From teacher to student: how a Golf GTI started the education of a lifetime

Valbuena proposed to his now-wife during a road trip in the 1995 GTI.

If you’ve ever been interested in a career in the automotive industry, Andres Valbuena has something to teach you. What began as just getting an interesting car to drive to work has turned into a life-long passion for the industry and fascinating machines – especially a particular 1995 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

“A car can change your life, as silly as it sounds,” says Valbuena. “They can make a commute more enjoyable or your life better.”

Valbuena started his working career as a teacher in Detroit and bought the Golf GTI as a commuter. After school and on the weekends, he took the GTI to autocross events, and while there met an auto enthusiast who spoke Spanish like him and worked in an auto shop. They formed a friendship, and Valbuena made a deal to work in his new friend’s shop for free to get experience working on cars.

Through his work at the shop, Valbuena met other car enthusiasts and eventually interviewed at Volkswagen of America, landing a job as a technical writer in 2005. He also worked as a product specialist and was a product launch manager for the 2012 Beetle.

“I didn’t even know working for an auto brand as something other than a mechanic was possible,” said Valbuena. “Getting to work on Volkswagen’s emotional brands, especially the GTI, was great.”

Valbuena sold his 1995 GTI in 1999 to make room for his growing car collection; he’s owned more than 120 Volkswagen vehicles. But as time went on, he realized that the 1995 GTI was special. He and his wife had taken a romantic drive in the GTI from Michigan to Asheville, North Carolina, where Valbuena proposed.

“My wife likes to joke that there were more pictures of the GTI from that trip than photos of us,” laughed Valbuena. “The GTI had so many wonderful memories and I regretted selling it when I was younger.”

Valbuena worked on executing the vision behind the 2021 Jetta GLI Enthusiast Fleet concept car. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards.

Valbuena tapped his network of Volkswagen friends across the country to keep an eye out for the car. In 2014, his friend in North Carolina called Valbuena to let him know that he had potentially found the GTI. After matching the VIN number and a tough eight-month negotiation period, Valbuena was reunited with the car that started it all.

When Valbuena got the car back it was a rusted mess in need of a total restoration. He got to work replacing parts, restoring the original motor and touching up the car’s original paint. While he focused on keeping everything on the car original, he did add some black trim. The restoration process took several years, but after a thorough rebuild, it’s once again Valbuena’s daily driver.

Valbuena values the community that the group of auto enthusiasts provides and credits his career in the auto industry to the kindness and willingness to teach other fans. While Valbuena no longer works for Volkswagen, he works with the team responsible for the Volkswagen enthusiast fleet.

His passion for car restoration and Volkswagen has also become a family affair. Valbuena and his 16-year-old daughter are working to customize a 2012 Beetle as her first car.

“I won’t let her get rid of that Beetle like I did my GTI,” he said. “She will always have a place to store it with me.”

The 2012 Beetle Valbuena and his daughter are modifying. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards.