Sunday, March 23, 2014

5k: Green Bean: 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel Mk1

The Volkswagen Golf was introduced in 1974 as a replacement to the 36 year old Beetle (Type 1) and sold like salty pretzels at Oktoberfest, with over 6 million of the front-drive compacts leaving worldwide factories through 2009.  The Rabbit (as it was called in the USA) was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign - noted for his work on the Alfa Giulia Sprint, Ferrari 250 GT, Maserati Bora and Isuzu cetera.  Find this 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel Mk1 for sale in Los Angeles, CA for $3,500 via craigslist.

The Mk1 Rabbit/Golf is the cleanest designed of all Golfs, chalk it up to the Giuigiaro influence instead of internal VW folks, or blame the later designs on stringent requirements for crash safety, impact standards and aerodynamics -- it doesn't matter -- the Mk1 Golf is the best looking, even when the paint is falling off the roof.

Under the hood of this Rabbit is a 1.6 liter inline-4 cylinder diesel that puts out 54 horsepower.  To be honest, I used to own a Mk1 diesel rabbit and it was the slowest car I have ever driven.  It was slower than the W123 diesels I've piloted and an entertaining car to drive on the road.  Keeping up with the normal flow of traffic requires clutch dumping starts and the throttle pedal can be treated as a binary switch.  Oddly enough it wasn't a penalty box like driving a rental car with a CVT or a Prius...since the 4-speed gearbox kept you busy.

Odder still is the unassisted rack & pinon steering, and feedback from unicycle thin tires from what must have been 90 degrees of caster.  Feedback builds calmly and progressively at ridiculously slow speeds as the limits of traction are reached as Greyhound buses pass you in freeway on-ramps.

 See a better front drive 40mpg commuter?


  1. Owned one of these in "California Beige" from new until 1989. Cadillac smushed the front end. My wife accuses me of driving slowly, but, even so, I never thought it was too slow merging into traffic. It would cruise at 75 all day and get 55mpg. Dead boring. Nothing ever wore out.

  2. I sold these when new and VW offered a gas 'can' that could be inserted into the spare wheel well as a way of getting extended range. They were painfully slow. Turn on the a/c and insert 3 full sized adults (during a demo ride) and start clocking acceleration rates in geological time references. The people who bought them, generally loved them. Reports of 50+ mpg were not uncommon.

  3. A buddy of mine but a early mk2 with a slightly warmed up non turbo diesel. The car made 75 HP and had a 5 speed with a tall 5th gear. The 25 or so extra HP where a huge help and made it entertaining to drive. He even installed gti rear disks and a golf ball shifter. It was a little smoke bellowing go kart.

  4. Oh wow, lots of memories brought back by this one, I had a buddy who had one up here in the great white north. Decent car, until the thermometer hit around zero F (-18C). Then it was a total bear to start. Diesel fuel starts to gel down in that range. Some nights after work, I would have to use my Fairmont wagon to push him around the parking lot until enough random compression bangs would generate enough heat soak to thaw the fuel lines.

    Later, when I put the Fairmont up for sale, I gave him a copy of the ad, with the headline: 1979 Volkswagon Diesel Starter for sale.

    My other memory of the VW was that once it fired up in the cold, the vibration was so bad for the first couple of minutes that the entire dash board would shake a good four inches. Every instrument and circuit board in that car failed at one time or another (some over and over again) due to that brutal vibration.

    That car cured me of any possible desire to drive an oil-burner.

    Remember the old joke:

    Knock knock

    - Who's there?


    - Diesel who?

    Diesel save you a lot of money, if you can stand the noise and the smell!

  5. Am I the only one who sees a smog-exempt Mk1 GTI when I look at this? How long could the swap take - maybe 2 weekends?

    1. ^^^ THIS!!!

      Re: time. Back before I learned how to work on cars I had the entire driveline / fuel system out of one of these in an afternoon. 2 weekends should be more than enough time for your average shade tree. The potential long lead item will be finding a suitable donor (VR6!!!), and even that won't take very long. Google "Eurowise" for VR6 swap awesomeness.

  6. I'm looking at that engine and it looks like a later unit from a Mk2 at least as the valve cover on an Mk1 would be black steel without the VW emblem embossed in it (I had an '84). This could be a decent bargain to get you around town on the cheap with minimal maintenance or emissions nannying.

  7. Here is the "you are doing it wrong" edition Rabbit. A 1984 GTI shell with a 1.6 NA diesel power. The reverse of what CFlo suggested...still kinda cool, but carboten in Cali.

    1. Doing it wrong on so. many. levels. I'm looking at you, rear wheels.

  8. Oh man that color brings back memories. I had two Rabbits back in 1979. (Both gas engines).
    My last one was that color it's called "Inari Silver".
    It doesn't look much like silver does it?


Commenting Commandments:
I. Thou Shalt Not write anything your mother would not appreciate reading.
II. Thou Shalt Not post as anonymous unless you are posting from mobile and have technical issues. Use name/url when posting and pick something Urazmus B Jokin, Ben Dover. Sir Edmund Hillary Clint don't matter. Just pick a nom de plume and stick with it.
III. Honor thy own links by using <a href ="http://www.linkgoeshere"> description of your link </a>
IV. Remember the formatting tricks <i>italics</i> and <b> bold </b>
V. Thou Shalt Not commit spam.