CC Outtake: 1980-84 VW Jetta Diesel – Perpetual Maintenance

I think most of us have known of a case similar to this one; the car in perpetual maintenance. You know, the one vehicle that’s in an eternal state of being fixed. One walks or drives by every few days or weeks, and there it is, once again with the hood open or sitting on jack stands. And every so often, one sees the owner, diligently tinkering away. Pointlessly trying to correct whatever issue that has proven impossible to fix.

This 1st. gen. Jetta Diesel sits a block away from my home, and it’s been part of my neighborhood since my arrival. I rarely see it in the same parking spot, so I assume it moves on its own power.

As can be seen in the above photo, the car belongs to the owner of ‘Tecno Diesel,’ San Salvador’s least frequented diesel shop. One would think he’d be the one to finally get an old Jetta diesel working properly, and yet, at least once a week he’s back at it. Usually with some underling working by his side. And regardless of all the man-hours, the car doesn’t seem to be getting better.

That said, they seem to enjoy the Jetta-fixing hours as they chat away while wrenching. Maybe it’s a good way of fraternizing?

I’m aware that here at CC, we have a tradition of featuring any old Rabbit that shows up, especially diesels. With Jettas being far less common, no such custom has emerged. But let this diesel find even out that Rabbit/Jetta correlation at least a bit. We don’t want to seem to favor one over the other, right?

And this Jetta looks to be a plain diesel, not the fancy schmancy turbo one. That’s VW’s 1.6L engine providing 50HP of leisurely power; way lower than the sexier 69HP found in the turbo. Yet, someone back in the US thought that eschewing power was a good tradeoff in order to acquire the sensible goods of this Jetta.

That’s right, those who speak ‘VW’ know this is most likely a US version. It obviously arrived in El Salvador as a gray import (no new cars entered the nation between ’80-’85), and I’ve no idea when Mr. Diesel acquired it. But so far, rather than serving as transport, it looks like it’s a labor of love of his.

I can see why someone back in the day would be seduced by an early Jetta diesel. They were spiffy-looking, reasonably accessible, with nice interiors, efficient FWD platforms, and well, that fuel-sipping diesel engine. They were also German-made, with many of the early MK1 assembly woes already corrected.

I’m actually quite familiar with the MK1 platform after owning a 1980 Rabbit for a few years. Not the most reliable ride, but a really fun one that left bittersweet memories.

Talking about reliability, I have a fear I may be reinforcing stereotypes with this post. But I don’t know, I truly feel that Mr. Diesel isn’t quite the expert he claims to be. I rarely see any clients, and after all this time, I just wonder about his actual skills. Then again, maybe he just loves to spend time tightening those Jetta bolts and having a nice chat.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1980 VW Jetta – Just Slap A Big Butt In The Back For Those Damn Amerikaner!