After the failure of the 1951 Ford F-1 to live up to my hopes and dreams as the perfect modern family car, I turned once again to VW. Now don’t shake your head and mutter, “What a maroon, this guy is an idiot”, hear me out. Perhaps you recall the huge successes that were my ‘77 Westfalia and ‘79 Rabbit. Do you remember how that Rabbit threw down 58 mpgs on the freeway? Do you recall how the Westy had a portable potty allowing for relief at 55? And since diesel was still running through my blood it was time, time to find the only car that could possibly top the first Rabbit, another one, a better one, one with AC!
Scanning of the Thrifty Nickel ads began at once. Bam, a hit! An ad for a 1984 VW Rabbit popped right up and it said it had air conditioning. “Good condition” claimed the copy, giving a phone number and a price, $1,500 dollars American, and it was the diesel. I called and the fellow sounded young, like me, and he offered to show me the car RIGHT NOW!
Did I just hear a hint of desperation in his voice? Hmm.
I met the fellow at his work, one of the stores at Fashion Fair Mall in the joyful, blissful, super happy fantastic city of Fresno. He came out a back door on a “break” to show me the car. Kind of a longhair type of guy, he’d probably be a hipster now but this was back in 1994, and so he totally lacked an air of irony. But onto the car. It was tan, “Manila Beige”, “L” trim with cloth seats, 4 doors, all stock right down to the radio.
By 1984 Folks at Volks had bumped up the engine to 1.6 liters in size, and it now pumped out 52 horsepower at a dizzying 4,800 rpms linked to a four-speed tranny. With a curb weight of around 2,000 pounds that microscopic amount of ponies under the hood wasn’t as bad as it sounded (OK, it was) Yes, indeed, this car had beautiful cold AC! Well not so cold, it “needed a can of Freon”, but the potential was there. The only obvious option other than the AC was the AM/FM radio.
Now all this sounds great you say, a 10-year-old diesel Rabbit for only 1,500 bucks. “Hey maroon VW guy, why aren’t you jumping for joy?” you wonder. Why aren’t I rhapsodizing like I’d just figured out the three faces of Eve? Well…
Obviously this car was a crapper, any fool, even I, could tell that it was ragged out and ready for the final slow drive to Pick-A-Part. None of the exterior door handles worked, so to get in you had to leave a window down and Bo and Luke Duke it. Most of the engine’s oil appeared on the ground and outside of the motor, as if the little VW forgot that it’s supposed to be inside to do the most good. The seats had holes, but that’s OK because it broke up the pattern of grease and smudges, and the carpet followed suit. Remember those silly headliners that were glued on and tended to fall down on your head? Yeah, it had one. Rattles and shakes and smoke bellowed from the engine just a bit more than it should have, something was wrong here, my gut told me. On the odometer registered 185,000 miles and come change.
Nah foo, I ain’t buying this car. Even I got standards. (I know, you are shocked)
I tell the guy not interested and start to walk away.
“Wait!” he yells after me, “How much will you pay?”
“Not interested” I affirm, and turn again.
“Wait! How about 1,200?” he asks.
“Nah” I reply.
“Then how about 1,000 even?”
“Nope.” I say, arms crossed.
“Then how about 850?”
Never in my short and smelly life had I been involved in a barter like this; I was doing nothing and the guy was doing all the work, continually lowering his price until he found my pinch point. Well, I didn’t have one for this loser car, not going to happen.
“No, still not interested.”
“How about 750?”
“Hmm”, that was getting tempting, “Nah”.
“OK, OK, how about 700 dollars? Please, please buy my car!”
Geez, what the hell? Was this guy serious? He seemed to be close to tears, and I started to feel a little sorry for him, a pathetic out-of-time proto-hipster panicked at the thought of having to hold onto this rolling pile of dogsh…wait a minute, 700 bucks?!
“OK, sold” I blurted out, somewhat shocked at myself.
The dude smiled like he’d just won the lottery, “Thank you thank you” he exclaimed, a beatific smile on his face.
We signed the papers on the spot, he had them quite handy, and he handed me the single key, shook my hand a little too happily, and scooted back into his place of work with a fistful of dollars almost floating on air. I’m betting a lot of alcohol was consumed that night by him and his posse in celebration.
Now time to drive it home. Frankly I wasn’t sure it would get home across town to the Kings Canyon and Chestnut region, aka the “Garden Spot of Fresno”. (snort) My friend who’d brought me, a fellow student, said he’d follow me to the apartment, “Just to be sure.” He looked mildly horrified at my purchase, but was holding back from saying so in that honorable tradition of his well-mannered Canadian roots, and so off we went. (Canadians will rarely tell you that you are being an idiot, even when you are)
It rattled a little more than my butt felt it should, and it didn’t have enough power to get out of its own way, and the AC was weak, but trying, sort of like the state legislature, but we were moving and keeping up with traffic.
Inside I was smiling, heck I was happy and thrilled. Happy to be driving one of God’s Own Cars again, I mean, come on, it’s a VW Rabbit after all, and thrilled at the way I’d gotten the car for less than half its asking price. I was driving a 10-year-old car that I’d only paid 700 clams for! Now tell me that’s not a coup.
It made it home, and the wife came out to inspect her new reliable, dependable, solid, competent family whip that I’d been entrusted to go buy on my own without adult supervision. “Ummhmm” was her exact comment. She seemed especially unimpressed with the Dukes of Hazzard method of entry, and the overall filth. OK, I’ve got work to do!
Before the traditional wax and oil change ceremony was an immediate run to Pick-A-Part for door handles. While there I picked a few pieces of trim, window cranks, hubcaps, and bumper end caps among other parts. You know, the usual things you buy on the day you buy a car because it didn’t come with them. Then began the cleaning. Scrub a dub dub, one filthy little Vee-Dub. Holy landfill Batman, what had proto-hipster been doing in this car? (don’t ask, don’t tell). Shampoo, wax, wash, repeat. Take a good shower when you are done.
After a full weekend of cleaning and fixing it was ready to go! I even filled the AC and, sure enough, it worked decently well. In fact, I was feeling pretty darn smug now about my little Rabbit. With only some serious elbow grease and a little minor wrenching I’d turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I began immediately bragging to everyone who chanced by how little I’d paid for the car, and what a GREAT car it was, and how it got fabulous mileage and I never had to smog it and blah blah blah.
However, there was one minor fly in the ointment, this Rabbit wasn’t doing the smackdown on the mpgs. It never managed to get more than 38 mpg on the freeway with any of its engines. (Noticed that plural there, didn’t you) In town it was 27ish. I kept these facts hidden from the general public.
The honeymoon, like a lot of whirlwind romances, was short-lived. (little did I know this car would prove the adage, “marry in haste-repent in leisure”) Soon problems, and of a more serious nature, began to manifest. First the radiator went kablooey. Water pump followed. Timing belt had to be replaced. Brakes were all bad, as was the master cylinder. And all the while it leaked oil from every pore.
Then began the Starter Warz. One day the starter failed; you’ve had days like that, right? No big, I’ll swing over to Pep Boys and snag one. Oh my gawd! They wanted some ridiculous price like 250 bucks for one! No way, Jose. Not on my watch. I began prowling and discovered that’s what they cost, but this one local rebuild shop would sell me one for only 150 if I brought them my core. Lifetime warranty. OK. And guess what? That “new” starter failed after about three months as well. Then so did the replacement.
In fact they kept failing at spectacular rates, sometimes the damned things would only last a week or two, and one only lasted a day! I broke down and bought an extra and carried it and the tools to swap it out in the trunk, and by golly I could remove and replace that puppy in 10 minutes in any parking lot. Kept those little blue rubber gloves and a piece of cardboard to lie on handy, and many a moment was passed as the wife and kiddo passed the time ’90s style, aka no cellphones to stare at, while I humped those starters in and out.
This continued the whole time I owned the car.
One glad day we were sitting at a stoplight in Fresyes, valiantly trying to not look at either driver to the side of us for fear of being shot for “mad dogging”, and suddenly the noise from the engine changed ever so slightly. A little hissier, more rattly, and slowly the car began to disappear in its own self-generated fog bank. We drove on and everything seemed fine, as fine as anything ever was driving a Rabbit diesel in Fresno, till the next light, and the same fog quickly covered the land. I also noticed we were leaving quite the trail of it behind us as we motored about. We’d owned the car for about 11 months.
Yup, the block was cracked.
Insert expletives here. Most humans would admit defeat at this point and scrap the VW Rabbit and go buy that Oh What A Feeling Toyota Corolla and rest easy knowing that their significant other would be able to return home from shopping at Sprouts without requiring major auxiliary parts to be swapped on the power train in the parking lot. That’s the plinker way. Not my way. I don’t admit defeat, no way was this little piece of shi…uh, fine example of Germanic automotive engineering going to beat me. Not on my watch! Not only was I going to fix that engine, I would do it myself and save a bundle. After all, I’d done it before.
There were some problems, like as usual I had nowhere to work on the car. We lived in an apartment while I was pursuing a master’s degree in basket weaving, so where to wrench it? I know, how about right smack dab in the middle of the campus student housing? Yup, that’s the ticket, and that’s exactly what I did. Used the basketball court, and used the basketball hoop as the hoist to yank that dead engine right out of that baby in a madcap two-day engine R&R.
Luckily for me a friend who was actually a real mechanic, and 10 times the mechanic I’ll ever be, took pity on me and “helped” with the work. (Actually I helped and he directed) I had learned one lesson, amazingly, don’t bother trying to rebuild these engines, go buy a used one and save a bundle. So I’d found a used 1.6 diesel long block at a local VW salvage yard for 350 bucks, they claimed it was sound and had good compression. We pulled the busted engine, and found a nice big crack on the side of the block, moved over all the accessory fittings, and mushed that new engine in there. Sure a few students muttered things about having a car in their housing quad with the motor hanging from their basketball hoop, something about safety and eyesore and stuff, but you gotta break a few eggs to make a VW omelette.
At the end of two days of hard core wrenching I found myself once again sitting in the drivers seat of an old VW Rabbit about to turn the key and see if it would start. Ironic. Oxymoronic. Idiotic. I dunno, pick one. It started.
This is where I tell you that the car became a triumph. A feather in my bonnet. A joy forever. That I still have it, carefully preserved, and still love and adore it like a newborn child.
Nah, it’s long gone. The gottdammerrung thing still ate starters like a Great White eats seals. (nope, wasn’t the flywheel, checked that, it was pure malice and spite) The timing belt slipped with alarming regularity. (learned how to fix that in a parking lot as well) The AC always seemed to be busily trying to destroy the ozone layer all by itself by leaking all that R12 out as fast as possible, like sometimes on a single trip.
Parts continually failed, it was radiator roulette, pop a hose week, weird electrical problem of month, name that leak, alternator assassination, and “what was that clunk” days. “Brakes? We don’t need no stinkin’ brakes.” If we went more than a couple of weeks without a part failure we were really beating the odds, and clearly the gods were smiling at us. More than a month and I must have made a pact with Satan the Prince of Darkness himself. (For the record, the car never made it that long between something going wrong, so clearly I didn’t sell my soul to the Horned One at a crossroads at midnight. Though I was sorely tempted.)
No wonder proto-hipster had been begging me to buy his car.
By now we’d owned it a couple of years, miserable years, and all my love for VW and Germanic things that roll down the road was thoroughly and completely smothered. Plus I was getting older, I’d hit 30 (woo old) and perhaps the pre-frontal cortex had kicked in enough to realize that this car was a turd that wouldn’t flush.
I sold the Rabbit.
Got exactly $1000 for it. A friend told me that anything that runs here in the flyover part of the Golden State is worth no less than that, and turns out he was right. As it drove away, and you heard it long after you stopped seeing it, I realized that an era in my life was ending, no more cursed Volkswagens for one thing. And no more stupid oddball cars that were some sort of personal crusade. From now on it was going to be normal cars that were solid and reliable, I was done with experimental jalopies from oddball companies and hard luck cases.
To me this version of the VW Rabbit looks to similar to the Dodge/Plymouth Omni/Horizon. Swap out the front grill, tail lights, and VW emblem and you pretty much have a Omni/Horizon (visually).
Of course the the VW came first, and both are two different vehicles mechanically. However, at a glance they share the same basic hatchback shape, size, and angles as the Omni/Horizon. Even the bland boring Chevette has the same basic formula of design language and spartan bare bones interior.
Even though these cars never caught my attention as “Special” IMO, and never will. I still can see why the VW Rabbit is so iconic for its time, and why it was the benchmark for it’s class at the height of it’s popularity.
I get it. The Rabbit was small, practical, fun spirited, nimble, great fuel consumption, somewhat cheap, had a gutsy engine in Turbo form, cute little commuter-convenient hatch back, and the rabbit logo & name was very fitting for the car. I’m sure it stood out clearly among the common large /heavy gas guzzler luxury barges of the 70’s here in the U.S. Especially for the “Green Party” consumers of that era (70’s).
I would personally take a Dodge Omni GT (Turbo) over the VW Rabbit. Omni seems more “masculine” and mini “Macho” from a visual perspective. VW Rabbit feels more tailored to Hippies and young women.
Not only did it stand out among the common big cars of the day, but it stood out among Volkswagens. Everyone, in the U.S. anyway, knew that the Beetles days were numbered with the introduction of this car. Many Americans were exposed to front wheel drive for the first time in a Rabbit. The engine was in the front? On a Volkswagen? The Rabbit was a revolutionary car for its time.
The early versions of the O/H actually were built with 1.7 VW long blocks, along with VW 4 speed transaxles as well.
Wow I did not know that, now it makes perfect sense..
Even in your writing I can sense the panicky optimism: after this last repair it will really be a good car. We have all been there. I have to hand it to you, lasting two years with it was more than I could have managed.
This story has the makings of a novel – sort of like Christine, but how it broke the hearts and wallets of a whole succession of owners until it somehow managed to kill the last one. So, I guess your heartache and expense is our gain? An excellent story, as always.
The Christine analogy is apt, particularly in the description of how desperately the previous owner was to unload the car, he kept lowering the price as the author tried to walk away. Then the utter joy and glee he had when the deal was concluded and was finally able to escape the clutches of yet another VW-from-Hell.
That seems to be such a common thread with these VW stories. The owners are so idyllic about their initial purchase, then try so valiantly to overcome all the mechanical foibles, only to have the car so thoroughly crush their spirit in the end.
You’re DEAD WRONG ! I’ve been riding in VW’s since 1954 and I became a VW Mechanic and ran my own Indie VW Shop in the glory dayze .
In fact, old VW’s are _so_ wonderful I just bought one that’s been sitting windows open near the beach for thirty years .(mildew farm)
All it needs is _every_single_thing_ replaced or repaired before it’ll once again nosily rattle it’s way across America (or maybe just my driveway) proving that at least -one- of us two is capable of learning….. =8-) .
(too stupid to ever learn that VW’s are often turds, fun and pretty turds, but turds nevertheless)
Pre-1975 VWs are one thing.. Post-1975 would seem to be quite another.
That doggone ‘sarcasm font’ didn’t work yet again .
FWIW, although the fuel injected ’79 Typ 131 VW was a bit of a disappointment , my ’84 Rabbit rag Top bought in….’96 (?) wasn’t and it had been totaled and repaired THREE TIMES before I bought it on the cheap from Adlen Brothers Wrecking Yard ~ I ran the snot out of it and never had any problems .
It’s prolly stupid for me to still love the early slow and dangerous air cooled VW’s but I do .
C.U. in the fast lane ! .
Oh, I get air-cooled VW love. Hell, for someone who doesn’t mind (or even likes) mechanical tinkering, all of their foibles are well known and easy enough to repair/replace that I would imagine it’s not all that difficult to keep one running, seemingly forever.
But the ones with the radiators…sheesh. That’s a whole different level of ‘tinkering’ and seems much more like a VW masochist thing.
Hey, we love what our hearts tell us to love. The brain is rarely involved in the deal. Think of it as “..’tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all” and then it ain’t so bad a memory. (This heartwarming message is brought to you by someone who wants an original Renault Dauphine or a Fiat 850 Spider. I feel your pain.)
A fairy tale:
Once upon a time, Volkswagen built a car so good that Americans were able to forget that the man who brought it to fruition was none other than A. Hitler.
Then Volkswagen rested on its laurels and reputation, and built crap like this.
Then they wondered why Americans abandoned them.
Always have time for another Rabbit story. I keep hoping I won’t find another orange ’76 on a lot somewhere.
I’ve driven (and still drive) some heaps, but none of ’em have ever been this bad! Geez!! And mine have all been domestics. Even my ride in 85 was more reliable. But not better looking. My heartfelt condolences go out to you.
I dunno, that F-150 looks pretty sharp to me lol ?
So funny it hurts. As the long-ago former owner of a ’75 Peugeot 504 Diesel, purchased for the same irrational reasons I certainly remember carrying spare parts as well as extra oil and antifreeze, and developing the ability to replace parts rapidly on the fly (and to actually think this was good). Nothing teaches you more about reality and the way the world really works than a car such as this. I’d like to think that young idealistic men will always fall in love with hopeless cars, but with our disposable society I’m not so sure anymore. I think those days may be over, which is too bad
More stories please
Another winner of a story about a loser of a vehicle. I’ve always felt “I have to get this car away from this clown in order to help it” when looking at cars in dodgy circumstances like that.
I’ve never had a car reward me like yours did, but I did once have a motorcycle that I rescued that defied being fixed much like your Rabbit.
“I have to get this car away from this clown in order to help it” – Haha, reminds me of something else: “I will name him George. And I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him.”
But sometimes all “George” does is snarl and bite you.
I don’t even have to hit the youtube link. Too many cartoons as a kid. Too funny.
Haven’t seen that one in a while 🙂
I love it!
These two stories have been some of my favorites on here in a long while. Great writing. Your wife must be some kind of saint.
And I thought my ’71 Audi was bad. At least It could sometimes go several month’s without repairs. And I had to do most of the repairs only once. But on the highway, it burned oil like the boilers on the Queen Mary. So bad I used to save used oil from the shop where I worked. (We had elderly customers that would get oil changes after only a few hundred miles and their old oil looked like new) Being a mechanic, I managed to keep that Audi going for over 10 years, And except for all the problems, For a FWD it was easy to work on and fun to drive – until the final breakdown in early ’90s, when the rear axle’s torsion bar snapped, and I couldn’t find a replacement.
Then there’s Mom’s ’70 VW Squareback – a car that needed the engine removed three times for major repairs, before it reached 100,000 miles! All the other defects would fill a book.
My dad offered the car to me when I was having one of my Audi malfunctions, and I said (prophetically) “I’ll spend $1000 to fix the Audi, before I take that thing!” At least my Audi was 11 and already had 100K it when I got it. The VW’s problems started in it’s first year.
Truly Hitler’s Revenge!
Happy Motoring, Mark
I had a few diesel Rabbits in my day, and wrote a COAL about Scubabunny, so I know all about Rabbits. I never kept mine very long for the reasons stated in the article!
The starter problem sounds like a classic case of failed starter bushing inside the bellhousing.
If its bad, starters will fail quickly, especially on a Diesel VW. I’ve only replaced the starter once on my (gas) MK2 Jetta w/308k miles on it once. Same with the alternator. They both were kind of pricey, but going with the cheapo rebuilds isn’t worth it in the long run.
The US built Rabbits are inferior to the German built models, but by ’84 they were much improved over the ’80 US Rabbit Diesel I owned. But I replaced it’s already blown when I bought it Diesel motor with a junkyard fuel injected gas motor, and got the same MPG as your Diesel got, and since it was titled as a Diesel (this was in SoCal), never had to worry about smog checks. It was nice having decent power up hills.
No AC in mine, though. On the downside, the junkyard engine (U Pull) had a piston rattle and used a quart of oil every 400 miles, more if it was a long freeway drive. The reason I didn’t exchange the engine was I was moving to Washington State and had run out of time, I had to leave and hope the car would make the trip. It did, but the blow buy was so bad it would fill the airfilter box with oil, when it got to a certain level it would dump into the engine and create a smoke screen, the cars would vanish from my rear view mirror. A CHP followed me for about half an hour in Northern California, he must have got a call from a unhappy driver. But it only happened about once an hour, and about a minute after he tired of following me and pulled ahead, it did it again. I’m glad the cop didn’t look in his rear view mirror. A long breather hose to the ground fixed the problem after I got to Washington. But I was able to brag how I bought a 9 year old Rabbit for $300.00. I put about the same into it getting it running. It did have nice body, paint and interior. It was a 4 speed and gave my few problems, blew a top radiator hose once. I just had to carry a gallon of 50 wt oil around, and the rattle and smoking it did seemed normal with the Diesel badge still on the back.
A Chevy pickup ran a red light and T boned it 4 years later, it made it to U pull under it’s own power and I got $65.00 for it.
I had the same hubcaps and never lost one. But there is a cardinal rule to keep them on. Every time the hubcap is removed you MUST used new clips. Without exception, or they would fly off. I carried a bag full of new ones in the spare wheel well.
Great write up, almost spilled my coffee on the keyboard.
I also had starter foibles on Scubabunny. For about three months I would park in on hills to start it, or my girlfriend would push. Finally my dad had pity on my and bought me a starter for Christmas.
These are big motors on the Rabbit diesel. The only ones that work are from the dealer. Get ready to fork out big money.
I have a son who is headed to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawai’i for a one year internship. He’s fussy about his Mustang and didn’t want to start it on a path to rusting out by exposing it salt air.
So what does this have to do with an ’84 Rabbit?
My son decided to buy an “island beater” for his time in Hawai’i. Not a Rabbit (thank goodness), but a ’99 Monte Carlo. Priced cheap, it had all the usual rust associated with a car parked near the beach and constantly exposed to salt air for it’s entire existence.
Unlike the Rabbit, the Monte Carlo ran exceeding well during a test drive. The CarFax indicated the 77k miles showing on the odometer was believable. The interior didn’t look like anyone had recently lived – or died – in the car.
Young men rarely ask fathers for advice on a car, but in this case my son did. With all the wisdom of an ex-mechanic father who left the trade in the 70s, I told him it would probably be a trustworthy vehicle for the one year he’d be studying in Hawai’i.
Then after giving this advice, I actually researched the car. Ready, fire, aim. I learned the horrible history this vintage of GM 3.1 engine had with intake gaskets. Should the repair actually be needed, the cost will will easily exceed the value of the car. Not a difficult thing since the Monte Carlo was cheap enough that the level of fuel in the gas tank became a point of negotiation for the final price as was the need for a new light bulb in the left rear tail light.
I can only hope my son’s adventure in beaterdom turns out better than Mr. McClure’s – who BTW should be a professional writer.
I actually spotted a diesel Rabbit in traffic a few days ago. Pretty good condition, couldn’t hear it from behind it and it wasn’t smoking, so maybe it’s not a diesel anymore!
Heath, I bet your could have said $250 and he would have let it go for that. After all, when you sold it, wouldn’t you have agreed to $500?
Yup, any price to get rid of it would have been worth it. I might have actually paid someone if need be.
Thank you for this.for a while i have been planning to sell my 2004 Camry and get a similar era VW Polo.after reading your story i have totaly changed my mind.god bless you.Have a great time.
Ouch, been there. I bought a new ’84 Cherokee. It was the perfect storm of disaster and defective parts. GM shipped a run of defective V6 engiens and I got one. The torque converter was made by Steyer-Puch and unsuited for the Torqueflite 904 transmission. I went through 2 transmissions and 3 converters. The Selec-Trac transfer case burned up its high-tech viscous clutch. It was rebuild twice in a failed effort to get it to hold in 4wd properly. And it goes on, including broken leaf packs, leaks, electrical problems and a design defect, enticingly called “death wobble”.
After 20,000 miles, I gave up on relying on it as primary transportation and bought used cars as daily drivers. But I struggled with it for another 20 years, because I thought, one day I’ll fix all of its deficiencies and make it a good truck. Keeping that heap running became a quest beyond all practicality.
Typically I would drive it for a couple of thousand miles, something dreadful and expensive would break and I would park it for a year in disgust until I scraped together enough enthusiasm to fix it.
I never did get it all sorted. But I got to know all of its many engineering deficiencies. If anyone’s interested, I could write a COAL on it. I’m not ragging on Jeeps, I own 2 others (including a ’90 Cherokee) that are much better.
Of course I am interested!
Heath, this was as delightful to read as it was dreadful for you live through.you spiced it up with a heavy dose of self-depreciation. I loved it so much feel sorry you may have kicked the habit. I can’t wait to see what happened in outer space….
My experience with a Rabbit was in the parking lot back in the 90’s. An international grad student was trying the Heath thing: replace a crucial part. I asked what was wrong, he told me and -knowing where I am from- made a remark on German engineering. I answered: ” There is a reason to leave your country!” and he shook his head.
Agree. As you said, a grand word–TURD. VW Rabbit = TURD. That was also my sad experience. Obviously you are not alone in that experience. Consider this, as I did mine, a lifetime lesson.
That was, and this is no reflection on the author’s great style, excruciating to read.
I just knew what the next development held – another triumph of a sad reality over steadily eroding optimism. How can this happen, you ask? This. Must. Work. Now…Nope!
I know this because I’m still living it…and feeling more anxious than ever.
I was laughing hysterically at the line about replacing major auxiliary parts swapping in a parking lot. Fantastic writing style and sticking with the oddball cars! Look forward to more of your stories.
Had two experiences with Diesel Rabbits. One was back in the mid 80’s when my Dad had one as a work commuter- seemed nice enough. Got rid of it because he couldn’t find diesel readily enough.
Fast forward about 15 or so years when my friend who purchases highly questionable cars bought – a well beat ’79. He encouraged me to try driving it. Uphill, in the cold and dark of winter, with a line of traffic behind us. Oh yeah, I hadn’t driven a standard in several years. As I was willing the stupid thing to climb, he said “Don’t stall it, whatever you do, I don’t know where I put the screwdriver I use to start it.” Did it take that as a cue to stall on its own right then and there? You bet.
I can relate to all these VW sagas! Going through my own starter troubles with my Eurovan right now. Since it’s not a daily driver, though, it can sit in the driveway until I’m ready to open my wallet again. There’s just something about an old VW; they have a mojo that other cars don’t. This van of mine – I could replace it with a generic minivan, but then I’d be like all the other “plinkers”. No sired!
“There’s just something about an old VW; they have a mojo that other cars don’t.”
And that’s the blasted problem with these things, that mojo is addictive, like automotive crack. Just say no to crack.
I was laughing reading this! I love your writing style but, at the same time, I want to shake you! You should’ve run from this car like it was a charging rhino! My partner would’ve killed me if I had bought a junker like this and I’m surprised your wife didn’t (I, of course, wouldn’t have bought this car, mostly because my mechanical skills are sadly lacking). Still, I’m glad you bought it, if only for the stories you could tell. It’s better to regret doing something rather than regret not doing something – the former always leads to better stories, anyway.
Funny, I went from Saturn to a VW. Sold my 98 sl2, it was too small and very uncomfortable and bought a low mileage 2002 Golf. Just found out today that the cam sensor is bad and to replace it I need to remove the timing belt, so now it’s jumped from an $100 repair to a $500 repair(I’m going to replace the belt and water pump). Let the madness begin
I always thought the diesel Rabbit had substance and character and not be passionless like some random mundane econobox (like a gas powered Rabbit, perhaps?). I always wanted one, but even the high mileage diesels were expensive. The one I looked at when I was 16 had 362k kilometers (223k miles) with an asking price of around three thousand dollars in 1994. Although I probably could have managed to swing the financing via parent-backed bank loans (most likely revolving sugar-parent credit, since actual loans wouldn’t be given for a car like that in fiscally conservative, BC, Canada), the high mileage was bothersome. Otherwise, it was an aesthetically fine looking automobile undoubtedly made to look (and feel) that way with a lot of new parts the owner was trying to recoup costs on.
As fate would have it, my first car would be the at the exact opposite of the automotive spectrum with a hand-me-down 1970 Chevrolet Impala with a kickin’ smogless 250HP 350, automatic that turned out to be great fun at stoplights (not gas pumps).
I think the highlight of the story was using a college courtyard quad basketball hoop as an engine lift.
Yes, that was hilarious!
I’ve already mentioned in the earlier COAL the woes I had with two gas Rabbits, both bought new. But high-mileage used diesels? No comparison.
Seeing the photo of the “puffy” new dashboard introduced on the 1981 Westmoreland models reminded me that there was no longer enough room to turn the window crank without striking your hand against said dash!
such fond memories! I bought a 91 jetta diesel with 100,000 miles on it and it was the last year for the non-turbo so yes I remember the thundering 48hp.
I managed to put another 120,000m on it in the 3 years I owned it and it was very much like the proverbial little girl with the curl;
“when she was good she was good, but when she was bad….”
at least you lived in a warm climate. here in the winter wonderland of Ontario I remember days of leaving it idling at work, ALL DAY, so I could get home, pumping conditioner down the tank by the truckload so the fuel didn’t turn to jello and watching the temp gauge and the heat drop to nothing on the freeway til someone explained diesels and wind chill do not mix!
but every time I see an old diesel thunderbunny, I still have that longing for that magic 60+mpg I would hit on trips.
I feel your pain.
Odd. My fater in law sadly retired his badly rotted ECOdiesel Jetta last year. It had 360,000 miles, and still popped in 0-degree weather. Admittedly, synthetic 5w40 oil and a BIG battery help a lot. Only special winter prep it got was Power Service in the fuel, and a covered radiator.
#1 diesel is best in cold weather, if it is available. The wax in #2 will clog up filters, even with additives that are supposed to help.
I must have gotten off light compared to you Heath. I picked up a 1980 gas powered rabbit about the same time. I only had to rebuild the engine and clutch and replace the muffler. I got about 100 000 kms on it and then passed it on to a buddy who got a few more years out of it until the insurance company said it was to rusty. He tried to kill the engine but couldn’t do it and sold it to a guy for parts for $100. I also had an 1980 Jetta that was more like your car. Every couple of weeks it needed something including a junk yard motor for $240. The happiest day with that car was when I towed it to the wrecker and they picked it up with the forklift through the side windows…
A classic COAL! I can relate very strongly to the feeling that you’re probably sending good money after bad, but a faint forlorn hope that it will work out better this time.
I also feel there is a QOTD in those little jobs that you get super-efficient at doing in parking lots and by the side of the road. I can’t quite live up to replacing starter motors in 10 minutes, but I can currently re-fit the spring for my bonnet release catch in about 30 seconds, blind.
Your tenacity in keeping that thing running for two years when it never went a month (!) without needing a repair is quite admirable. I’d have tired of the whole affair long before and bought a different beater. I do sympathize with a series of cheap repairs adding up to big money, just not at that frequency!
Enjoying your series!
The $700 price paid rang a bell. I too bought a used car for $700 and it was also a really cursed little beast. It was so sad and wrong I should pen my first COAL with it as the subject.
Just did a quick count and I have owned exactly 4 cars since 1988. That’s about four cars in thirty years. Yes I like to run the wheels off.
Another thought- it sounds like the author was taken advantage of at the start and maybe took advantage of another buyer at the end. Not that I would buy such a car, but if I did I would completely come clean on the car’s shortcomings and would never dream of getting $1k for it.
I had a grey first gen Rabbit diesel that I bought from a very nice young lady for $1200 who had kept it in very good condition. The only problem I had with it was that the little glow plug fuse that screwed onto the firewall was always melting at odd intervals. Sometimes it would go for months and then one morning when you least expect it the fuse would melt and the glow plugs wouldn’t do their thing and the car wouldn’t start. I would keep a dozen or so fuses in the ashtray with a screw driver and got real good at changing them out without getting black all over my shirt.