You know I am Jewish, right?
Big shock? Nah, I was born that way. Thank you Lady Gaga for the song, by the way…
As part of a post-World War II Jewish world, one thing was made clear by the generation that lived through it: Thou shalt not buy a German car. By buying one, you forgave those who exterminated millions of your people. The German automobile industry was accused of using labor from the concentration camps to work in their factories during World War II. That was the thinking at the time.
It was not that the German automotive industry was suffering in the aftermath of the demise of the Nazi regime and the eventual division of the country. Volkswagen made an effort by importing the early Beetle to North America in hopes of changing a few people's minds about the automobile itself. Since 1949, the so-called "People's Car" made inroads with those looking for (relative) efficiency and difference on the roads of post-war America.
Mercedes-Benz returned to America in the 1950s through the efforts of The Studebaker Corporation. This was challenging to the Jewish community as every image of the hated leader of the German people rode in the back of a big Merc. Yet, the company began to make more humble vehicles, eventually coming up with innovations that would take hold on this market in the years to come.
By the 1980s, another generation of Jewish people began to permeate society without a recollection of the War and the consequences of the Holocaust. It came to a point where Jewish people were actually buying German cars – primarily luxury ones. It just seemed OK to drive a Mercedes or a BMW without reprisal from your elders. Audis, Volkswagens and Porsches also turned up in driveways of even Conservative Jews. Though I never had the chance to even gauge the reaction of my own dear mother when I had the brief chance to drive a Pennsylvania-built VW Golf – before the spare key bent and had to be exchanged at the rental car counter.
Today, I am rediscovering my faith in hopes of seeking healing from its past. Through the decades, I rejected my birth faith because of the combined anti-Semitism and homophobia I experienced since my teenage years. It at my age where I am exploring my options in coming to terms with my birth faith and the consequences it brought upon me.
It brings up an interesting point: Could I accept and embrace the German car? I already have – way before my Bar Mitzvah. Today, they are now part of the work on this site and my other outlets.
To start the healing process, I figured I name my Five Favorite German vehicles of all time. Which Teutonic masterpieces would show up on this list? Will it all be luxury cars? Or, would I name a diverse group from every segment?
Who knows? A simple Mazel Tov would do at this point…
MERCEDES-BENZ W116 S-CLASS: In the 1970s, Mercedes-Benz found itself in a very interesting position. By the virtue of a car with one foot in its tradition and the other in modernity, the three-pointed star became relevant in the eyes of luxury car buyers worldwide. In North America, Cadillacs and Lincolns could no longer cut it for prestige and class. Those buyers went straight for the Mercedes showroom and bought their own V8 powered luxury sedan – the 450SEL. This was a paradigm shift that would resonate even today, as Mercedes is one of the best selling luxury car brands in the USA. You could thank the W116 for changing this game – it is that good of a car.
BMW E90 3-SERIES: Originally intended as the proper replacement for the 2002, the E21 grew in size and stature by 1975. No one knew that the 3-Series would become the standard bearer for upward mobility and personal success. Four generations later, the trajectory for BMW's best selling car would come onto a zenith. With critics on one side, enthusiasts on the other – the E90 became the most successful BMW launch ever. It remains the prime example on how to build a compact premium sedan for successful consumers. The E90 is pure with a combination of excellent driving dynamics, easy to use controls and that wow factor that only could be experienced when driving one. It is no wonder why they sold like hotcakes the world over.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MKII: After making the most popular liquid-cooled, front-engined, front-driven Volkswagen ever, what would Wolfsburg do for an encore? By bringing the Golf into the 1980s, they made sure to create one with more continuity across the globe. Pennsylvania-built Golfs and GTIs only had a few variations from its European cousin – the grille, headlights and side marker lights, for example. Getting in and driving one just feels practically the same. It signified an advance on the original Golf, but adding a bit more fun to the package. For those who think that VW was not as reliable as the Japanese cars of the era, the Golf would make up for it in driving dynamics. It simply does not drive like anything else, because they were absolutely fun! Driving fun in the 1980s went a very long way.
AUDI 5000 (C3 100): Forget about "sudden unintended acceleration" for a moment. Consider the Audi 5000 on the merits of what it brought to the marketplace. It brought something different hat would change the way cars were designed and made – aerodynamics. Flush fitting glass, door enclosures and a series of aerodynamics design aids made the 5000 more desirable at the right time. I briefly owned one – a semi-basket case that seemed unrestored in the mid-1990s – and it proved to be a relaxed, but powerful driver. The five-cylinder was quick and the transmission matched the revs just right. By looking at it, you could tell how this will forever change the way we see the automobile. It is sad that it would end up with the legacy of Don Hewitt's temper of investigative journalism.
PORSCHE 911: Having never driven one, I could only honor its impact on motoring. Over five decades, only the basic shape and format has never changed. Even those two tenets of the 911's legacy had been enhanced, massaged and advanced over time. Some of the evolution was positive – incredible power, adding all-wheel drive and degrees of performance to the basic design. Some had been questionable – the cabin, where I no longer feel comfortable in as a larger-than-average person as I once had been. Not everyone is a fan of the rear-engine boxer motor or the car it is attached to. Yet, one would agree that it would garner many looks, even when there are more of them in one place. Seeing one anywhere is an absolute sheer delight. Maybe I should drive one someday…and, that statement alone is what makes the 911 exactly what it is.