Once an outcast faction of unloved radicals - what with their radiators and front-wheel drives - watercooled-VW enthusiasts have come a long way in the four decades since the Rabbit, Dasher, and Scirocco rendered the aging Beetle a novelty. Instrumental in forging solidarity among this formerly disaffected group is the annual summer gathering of the faithful, better known as Waterfest, which celebrated its 21st consecutive installment on July 18 and 19, 2015.
As has been tradition for most of its existence, Waterfest once again took over the facilities at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, for a weekend filled with autocrossing, drag races, car show and general assing about with friends in modified cars. As usual, Mother Nature messed with the crowd, showering the masses on Saturday morning before baking them in near-100-degree heat for the rest of the weekend.
Since its inception, Waterfest has been all about the modded Dub scene, a rolling fashion show for the latest trends. Some years are game-changers, but this year was more a continuation of popular themes already in play. Air suspensions, stance and poke dominated the show field, but proof of innovation and evolution could be found in a number of amazingly crafted interiors and the more expressive use of body color. Painstakingly stitched leather seats and door cards played well against paint colors that ranged from muted retro hues to vibrant metallics and candies.
The vendor row is always another draw, and while the swap meet peddlers were as bustling as ever hawking everything from used Recaro seats to full Euro-spec double-cab Transporter pickups, the more commercial vendors were noticeably less busy than in recent years. Tuners offering on-site ECU re-flashes were as present as ever, but lines for their wares were shallow.
Other events over the course of the weekend included autocross races, held more conveniently this year in the parking lot adjacent to the drag strip, and of course the drag races themselves, which included a diesel-specific class. While those events satisfy the drivers of cars taking part more than the crowd, the one event that's strictly for the enjoyment of the huddled masses - the burnout contest - continues to satisfy man's mechanical bloodlust and ravenous appetite for tire smoke. The masses were once again sated as a handful of owners voluntarily shortened the lives of their engines in the quest for tire-shredding dominance.
One of the most noticeable changes in the show, and indeed in the scene itself, is the predominance of Audis. Once a tag-along subset of Dub culture, Audi owners are now as much a part of the crowd as anyone. And Waterfest organizers are happy to make room for them right alongside their Wolfsburg cousins.
The fact is, they have to. There's no denying the scale of Waterfest has diminished from its peak before the Great Recession. A stroll down the vendor aisles at this year's event is all the proof needed that there has been a degree of pullback. These things happen. Scenes change, people move on, and events evolve.
Nevertheless, Waterfest remains a hugely influential show for the national VW scene, and likely still the most important show in the Northeast. Undoubtedly there will be a Waterfest 22 next July. It will undoubtedly be hotter than hell and/or rain buckets from heaven. And it will indisputably be a showcase for all that's happening in the VW/Audi enthusiast scene.