As a member of the water-cooled Volkswagen community, my research into solutions and upgrades for my own 2010 VW GTI has taken me far and wide. I’ve come across a lot of valuable information on how to improve performance, comfort, and reliability of my car. Along with that comes a lot of subconscious cultural osmosis. That mid-’00s aesthetic of rusty VWs that are slammed to their bones is one of the most obvious, in-your-face moments in car culture. Do you remember the “PA Dubbers?” Today it seems lost to the modern collective car consciousness, but back in the day it was a car scene phenomenon.
I came across the term when I was drunk on kombucha and scrolling VWVortex, as one does. Looking the term up in Google returns a result on Urban Dictionary, some Facebook groups, and some old forum threads. Urban Dictionary doesn’t have a specific definition for PA Dubbers, but does astutely define the word “Dubber” as follows:
- a Volkswagen enthusiast (that also owns a VW)
- “dubbers over ricers”
- “dubbers for life”
Bear in mind the “ricer” term is theirs, not ours, and it’s not a great one. It should probably be phased out of our vocabulary at this point, but if nothing else it represents the vernacular of the time. Anyway, there’s clearly evidence of real cultural impact here. It appears that “dubber” doesn’t refer to the actual VWs themselves, but the owners of the machines. So in common parlance, I would be a dubber, brah. If I saw another person in a VW, they would also be a dubber bro. And if you met someone new at a car meet or some miserable Inland Empire fast-food parking lot, you ask them: “Are you a dubber bro?”
With that, I deduced that PA Dubbers are people who own Volkswagens and are also from Pennsylvania. (I wonder if that makes me a CA Dubber?)
In the next step of my investigation, I looked at their Facebook page. It’s 13,800 members strong, and I wasn’t allowed to join because I’m not in the tri-state area. Damn! These PA Dubber folk are exclusive.
I tried searching for another FB group, but there weren’t any other PA Dubber groups or dubber groups for that matter. It seems that the dubber sensation is limited to the east coast of the United States. Onto some old forum posts.
In this thread titled “Any PA dubbers runnin catless downpipe [?],” we see a perfect example of the term used colloquially. A PA Dubber simply isn’t a member of a club. A PA Dubber is an identity. Nay, it is a state of being. A PA Dubber aspires to be the best dubber possible, to live as a dubber. Many nights are spent in empty Wawa parking lots, well before vaping was a thing, hanging with other dubbers, staring listlessly at the sick steelies on your fellow dubber’s New Beetle. The night ends at 3 a.m., and you head back to your parents’ house with your straight piped Mk3 Golf CL, remembering to strategically kill the engine and roll to a silent stop on a moonlit tree-lined suburban street so you can sneak back in. As you lay in bed, you sleep with the comfortaing talisman of the dubber’s heart. Like I said, a state of being.
Let’s take a look at this thread, theatrically named “pa dubbers.” The OP starts the conversation with the common language of the dubber, using a mixture of questionable grammar and 2000s texting language to succinctly drive his point home. “Wats up pa dubbers let me know wat part of pa u guys r from and we can organize a gtg.” You see, teens, people used to have to text with numerical phone keypads, leading to lazy shortcuts like that. I’d say we’ve gotten better over time, but I’d just be lying.
A common theme I’m seeing with this “dubber” thing is the conspicuous lack of question marks. It must be the undefeatable confidence of the dubber, for they have no questions. In all seriousness, for the size of the FB group and obvious presence when you search “PA Dubbers” in Google Images, I can’t find many forum threads of in-period dubber debates. Dubbers seem to have a distinct regional flavor, and were especially popular in the time of forums, and died as social media rose to the forefront.
That’s kind of sad. Looking at these old dubber builds, which you can see an example of here, remind me of a purer time in car culture, where true self-expression existed and the inspiration pool was your car meet friends and not the entire world of car modification. Though ego still existed back then, it was before you could just buy performance or a better car with financing as easily as you can now. Cars were simpler, slower, more of a canvas. That’s not to say anything about social media, which has influenced car culture greatly, with clout chasing being a goal for many new car people who got roped in by what they saw on socials. I feel that this interconnectivity and social exchange has tainted original thought and creativity in many ways, and we don’t see “builds” as pure or weird aesthetically as they once were.
Sure, we get all manner of wild engine swaps, and performance knowledge has been widely democratized, but I’m kinda bored of “wild” engine swaps. It was indeed this same counter-culture, slammed VWs, loud pipes, and doing intentionally brash aesthetics that I adore more as the years go by, but these old builds were the discovery of it, the adoption of a movement.
Where the hell else will you see an intentionally rusty Golf on steelies next to an immaculate show car quality Passat on airbags shlammoed on some wheels from a 2005 Lamborghini Gallardo? It’s the same culture that we see today at the Worthersee show to this very day, though the Europeans pioneered that style of cleanliness in their cars.
At the height of this culture, the meaning behind being a “dubber” even inspired internet mega-show Mighty Car Mods to do their own VW build in 2012 that intentionally provoked reactions from a crowd at a Honda show, and was even respected for the freedom with which the car was used to express oneself. Sure, it was a little tongue in cheek, but it was a perfect example of challenging car culture as a whole, which MCM did best at its peak.
The dubber culture even resonates with me. After 12 cars and god knows how much money I’ve burned, something about my car has me hooked. I am a damn dubber, deep down in my heart. I’m such a dubber that I even idolize BMWs, which is a running joke I see on internet dubber discussions. Being a dubber may have been my life destiny, as I’ve taken my GTI to heights of personal refinement and style that I never expected, and my journey still continues.
So, if you didn’t remember the PA Dubbers, I hope you do now. What a time! Anyone else a dubber? Let me know in the comments.