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: