When was the last time you saw a Volkswagen Santana? According to How Many Left? there are just seven left on Britain's roads, making the 4-door saloon quite a rare sight. It was actually no more than a B2 Passat sedan, making the Santana some kind of retro Shatchback hero.
Amazingly, some 194,000 Santanas were produced between 1981 and 1985, before the Santana name was dropped in favour of the Passat saloon. Three years later, in 1988, the B2 Passat was replaced by the B3 and the Santana was banished, in the UK at least, to automotive history. In China the name may live on, but in the UK, you're more likely to hear Santana on the Ken Bruce show than see one on parked on your local high street.
However, if you happen to live in South London, you may just have seen a blue Santana LX. It is owned by PetrolBlog reader, Gary Danks, who purchased the car in October 2007 to commute to his workplace in Ipswich. Not for Gary was the idea of a finance package and a ridiculously depreciating new car. Instead, Gary was tempted by the three-box retro goodness that is the Volkswagen Santana. At the time there were 15 Santana LXs on the road. Today, that number has dropped to just three. At this point I probably should insert some reference to a Carlos Santana song, but the only one I can think of is Black Magic Woman and that doesn't work. So I won't.
Anyway, back to Gary's Santana. It was bought to replace an ageing Volvo 850 which was developing something of a drinking problem, consuming a litre of oil every 400 miles. Not to mention the Swede's love of unleaded. A daily commute of 160 miles demands something reliable and comfortable, with the ability to chew up the miles like a Black Magic Woman. No, that still doesn't work.
In time honoured, petrolhead fashion, Gary stumbled across the Santana by accident. Scouring eBay late one evening, (we've all been there), Gary spotted a tidy looking Santana for sale in Chelmsford. It was being sold by a chap on behalf of his Dad who was being forced to retire from driving. Despite offering it to his children and grandchildren, nobody wanted it, allowing Gary to drive away for the princely sum of £340. When you consider that this included 12 months MOT, three months tax and half a tank of fuel, I'd say this was a bargain.
The car was originally supplied new by Abridge Engineering, Harlow in September 1984 to chap in Waltham Abbey. It still proudly wears the original dealer number plates. Nice. After three years, it was part exchanged to a dealer in Epping where it was sold for £4,805. The buyer kept it for 20 years, before selling it on to Gary. He must have liked it to keep it for two decades.
It's fair to say that Gary's family weren't too enamoured with the boxy VW. But undeterred, Gary pressed the Santana into immediate service and for six months the car handled the 160 mile daily commute with ease. Returning a respectable 40mpg, she'd fire up first time in all weathers and never used a drop of oil or water. In fact, the only things it asked for were two trailing arm bushes, a distributor cap and a rotor arm. If only everything in life was as reliable as a Black Magic Woman. No, still not working.
After six months, Gary got a new job in Enfield, meaning the Santana would have to endure a daily crawl across London via the Blackwall Tunnel and North Circular. Despite being 23 years old and costing less than a year of Sky TV, the Santana once again handled things perfectly. For sure, things have had to be replaced, but Gary insists that it has been more reliable and cheaper to run than any of the modern cars that his colleagues drive. Another tick in the box for Bangernomics then?
The Santana is now 27 years old and the bodywork is apparently 'remarkable'. There have been some minor repairs along the way, but all things considered, the Santana is pretty much as it was when it left the VW factory. The interior is also in very good shape, with only the stitching on the rear seats starting to go. I think I'm in love with the interior, in all its retro blue glory!
To date, Gary has spent £500 keeping the Santana moving, which works out at £125 per year. Or, to put it another way, a typical monthly payment on a new small car. Not bad for a car that's racked up 115k miles, with nearly 40k of these coming in the last four years. James Ruppert will be proud!
But having worked the Santana hard for so long, Gary is now treating the old girl to semi-retirement. With a 1995 Volvo 855 bought for daily service, the Santana will be given a cosmetic tidy up. This will include cleaning the engine bay as well as painting the block, cam cover and belt cover. The alloy wheels will also be refurbished with the aim of attending some car shows in 2012. It will certainly be a rare sight on the club scene.
It's another car to add to the PetrolBlog stable and I hope the Santanas that are left are preserved for posterity. Heck, this could even be another contender for appealing Shatchbacks. Who'd have thought it?
I'll leave the final words to Gary himself as I couldn't conclude it better myself.
The engine, Formel E gearbox, MPG Econometer, Pierburg 2e2 carb are all in exceptional condition and a testament to these brilliantly engineered cars which appear to be quite unloved. I would recommend anyone looking for a future classic to regard these bargain basement VW/Audi machines as enjoyable, reliable and economical older cars. You get the pleasure of saving a piece of automotive history, with the added benefits of classic insurance, zero depreciation and a big 'two fingered salute' to dealers and the need to plug the damn thing into a diagnostic machine every two minutes. Happy days! Also, from experience, the VW parts support is excellent and there are some outstanding forums offering support. Educate yourself, buy wisely and there is no reason why a Santana won't make for a reliable everyday proposition.
I'm convinced. The VW Santana is unashamedly boxy, gloriously retro and worryingly close to disappearing from our roads altogether. The only thing that can save the Santana from extinction is Black Magic, Woman.