Long before “Dieselgate” and the unceremonious admission of Volkswagen about cheating on emissions testing, Volkswagen struggled with the image of diesel. The problem wasn’t as much air pollution – there was plenty of that – but it was that diesels were noisy and slow. How slow? Well, consider today’s 1980 Dasher Diesel Wagon, whose 1.5 inline-4 mill produced a twig-snapping 48 horsepower. Despite the relative light weight at only 2,500 lbs, the Dasher Diesel literally and figuratively lacked spark as it’s near 20-second 0-60 time proved. As gas prices fell and fuel injected gasoline engines became ever more efficient (and powerful), the gap between the fuel mileage to the diesels narrowed as the perceived benefit gulf of purchasing petrol widened. However, nearly 30 years before the introduction of the “Sport Wagon” TDi, you can still see the spiritual basis for Volkswagen’s popular 5-door diesel configuration.
The other day, a gentleman pulled up to me right after I parked my Passat. He rolled down the window and asked if I liked the car, then mentioned that it was lovely. I thanked him and said that I loved the car. Sure, even over a decade on B5.5 generation Passat Variants are a dime a dozen around the streets of New England. But while the B5.5 was by far the most popular choice for German wagons in the early 2000s, it wouldn’t be possible without the B1. Styled by Giugiaro, the new chassis completely redefined the platform for Volkswagen. It was followed by the niche but popular B2 (Quantum in the U.S.), then the odd-yet-cool B3, the more traditional B4 and finally the popular B5/5.5 chassis. With some sadness, the B6 would be the last wagon form of the Passat for U.S. customers, but it went out with a bang – being offered in 3.6 VR6 with 4Motion all-wheel drive. It was about as far from the original B1 as you could get, but the mission of each was the same and they were representative of their times. “We think you’ll agree Dasher is setting new standards for roomy wagons, with elegant appointments and fittings” touted the 1980 brochure, and it’s hard to argue that for some time the Passat was the best value not only in German wagons, but perhaps in family vehicles in total. While they were loved by their respective owner pools, they were also used, and each subsequent generation is steadily becoming more infrequent to see. B5s have already started to disappear while B4s rust away. B3s are downright rare, but not nearly as much as clean B2s. But a clean B1? I’d bet you could count the number of examples in this condition remaining on one hand: