1982 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup GTi

Volkswagen of America’s small pickup truck offered a unique experience at the beginning of the 1980s; basically, the front half of the pickup was a Rabbit, which meant relative comfort, reliability, easy of use and driving and good fuel economy. In back, Volkswagen stretched the wheelbase nine inches and swapped in a tubular axle supported by leaf springs giving the pick up 1,100 lbs of payload capacity and a six foot bed – not too shabby! They even launched a “Sportruck” model, which gave you bucket seats and some really trick decals that covered most of the side. You also got some amazing options for the period, like a tachometer (wooooow) and a 5-speed transmission. However, the mix of 1.7 liter, low compression 8V motors available weren’t exactly going ignite your enthusiast dreams. 78 horsepower channeled through the manual would return a not particularly stunning 0-50 time of 9.7 seconds. 60, you’ll remember, was illegal in the United States at that time, so why bother designing a car that could approach it?

But Westmoreland, PA produced some other neat Volkswagens around the same time, though – notably, the U.S. finally got the higher compression, higher output GTi. Though Volkswagen themselves never combined them, that hasn’t stopped some enterprising individuals:

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1977 Volkswagen Scirocco

It’s hard to believe that the Volkswagen Scirocco has fully entered into mid-life crisis. When I was born, my family was lucky enough to have a few “classic cars”. My father, for example, still drove me around in a 1966 Mustang – considering the number which sold, probably not an unusual occurrence. But while those memories seem as fuzzy as the television broadcasts from the period, consider for a moment that when I was born, that “classic” Mustang was 11 years old. My current daily driver is 14 (technically, 15, soon to be 16) years old, so as I tote my son to school in the back of the Passat I’m wondering if his experiences will feel the same as mine did. Of course, in the 1970s cars seemed to age much more quickly; to the point that when I was forming most of my car-related memories in the 1980s, the Volkswagen Scirocco was well into its second iteration and a fair amount of the original models had already left the road. Survivors are few and far between, as mostly rust took them off the road. Finding a survivor – especially a pre-refresh Scirocco like this 1977 – is quite rare:

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1976 Audi 50LS

The Volkswagen Golf was a revolutionary design for the company. Dynamically, it took the Wolfsburg firm into the modern era, ushering in a period of compact front-drive, front-engine, water-cooled designs. That was a big step for a company which – to that point – had only produced rear-drive, rear-engine, air-cooled models. So, where did the technology to make that impressive (and successful) leap come from?

It came from the engineers at a recent acquisition of Volkswagen – Audi. We won’t go through the politics in this post of how that came to be, but in 1972, a completely modern design was launched replacing the DKW-based F102 chassis. The new B1 featured (you guessed it) a front-engine, front-drive, water-cooled motor. That motor – the EA 827 – would then find its way into the Golf, and the Golf’s transverse engine design would find its way back into Audi two years later in the Audi 50. The 50, while looking a lot like the Golf, actually was a different platform which then traveled back to Volkswagen in the form of the Polo. Confused? Well, you probably wouldn’t know much about this model, since it was never produced in great number, nor was it ever imported to the United States. But, as we know, models that never came here have a cult following and one has popped up for importation:

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1982 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup

The advertising tag line for the 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup was “So American, it’s not available in Germany”. Since the mid 1980s, though, the opposite has been true as the truck range of Volkswagen was removed from the U.S. lineup. In some ways, that’s a bit strange since the small truck market was so strong in the mid-to-late 1980s, but starting in the 90s and culminating in the early 2000s, the small truck market evaporated as the crossover to large trucks became so easy and prevalent. But big trucks have gotten very expensive, and smaller trucks (which really are the size of 1980s full sized trucks) are experiencing a minor resurgence – so much so that VW is rumored to be thinking of bringing the Amarok starting as early as next year. So, let’s take a look back at where the VW pickup began:

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1984 Volkswagen Jetta GLi

Yesterday, searching through bad 1980s movies to watch I came across the Orwellian classic 1984. I sat and stared at the image of John Hurt, slightly bemused that Orwell’s vision of the future was so dark, dire and complicated. Sitting at the end of a head-scratching 2016, 1984 seems in many ways to be such an easy time. Okay, remove the equally crazy politics of the period; telling my students that bombings in downtown London were commonplace when I was growing up confuses them, or that plane hijackings happened almost as often as mass shootings do today, nevermind the environmental and infectious disease disasters of the period. In 1984, you could buy a Volkswagen Jetta GLi for $8,500. Inflation corrected, that’s just below $20,000 – so still quite a deal in the grand scheme. Sure, today’s cars offer more luxury and convenience, and isolation from the driving experience. They are, without a doubt, safer in every measurable characteristic than cars in the 1980s. And faster? Also indisputable, as a new Jetta GLi turbo will positively wipe the floor with this A1’s performance. With only 90 horsepower on tap, you’ll struggle to best speeds most modern cars can do without the driver even blinking. Relatively speaking, this Jetta GLi is slow, loud, unsafe, and not hugely comfortable. Why, then, were they so much fun to drive?

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1982 Volkswagen Rabbit Convertible with 8,000 Miles

The product catalog for what Formula E is makes for a pretty hilarious read. “Passive Formula-E systems built in to your VW begin with an aerodynamic body design that cuts down on wind resistance.” Have you actually looked at a Rabbit? I guess in terms of footprint, it was physically smaller than a Chrysler Cordoba, so there’s that? But ‘aerodynamic’ is not the first thing I think of when I see an A1. It continues on touting the benefits of radial tires (Wooooow), a high-torque engine (compared to….?), and the George Costanza-inspired “breakerless transistorized ignition”. What it really was was a long 5th gear, denoted on Audis as the ‘4+E’ in the same year. What that meant was it spun the high-torque motor down to low revs, and that road better be pretty flat and not particularly windy if you’d like to maintain any speed. And, if you downshifted to pass anything or go the speed limit, immediately an arrow-shaped light would pop on the dash, reminding you that fuel was being wasted. But Volkswagen claimed it was good for 42 m.p.g. in a period still reeling from the fuel crises of the 1970s, and marketing is marketing.

What the Rabbit Convertible really offered you was one of the very few drop-top options in the early 1980s. Remember, this was a time when Detroit had pulled out of convertibles following hints they would be banned by the NHTSB. Japan didn’t really have much of anything on offer, either, as it hadn’t really established itself fully into the market in anything other than superb economy cars. And Germany? In 1982, you had two options – the Mercedes-Benz 380SL, or the Rabbit Convertible which had replaced the Beetle in 1980. That was it. In some ways, that makes these early Rabbits special, and though these Volkswagens were no where near as dear as the Daimlers, some who bought them treated them as royalty:

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1984 Volkswagen Rabbit Convertible

When considering the Volkswagen Rabbit Convertible and it’s Halloween disguise replacement, the Cabriolet, I was at a bit of a loss to explain its general lack of popularity. It wears much of the same DNA as the very popular, universally lauded, and VW market darlings of the moment GTi and first generation Scirocco. Yet it is often dismissed as too soft, too heavy, too weak on performance, and too girly. This is strange, since it’s not the removal of the top that dynamically changes it much. You don’t look at a R107 or Porsche Cabriolet and think ‘Wow, those drapes they’ve put on top have really made this car feminine.’ I guess ultimately it’s probably like the difference between the two Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Underneath, the share 99% plus of the same DNA. They’re both intelligent, well spoken, dynamic and ruthlessly, take-no-prisoners fast on the race track. Yet when it comes down to it, the crowd loves the plucky underdog Brit, while the cold and calculating German seems a bit of the villain. Silly, right?

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Motorsports Monday: 1986 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V

Motorsports Monday has become a bit predictable. First, I am apparently the only one interested in it. Second, it probably involves a Porsche or BMW. And lastly, that means that it boils down to generally two models – the 911 or M3. Yet every week I still type “Race Car” into the search function of eBay, resilient in the belief that eventually something new will pop up. Every once in a while I’m rewarded with a GTi or very rarely an Audi that has been set up for track duty, but today’s feature is a pretty unique beast. Apparently raced since new, this Volkswagen Scirocco 16V was constructed to compete in IMSA. Normally the domain of Group C/GTP prototypes in the 1980s, IMSA had support series such as International Sedan (IS) and Radial Sedan (RS) race series, later to become the popular Showroom Stock class populated by more domesticated beasts you generally would see on the road:

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1981 Volkswagen Scirocco

Just three days ago we looked at an impressive 1980 Volkswagen Scirocco. Condition was great and it was full of period details, but I mentioned I’d prefer a stock example. My wish came true, as an absolutely stunning original 1981 came to market immediately after. Looking splendid in Alpine White over Gazelle cloth, it is presented in near stock configuration and really lets the near perfect lines Giugiaro penned show through. The 1980 failed to meet its reserve at $10,100, but this auction is a no reserve deal with very active bidding. How high will this perfect ’81 go?

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1980 Volkswagen Scirocco

Period modifications can be pretty hit or miss, and when you’re talking 1980s cars, it seems most weren’t on target. Sure, the AMG widebody and Ruf cars are spectacular, but many more suffered the ignominious fate of having tacky tacked-on plastic bits, wild and poor paint jobs, and “performance enhancements” that more often than not led to a protracted period of non-running conditions. But once in a while a period piece pops up that looks special, and this 1980 Scirocco spotted by our reader Wojciech is just that:

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