This Custom Volkswagen Golf Is A True Lifesaver
Photography by Dennis van Loenhout
In Holland, there’s a Volkswagen Golf that’s a lifesaver. Literally. This is a tale that’ll show you how important it is to be an optimist and to never, ever give up. It’s about a guy called Christian, and the love of his life: his Golf.
We’re probably all convinced of the notion that a car is so much more than just a metal box with wheels. It’s not a scientific statement, but 23-year-old Dutchman Christian Kuijpers provides undeniable proof of it. When he turned 18, his parents presented him with the gift we all dream of, a car. It didn’t come as a surprise though, because they allowed Christian to choose the vehicle of his dreams. That was an easy one: it had to be a Golf. With his parents on a modest budget, Christian chose a modest car, a 1991 Volkswagen Golf 1.3, a red one. Spoiled kid, with a red car as a birthday present you might think.
That’s not really the case though; life has all but spoiled Christian. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscular disease that has put him in a wheelchair, barely able to move, let alone drive his car. He can’t even get in it. The average life expectancy for this disease is 26, but luckily Christian doesn’t like to be average. As far as he’s concerned, it’s his Golf that motivates him to wake up every day, and ignore his disease as much as he can. His dad, Herman, is his partner in crime.
Not only does Herman care for Christian—a very physically demanding job—he also helps his son convert the Golf into a GTi. Christian spends his days online finding parts, which Herman then bolts onto the Golf. With every day going by, the Golf looks more menacing, its humble origins long forgotten and the enthusiasm of its owner growing by the second.
Whenever weather permits it, Herman drives the Golf up and down the street while his son puts his wheelchair on the curb so he can watch and listen as his “girl” drives by. Contrary to what you might think, this doesn’t depress Christian to not be in the driver’s seat. Seeing his car and realizing she is his to keep gives him energy to the point where he’s able to beat the odds. His mother is convinced this VW Golf is the best possible medicine for her son. “He’s thinking about it 24/7. He wants to make this car exactly as he wants it, and I am convinced he will finish it. This Golf prolongs his life.”
Christian proved his mother right in the summer of 2014. In July of that year, Christian was rushed to the hospital after having a respiratory arrest. He was put on a respirator and told this would be permanent. Christian was fighting for his life in a bleak hospital room. He couldn’t even see the TV. His head wouldn’t move in that direction. Things looked bad. That is, until Christian’s father and some of his friends—with reluctant permission of the nursing staff—fitted a life-size picture of Christian next to his Golf to the wall of his room. He couldn’t talk, but by having his dad point out the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper, and thus painstakingly constructing sentences, he told his nurses all about his Golf. His recovery suddenly sped up. Three years after the ordeal, Christian says: “That picture told me I had to keep going. Having this respirator sucks at times, and without the Golf I wouldn’t have chosen to go through all this.”
This remarkable story has spread to a sizable audience. Over the years, newspapers and magazines have written about Christian, who is incredibly active on Facebook. It has resulted in people taking his story to heart, and it has lead to Christian making a great number of friends, all thanks to his car and his determination and resolve. Those who were there before Facebook help Christian along whenever and wherever they can too, of course.
For instance, on one of his birthdays, a group of his friends showed up with the BBS wheels Christian had wanted for a long time and bolted them onto the Golf. Another birthday saw Christian’s car as the star of a car meet on his street, with a few Porsches in addition to some other outstanding VWs. And last summer, Christian’s friend Hans helped him to realize a lifelong dream when he took the Golf to a VW show. He was moved to tears, just like he was when a number of friends took the Golf for a ride on Christians favorite roads, along with their own cars—an Audi A6, an Audi Cabriolet, along with a BMW 3-series and 5-series—with photographs taken to prove to Christian how awesome his girl looks when in action. He turns to the memories and pictures whenever life gets tough, and these sources of comfort are possible because of great friends and a loving family.
And it does get tough. A few years ago, Christian’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer. His lung was removed as a result, and thankfully he recovered remarkably well. Last summer, the cancer returned though, with less than bright outlooks at the moment. Herman fights though, inspired by the optimism and strength of his son in his own struggles. Christian worries about his dad, and sometimes the worry proves too strong for even his optimism. That is, until one of his friends reminds him of his Golf and all it helped him achieve. Then he lights up and soldiers on, for the love of his car and the father that helped make it a reality.
Recently, Christian’s online endeavors helped him find a new motivation. Christian is always watching car-related movies and reading automotive websites. During his browsing one night, he stumbled onto the story of Alfredino. His father, Enzo, thought Alfredino was destined to be his successor at the head of a very famous company: Ferrari. Alfredo Ferrari, nicknamed “Alfredino,” or simply, “Dino,” is purported to have been the mind behind the racing V6 engines that took Phil Hill to his F1 title in 1961. Alfredino and his father did great things together until Alfredino passed in 1956. He suffered from Duchenne muscular distrophy. The sports car carrying the V6 Alfredino helped developed was lovingly called the Dino by Enzo. The story moved Christian. On his Facebook wall he writes: “This boy became famous through his own car. I have the same disease as him, and my car made me ‘famous’ as well. I’m thinking back on being at school, not paying attention to maths because I was too busy thinking about the Golf I was sure I would own in the future. When I was 10 years old, I already knew my Golf had to be red, just like a Ferrari should be red. I can hardly believe this story, it makes me think I should fight on, for Alfredino.”
Hungry for information on Dino Ferrari, Christian found an alleged quote from Enzo exclaiming that “The most important victory is the one that is yet to come.” With that in mind, Christian is able to keep up his optimistic outlook: ignoring his disease to the point it where it virtually disappears, and optimistic that his dad will prove much stronger than his disease. If his belief ever wavers, all he needs to do is look at his Golf.
The link with Ferrari is uncanny in a way too. Enzo Ferrari is but one of the countless heroes in the automotive world. Who’d have thought that, among names like Enzo Ferrari, Mario Andretti, Ayrton Senna, and Elon Musk, you could also find the name of Christian Kuijpers. Maybe not on the same list, ok sure, but you can’t deny that he is a hero in his own right. His story makes being a petrolhead feel more important, somehow.