what I did. Back in Columbia I continued to work doing pretty much exactly the same thing. Soon I found myself talking to customers who were waiting on their cars more and more out of necessity because it didn’t seem as if the customer service advisers were doing a very good job of keeping up. Luckily my manager was paying attention because he offered to let me join the customer service advisor team shortly afterward. This was the start to the career path that I have been on ever since. A few years later I was managing the Auto Center myself and Sears merged with Kmart causing major restructuring of the company. That’s when I left my longest held job yet. This happened in 2005 and I didn’t know at the time it would open up a whole new world of careers for me. I have worked at both dealerships and independent shops alike since then in roles varying from service adviser to manager and have had both struggles and challenges along the way. The struggles have always been difficult because the worst thing about the world of cars is a strange combination of mechanical things that don’t always do what they are supposed to do and people that act as if every problem in their life is your fault. I have however always welcomed the challenges. I remember several years ago a customer who had a small collection of classic cars brought me a 1968 Chrysler Imperial Crown Convertible that needed some love. The cool thing about an old car like that is a lot of the parts for it are actually really easy to find. The bad thing is some of the parts are almost impossible to find. One particular part that was very difficult to find was a turn signal switch. Newer cars have a turn signal switch that incorporates a module that controls the turn signals and sometimes other things. Most older cars however have a small plastic piece that sits in the steering column and has a very simple contact switch built in to it. Since most older cars turn signal switches are so basic you can usually find a replacement switch for under $30. In this case though no one made such a replacement part. After exhaustive searching all over the internet I was only able to locate one person selling such a switch. It was a new old stock part meaning it was built at some point likely within 10 years or so of the cars manufacture. The person selling the switch also has a price tag befitting such a rare and hard to find part. They were asking $400. This was more than 10 times the price that should have been asked for the common switch but I understood the rarity of the part, and promptly ignored the for sale ad and started to devise a plan to replace that switch in another way. I didn’t want to install a plastic switch that was possibly nearing 30 years old anyway because plastic gets old and brittle causing it to break easily upon installation. I had to do research. As my wife will tell you I actually really enjoy research. I spent a few hours finding out the history of the tilt column installed in late 1960s Chryslers and in doing this I determined that at the time Chrysler did not make their own tilt wheel steering column, they actually bought GM large car steering columns and made some changes to make them work with a Chrysler steering wheel. There was no mention of what turn signal switch was used but I had a plan. I ordered a late 60’s GM large car (Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Chevy) turn signal switch, it cost $18 and was there the next day from a local auto parts store. The technician removed the steering wheel and took a look inside. Sure enough the turn signal switches were almost identical, some minor modifications were made to the inside of the steering column and the switch worked perfectly. I felt like an automotive archaeologist and it was a great feeling to know that a few hours of my time had not only made for a better solution for the customer but also saved them $378 in the process. Now I tell you this not because my dream job is being a service adviser or managing a service department but because there will always be things that you truly enjoy about a job that you may otherwise be ambivalent of. My dream job has never been to work on cars or work in customer service. My dream job has never even been to research classic Chrysler steering columns (although I did enjoy it) but my dream job has always been to write about cars. SO for as many or few of you that are reading this right now, thanks for reading my automotive stories and I hope to continue writing for years to come. Oh by the way just because you don’t get paid for something doesn’t mean its still not doing your dream job. I have always looked at a job like this. You get paid for the things that you DON’T want to do and the rest is cake. So for now, I will write for me and enjoy putting some of these things down on paper, or as it seems digitally. What’s your dream job?
My VW obsession.
Auto story by: Ryan Sieckmann I haven’t always been a VW guy. A lot of people who know me would probably find that hard to believe, but it’s true. Once upon a time I was into GM cars and only GM cars. I dreamt of Corvette or Camaro SS ownership. You see my very first car…er truck…er both was a 1986 Chevy El Camino Conquista V8 with a pounding anemic 305 V8 making a humongous 160 manly horsepower! I, however, learned to drive in my mom’s 1995 Nissan Altima. Thus, I wasn’t very good at hustling the El Camino’s 3,500 pounds around on its 195/75R14 tires, given the Altima’s svelte 2900 pounds and much sportier 205/60R15 tires. Needless to say, given my new driver status, and the infamous El Camino blind spot that you could fit a 59 Caddy in, I soon totaled my beloved first car…er truck er…both. Long story short, I changed lanes on Highway 63 into a Grand Prix, I was fine, the Elky was totaled. After experiencing my first GM product, I liked it, but I knew I needed something more modern. So we shopped and found a 1992 Pontiac Sunbird LE coupe in “Jamaica” yellow with an even more anemic 2.0 4 cylinder putting out an embarrassing 111 horsepower. After I graduated high school, I had decided enough was enough, I wanted to drive something with a little more power. I found a beautiful 1988 Saab 9000 turbo for sale (160 horses from its 2.0 turbocharged engine), and bought it immediately. I was in love, for the first 5 miles. Yes the Saab literally broke down on the way home from picking it up. My heart sunk and so did my checking account. Keeping in mind this was the late 90s, I was working part time while going to college, and making $7.50 an hour. I was having difficulty putting hundreds of dollars into keeping the Saab running for the year I owned it. After having a terrible experience with my first and only European car I traded it as soon as I could and got another GM. I stayed with GM cars well into my 20’s, culminating with a pair of L67 supercharged V6 powered FWD boats. I was very obsessed with these cars and modified them heavily. After a major career change, I started working for a GM/Honda dealer and was introduced more graphically to Japanese cars. I couldn’t afford a new Honda at the time, but we did have a newer, used Maxima that we just got in on trade. To be specific it was an 02 Maxima 6 speed . This was a fun car indeed, but more importantly it finally broke me of my “GM car only” fixation. I was still very afraid of European cars, so my VW story still didn’t start for years to come. I spent many years driving only Japanese vehicles, mostly Hondas and Toyota 4x4’s. Even though I never really stopped modifying vehicles, I never owned what I would consider a really sporty car. Another career change meant that I was managing an independent shop that frequently worked on European cars. I was becoming less and less afraid of European car ownership as I learned more about them. As a matter of fact, at some point in 2013 I even bought a cheap VW. It was sort of a fluke because I was currently daily driving a Toyota FJ Cruiser and it was a thirsty beast. Even though gas was cheap I decided it would be cool to have something somewhat sporty that got decent gas mileage. My boss had just bought his wife a BMW, and started to drive her old Lexus every day. He was selling his recently revamped 2000 VW Passat 1.8t. I bought it for cheap and daily drove it for about a year, cranking the odometer up to about 285,000 miles by the time I sold it. It was one of the highest mileage vehicles I had ever owned and I thought maybe European cars aren’t as unreliable as that Saab (nothing is more unreliable than that Saab). Around 2014 Toyota announced the end of production or the FJ Cruiser and their used values of soon made an immediate spike in value. I decided it would be a good time to cash in on this, as mine was now worth significantly more in trade value than I owed on it (a rare occasion for sure). I started looking a pre-owned VW GTI’s, and soon found one that struck my fancy. It was a carbon steel metallic Autobahn, with the light package, 2013 VW GTI. I named her Gretta and loved driving her. I left her stock for a while and even though I could tell the power was lacking I knew how easily these cars were to make significantly more power. I just hadn’t had the opportunity to pursue it yet. One day I was at a stop light minding my business when a white Dodge Challenger SRT8 pulled up beside me, and of course I knew he was going to blow my doors off, but at least I tried. I actually kept up with him much better than I thought I would. It was, however, time. Time for my first modification, a step that I didn’t realize would put me on a path of no return. In the next few weeks I had a custom tune, downpipe and air intake installed, and boy what a difference these mods made. Around this time my significant other who was the first one to notice the GTI had experienced enough of my car and wanted one of her own. Off to the dealer we went, in her current Hyundai Veloster turbo, to trade it in on the far superior 2015 VW GTI. I never wanted more in my life than to modify my significant others car than when she had the 2015 GTI. The newer platform (mine was a MK6 and hers was a MK7) responded significantly better to basic bolt on modifications and tunes. I knew that I couldn’t wait to get a MK7 GTI myself, but wait I did. Since we change cars faster than some (admittedly stinky) people change underwear it wasn’t long before she had her eye on what had always been her dream car since I first met her. The Nissan 370Z had always caught her eye and for good reason, it is a beautiful car. Also prices on newer-used low mileage 370Z’s were coming down quickly. Her dream car was now attainable. So the next step was, of course, to get a 370Z. Since I had lusted after the MK7 GTI ever since she bought hers, we decided my GTI had to be the one to get traded for the Z. I now had the “ultimate” generation of GTI and I got busy right away with the modifications. Somewhere along the way I made some friends with other local VW owners. This turned into us having our own cruise days and car meets and it only grew from there. Long story short I would have never found my way to the VW life if it weren’t for a very specific set of life events. Remember at one point a few years ago I was against the idea of even owning a European car? Now that I have entered the VW family I am not sure if I will ever leave. It is not just about the cars for me anymore. Sure my car is the fastest and best handling car I have ever owned but it’s also a funky German car with a crazy following of rabid enthusiasts. We just purchased what is now our 7th VW and it is quite the opposite of my GTI in every way. As a matter of fact, I need to be more specific now because somewhere along the way I purchased a second GTI a MK4 to use in the winter and on days when I want to drive a manual. Last year I went to a giant international European car event called the European Experience (EuEx for short) and met some amazing people along the way. This year we plan on going to even more German car events because we have made the funkiest purchase yet; a EuroVan. So keep an eye out for a silver EuroVan at a car event near you! In the mean time I am interested to hear how you found your niche and are into the types of cars you are interested in.
Why I’m in love with a 20 year old Toyota Auto story by: Ryan Sieckmann
If you ask any real car enthusiast what their favorite car is, they most likely will say “just one?” and give you an inquisitive look. Some enthusiasts are very brand specific-and maybe they do have a favorite car-but I think the vast majority of us could talk for hours about cars that they love and the pros and cons of each.
Today I am going to talk about my favorite car (that I own) currently. Like a lot of car enthusiasts I flip through cars more than I should “financially speaking”. I haven’t figured an exact number but it has to be 30+ conservatively. So I can’t say that I have spent enough time with any car of mine to really call it a “favorite.” That’s why I am only going to talk about my favorite ‘current’ car.
Between my wife, son, and I we currently have 3 VW’s and 3 Toyota’s. If you ask a car person if they know me they might say: “Nah I don’t know Ryan, wait the GTI guy? Yeah I know him”. So you might be surprised to hear my favorite car isn’t a car at all, but a 20 year-old SUV.
My love affair for Toyota 4x4 vehicles goes back to around 2007 when I bought my first 4x4 vehicle, a 1995 Mitsubishi Montero. I realize that sounds confusing but let me explain.
My first ever experience with off-roading came sitting shotgun in my friend’s rusty beat-to-hell FJ60 Landcruiser. It was a Saturday in January, I was staying in my friends guest room because the woman whom I lived with kicked me out of the house (long story that I won’t get into here) we decided to drive to Boonville (about 20 miles away) and stop by to see my dad and maybe do a little snow wheeling while we were at it. After visiting with my dad for an hour or so we decided to go down a partially snow covered gravel road and played around in the snow for a while before heading back to Columbia.
The reason why this day really stands out to me is 3 days later I got a call that my dad had passed away. When things like that happen memories are printed in your mind and I will not (hopefully) ever forget that day and the last conversations I had with my dad. I also will not forget the other events that transpired the same day and how much fun we had. It wasn’t a sad day because it was the last time I saw my dad, it was a great day that I will never forget.
Soon after this happened I started shopping for a cheap 4x4 of my own so that I could enjoy off-roading myself. A few months later I found a deal from the same friend that I went off-roading with, his ex-step brother was selling an old 1995 Montero for $700. “What a great deal,” I said. All it needed was a starter! Plus it had almost brand new BFG All-Terrain tires, WINNING!
After the purchase I changed the starter myself at the shop where I worked, and even turned the torsion bars up for a free 2” lift. For fun I even fabbed up a loud exhaust that removed the cat converter and utilized a 12” glass pack and a dump (it was loud and honestly sounded horrible). I even used some exhaust pipe to fabricate a makeshift snorkel which was functional, but let’s face it was totally just for show. It had a horrible oil leak like most mid 90s Mitsubishis do but I didn’t care it was a toy!
I still remember the first day I went off-roading. It was my day off. I had all the paperwork in my hand to register the car and had just called and added it to my policy that morning (liability only). With fresh plates bolted on I decided to drive into a farmer’s unused field behind where I lived at the time.
After playing around for 30 minutes or so and taking some grainy flip phone pictures to send to my friend who was working to gloat a little, I spotted a cool little ditch. “How sweet would it be to grab some poser shots while I go through here?” I thought.
As I slowly tipped the right front wheel into the ditch I immediately realized how seriously I had screwed up. The ditch was much steeper and deeper than I originally anticipated. As the front of the Mitsubishi tipped downward I quickly realized I didn’t have even the approach angle to drive back out the other side, much less the traction from its open differentials.
I was stuck, so I did what any stubborn guy does and I called for help, by called for help I mean I attempted to rock the thing back and forth to try and get unstuck for another 30-45 minutes. After a while it developed a “hot smell” as I could clearly smell oil burning off of what I assumed was the exhaust. “No big deal I thought I’ll just let it cool off for a few minutes.” This is right around the time I saw a small trickle of smoke making its way through the transmission selector and gently caressing the shift handle. “Welp that’s not good” I thought.
I then pulled the hood lever and walked fully into the ditch to pop the hood open, there seemed to be some smoke coming from under the hood as well “uh-oh.” When I pulled the hood open, my worst fears stood right in front of me. Well actually they presented much closer once some more air got to them. Yep this was my first car fire and here I was in a field with no one around and a mostly empty bottle of Mountain Dew as my only way of putting out a blaze.
Some quick thinking made me realize all was about to be lost. I yanked out my hastily installed CD player, grabbed the paperwork out of the glove box, and walked far enough away so I was safe. At one point I knew there was no way a fire truck would make it in time to salvage anything, so I thought “may as well let it burn itself out and get the salvage later”.
Around that time I got out my cell phone again and took some grainy video footage that later got posted to YouTube (link below). Soon after the dry ground started to catch fire I did end up calling the fire department and they did come out and put out the blaze. Afterward one of them said to me “yeah that thing should be salvageable” I replied “really?” and he said “no, no way” as he shook his head.
Indeed it was completely torched. Nothing but the bare metal remained, and even the aluminum cylinder heads were melted into a puddle. I wish I had taken pictures. Jeremy Clarkson always says, “you’re not a real car enthusiast until you have owned and Alfa.” I think you’re not a true car enthusiast till you have had a car on fire.
Soon after all of this occurred I bought my first Toyota, a 1994 Land Cruiser. I made an account on the Land Cruiser forum called IH8Mud and my username was “NoMoreFires!” Since the day I bought that car, I always make sure I have a fully charged fire extinguisher in any 4x4 vehicle in my possession.
You see after having both an unforgettable “great day” memory, and an unforgettable “bad day” memory, I decided from now on all of my 4x4s were going to be Toyotas. Since the first Land Cruiser, I have had a rusty first generation 4Runner (with a bikini top and 33” tires) an FJ Cruiser (lifted winch-bumpered, snorkeled-again never used), and finally Alfred my 1998 4Runner limited (spacer lift LT265/75R16 A/T's hitch flip and 261k miles).
I have kept Alfred for longer than any other vehicle that I have ever owned. Purchased shortly after I traded my FJ Cruiser for my very first GTI (I’m on GTI#4 now), Alfred has grown to be my favorite car.
Bought for only $3,000 and admittedly probably that again in maintenance and upgrades to bring him to where he is today, Alfred has earned his name and affection over the years. Alfred shares a name with Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, and much like his namesake he has never let me down. He has never so much as complained on the many off-roading trips and creek crossings I have asked of him.
If my 4runner were a dog he would be an aging golden retriever, still spry enough to play fetch and go swim in a creek but just as happy lying with you in bed, and always happy to do whatever you want.
Some people say it’s weird that I name my vehicles, but honestly I have an almost anthropomorphized relationship with all of them. As a matter of fact during a recent cold snap I have been using Alfred every single day. Yesterday evening I decided to put one of my GTI’s in the garage to let the ice melt off and drive it in the morning. It started right up after sitting for a week, and after it sat in the garage all night its battery was flat this morning.
Instead of jump starting the GTI and being another 5 minutes late, I just grabbed the keys to Alfred and went on my merry way. So as old and banged up as he is, my favorite car isn’t a car at all and will likely live with me for the rest of my life. If anyone else has a similar story I would love to hear it! Email us at Drivenchan@Gmail.com or hit us up on Facebook at Facebook.com/drivenchannel