R&T’s 1980 August issue brings two intesting VW articles.
The first is a Road Test of the Jetta:
The second is an update on the Diesel Golf (Rabbit) R&T had for extended use. You can read the original post here.
THAT was efficient! Dirty (by today’s standards, not 1980’s) and slow, but thrifty.
A modern VW diesel dropped in there would make it REALLY efficient–and that is all that car would need.
Good, honest, transportation.
Legislated out of existence by the nanny state/big brother.
I think having 10 airbags and vastly improved crashworthiness can be beneficial. But it does help kill the planet (more mass = more emissions).
I would prefer if I was free to choose..pay more and buy a Volvo, or a Chevy or Toyota for that matter, with the safety stuff–or save some money and the planet, and buy a simpler car.
The Mark 1 VW’s are also more fun to drive than most cars today–though also not as comfortable.
But for local driving, I wish I could buy a new 1980 Jetta/Rabbit! I’d take it over a Civic/Cobalt
You can go buy a Mitsubishi Mirage. Yes, it meets all current safety standards. But it also comes darn close the the Rabbit Diesel’s MPG, even though it uses plain old gasoline.
A little dickering at your local Mitsu dealer should get you out the door under $12k. Apples-to-apples, that’s a lot cheaper than the 1980 Rabbit Diesel.
I just looked up the Mitsu Mirage… amazingly, it does weigh about 2,000 lbs.
And if must meet safety standards. Still, I don’t car for it–I don’t like the looks and proportions (it’s too tall), and I see it has a 74 hp / 74 lb-ft 1.2 liter 3-cyl.
On paper, it’s comparable to a 1980 1.5 / 1.6 liter 70-75 hp motor, and more efficient.
It is definitely less in inflation-adusted dollars.
Even allowing for my biases, I suspect it’s not as much fun to drive. But you found a viable 2015 substitute–thanks!
The Mirage is being tweaked for 2016 anyway, they’re promising (a bit) more power and better handling. Whether it improves things from “just plain grim” to “fun in a slow-car-fast way” remains to be seen.
Go spend a week in and tell me you don’t want emission controls.
I find the Jetta road test results interesting. They used shift points well beyond the peak horsepower point.
Do you realize that doing so is the key to maximum performance? And why the red line on a tach is always higher than the max hp peak?
The whole point of finding optimum shift points is to keep the engine from dropping too low in rpm after the shift, slowing acceleration. By shifting above the power peak, the rpm will be higher after shift. That involves a trade off: the hp dropping off past the power peak vs. the hp after the shift.
All racers and those interested in max acceleration need to optimize their shift points for this reason. It’s also why there used to be wide-ratio and close-ratio four speed gear boxes. The close ratio boxes gave better acceleration but required a high numerical rear axle,which meant the cars had high revs on the highway.
Wide ratio boxes were better for all-round use, as the rear axle could be lower numerically, for lower rpm at highway speed and better mileage.
The whole point of the redline on the tach is to give the driver the maximum rpm for shifting for maximum acceleration, although depending on the gearing and such, it might not always correspond exactly to the optimum shift point.
In the 60’s cars did not have tach’s in general. However, I tried to make the point that the 396 Caprice would probably do much better in the quarter mile if the shift points were at a higher RPM than at the peak net horsepower. This Jetta is of course a much lighter weight car than the Caprice, but its quarter mile performance is not much slower than the Caprice.
Automatics are of course a bit different, due to their having a torque converter, which increases the effective power after the shift.
There’s no doubt that most automatics back then usually shifted at around power peak and not higher, as a way precaution. Which is why automatics often were faster when shifted manually. And why ‘shift kits” were so popular with the go-fast crowd, to optimize shift points.
A full throttle shift at 4500 RPM’s from first to second would have the engine and torque converter running at about 2600 RPMs which should be above the coupled point. Even Buick’s triple turbine does not generate much torque amplification above 2500 RPM’s or so (on the output shaft). (see the SAE Journal article)
Few cars came with tach’s in the 60’s, 70’s or even the 80’s. I think by the 90’s tach’s were more common. I think engine red line was about 5500 RPM’s for most engines in the 60’s, but that would not be the best shift point for automatics.
You’re right about that (torque converter couple).
My main point is that automatic shift points were generally at or just below max output, undoubtedly to protect the engine. Which is why they performance automatics had shifters that made manual shifts easy. And why shift kits were so popular.
Maximum acceleration is achieved by shifting at the speed which equates with the engine’s torque peak in the next higher gear.
No. The fastest acceleration happens when the engine makes its maximum hp. Which is why a CVT keeps the engine at/near max rpm during acceleration. And why an 9/8speed automatic transmission will drop the engine into a higher rpm than max torque during a full throttle run.
Yes, dropping rpm below max torque after the shift is worse than at it or above, but the higher the better. Max hp is the key.
Not true, except by coincidence occasionally on very low-revving engines.
Overall torque (engine output multiplied by gearing) at or near redline in a lower gear will usually be far greater than overall torque at the engine’s rated torque peak in a higher gear. It’s best to shift at the highest possible engine speed, or if power falls off well before then, the point after the horsepower peak where more torque (to the wheels) first becomes available in the higher gear.
EDIT: Didn’t see Paul’s comment before I replied, but that’s also true. Within a single gear range, a vehicle will accelerate hardest at its torque peak… but maximum sustained acceleration occurs with an engine kept at its horsepower peak.
The German built models were much better than the later Mexican assembled models that started self-destructing at 70K.
Don’t confuse the cause and effect.
If workers are at fault, management is still to blame, either for hiring the wrong people, or not providing sufficient incentives for quality work. Mexicans work as hard or well as anyone else, esp. if they’re hungry.
Besides, most German factories, even during the Wirtschaftswunder, had Turks & other non-Teutonic Gastarbeiter because Germans were either too scarce or too proud for menial work. Menial labor shortages come naturally with developed economies; the US has had such shortages from the beginning, hence British convicts, African slaves, & waves of poor European, Asian, & then Central American migrants.
Diesel “zoomed” to $1.15/g, they said. Nowadays Diesel pump prices (in AZ at least) are around $2/g, so considering inflation since 1980 (compare Golf sticker prices), fuel is a bargain now; no wonder profitable monster-engined vehicles are selling well.
The “niggling” problems suggest the QC gap between Japan & Germany has been long standing.
Watched the news this week, oil had dropped to about $35 a barrel so that adjusted for inflation the price of a gallon of gasoline was at about $0.21 versus $0.32 in 1960s terms.
I recall these early Jetta/Rabbit cars as being very solid cars, having excellent (for the time period) brakes, awesome (if somewhat stark & plain) interior space efficiency, supportive seats, lousy air conditioners (SO necessary in Hot & Humid New Orelans!) kinda-sorta vague shifting manual transmissions, but vibration prone, dull & plain inside and out when compared to a Toyota or Honda.
Owned an ’80 Jetta 2 door auto sunroof for about a year. Pulled the 5 speed and flywheel, shifter linkage and other parts to convert to stick. I was impressed on how it would move out, especially for an automatic. But only about 26 MPG driving 70 MPH on long trips. About 10 MPG less than my ’86 5 speed Jetta. It felt as quick or quicker off the line than my ’77 Rabbit 5 speed which it replaced after it a ’63 Dodge pickup which ran a stop sign shortened it by about 4 feet. A look at the engine code showed the engine had been replaced by a JH code 1.8 94 HP Scirocco engine by the time I bought it in 1990. Really liked it’s more upscale Audi like interior, and lacking power steering really made the handling feel sharp. I soon moved from Washington state to Southern California for a few years, and the lack of AC while being parked on the freeways really sucked. So when a great deal came up on a then 5 year old ’86 Jetta came up, It was sold and replaced by this car which I still drive today. The ’80 handled better and was more fun to drive then the ’86, which does have power steering that numbs road feel compared the the ’80. If It was equipped with a 5 speed and AC originally I probably would still be driving it today. Really like these old article reprints. Miss the days when VW had German built models built to last. The long term Diesel Rabbit mentions what killed Diesel sales around this time, the price of Diesel fuel quickly doubled in price and caught up with gasoline prices.
I actually started with a ’78 Scirocco, 4 speed, no AC, which I originally bought up north but brought with me to the sunbelt where I still live…I liked the car enough to keep it several (4) years without AC, when a co-worker was selling his 9 month old GTI (he got a job in another city and didn’t want to have a car)..it was an ’86 GTI, it had AC, sunroof (manual) but no power steering (no PS was great on Scirocco as it was light and had narrow tires, but I would have liked to have it on the GTI which was not only heavier but had 60 series tires (really WIDE for that time) so parking could be a handful (especially once I broke my collarbone and some ribs, driving a 5 speed GTI with manual steering was a handfull). I liked the GTI as I kept it 15 years….until I bought my current 2000 Golf (4 door). It has power steering (not even an option anymore) and AC, I’ve owned it 15 years so far, but I think I still liked my Scirocco best, though it was definitely a younger man’s car, I don’t think I’d like scooting down to sit low in it. My Scirocco was German, the GTI was built in Westmoreland, and my Golf in Brazil, so I’ve had each one built in different site.
I was a big Scirocco/Golf fan, and like to imagine myself in a fuel-injected, 1.6 Scirocco (in 8th grade, lol).
To motivate myself with my future ‘reward’ once I got a job, I test drove a red 86 GTI–manual steering, no A/C, cloth, no sunroof. I thought it took some effort to park, but not bad.
8 months later, I got my first new car, an 86 GTI with power steering and A/C. I kept it 13 yrs, 145k. I would’ve preferred manual steering, but the cars avail all had P/S (but not A/C). I liked the steering–and I’m glad I took an A/C car, for the first 10 years, the A/C was great–it could liquify air!
In 2009, I got an 84 Rabbit GTI–with manual steering. I loved the manual steering! It took some effort to park, but not much. Unfortunately I had one car too many, and it or my (2nd) Golf GTI had to go….and I liked the Golf more (it has P/S, but NO A/C; Sunroof, leather (leatherette?) seats, and power windows/locks).
I’d take the Rabbit Diesel any day.
A last generation, GERMAN ASSEMBLED Jetta or Rabbit would always tempt me.
Just not one assembled “south of the border”. I’ve spoken with too many of Mexico’s victims.
My time of weekend driveway rebuilding Fiats and Jags and Alfas are over. If I spend “Big Bucks” for a Daily Driver I expect it to stay together!
A fellow I worked with had Mexican built Jetta. According to him, the front bumper fell off in the middle of an intersection.
In 1980 I bought a new foreign-built hatchback that also had a 1600cc engine. It didn’t have metallic paint or a sunroof but it was also THOUSANDS of dollars cheaper, and that’s why I bought a Ford instead of a VW, as much as I admired the Jetta and Rabbit.
My first car was a MK1 Jetta, so I read the first review in detail.
This bit stuck out to me “the outward vision is very good, hampered for some drivers by the left B-pillar during lane changes.”
HA! Imagine how they’d react to the bunker visibility of today’s cars. Seriously, that Jetta B-pillar was TINY.
Nice car! Always liked the first generation Jetta.
Agreed! Unfortunately that photo isn’t mine.
I suppose the question would be, would you have considered this a good experience in 1980? Consider that the total repairs over 80,000 miles totalled HALF of the cars initial purchase price! Today we would not blanch at $252 for a brake pump but in 1980 that was serious money, and 5% of the car’s purchase price. The gearbox repair on a simple, manual, non electronic gearbox was nearly $400 (excluding the maintenance items).
I don’t recall what year this car was, but if it were a 1977, there really weren’t a lot of better choices in 1977. Japanese cars were still tiny obscure tin boxes in many places, and the Rabbit was large enough for a family. The Colonnades, while attractive, were probably the same size inside as the Rabbit; Ford’s midsizers were worse. The Aspen/Volare had quickly developed their reputations. In 1978, the Fairmont was out, the Omnirizons were out, and the new GM A bodies were out, all of which would have posed very credible threats to the Rabbit at around the same price.
I think that given the choices in 1977, I would have found a low mileage four door Dart/Valiant. In 1978 I would have gone straight to Malibu. Surely a Malibu or Dart/Valiant would not have required HALF of its purchase price be spent over 80K.
The real eye-openers were, at 78,000 miles, “rust along the cowl,” and a heater permanently stuck in the “on” position. But that stuck heater came in handy, as it kept the feet warm whenever a half-inch of water accumulated in the right foot well after a rain storm.
People today forget that the first real victims of the Japanese onslaught in the U.S. were the low-cost European auto makers, not the domestics. Fiat and Renault would be gone from the U.S. market by the end of the 1980s, and VW was hanging on by a thread.
Early on the clutch was quickly gone. Repaired twice under warranty. At around 70k miles the gearbox was noisy. With a bunch of different drivers who don’t have to pay for repairs. Abuse is what caused these failures. It also was crashed to the tune of around 1k 1980 dollars in damages, although not included in repair costs. I would blame the water leak and brake booster pump failure on the factory. There were repair kits to rebuild the vacuum pump available and this was a common repair, pumps were normally repaired not replaced.The transmissions on these cars were very long lived and durable, and a properly operated clutch will last at least 100k miles if driven properly. This car was serviced with all factory recommended services, including 60k timing belt replacement, and at (expensive) VW dealership prices.
My dad’s 78 Omni was a terrible little POS…kept breaking outside door handles, the little 13 inch steel wheels must have been really soft, my dad bent several of them on potholes, the steering wheel vibrated alarmingly at idle…terrible little car, and the ONLY Chrysler my parents ever owned. It was a pretty little car, dark green metallic paint, upgraded vinyl interior, automatic, AM radio and no A/C.
In the late 70s people still had fond memories of air-cooled VWs and were drawn to the water cooled variety…several neighbors got Rabbit diesels and had great results with them. My parents had a German-built Jetta, a Mk2 Golf that I don’t know which plant it came from, and a Mexican built Jetta that was AWFUL. The Mexi-Jetta was apparently built with the windshield opening out-of-square, and it kept popping windshields…it had other ongoing issues too, which drove them to buy Asian cars ever since.
CincyDavid: so true. VW has been lunching off it’s Beetle reputation for decades. If a Beetle had had the problems of the Rabbit, truly smaller brand Euro grade stuff, that reputation would have been long gone by the time of the Rabbit, and so would VW.
No mention of the necessity of changing the timing belt at 60K miles anywhere in the article. So either they had just had it done, or were driving on borrowed time.
I owned a 1981 Rabbit D for a few years and used it as a daily driver.
One of the best things about owning this car (back in the early 2000s)? You know those $19.99 tire deals they used to offer, only on the tiniest donuts (155/80R13 IIRC)? Well lucky me, that happened to be the very same size that the Rabbit used!
A new set of four tires, out the door mounted and balanced, for around $125. I’ll never forget that!
I wonder if the reason why the water pump/timing belt repair wasn’t mentioned is that VW, like many/most/all manufacturers assumes/assumed all the owners of it’s vehicles ALWAYS took/takes their car back to the dealer…..forever, when it needs service.
Ford’s owner’s manual came with a VERY detailed maintenance schedule (at least in the near new Ford Escort, Ranger, and Taurus I drove) and it NEVER specified when to change the timing belt. Apparently, the idea was that when the pump’s bearings started to squeak, you took it to the dealer and he talked you into the timing belt change at the same time.
The “need” to replace the timing belt depends on the engine design, whether it is an interference or non interference. If the timing belt failure does not endanger the engine (non interference), then no need to replace it until it fails. Of course that may leave you stranded somewhere.
I came across many of these cars in my shady used car days, and for university students, Rabbit Diesels were the go-to car for years. The Rabbit was wildly popular in Canada, kind of an anti-establishment thing. They were NOT cheap, a 1980 Rabbit Diesel easy costing the same as a loaded Caprice.
My dad had a 1984 Jetta Turbodiesel and it was one of the nicest cars I have ever driven to this day. The Gen 1 was about the most fun to drive car ever and without power steering, the cars were a hoot to drive. Dad’s had a/c and it wasn’t too bad to steer, but I had a gf who had a gas 1982 Jetta with automatic and a/c and it was a real beast to steer. I used to pump the tires up to 50 psi.
The niggling faults are also normal VW stuff, and ever one rusted at the windshield. The cars were easy to fix and all the parts from a 1975 Rabbit swapped over to a 1980, and vice versa, so we developed quite a little Rabbit hutch at one time!
Both the Jetta and the Rabbit were quite attractive in that 75-85 boxy way. If this Jetta had been brought to Westmoreland, instead of chrome and woodgrain like they did to the Rabbit, they had amplified the American taste for Germanness. The sedan body would have been a little quieter, why not amplify that advantage by adding a little sound deadening and a taller 5th gear to make it a better highway runner. Some years in the eighties, VW offered a short but unlimited mile warranty, that some traveling salesman took advantage of with diesel Jettas. Make a gas or diesel one just for them.
I was selling them at the time (1987) and that warranty was simply uncompetitive.
The traveling salesman sector of the market is , ahem, limited, and many potential buyers turned their nose up at it. This was when when Chrysler was offering 5/50 (5/80 in Canada) powertrain with 3 year bumper to bumper.
If you weren’t a high mileage driver, and most people aren’t, the VW warranty sucked @$$.
My college roommate’s father, a well off traveling salesman, kept a new Jetta Diesel at the time and explained to me the warranty advantage. It may depend if you pay your own gas, as some do who are one man shows. Early Jettas had plenty of trunk for samples et al.
Really enjoyed my 2-door sunroof 5-speed with AC, ’84 Jetta in late 80’s. Put wider 205’s on it, which fit within the plastic flares, and it handled amazing. Always fun in NYC, making pedestrians bolt when getting the green light and popping the clutch!
Only recurring problems I had were fuel pump relay (needed a change after every heavy rain storm), occasional O2 sensors, and making sure drain plug for AC condensor was blown out yearly (otherwise passenger carpet would get a soaking).
125 mile round trip to work ate up the car a little early, but still sold it at or close to my cost!
My first car was a 86 VW Golf 1,6 (petrol) 4-speed. Not fast, not especially reliable, but at the times a nice small car. I sold it and bought an 83 Opel Monza 3.0. Well, it was a lot faster, a lot thirstier and more comfortable, but not very reliable. Then I bought a 1967 Buick Riviera, it was faster, a lot thirstier, a lot more comfortable (and quieter) and lot better reliability.
Here in Europe I can understand why not everyone drove a Buick Riviera(or other big cars with V8s) because of the fuel costs (even it was dead end reliable!), but why anyone in America would buy a VW Golf at the times instead of, let’s say a Caprice or even a Chevrolet Celebrity is beyond me. And that clattering diesel, yes it got great MPG, but who would care about MPG in a country which fuel costs next to nothing? But then, even in America some bought cars with I4 instead of V6 when they had the choice.
I just need help to understand why anyone in the 80s cared about MPG, or even today. In todays dollars it costs me about 110 USD to fill up my car, so I can understand those who are thinking about MPG, but in the US the same car would cost about (2 doller a gallon?) 40 USD.
but why anyone in America would buy a VW Golf at the times instead of, let’s say a Caprice or even a Chevrolet Celebrity is beyond me.
If you haven’t figured out the answer to your question in 30 years, I doubt I could do it in the space and time available here. Seriously; it seems like you’ll just have to live with this great mystery.
I do understand that in relation to environment that anyone just can’t run big V8s around the world. But I still do wonder why anyone in America want to buy a clattering diesel (also today) when you can choose so many nice petrol engines? And in the 80s with low oil prices (like today, adjusted) why would anyone run a fairly uncomfortable Jetta or Golf (Rabbit in US?) or a comparable domestic american car like the (in 1980) Chevrolet Citation?
You have to understand that cars are very cheap in the US, cars with big engines and a lot of horsepower is very very cheap compared with Europe. Even the gasprices is rediculously low, are the American economy so bad that you can’t run cars with big engines anymore? The US is no longer the greatest country to live in, but far, but it’s still a country were the majority of the population is below average in income? Or am I wrong?
If we in Norway could chose (in the 80s) between a Golf 1,6 without Power steering and a let’s say a Caprice at hardly any difference in price, the majority would have choosen the Chevrolet, even with the Norwegian gas prices. That is what you american could do at the time.
Today you can buy a Mustang very cheap. The same car costs (in Norway with the turbo I4) 90k USD.
When I was in Norway in 2014, it seemed one of the most common cars I saw was the Tesla. Saw far more than I see at home in the USA. The Tesla is about as large a car as we are still allowed in the USA. With the efficiency, now Norway can have the best of both worlds. No 430 V8 though, sorry about that.
But I do love all those “Vintage” articles on this site. These articles are also full of technical facts.
That Jetta road test brings back memories, all pretty bad. My pal had a ’78 Golf with the little 1460cc engine that VW put in them while Herr Doktor Professors slaved away in Germany working out why valve guides wore out and I believe, head gaskets on the 1588 cc engine failed. Anyone remember the flap over that problem? Lovely engine, that small one. So in 1980, silly me, believing that VW had in fact solved the problems of the larger engine, I ordered in a top line Jetta.
Big mistake. While the engine was fine, my car arrived with a snoot very close to the ground, giving it a rakish wedge side profile. Unfortunately, the front suspension bottomed out on even mild bumps. While the dealer investigated, the second problem arose, caused by the pneumatic-controlled heat/AC system. It was always fun to show people its operation. Gentle pffts of air would accompany changes of vent position as one’s finger would lightly press the appropriate button. Very deluxe, until one day I came to a stop sign and a gigantic racket began under the hood.
Well, a giant grey multi-cellular THING was on top of the engine, occasionally catching the accessory belts and leaping up and down. This was, it turns out, the vacuum canister for the pneumatic-control heat/A/C system. About a dozen spherical balls all moulded into an overall flat sheet cunningly held to the underside of the hood by large blue elastic bands. I was soon to discover that the hooks on the hood underside were, shall we say, inadequate. Consequently this thing would drop on the engine at random intervals. Great!
The dealer found my front springs were for a euro-spec 1300 Golf, and way too weak for the bigger engine with power steering and A/C. Hence the nose-down atttitude. New struts were fitted, and the ride improved immensely.
Then the so-called wonderful shift linkage started to mess up. Third gear became difficult to find, so I found that by removing the boot, and tugging on the rod that went forward would somehow restore things to normal. So for the remainder of its stay with me, the vinyl boot was never put back in place.
16 months was all I could stand of this car. The engine never seemed to have the revvability of my friend’s 1460 Golf, in fact it seemed slow to me. Got me a brand-spanking new 1982 Audi Coupe, first at the dealer and except for an appetite for power window motors, and the typical VW Mark 1 fuse box and fuses, had no other troubles (other than mufflers, but they were all Midas $19.99 quality on every make in those days) for 155,000 km. Overall, the nicest car I ever owned, the 4000 quattro I got after was a pain.
But that Jetta, dear oh dear. I hated it.
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