We’ve had plenty of Volkswagen A1 chassis to look at recently, from the neat Jetta Turbo Diesel we’ll be seeing again soon through the string of very awesome Sciroccos from both the first and second generation. I’ve also looked at quite a few GTIs, from the second, third and fourth generation. But for all that love, I’ve somehow managed to avoid combining the two and covering what is arguably the most famous modern Volkswagen – the original GTI.
Today I hope to rectify that with today’s last-year example of what many consider to be the original ‘hot hatch’. While the U.S. example was somewhat watered-down and had chunkier styling than the truly Spartan 1976 design, it was still a revelation in performance and universally heralded as the benchmark by which all other sporty economy cars would be based moving forward. At a time when there were few do-it-all type cars, the GTI managed to be nearly all things to all people; it got good fuel economy thanks to a relatively miserly 1.8 liter inline-4 with efficient fuel injection. It looked neat, thanks to 14″ alloy wheels, wide fender flared and blacked-out detail work with red accent stripes. It was functional and flexible, with fold-down seats and a (for its size) spacious hatch area to transport goods. It was usable year-round, with front-wheel drive allowing for decent snow traction. And the sport suspension, heavily bolstered seats and close-ratio transmission made the whole package an athletic alternative to the norm, allowing practical-minded men and women to fling their family car through corners with aplomb. Near universal was its appeal, and infectious were the ad campaigns, which in the Volkswagen tradition used short phrases to capture attention like “They’re going fast” and “Serious Fun” – even the oft-used “It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.…
The first water-cooled entrant into the Volkswagen world had remarkable staying power, just like its air-cooled brethren had before it. Construction of the first models began back in 1974, and though the convertible version didn’t begin production until five years later, the renamed (but largely unchanged) Cabriolet wouldn’t wrap up production until an amazing 1993. Granted, by that point the Cabriolet was more niche model and nostalgic throwback than practical transportation, but nonetheless it was an impressive return on investment in the chassis design that 19 years later it was still being produced. And, if you want to count the reworked South African version, technically the Mk.1 was still available for sale until 2009!
What we have here is one of the later U.S. specification Cabriolets. In 1988, Volkswagen updated the look of the aging model (which, incidentally, had just been lightly refreshed in 1985 and renamed Cabriolet from Rabbit Convertible) to the “Clipper” models. Signature would become the four-headlight grill, deeper and smoother front fascia, wider fender flares and side skirts. The Cabriolet became the first Volkswagen model to sport an airbag as standard in 1990, too, as well as a new knee protection bar to the lower portion of the dashboard. 1990 also marked the change from the ex-GTI CIS motor to the Digifant electronic fuel injection. The more upscale models, like this “Best Seller”, also received the 16V model “Teardrop” alloys making for a slick looking package:
Often we complain about the numerous times German manufacturers have failed to send models enthusiasts want to U.S. shores. But in the case of the Volkswagen Pickup – affectionately nicknamed the “Caddy” after the model that was released later in Europe – was first debuted out of the American Westmoreland, PA plant. The chassis was lengthened and unique bodywork and rear axle were fit, and the Rabbit Pickup was marketed as a comfortable, car-like utility vehicle. Between 1980 and 1982, Volkswagen even offered the Rabbit “Sportruck”. While most would presume this was primarily an appearance package, the Sportruck actually was quite a bit more sporty than the diesel options in the rest of the lineup. You got a 5-speed manual (opposed to 4) hooked to a 1.7 liter 8V, a front spoiler and special “Rally” wheel trim, along with a 3-gauge console and bucket seats with a Scirocco steering wheel. It wasn’t a GTI, but it was a half step in between.
This Caddy, though it isn’t one of the Sportrucks, is a huge leap for Caddykind:
This is a $18,000 11 year old Volkswagen Golf. And, by Volkswagen Golf, I mean Rabbit, because for a short time VW North America apparently decided to resurrect the small fuzzy bunny name which dated back to the first generation. Hey, it had worked with the Beetle, right? Except that most people had negative associations with the Rabbit which outweighed the negative associations with the Mk.4 Golf. It was a strange choice that was pretty quickly abandoned. Whatever, it’s the same car with a bunny symbol on it so you’ll make Playboy fans all excited to see a kindred spirit driving. Yes, that’s why they’re giving you a thumbs up.
Okay, back to the price. It won’t take anyone long to see that you can pop over to Volkswagen and buy a brand new Golf for under $20,000. This one is 11 years old and has nearly a quarter million miles on the chassis. I know Golfs retain silly residual value, but this is a bit ridiculous – or, is it?
Way before “i” stood for everything ‘intelligent’ from your phone to your (no joke) pet, adding the 9th letter of the alphabet to your German car meant something equally as forward thinking in the 1970s and 1980s – injection. Unless, of course, you were talking about ‘e’ in a few cases, where the German word for injection – Einspritzung – came into play (I’m looking at you, Mercedes-Benz. And, occasionally BMW, for no apparent reason).
But I digress.
Adding fuel injection to your motor in the 1970s was pretty close to rocket science, since in the 1960s only the most exotic and high performance cars available had it. So when Volkswagen dropped a fuel injected 1.6 liter inline-4 pumping out an astonishing for the period 110 horsepower in 1975, it’s no wonder it was a revolution. Consider, for a moment, that the 1975 Corvette – with its gargantuan, gas-guzzling 5.7 liter V8 – managed to produce only 165 horsepower. Today’s base Corvette produces about 455 horsepower, meaning that the same relation would make today’s GTI a 300 horsepower hot hatch. Which, ironically in R form, it pretty much is! Still, it was the formula of the original that made this the hottest commodity on the market. It would be eight long years until the GTI debuted in the U.S. market. When it did, it had been turned down slightly and injection was no longer solely the domain of the GTI. Still, it was a potent and popular package, with attractive Guigiaro-penned looks and plenty of practicality. Some 34 years on from launch, the looks still capture the imagination of many who owned (or longed to own) one of these transformative hatches:
Interesting and diverse additions to our Hammertime value guide for this week include some head scratchers, some values and some breathtaking numbers. Leading the charge was the recent sale of the 2016 911R at RM Auctions at nearly $550,000. Yet there was value to be found in the Volkswagen world, as two VR6 modded VW hatches hit $5,200 (1977) and $10,600 (1991). The salvage title Corrado SLC VR6 was presumably cheap at only $3,601, making for a good driver candidate. Bidders failed to show up for the 2003 RS6, and the no reserve auction fell silent at only $8,000 – perhaps a great value, while the 300SEL 4.5 nearly tripped $5,000 despite major concerns. At the higher end of the collector market for each was the W126 560SEL at $21,000 and the B2 Audi 4000S quattro at nearly $8,000. Finally, a 912 tipped the scales at $28,100, leaving us wondering where the 912 market is heading.
Link to the page HERE!
2016 Porsche 911R – E.515,200 ($547,521)
1977 Volkswagen Rabbit VR6 24V – $5,200
1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL – $21,000
2003 Audi RS6 – $8,000
1972 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 4.5 – $4,950
1968 Porsche 912 Targa – $28,100
1993 Volkswagen Corrado SLC – $3,601
1985 Audi 4000S quattro – $7,999
1991 Volkswagen GTi 3.2 VR6 – $10,600
Did the high-mileage R32 from earlier get you wondering what you might do with the drivetrain? A little over three years ago, we took a look at a special early Rabbit. Dressed in Miami Blue and looking subtly upgraded with Corrado steel wheels and a lower ride height, what the exterior didn’t give away was that lurking under the hood was a 2.8 liter 24V VR6 motor popped in. The swap looked well executed and generally clean outside of some loose wiring, and the builder hadn’t gone over the top with a crazy interior – instead, relying on the original items for a true sleeper status. With a few minor changes like a better executed intake, engine cover and some odds and ends, the car has reappeared with generally the same introduction – but that’s okay with us, because the look is spot on! It’s also a no reserve auction, so we’ll get to see where an honest yet seriously quick Rabbit gets you these days.
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:
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:
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: