For this story we have to go back in time 10 years. My best friend Eric (RIP buddy) sent me a Craigslist ad. He knew that I had been searching out a VW Rabbit Swallowtail for some time. There was one for sale for a few hundred dollars. The car was just a rolling shell, which wasn’t a problem because I had more than enough parts to put it back together. The only setback I had was the lack of a truck and trailer for towing the shell home.
What I did have was my first car: a 1981 VW Rabbit 1.6L naturally aspirated diesel. For those of you that don’t speak car, these old Rabbits are slower than a Geo Metro.
I have been known for some how-you-say creative solutions to problems, a little outside-the-box thinking. After talking to the seller of the Swallowtail Rabbit, I arranged to pick up the car in 2 days time. I rushed down to my uncles shop and set to work. What you can see in the last photo is the custom hitch bumper that I built for the Rabbit. Next I modified a tow bar that a friend had given me. I took some spare front bumper brackets that I had laying around, and fabbed up a tow hitch. It definitely isn’t the prettiest tow bar, but it’s effective. Always remember to include safety chains when towing.
Yes, what you are seeing here is me flat towing a Rabbit with another Rabbit. I was bound and determined to pickup this car and that’s what I did. The part I haven’t mentioned yet is that the car was located east of the mountains from where I lived.
Mind you my Rabbit has a blistering 45 horsepower to carry itself and two passengers on this journey. Add the weight of another Rabbit in the back, and it made for slow going on the return drive home. There were 3 mountain passes that I had to climb on the drive home. Looking back at old photos for this blog post, I found photos of my speedometer at 38mph as I was climbing mountain passes while towing. Somewhere outside of Cle Elum, we got pulled over. In my rush building the tow hitch setup, I did not wire up tow lights. I can’t recall the details, I think he just yelled at me for awhile and let me go. I remember unhitching the car in a random cul-de-sac just off the freeway and heading into town for a lighting solution. I ended up buying 2 lights for a dogs collar from the local Safeway and taping them into the tail light holes of the car. They were tiny LEDs that flashed blue and red the whole time. I was honestly surprised that I completed the drive without getting pulled over again.
Here we are just after hitching the car up, about to pull out from the shop in Yakima.
This photo was taken at a scenic pullout in between Yakima and Ellensburg. This was the top of the first real mountain that I had to climb. I wanted to give the car a quick break after completing the hill.
After this adventure I didn’t think I would ever need the tow bar again, but I saved it for good measure. Fast forward to present day and I have probably used this setup a dozen or more times since then. Just last year, I actually used the tow hitch and towed the Swallowtail to Portland, Oregon. After sitting on the project for way too long, I passed the Swallowtail along to another Volkswagen enthusiast. That situation turned into a memorable weekend involving towing the car to Portland with my Tacoma, staying at an Air BnB for two nights, visiting a dinosaur exhibit and an emergency trip to the hospital because my girlfriend’s kid came down with a fever.
Why am I telling you any of this? Good question my son, allow me to elaborate. Two weeks ago my good friend and website designer, Marvin, blew the engine of his VW Caddy while on a trip in Oregon. That week I had spent 3 days in a row working on projects at home, and thus was going stir crazy. I did some quick math, contacted Marvin and offered to tow his truck home for a nominal fee. His truck was 300 miles south of my house. I left town around noon on a Thursday and started the trek down. The only photo that I took on the drive down was of this absurd Mercedes. It wasn’t until later that I noticed the car had disabled plates. Ok kids, who pimped out their grandma’s car??
I found out somewhere on the drive down that Marvin was in X location and his caddy was in Y location. I knew when I arrived to pick up Marvin that I hadn’t driven long enough. It was another hour and a half down to his truck. We bolted on my custom setup and hitched it to my Tacoma. This truck is rated to tow something like 7,000 pounds. Marvin’s caddy weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,200 pounds. My truck with the powerful 4.0 v6 and the 6 speed manual transmission towed his truck with ease. Over the 300 mile return trip, we averaged 16 mpg with the cruise control set at 65 mph and the A/C on low.
Marvin had stashed the truck behind the workshop of a mutual friend of ours Taylor. I haven’t seen Taylor in many years and now I know why. It’s around a 6 hour drive south from my house to his metal shop. Marvin and I loaded up, and made the 90 minute drive back to the house he was staying at. I knew from the moment that we set off, this would be the last trip for my custom made tow bar. We made the drive without issue, other than slight flexing from the design flaws that I recognized in my setup. We were less than a mile from his place, turned a corner and I heard a loud pop. His truck started swaying behind me, luckily I was going 15 mph. I slowed as gently as possible in the middle of the street. A bolt had come loose and the nut fell off. Thankfully I had a spare nut and bolt of the perfect size in my toolbox. I rushed to make the repair. We were parked in the middle of the street, flashers on, in a housing development. In my rush, I have no photos of the excitement. I made the repair in just minutes, and got the truck safely to its destination.
The next morning, we woke up and detached his truck from mine. We went to the local Home Depot for some hardware. When we got back I noticed that one of his rear tires was flat. It had picked up two nails parked out behind the metal shop. Thankfully Marvin had an old beater spare in the bed. In short order, the tire was swapped out. We made a few alterations to the hitch setup, ate some breakfast, got in a short workout and hit the road.
This next photo will illustrate why I need to build a new setup. I built it 10 years ago, I was describing it to my friends as one of those “my first welding” type projects. The setup definitely served its purpose and more over these years, as I never planned to use it more than the first time. The problem that I am running into is that the bars of the hitch are not spread far enough apart. This put tremendous force onto the custom L shaped brackets that I built. Another issue is that I could not for the life of me get the hitch ball off of my 8″ drop hitch and had to use a 2″ drop. Marvin’s caddy was significantly lower than my Tacoma which made for a less-than-optimal tow hitch angle.
We made the 3 hour drive home without issue. By this time it was mid day on Friday. We hit a some awful traffic in Portland, as to be expected. After that, we made good time on the road, stopping only once near Castle Rock if I recall correctly.
Thanks for tuning in to read about my adventure, hope you guys enjoyed! Please like, share, and comment on my work on Facebook!
For those of you who have never towed a car, there is something you will never get over. It happens after hours on the freeway, you are finally comfortable towing and relaxed. You look in the mirror and have a minor heart attack! “Look at this asshole tailgating me!! Oh yeah, I’m towing something behind me….”