Rabbits, run: The home-brewed magic of the Mk1 Madness Festival

Esher Lutzo organized the first Mk1 Madness Festival 10 years ago because he wanted to gather together owners of first-generation Volkswagen Rabbits, GTIs, Cabriolets and pickups, and maybe swap parts and stories. A few people showed up in the rain for a camp out.

This year, more than 300 people came to the campground in Maple Grove, Penn., for the weekend festival, and more than 150 people brought their Mk1s to be entered in the annual auto show. Campers came from around the country – travelling from as far as Alaska, and driving from as far as Minnesota in a 1983 Rabbit GTI.

“It’s about the community around these cars,” Lutzo says. “The people that work on Mk1s have so much respect for other Mk1 people, they just do everything right. It’s a family, one big family.”

Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect reliability, warranty coverage, & compliance with safety and other standards

Lutzo says the Mk1s offer an approachable form of classic-car ownership; a low barrier to entry in both money and time, with the benefit of cars that have aged well over the years. Having a community behind Mk1s is an added bonus for many of these people, who’ve spent years working on their cars and collecting parts.

During the festival, owners can enter their Mk1 vehicles into the show and earn trophies for various categories, including Best in Show for Rabbits, Pickup Trucks, Jettas, Cabriolets, Scirocco 1 and Scirocco 2, Farthest Distance Travelled, NOS + (New Old Stock Plus), to name but a few. Anyone who enters a vehicle also has a chance to judge the other vehicles, making the term the “people’s choice” the most accurate description. The trophies are handcrafted and distributed by Lutzo.

“We made a goofy trophy last year; it went to guy who brought a car with modifications that were just really silly. A lot of the stuff on the car, like cambered wheels in the back, is stuff that people do, but not everyone really likes. This year, we gave him the ‘NOPE’ trophy because it’s just silly, and he loved it.”

The group organizes purely by word of mouth, using Facebook as their main channel of communication. Lutzo coordinates the event entirely on his own – without advertisements, official sponsors or paid partners. While the Mk1 Madness festival is an annual event, the spirit and enthusiasm of the attendees stays strong all year. Owners bring parts to the show and spend the weekend trading tips and stories about working on their cars over the years.

The people who come out to this event show more than just enthusiasm for the cars, they show a genuine passion for Mk1s. One Volkswagen Rabbit pickup that had been bought and sold among several members has earned its own social media hashtag. The group donated money to fly its original owner in from the Pacific Northwest to this year’s event, just so he could drive it again.

“A guy who races Rabbits in Alaska flew to Ohio and drove in with one of the club members, and attended the event,” Lutzo said. “He was amazed with it and will definitely come back next year.”