Remember when I promised you dear readers that I had purchased my last Rabbit? Well I did. I never paid a dime for this one (that’s because I didn’t want it). But this one really must have wanted me. Even getting rid of it turned into a nightmare.
Here is how the story goes: for some time we lived in Dallas Oregon. Our neighbor had a job he had to be at very early in the morning, and he owned this GTI with a very loud muffler. Every morning at about five AM it would start up like a jet plane on afterburners. No cranking, no coughing, just a sudden unexpected burst of resonating, droning sound followed by a few minutes of continues low pitched droning and then I would drift back to sleep.
Jerry, the owner of the car, and I became friends and I drove it a few times because he wanted to to see what it could do but was too afraid to push it hard himself. I am not sure if I frightened him going over those back country roads at ninety miles-per-hour at night, but if I did he was very well composed. The car handled as well as any Rabbit GTI should and was reasonably quick.
Later on, we moved to the countryside near Silverton, Oregon. Jerry came out to visit a couple of times. One day he called and told me the GTI was having charging trouble. So I had him bring it out to the farm. He was in the process of moving to Portland and had no place to park it anyway, so he said there was no rush fixing it. Several months passed, and I nearly forgot about the car sitting out under the trees.
Jerry called once and asked about the car, which reminded me that I should probably fix it. So I got busy and replaced the alternator regulator, which did the trick. But Jerry had not left me his new phone number, so I waited for his call. About a year went by and Jerry called once but when I called back I got no answer. I figured since he knew where I lived that he would eventually come and get the car.
Well, three or four years passed and he never came and got it. During that time I started it and ran it a few times, put some fresh gas in it and such. About the second year I raced it against my friend’s MR2 up the country road one night on a whim, and the GTI won by a hair. Beginning about the third year I started driving it around just to keep it alive. The muffler fell off one day but it made little difference in the noise levels. Eventually the expired registration made me stop driving it for fear of being pulled over.
It came to pass that my friend Chris needed a commuter car for his new job in Portland. So I thought, he could use the GTI, but I was not the owner. So I went down to our local Department of Motor Vehicles and had them send a registered letter to Jerry’s last known address. He never replied so the car remained in limbo. Since it had been on my property for over a certain amount of time though, and I had performed paid work on it, I could put a lien on the title. And that is what I did. Eventually the title became mine and I sold the car to Chris.
Of course it had been sitting for some time and had developed some problems. The taillights were no-op as usual and it had some strange driveability issues. But before Chris grew tired of trying to make everything work all at once he had some fun getting in trouble with the car. There is nothing but nothing that gets our local police more exited than a hatchback shit box with a loud muffler. Just ask my friend Gary who has been pulled over more times than I can count in his Geo.
The last time Chris came over to our house, now in Salem Oregon, he went roaring out of our cul-de-sac, drifted around the corner, and hammered the throttle the whole way. The neighbors came over and asked me if I knew him and I said that he was just some friend of a friend and that I really didn’t. They were in the process of calling the police on him for endangering the neighborhood. I called and told him to lay low; the car was still unregistered so he was free and clear once he got home.
Chris called me some time later and wanted me to come drive it to diagnose a problem. Whenever he would turn right, the car would die. I came over, drove it up the street to a gravel lot, did a couple of circles around and determined that it did indeed die. And then someone came out of a building and told us he was calling the cops (seriously what is it with these cars!?). So I gave him the bird, threw up a bunch of gravel, which I was careful not to do before that, and took off like the irresponsible asshole bad boy that I am.
I had no idea what the problem was and thought that we should drop the gas tank. But by this time Chris was sick of the car and he sold it to my old Rabbit loving buddy Bill (who right now is working on an Omni GLH project, the sicko).
That was the last I heard of the car for at least a year or two. As part of the deal I had told Bill that under no circumstances would I work on, or even talk about the car. But then one day I got a phone call from Bill. He wanted to know if I wanted the car back. I told him that I really didn’t. But he insisted that I could sell it or something and that he would just give it to me. So I relented and took the car back. Of course I regretted it. Thus began an era of four wheel drifts around country corners (left ones that is) and saying “yes officer” in a nice civil manner alot. I got looked at and tailed and pulled over almost every time I drove it.
I didn’t want to do any work on it (because I hated it) so I never fixed the dying on right turns issue but I am fairly sure it was something wrong in the fuel tank pick-up. After awhile one of the CV joints started clicking. Knowing Rabbits all too well, I knew I had lots of time before it utterly failed. So we kept on driving it.
As it would happen the CV joint failed at the worst time in the worst place. I was crossing a busy street on a weekend night in a trendy neighborhood in Portland when it broke. I was looking for a place to park at the time and now there was really no hope of finding a parking spot as the engine bore no connection to the wheels any longer. We coasted down a hill and had to park in front of a driveway. The people who owned the business that the driveway was in front of were very nice to us. And the patrons dinning outside told us that they wouldn’t let anyone tow it away if we wanted to go and get a drink while we waited for assistance. I suspect they thought we were homeless.
I didn’t have the money, nor would I have spent it, for a tow to a shop and the subsequent repairs. So I called Chris and asked him if he could come and tow the car to a safe spot and pick us up. It was a trip of about one hundred and twenty miles round trip. He was very busy, but our mutual friend Steve was not. So after some cajoling I was able to convince him to drive Chris’s Peugeot 505 turbo diesel up to help us (oh the irony!).
Steve arrived after awhile with a tow strap and I set out on foot to find a parking spot in the busy neighborhood. I found one and left Michelle to guard it while I went back to steer the GTI. It was a bit hairy trying to get through traffic towing a car at night and into the spot but we did it. I hid the key under a rock and tried to make the car as un-broken looking as possible.
After I got back to Salem I put an advertisement in the Portland Craigslist, “free car, first come, first served”. The next morning at the office I got a call from Michelle telling me that I had a whole bunch of calls. I had given her instructions to write the numbers down in the order in which they had called and I would get back to them. As it turned out, she had had a chat with a few of the callers and disclosed the location of the car, unfortunately they were not the first callers. I called the first caller and he was not home. So I waited and called again, still not home. So I moved on to the second caller, same story. Since I had not been home all day I wanted to give the first caller plenty of time.
But then I got a call. It was one of the callers, but I did not know which one. Michelle was not supposed to have given my phone number to anyone but the first caller, so I assumed he was the first. However, I asked him to hold and called Michelle. I gave her his number and she said he was the third caller; she had given my number to all of them! As well, she had disclosed the location of the car! I told the guy on the other line that he was the third caller and that I wanted to wait until evening for the first caller to call me back. He became irate and told me that he already had the car on a tow truck and was taking it to his house! I asked him if he thought that sounded fair and he told me he didn’t give a damn, it was first come first served. I told him how it was supposed to work, just then the other line rang, it was the first caller!
I told the first caller exactly what was going on and he was very nice and understanding. But I told him that I had set the rules and the car was his. I switched lines and I asked the third caller how he thought it would go when I called the police and told them he stole the car, and asked him what he was going to do without the title. He swore a bunch and told me he would put the car back. I switched lines and gave the location and key location to the first caller and got his address to send the title to.
When the first caller got to the car I asked him a few questions about how it was parked. I had parked it in a very hard-to-tow way, and there was no way one could put it back just like it was without altering it’s location a little. Based on his observations, we determined that the car had not been moved at all.
The new owner really wanted me to deliver the title to him in person and told me he would pay me a hundred bucks to do so. I think he was worried about a scam of some sort (it was very wise of him to be concerned). I told him I only needed the money for gas and that I did not require a hundred bucks. So I car pooled up to Portland in Chris’s 504 a few weeks later. Chris had to be dropped off at work and we were also taking another person to a house on the opposite side of town. I dropped off Chris, had the battery go dead on the Peugeot, got it charged up at a shop that was near, got to the lady’s friend’s house, didn’t shut off the car, drove around and found a parts store, called the guy to tell him what was going on, bought a new alternator belt, installed it with the only tools available (a monkey wrench and a multi-tool), and finally met him near the parts shop. I gave him the title and he gave me fifty dollars for the trouble.
I got back in the Peugeot to go pick-up Chris and prayed it had run long enough to recharge the battery. I turned the key to the wait position, the light came on and I waited, and then I cranked it, it started! Finally, I was rid of all Rabbits and their kin, and as I drove back to Salem in a decrepit Peugeot, I thanked the Lord that it was not a Rabbit.
I love the rims this has.
Here’s my 81 Scirocco with those rims
A beauty that! I too liked those rims.
Hey Michael, your quantum wagon had the same rims, didn’t it?
That’s some memory you got! In the pics it does, but in reality it had this style.
I love these rims too… 1552.com used to make replicas in modern large styles… I would love a set for my ’08 GTI
Kleiner GTI / Little GTI
Du siehst prima aus / well, you look so fine
Ich liebe, dich zu fahren / How I love to drive you
Hol’ die leistrung ‘raus / Let the performance shine
Hör nur, wie er sich anlasst / Listen when I start it
Steck’ den schlussel ‘rein / Stick the key in the ignition
Er ist bereit zum start / And it’s ready to go
Wie er braust / How it zips
Wie er saust, GTI. / How it zooms, GTI.
Werde bargeld, sparen / I’ll save up some money
Kauf’ den GTI / Buy a GTI
er fahrt mit mir lassig / ’cause it drives so easy
An den andren vorbei, / past the other cars
Uberholt benzinfresser / Passes all the gas-hogs
Macht mir spass dabei / Makes me smile a while
Und jedermann sagt sich dann bloss, / And everyone thinks to themselves
“Kleiner wagen-du bist gross” / “Little car – you’re grand”
Er ist bereit zum start / It’s always ready to go
Wie er braust / How it zips
Wie er saust, GTI. / How it zooms, GTI.
Wah wah… wah wah wah wah wah….
Thanks, I remember those ads, they worked very well for VW and on me at the time!
This was the car! In 1985, I was a newly minted grad and was looking for my first new car. I should have kept the 77 New Yorker, but Nooooooo. I was hip, I was cool, I was 80s, and I needed a new car. After driving lots of things (even a Cavalier Z24, if you can believe it) and looking at even more, I suddenly saw it.
A silver Rabbit GTI. It hit me like a lightning bolt – I had to have one of these. It was the budget priced BMW that I had been seeking. Fahrvergnügen! Problem was, 1984 was the last year of the original Rabbit GTI. But soon I owned a new black 85 (Golf) GTI. That car became two cars in one – my first and my last Volkswagen.
I always regretted that I didn’t get one of these Rabbit GTIs – it seemed more pure than the modernized version that I owned. Even now, this car has “it’ – that rare quality that makes you want one even though you know it would be a maintenance and repair nightmare. I am sure that if I had owned one of these, my experience probably would have echoed yours. As it was, I kept mine just long enough for the 2 year warranty to expire, and then I was back to my old self (yuppie fever cured) and bought a 66 Fury III.
I had a very similar experience with my 1986 Jetta; as soon as the warranty was up, the car was gone. Wonderful to drive, but a reliability nightmare. Added to his was horrid, obnoxious dealer service and a dishonest sales department that slipped in an extended warranty without my knowledge. VW dealers are, to a one, scum.
Last year I considered buying a Gold TDi. That was until the local VW dealer added a $600 “Clean up fee” to the bottom line, in addition to the PDI change. That broke the deal right there as he would not budge. I was going to pay in cash, too.
Seeing this car made my day. I used to live around the block from this exact GTI in Eugene. Over the course of two years, I hoped to run into the owner but never did.
It’s a darn clean and straight GTI!
It’s still there! I shot these pictures just two days ago.
I’ve always speculated the owner worked at the bijou. There were a few cars that I would go out of my way to see while walking to class and this was one of them! Of course, the “art” cars (sable/Taurus wagon and geo metro) that frequent this area always caught my attention too, but not for the same reasons…
Part of the reason I got so into TTAC and CC was that I loved that you wrote about cars that I actually saw in real life in good ‘ol Eugene. Theres no place (or people..) quite like this town!
It’s hard to find an A1 GTI that hasn’t been butchered by the VWVortex crowd. Even with the reliability issues, that’s one cool car.
GTI’s are not that un-reliable, especially the engines, and when they do break the parts are cheap, available and plentiful as they are shared with literally millions of other vw’s
I have bought and sold dozens of Gen I Rabbits and yes, they are very easy to wrench on and parts are interchangeable throughout the entire model range. If you can work on these cars yourself, they are good buys because they are really nice to drive. The real secret to these cars was to get one didn’t have the bark beat off it before you owned it. It really was worth the extra money to get a good one. I had two long term (at least for me) drivers over the years.
The first was a 1977 Rabbit Diesel L model, four speed. Very nice car. Needed a paint job when I got it, and brakes but the interior was perfect. The 48 hp diesel 1.5 litre wasn’t going to win any races but it got 50 mpg (Imperial). Had it about a year. It had those goofy seat belts that attached to the door, and the “knee bar.” The seats in this car were exceptionally nice and it drove very well. Even with all of 48 hp, it regularly took four skiers, their gear and 96 cans of beer up the mountain. The 155SR-13 snow tires made it unstoppable. I loved chugging by 4X4s with Scuba-Bunny (it once went wading, but that is another story) and seeing them in the ditch because of they crap Desert Dueler tires. Getting up said hill meant second gear and foot to the floor!
The second was a 1980 Rabbit Diesel L two door, five speed, with sunroof. Paid $300 for it because the motor was fried due to lack of oil changes. Found a turbo-diesel out of a wrecked 1984 Jetta for $500. It dropped in with no necessary modifications. This was one of the nicest cars I have ever driven. But, like the fool I am, it was gone in six months but sold at a nice profit, which was of course spent on women, beer and motorcycles.
Gen I Rabbits were the last mainstream cars without power steering. The connection to the road these cars was amazing. They were light, agile and had an excellent seating position. I still can’t think of a small car more comfortable for a long trip. I’d love to find one in good condition but in Canuckistan, the are long gone due to rust.
“which was of course spent on women, beer and motorcycles” Well at least you have your priorities strait, aint nothin wrong with that!
It’s true, Rabbits are great if you like wrenching. And I know all about long trips in them. But I don’t like wrenching anymore so much. As far as the diesels go, they are pretty good, if you don’t mind he vibration and noise. We once had one that had the entire electrical system decide to ground through the speedo cable. Typical Rabbit stuff.
Being young and having a pocket full of cash was always a recipe for a lot of fun and I do not regret it one bit. Thing is, I worked insanely hard to have that cash. I went to university full time, drove taxi two or three nights a week and still managed to fix up Rabbit and sell them. Youth equates to a fair bit of energy.
I am done with wrenching, which is why I have good, reliable cars and the money to fix them if need be.
Actually the Golf II GTI had no power steering either…i had an 86 with the 102 hp engine…Now my 88 16V did have power steering.
I’ve always loved this generation of Rabbit. The basic design by 1984 had changed little, outside of the front corner lamps for side/turn and the dual bulb rear taillights, the basic car shape remained the same and today has that classic timeless quality about it that so few have now, and then.
I agree, those wheels are nice and VW back in the 1980’s had some of the coolest wheels out there.
Mine was a white ’84 with the maroon interior. A five-speed, sunroof car, I paid a grand for it in the early 90’s. I don’t ever recall having to do much to it outside of regular service, but I did replace the front wheel bearings once. I loaded that car down with clothes, guitars, books – and my toolbox – when I moved from Indiana to Maine, and drove straight through with no problems at all. I’m in agreement with everyone here about just how much fun these things were to drive. Mine ran great for a couple more years, and then I jumped into it to go someplace one afternoon, started it up, got a ways down the road, and it just quit – later learned that it had succumbed to the corroded fuse block issue. I sold it at that point, but sometimes wish that I hadn’t . . .
They called em Golf here and there are many survivors and for people who learned to keep lucas lit cars going even VWs hold no fears. Hell beetle electrics are worse than any lucas system and golfs are way better than those things.
That’s your most amusing write-up yet Michael! And I can relate to it as a friend had one of these (except being in NZ it was badged Golf GTi), and although it was delightful on the odd occasion everything worked at once, it was indeed a Southern Hemisphere Black Death. It was a black 5-speed, with the Pirelli-style alloys (they have a series of P-shaped openings, just visible in the photo below), and the remnants of the factory bodykit.
I mentioned this friend in one of the Toyota Van articles – he killed his Toyota van because he’s car-illiterate and drove several kilometres with the temp guage in the red, wondering why the cabin was filling with smoke… Anyway, after the Toyota’s demise he was carless, so a bunch of us helped out when we could. Then one of the families in the Church gave him their 1982 Golf GTi. They’d had it since new or near-new, but it was pretty worn out, and they said it was best for round-town only. Of course my friend ignored that.
I fixed the leaky sunroof for him, but couldn’t do a thing about the leaky engine – could barely see the engine under all the greasy and oily gunge – or the enormous play in the gear stick. The fuel injection was always playing up, the CVs were noisy, and it overheated several times (he knew about temp guages now, but it kept bursting hoses), but it always seemed to go again the next day. Eventually after a year I got a call from him 120km away. It had overheated again and although still running was now making horrendous rattling noises. The car wrecker he broke down in front of gave him $50 for it, I drove the 120km and brought him home, and he too was free of the Black Death!
Thank you. At one time most of the people in my church drove either a Golf or a Type 2. I was into wrenching back then. When I consider a VW now a cold shudder runs down my spine.
On a Rabbit Gen I overheating is almost always a bad head gasket and/or cracked head. I used to just replace the head with a used one off a low miler while I had the head off because if it had overheated, dollars to donuts the head was toast anyway.
The fuse was junk and water leaked off the cowl, through the blower, right onto it. A new one was only like $50 and there were not that many wires anyway. Easy fix.
Obvious I have done this a few times!
I Wanted a Rabbit like drive when I chose the GLC Mazda as an affordible imposter for 2k less USA 6 vs 8k to start. I had driven it 2-3 times maximum.
I owned an ’83 GTI from ’88-’98. Typical body, trim, and electrical gremlins, but man, the engine and trans were bullet-proof. It would smoke a BMW from 0-50 mph. I was even holding my own against a Mustang GT once – until he hit the bottle. That car would hang with a supercharged MR2 my buddy owned. I bought it with 70K on it and put 100K on top of that, mostly delivering pizza. Handling was incredible! Finally got tired of re-wiring the entire front harness (previous owner had hacked it up and “improved” it with a Delco alternator, which kept frying everything), plus the clutch started slipping really bad (it was the original one!), so I sold it. Good times….
Funny story about that right turn problem, I once stopped on a freeway on-ramp that was canted pretty steeply to the right. the second I stopped, the car stalled. I tried to start it for several minutes with no luck, and then, as a last ditch effort, turn the wheel left and let the car coast until the nose pointed downhill. Turned the key and it started right up!!
I also got rear ended in that rabbit while in Portland. No damage, just metal on metal bumper action. And, I think it was the e-brake 180 that really pissed your neighbors off.
Ah, I had forgotten about that! But today Chris is a more responsible human being, and a good upstanding citizen!
My husband and my son left our home in the country to drive four and a half hours into Columbus OH to look at a VW Rabbit that had been posted on craigslist. My son had to have this 1984 VW Rabbit Gti. Away they went. At 11:30 p.m. I received a text that they were still in Columbus; they should have been pulling into our driveway at this point. The Rabbit had broken down as they pulled away from the man’s home. It would need a new alternator. They slept in the van, waited for 7:00 a.m. to purchase the part at a NAPA dealer. They ate jerky and bought some tools and waited in the Walmart parking lot. When they went to the dealer in the a.m. they saw that the connectors were not the same. More phone calls. Another dealer. On the way to that dealer the van’s water pump went. My husband repaired the van and was back on the road to the second dealer for the desperately needed alternator. Wrong part again. They did locate one in Maine. It would be due in on Wednesday. (This is Saturday) They rented a car dolly and are in the process of towing it home as I write this post. My son still has visions of all the fun he will have driving this car. I will update you with the final chapter soon. I loved your story and all the subsequent posts. Thanks for the entertainment
Thanks for sharing your son’s sorry tale. Such thrills of VW ownership have usually hit most of us just a little later. Your son is starting a future “Cars of a Lifetime” series (or at least the memories for one) with a great flourish.
This is a much better story than with my first car, which also decided to not run for a solid week after I bought it. However, my travails all took place in my driveway and not hours away from home. Best of luck to your son.
Is this car still for sale?
Id give leftnut 4 this
This was the very first new car I ever purchased! 1984 Black GTI and I loved it! Had it for about a year and it was stolen and found totally striped about a week later. Could not find one reasonably priced and ended up getting a Chrysler Laser.
Worst PoS ever! In my defense who could resist the voice of the Dark Side! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMmDE8nUMOU