In the early 1980s, there were precious few options for open-air German motoring. Sure, there was the tried and true Mercedes-Benz SL; a luxury car aimed more at boulevard cruising and polo club grand-standing than the Sport Licht moniker would indicate. Porsche’s 911 Cabriolet was certainly more sporty, but also too expensive for most to contemplate as a fun second car. BMW and Audi? The latter was over a decade away from having a factory convertible, and the former took until the mid-80s to introduce its drop-top 3-series. For the plebeians, then, the only real option was Volkswagen’s Rabbit convertible.
Rabbit Convertibles were produced by Karmann in Osnabrück, Germany – about a two and a half hour drive west from Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant. As they did with the Scirocco, Karmann’s distinctive badge adorned the model, here on the front fenders. The intensive construction process laden with chassis strengthening and bespoke items like the added roll-over bar meant that VW’s normal production line couldn’t handle the task. Although these were the heaviest of the A1 models, compared to today’s metal they were downright lithe; a manual early Convertible like today’s, even with air conditioning optioned in, weighed less than 2,300 lbs. While never the most powerful in the lineup, the light weight and manual transmission made the original Rabbit convertibles one of the more entertaining ways to experience compact German engineering and open-air motoring in the notoriously malaise early 80s.
While the persona surrounding the model, and more generally the people who bought the model new, tends to steer away from the typical ‘enthusiast’, the Rabbit Convertible has nonetheless moved solidly into collector territory. It’s a smart-looking, practically packaged and fun to drive convertible that can be run on a budget, fit four people in relative comfort and generate smiles throughout. In a world of increasingly serious automobiles, the Rabbit Convertible and Cabriolet models were just simple fun. Because they were so good at what they did, they’ve often been treasured more than the standard Volkswagen. But even then, few appear on our radar like this 1983 example:
If you haven’t been paying attention and like the early Scirocco, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a cheap classic. But over the past year several exceptional examples of the first generation Giugiaro coupe have popped up and the result has been sticker shock. For a while it was only the GTI which generated really big numbers, but a niche appreciation for these little 2-doors has sent prices through the roof.
The first shot across the bow was in April 2016, when a pristine and original survivor ’81 with 51,000 miles hit $17,100 after 95 bids:
1981 Volkswagen Scirocco
That was followed in September of this year by two strong but not original examples; the New Dimensions Turbo example brushing up against $15,000:
First Dimension: 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco Callaway Turbo
And the clean resprayed ’80 hit $9,300:
Wild or Mild? Double Take: 1978 and 1980 Volkswagen Sciroccos
But the culmination of these examples was the best I’ve seen yet. It was a massively impressive ‘1978 that appeared throughout near new, and it was no surprise that bidding at the last moment rocketed up to $17,700:
1978 Volkswagen Scirocco with 27,000 Miles
So it was somewhat without surprise that suddenly my filters are full of early Sciroccos. Over the past few weeks, even more examples have hit eBay in what I can presume is an attempt to capitalize on the capital generated by these cars. The same trend happened a few years ago when we saw big numbers on A1 GTIs. So here we go again, this time with a pre-facelift ’77 model in California:
Edit 11/28/2017 – though it reportedly sold for $17,700 this car has been relisted at $17,495 HERE – $2,000 more than the original listing’s Buy It Now option.
Normally I write fairly verbose introductions, covering the history of a particular model or some interesting tidbit about its history. Sometimes they’re my personal connections to the cars. I’m sure on more than one occasion you’ve wished I’d just shut up a bit so that you can get to the car. Today’s that day, because the presentation and condition of this 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco are so staggering I was literally left mouth agape looking through the photo reel. Enjoy:
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”.
“So what do Germans do for fun? They love to drive. Preferably in a Volkswagen GTI. Because the GTI is designed to be fun. Not fun in the sense of a dashboard cluttered with all sorts of doodads. But fun in the sense of a precision machine that respects and answers its driver’s every wish.
Hyperbole? Certain, this is advertising after all. But it pointed towards the beautiful simplicity of the design, the functionality of the package, the elegance of the execution. The GTI didn’t pretend to be a Corvette like the Opel GT, or a luxury car like the Passat. It wasn’t competing with Mercedes-Benz, or even really Porsche, on any level. And that allowed the characteristically unfun Germans to let their hair down and have a bit of a ball:
I can say with utter confidence that I’ll never own a Scirocco II. Here’s the weird part – I’m not exactly sure why.
It’s not as though I don’t appreciate the design, though how it came about is somewhat suspect. Volkswagen canned Giugiaro as the replacement designer for the exceptionally beautiful and unique first generation car, moving in-house to Karmann for the second go at the Golf-based sport coupe. The result looked suspiciously like Giugiaro’s Italdesign Asso di Fiori from 1979, though – the car that became the Isuzu Impulse. Two years later, and Viola! the Scirocco II debuts from Karmann with a near identical shape. On top of that, the mechanicals continued to be based upon the first generation Golf, while the A2 series went upwards in refinement. To me, because of the short wheel base and long overhangs – especially highlighted with U.S. spec bumpers – the second-generation Scirocco has just never looked quite right. The visually similar Audi Coupe was better balanced both in design and driving characteristics, and ultimately there wasn’t a huge price gap between them. A 1986 Scirocco 16V, with a few options, was yours for about $13,500 – only about $2,500 shy of the basic Coupe GT. But the performance nod went to the later 16V version of the Scirocco.
As we saw with the Dasher Hatchback from last week, just because it’s older and in good shape doesn’t automatically mean it’s worth a lot. If it’s a GTI or a Scirocco, sure – sit back with the popcorn and watch the bids roll in, but that Dasher? It sold for $1,600. Admittedly, it needed at least that amount and probably more in mechanical freshening, but still – you’re looking at a unique classic for well under $5,000 all in.
Today is another such beast, and like the Dasher, it’s a niche car that most will probably pass over for the more exciting metal. But this is one trick little bit of kit as you look a little closer. A1 Jettas are pretty rare to begin with, and this is a claimed rust-free example – always a good place to start. Euro bumpers slim down the look while Corrado Sebrings and a lowered ride height beef it up, but the clean presentation is really highlighted by the rare drivetrain – the CY turbocharged diesel inline-4 mated to a 5-speed manual transmission, good for 68 horsepower and 98 lb.ft of torque. This motor was also briefly available in the first generation Audi 4000. The 10.6 quoted 0-60 time won’t sound particularly exciting, but it was quite a bit quicker than the standard diesel and recorded better fuel economy (Volkswagen claimed it could top 54 mpg!). But the key to this car is the relative obscurity and rarity of the package.
A few weeks ago I took a look at a pretty wild, and fairly famous, first-generation Volkswagen Scirocco. Replete with period details and a Callaway turbo kit, it was a hit for sure as it was when it was the signature car for New Dimensions.
First Dimension: 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco Callaway Turbo
While in some ways the mods took away from the beautiful simplicity of the Giugiaro design, it was still a trick car and brought strong bids, selling finally for nearly $15,000. That money is quite close to the 1981 Scirocco I looked at last year. Completely original and very pristine, it sold for over $17,000. Clearly, the market for these cars values both stock and well modified examples highly.
1981 Volkswagen Scirocco
In light of that, today I have an interesting comparison to consider. First we’ll take a look at a fully original, very clean and proper survivor 1980 Scirocco, then we’ll gander towards a full-on show car powered by a R32 VR6 and a claimed 400 horsepower – about five times what it came with originally. Will the bids follow the historical trends?
There aren’t too many period-correct tuned Volkswagens that we get to see. Those that do turn up are usually home-brewed, and consequently usually aren’t built to a high standard.
Today’s is something special, though.
Finding a clean first generation Scirocco is difficult enough. This one also happens to be one of the limited Champagne Edition cars, though you’d not know it unless I told you so, because so little of the original outside of the silhouette remains. From top to bottom, this Scirocco has been through a whirlwind of changes. But this car is far from a garage project, as some of the more legendary VW tuners in the U.S. had their hands on it since it was close to new. This car was the original test bed for the Santa Clara speed shop New Dimensions, and features some of the best items you could source. New Dimensions bought the production rights and experience of Callaway Turbo Systems in the mid 1980s, and continued to offer turbocharging for Volkswagens into the early 2000s. The result, after a painstaking period of rebuilding it, is a nearly flawless execution and one of the best tuned VW 2-doors out there:
There are some obvious links to yesterday’s ’86 Golf in this 1990 Cabriolet. Beyond both being Volkswagens and based upon the Golf platform, they both have low mileage. Above and beyond that, they’re also both the base models of the lineup for their respective year.
In 1990, the Cabriolet was broken into three trim levels; base Cabriolet, the “Best Seller” we looked at recently, and the triple white “Boutique” model at the top. All shared the basic underpinnings with the 94 horsepower Digifant 2H 1.8 liter inline-4 and 5-speed AUG (010 3-speed automatic was optional) and 9.4″ front vented rotors and rear drums. The only differences came in the Boutique’s leather interior and wheel options; the Best Seller having the teardrop 14″ alloys in all silver, while the Boutique’s insets were color-matched white. You could also opt for package P24 in the Best Seller, which gave you both air conditioning and cruise control. Option package P60 in the normal Cabriolet only got you the first option – outside of color, the only selection you could make for the 1990 model year to the base model. In place of 14″ alloys, you instead got 14″ steel wheels with trim rings shared with the 1990-1992 Jetta.
But just because this model isn’t a higher-specification model doesn’t make it desirable, because here condition, color and mileage trump all other considerations:
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: