It's a sad day for VW enthusiasts the world over.
It's a sad day for Volkswagen fans - and aftermarket tuning enthusiasts in general - after it was announced that the annual GTI-Treffen (GTI meeting) gathering at Lake Worthersee in Austria will never happen at the iconic venue again.
If you don't know what the event (commonly referred to simply as Worthersee) is all about, here are the basics. One of the world's largest gatherings for Volkswagen enthusiasts, the four-day event took place from 1982 when it had fewer than 100 participants but grew into a legendary staple of the calendar and attracted up to 200,000 visitors at times (this in a community of just 1,600 people), with Volkswagen officially sponsoring the event from 2006.
In 1987, then-CEO of VW Carl Hahn handed over a granite carving of a Mk 2 Volkswagen Golf GTI to the municipality of Reifnitz, which became a tourist attraction of its own.
Long story short, with so many attendees, even Volkswagen's involvement was not enough to prevent reckless behavior on the surrounding roads. And with so many classic and modified cars making the annual pilgrimage, many would make their way to the lake as early as two weeks ahead of the official event.
While this resulted in a massive influx of tourists that contributed to the economy, the police were overwhelmed, communities were inconvenienced, and hooliganism was rampant, particularly at the Turbokurve. All the people you see sitting alongside the road late at night in the below video were there to witness launch control, burnouts, and other silliness. There have also been riots at times.
But while there was much to criticize, there was more to be celebrated.
Every year, Volkswagen selected students to build a custom-tuned car that would be presented at the official show. One of the wildest VW-supported builds was a sixth-generation Golf GTI powered by a mid-mounted W12 Bentley engine. There was also the GTE HyRacer from 2020, and many of the builds were used to gauge customer reaction. Volkswagen also interacted with showgoers to see what they would like to see in the future, and it is because of the GTI-Treffen that many aftermarket tuners were well supported by Wolfsburg.
Because of its scale and lore, non-VWs made up a large part of the attending throng. Porn star Lexy Roxx was a regular attendee in her slammed Lamborghini Huracan.
The event even inspired a local copycat event called Southern Worthersee, which aimed to celebrate the European VW tuning culture in Georgia. Volkswagen brand ambassador Jamie Orr would also arrange for American enthusiasts to ship their cars over for the event, making it a big European road trip, often building unique cars to display publicly for the first time at the event.
So why has the iconic meet met its demise? The organizers of the Worthersee Treffen put out a statement to explain, noting that "the enormous increase in participants over the years has shown the limits of possible growth and resilience of our community and the entire Worthersee region." The statement adds that "the effects of climate change, the responsibility of political decision-makers for the preservation of ecosystems, and the need to align actions at all levels according to the principles of sustainability make it necessary to place the future design under new premises. On the basis of these considerations, we can state the municipality of Maria Worth will no longer host any conventional major automotive events in the next few years."
Mayor of Maria Worth Markus Perdacher added: "We would be happy to continue to examine suggestions and ideas for events in our community, but we will weigh up the extent to which they compare with our concepts of social and ecological compatibility [...] and meet high sustainability standards."
The picturesque backdrop of Lake Worthersee will likely never play host to the event again, but as residents of Ocean City, Maryland, can attest (formerly the venue for H2Oi, another now-dead annual Volkswagen and Audi meetup), canceling an event doesn't necessarily mean that car fanatics won't take over at the same time each year.
With that in mind, organizers aim to placate enthusiasts by holding the tuning meet in Klagenfurt for the first time from May 20, 2023 (provided that the minimum number of participants - which has not been disclosed - is reached by March 10). The idea is that this should calm the traffic situation around the lake, hopefully weeding out those who want to burn rubber and make noise from those who are there to show off their cars in a respectful fashion.
Auto Motor und Sport confirmed that the granite GTI carving will remain in its current location in Reifnitz, but it's the end of an era, thanks to climate change and hooliganism.
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