Gene Berg Memorial Cruise Y2K
By Toby Erkson
You know what doesn't make sense to me? Participating in an air-cooled Volkswagen caravan that covers several hundred miles a day in the middle of summer! That's like having an outdoor, wet T-shirt contest in Maine during winter. Wait a second, that's not too bad of an idea… Well, dress me in a white shirt and hose me down because I was one of the VW enthusiasts who participated in the caravan.
Officially, it's known as the Gene Berg Memorial Cruise, in honor of the late Gene Berg and his contributions to the air-cooled VW industry, mostly for stock and performance engines and transmissions. This was the fifrth year of the cruise and it's destination was Denver, Colorado. Basically, one or more VWs get together and caravan together to a final destination. Usually they will meet at designated locations and become a larger caravan until it becomes one long chain of VWs cruising together. Generally, there are a couple of other events that people attend and travel together to in the chain fashion, drawing much attention where ever they may be. No matter where you may be in this chain (and I've literally been in every point) it is truly a neat experience to see so many "old" vehicles traveling together in melodious harmony! At one point in the journey our caravan was over ¾ of a mile in length - that's a lot of Volkswagens!
My journey started in Beaverton, Oregon, with my 1972 Bright Orange Squareback, sporting a performance 2007cc powerplant with 8.0:1 compression, motivated with a Gene Berg 5-speed tranny and primative air-conditioning in the form of a full-length, canvas rag top. Unfortuneately, my computerized ignition suddenly took a nose-dive on the highway on-ramp. Luckily, my Bosch Blue Coil was still functional so after a minute of switching things I was back on the road, albet with a good amount of misfiring due to my larger spark plug gap of 0.040". After reaching my designated meeting point and nobody showing up, I decided to go back home and change my plug gap for the stock system. After lowering my engine and changing to new spark plug wires and adjusting the plug gap down to 0.028", I was back on the road and headed for Parma, Idaho, to meet up with Brian Fye and his highly custom, mid-engined Notchback roadster, affectionately named "The Notchster". That evening I was at Brian's house but was met with bad news: The Notchster would not be making the trip due to a bad oil leak. Well, I now had a Navigator and someone to help me with the driving!
The next day Brian, my Squareback, and I braved 105-degree heat and boring country side as we headed to meet the rest of the GBM Cruisers in Salt Lake City, Utah, at Art Thraen's home. I'm happy to announce that my engine didn't overheat and showed good oil pressure the whole trip, mostly because of my custom oil pre-cooling system I installed. There were many GBM Cruiser's there and we had a really good time. Art and his wife threw a great BBQ and we were all envious of his shop. That evening Brian and I scored the best seats in the place out in the front yard on the swing, each of us smoking a great cigar and talking shop with some of the others fellow cruisers.
Tuesday had us on the road again, bright and early (a common time for most of the trip) as we stopped in at Top Dead Center for breakfast.
Then we were on the road to Rawlins, Wyoming, to spend the night. There were some problems with the reservations Brian had made and there were four of us who almost had to share a room but Brian kept being the squeaky wheel and we were able to get our own room. There were some beautiful American hot rods at the hotel as well but their destination was Yellowstone National Park. The wind kicked up that evening pretty fierce and mixed dust and rain on our cars but luckily it was brief.
Wednesday put us in monotonous, hot terrain to meet more volks in Cheyanne.
We then made it to our final destination of Denver, Colorado. We made a BBQ stop at Al Bugs Me in Fort Collins, a nice little VW store/shop/junkyard. Unfortuneately, Jim Kikuchi's tranny decided not to play nicely with others and his ring gear lost a tooth. Poor Jim left his baby at the shop and hitched a ride with another cruiser to the hotel. We checked into the hotel, where we had more problems with our group rates but squeaky Brian fixed them for us, and had the evening for free time. Brian and I immediately took to the chilly swimming pool, then the hot tub, to sooth our taxed bodies. Then I took advantage of the time to visit some close college friends of mine and later smoke a cigar with Brian. Even though my engine is supposedly built the wrong way with 8.0:1 compression, 90.5 cylinders and wasn't re-jetted for the higher elevation she never over-heated and didn't leak oil nor spew black smoke. Well, there's one myth dispelled!
The following day Jim, along with several other generous cruisers, went back to the shop to swap out trannies to get Jim back on the road. It took them the better part of the day, including a second tranny change because the replacement also had a chunk missing from it's ring gear! That evening we journied to Lance Emerson's Boulder Euro Sport Tuning (BEST) shop for another great BBQ. I had the opportunity to talk with his wife, Beth, and discovered that Lance once sported a seven-color mowhawk and wanted a big, traditional wedding. Beth said she finally gave in to his proposals and she showed me their wedding album -- a killer costume wedding on Halloween! Brian had a good, informal conversation with Dee Berg (the widow of Gene Berg).
Sewfine Interiors were our lunch hosts for Friday and they had made a couple of awesome VW cakes! It was nice to mingle with the fine people who make the products, tour the establishment and see the merchandise first-hand. For those of you who REALLY want to go all-out, they do leather interiors as well! That evening we journeyed to the Jerry Roth Volkswagen dealership. Julie got to put her red 412 on the lift and fix the exhaust leak - the reason, a missing nut, whew! Dinner was provided and we were treated to another Colorado lightening storm. Brian and I were so happy to see rain that we just stood out in the open and let it soak us. The Californians, huddled under the eaves, were not sure what to make of the wet stuff (just kidding). We also met a recent Karman Ghia owner, helped him out with his troubles and he decided to become a member of the Volkswagen Enthusiasts of Colorado club (VWEC) -- what a great day!
Saturday was the cruise down to Rocky Mountain Motor Works in Littleton, Colorado. The drive was absolutely the most beautiful one of the entire trip! Volkswagens as far as the eye could see, twisting through the two-lane mountain curves and filling the valley with the smooth sounds of air-cooled, four-part harmonies. Well, until someone ran out of gas. Lucky for them there were several volks with a spare gallon of gas so they were able to get back in line. RMMW put on a fine show with a live band and lunch and gave us a tour of the facilities. Many Volkswagens were on display, including some water-pumpers. There was a large Bus turnout, a yellow Rhino Coated baja (very good idea!), and a fresh DLI supercharged custom roadster! Only seven awards were given out and many people I talked with, including myself, were not happy with that particular part of the show. Most of us opted out of the Pike's Peak run due to the amount of time to get there and back, particularly with the extra distance we would have to travel home, which was about two hours. However, some of us did get to visit the museum and gaze upon the Gene Berg vehicle that did make it to the top. We kicked back at The Keg and had some good brews (Fat Tire Ale). I finally got to talk with Dave "KafferDave" Cormack of VW Trends. You know, McMullen Argus Publishing needs to budget more money for that magazine!
The big event, Sunday, at Bandimere Speedway! For me, this was a mixed event. We started off nice and early, a long chain of VWs. At the gate to the speedway some people got in free, some had to pay $8 and some had to pay $10 - no consistancy for our GBM Cruise! We parked together in our designated spot, no problem, but some of us wanted to show our cars. For that, we had to move our cars in to the show parking area (away from our GBM Cruise area) and some of us had to pay and additional $25! The organization around this particular event was really lacking, even amoungst the show staff. The weather became really hot and there weren't many places to beat the heat on the asphault plateau. Needless to say, I didn't take any pictures, sorry. Lucky for the GBM Cruisers, the VWEC had an air-conditioned room in the tower willed with chips, sandwich fixings and drinks. Naturally, this room was also had one of the best views of the drag racing that was roaring in front of us! VWEC, getting that room was fantastic planning and we all thank you for it! A couple of the GBM Cruisers even received awards for their cars - congrates, volks! On the advice of Clyde Berg and Art Thraen, I removed the small stacks in my 40mm DRLA carbs to reduce the intake restriction, hoping for a little more power on the upper rpm scale.
After the show ended the GBM Cruisers split off into separate groups. Some stayed then night while others traveled back home. Brian and I traveled with the Salt Lake City group, staying the night in Steamboat Springs. After SLC we kept on trekking to Brian's home town of Parma, Idaho. After a good night's rest and fixing his Notchster (ready for next year, right Brian?) I was back on the road for Oregon. My baby ran without incident and I achieved my best gas mileage of 28mpg even though I was a little heavy on the accelerator. Removing those carb stacks must've helped, I guess.
Well, my overall impression of the GBM Cruise would be enjoyable. It was a memorable experience for sure! There were some minor issues with planning but I won't let that dissuade me from next year's cruise. If you are thinking of attending the cruise then, by all means, do it as you won't be dissappointed. It's a neat feeling to be part of a dedicated and enthusiastic group of helpful volks with a common passion. I just hope that the weather is a little cooler…Back