In the 1990s, a service called GeoCities offered users the ability to create websites but with its own distinct twist: sites were organized into groups named for thematically connected places. So, for example, I was browsing through MotorCity (named for Detroit), looking at car-related sites, when I landed on Passat Owners Club.
I was drawn to this GeoCities site because my family had a silver Volkswagen Passat station wagon for most of my childhood. I think we got it in the early 2000s and had it until the late 2010s. So the model name of course leapt out to me. I was curious. The Passat was never a cool car (I say “was” because VW discontinued it this year). It was a family car. It was boring. Who could possibly want to build a whole website around owning a Passat?
According to the sparse landing page, Passat Owners Club was produced by John Nelson in the late 1990s, but the site contains little information about its creator. He states he owns a 1992 Passat that he named Günther and mentions car maintenance, indicating some amount of financial stability and some degree of mechanical knowledge. He also says he recorded Günther’s engine on his laptop, meaning he was well-off enough and into computers enough that he had a laptop by 1997, which makes sense given he ended up producing a website.
I did a lot of research trying to pin down his identity, since there are a lot of John Nelsons out there, and I turned up some interesting things along the way; in 2019, for example, a man named John Nelson was driving his 2015 VW Passat when his car was t-boned, leaving Nelson needing dozens of stitches on his scalp. But I couldn’t confidently say that any one of the John Nelsons I found were the John Nelson I was looking for.
I could only find one concrete detail about “the” John Nelson. His name on his GeoCities site is linked to an email address, and when I googled it with his name, I turned up an email from 1998. Nelson writes to Richard Karash, creator of the site Learning-org.com, which claims to help people and organizations with “increasing their capacity to produce results they really care about.” In his email, Nelson says he is getting an MBA in Systems Management from Lake Erie College in Ohio. Perhaps Nelson is from Ohio, I don’t know. He was likely in his early 20s when in graduate school, meaning he would have been born in the mid-to-late 1970s. And his pursuing a college degree perhaps indicates he came from a financially stable household, but that is quite speculative. One last speculation: Nelson’s email was “firstname.lastname@example.org,” referring to flintlock firearms, and several of the profiles I found online for potential John Nelsons included military stuff and/or American patriotism stuff, which are interests that do often cross over with car culture.
The designer of the Passat Owners Club’s artwork was easier to find because his name was much more unique: Gary Mondshine (though he misspelled it as Modshine on the landing page, his linked email address says Mondshine). Despite only designing the site’s artwork, he too is genuinely into cars and likes to write. I found a little thing he wrote for a newsletter about the 2017 Kubel Treffen East Thing Show, a car meet of exclusively Volkswagens. I also found a 2002 post in an online forum where he asks for help with the alarm system in his 1999 VW Passat, so he too is a Passat owner.
Bruce, Matt. “Man Convicted, Sentenced to 2 Years for Causing Cobb Crash in 2019.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 26, 2022.
Karash, Richard. “Learning-Org Dialog on Learning Organizations.” Learning-Org.
Accessed November 4, 2022. http://www.learning-org.com/.
Mondshine, Gary. “Remote Start in VW Passat.” the12volt.com, 2002.
Mondshine, Gary. “The VW Thing Type-181 Registry,” October 2017
Nelson, John. Letter to Richard Karash. Intro, August 28, 1998