Fly out, swap an engine, drive a Rabbit pickup across the country? James is going to try it
It’s as simple as this: a joke on a social media platform has transformed into a quickly approaching feat of mechanical ability, the cultivation of a friendship, and a considerable amount of money. But jokes are a very good reason to get inspired, and for James Cooperider, an Ohioan with not much more than a modest dream and a little time on his hands, that inspiration has turned into a dedicated mission to solidify a stupid idea into something for “the books.” Whatever that means.
Here’s what’s going down: This coming Friday, September 3, James will be flying to Seattle, where he will be picked up by the current owner of a 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup that has been sitting in a field for 20 years. James, the owner, and an unnamed tractor mechanic will then spend every waking hour of three days to get this thing capable of forward movement. That includes and isn’t limited to: swapping the dead engine for one that is less dead, refurbishing, updating, replacing anything related to safety. This means, suspension, brakes, tires, fuel, and anything else you can imagine. Once it’s been made more roadworthy than not, he will attempt to drive and live out of the VW for the 2500 or so miles back to beautiful Thornville, Ohio.
So how did this come to be? Well, James quit his job a couple of months ago to pursue a life of German car rehabilitation. He bought a remarkably decent 1995 Ford F-250 from his hometown fire station to tow project cars home with. He set up a Copart account. His business model: Fix up old cars, sell them to people who will enjoy them, document the process for the Internet.
I’ll say up front that James is a good friend of mine and that’s best validated by the fact that we both think this, ah, career change is a very good idea. There isn’t much that’s more exciting to us than a car that has been dormant for a long period of time being Frankensteined back into a regular, commuting traffic participant like it’s no big deal.
His YouTube channel chronicles these attempts, and he recently branched out to TikTok for bite-sized versions of his storytelling. It’s there that he posted a video in which he comes across a MK1 Volkswagen Pickup just a few miles from his house. That garnished over a million views, and got him his first taste of the interest he was generating around these weird old trucks. As more and more people stumbled across and shared his page, he gained 40,000 followers and millions of views in a matter of weeks. Which brings us to today, where he decided to act on the excitement around this truck and take it to the next level. That’s where a stranger on a farm comes into play.
The owner of the pickup, Derek Ripley, found James via an Instagram post about his various adventures with MK1 Volkswagens, and they started a dialogue. Derek is no stranger to these cars, as his grandfather passed on the passion to his Dad and then on to him through many years of ownership. As Derek began following James’ shenanigans on TikTok, he reached out and threw out the idea of flying out and getting his truck healthy enough to go transcontinental. Once James took one look at the solid body and original Sunbrite Yellow paint, a deal was done and a dirt-cheap ticket to Seattle was bought.
I cold-called Derek and he gave me the rundown along with some pictures. “The hardest part will probably be getting the electrics working, followed by getting the smell of mouse poop out of this thing,” said Derek. His family farm is home to many of these square German diesels, and due to the favorable Pacific Northwest climate, they’re as solid (structurally) as they came out of the factory.
“That’s one reason I was so happy to sell him the truck: because I knew they were hard to find in good shape on the east coast and I knew he would hold on to it.” said Derek.
He’s right. This might very well be a “forever” truck for James. He’s sure to have a connection to it after sleeping in the bed of it across the country, and addressing any reliability issues along the way. And there’s no denying it: As knowledgeable as he is, James will be tested over the coming week. I’m not too worried about him, though. Derek told me that he’s “just some broke Volkswagen guy helping out another broke Volkswagen guy,” If you were in James’ shoes, what else could you want?
So shout out to Derek, for opening his home and providing his time to a stranger with nothing more to go off of than a few phone calls. But this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when an ambitious idea gets some traction online. People reach out, ask to help, and want to be involved. You can be involved, too, by buying a sticker, a t-shirt, or a hat on his website. You can also follow along on YouTube. If you love these old square Volkswagens the way we do, it might be well worth your time.