The cars we loved.
Today the fusion of popular culture with most aspects of life has infiltrated product branding from breakfast cereal to cars. With cars, everything from Victoria Beckham Range Rovers to Snoop Dog 300s have popped up in the effort to capitalize on the name(s) of the moment. It seems for as long as there have been cars, there was a special edition with some designer or star’s name on it – literally. The fad seemed to reach its zenith in the mid to late 70’s. There had been a string of fashion designer inspired AMC Matadors (Oleg Cassini), Lincolns (Bill Blass) and others cars during that time. The 80’s saw fewer “lifestyle” editions, but the trend never truly died thanks to a string of Bandit inspired Trans-Ams.
Fast forward to the mid-90’s. The fad had all but died out until VW resurrected the concept with a twist. The cycling meets Fahrvergnügen Jetta Trek of 1996 took the sports-lifestyle to new levels. Ford did something similar in the 70’s with a version van-wagon hybrid of the Pinto that was touted as being surf board friendly. The swapping of surf boards for bikes resulted in the cyclist friendly Jetta Trek with the addition of minor kit. As cool as it might have seemed, it was more or less the cross marketing of two middle of the road products that on their own may not have stood out under any circumstance. Billed as the first ever bicycle-auto partnership, the limited edition Jetta Trek started with a well equipped Jetta GLS.
All the regular GLS equipment was there including a 2.0 L four-cylinder engine good for 115hp. The engine had a multi-point fuel injection system. Although simple it was rugged and dependable (a variation of it is still used today!). The all business dash layout was typical VW and featured black on white gauges that glowed green at night. The rest of the interior offered the same austere but high German quality expected in other VWs.
Although it was no pocket rocket the Jetta Trek had decent handling thanks to its independent suspension and front and rear stabilizer bars. There was nothing special about its cloth or velour seats except for the Trek logo stitched on to them. Being that the cycling set was an adventurous group, they could shift their own gears via a five speed manual, or opt for the optional four speed automatic (both with overdrive). The biggest claim to Jetta Trek being a bike friendly car beyond logos was the included and often seen empty roof mounted bike rack.
Speaking of the bike, it was low-end by Trek standards. Starting from a Trek 850 frame, it had “custom” decals and paint schemes bestowing it with special edition status. The chromoly steel frame was not lightweight by today’s standards, but was durable. The technical highlight may have been the Shimano 21 speed GripShift system and cantilever brakes. When the bike and car colors matched, the two made for made for a stylish pair. The cars came in black, white, red, green and silver. The bikes on the other hand came in a range of colors that did not always coordinate with the cars.
Where sports are concerned, Volkswagens may be more associated with winter sports or beach activities than cycling to most Americans. The Jetta Trek did boost Jetta sales and started a small bike meets car movement that included the likes of Porsche, Mercedes, Jeep and BMW all offering similar pairings (or stand-alone bikes). If the Jetta of the 90’s were as dependable and less fussy to maintain as the ones of today, the association may have stuck in the minds of car buyers. To this day, the association between VW and cycling is still long-lost on most Americans. Interestingly, Peugeot (a company known for making bikes and cars) and Fiat are more likely to be seen pacing the pack in the Tour De France, yet neither of them ever marketed a bike friendly car in the States. Meanwhile VW has not offered another car/bike package in the U.S.
If you just have to have a car/truck brand on your bike, there are a few mainstream options. While unassociated directly to any particular vehicle, GMC has a small line of mountain and road bikes you can buy at Target stores in North America now. VW certainly started something that may evolve to new directions if the price of fuel moves well beyond $5 a gallon.