Curbside Classic: 1979 Volkswagen Passat (B1) GLD – Not Quite Dashing

Another tasty summertime treat from the French countryside here: a somewhat miraculously-preserved Diesel Passat of the first kind. I’ve been running into classic VWs pretty often back in Tokyo, but never big water-cooled ones like this. Plus, it’s in great nick and in a lovely colour. Yep, this Passat (or should that be Dasher?) needs to get up on the web!

Don’t you hate it when the same car has different names in other markets? Sure, there are genuine reasons why that should be (see Mitsubishi Pajero, for example), and sometimes local marques will dictate changes in terminology (see ‘70s/’80s GM or Nissan products), but why in the world did VW have this notion that the Golf and the Passat had to be rechristened as the Rabbit and Dasher in the US?

For what it’s worth, I happen to prefer the dynamic name “Dasher” over the odd-sounding “Passat.” But VW opted to keep the latter, having toyed around with Santana and Quantum for the B2. Ah well. Dash it.

OK, so the name is one thing, but the facelift is another. Of course, the original Passat design, back in 1973, had a finely chiselled front end, with delicate chrome accents and the Audi 80’s awesome dash. Giugiaro had outdone himself, though there was definitely something in the air about that fastback shape.

Both the Passat and the Lancia Beta (bottom right) debuted in 1973, while the Renault 20/30 (bottom left) and the Simca 1307/1308/1309 (top right) got their start in 1975. All seem to have come from the same mould, more or less.

Every long-running car had to get facelifted at some point. The Passat B1’s rejuvenation was unveiled for MY 1977 in Europe, and it was pretty extensive. It did not, however, go quite as far as the poor Dasher, which had those unfortunate federally-mandated railway ties stuck on either end. The polyurethane was there, but not for sitting on.

It really was a facelift. Sure, the rear got new taillamps, but the front was the one that really changed. It seemed a bit more aerodynamic, and the turn signals were stuck on to where they ought to have been in the first place. All in all, not too shabby.

Which is more than can be said about the interior, which was announcing the dark and rectangular years ahead. RHD models were apparently spared this sad dashboard and kept the old one right to the end. The only redeeming (and very odd-looking) feature has to be that tiny black mushroom growing from the centre console that passes for a gear lever.

Under the skin (as well as a lot of the exterior), the Passat was entirely based on the Audi 80, as has been thoroughly recounted by previous CCs on the subject. But one technical innovation the Passat introduced on the B1 platform was a new engine. In July 1978, VW decided to pre-empt the second oil shock that was to hit about a year later by fitting the 50hp 1.5 litre Diesel that was hitherto used in the Golf.

In a place like France, where Diesels were and still are venerated, the extreme lethargy displayed by this pre-turbo motor was not the deal-breaker it might have been elsewhere. And the word “lethargy” is not too strong here. The Diesel Passat took over twenty seconds to reach the 100kph (60mph) when new. Who knows how long it would take four decades on, with a few ponies lost in the interim. Top speed was recorded at 141kph (87.5mph), favourable winds permitting.

Nobody bought these to go racing. Fuel economy, especially in places where Diesel was sold at a cheaper price per litre, was the number one concern. We had a comparable oil-burner in those days (a Peugeot 504 LD), so this Passat speaks to me on that level. The guy who bought it would have been a bit like my old man. I can just hear the “Quiet back there!” of my youth…

Just kidding. Us kids could never hope to be louder than the engine. And there were four of us. I haven’t heard the VW’s ehaust note, but I bet it belts out more decibels than it provides forward momentum. More a thrasher than a Dasher, this Passat.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1974-1981 VW Dasher (Passat B1) VW Finally Enters The FWD Era, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1976 VW Passat TS (B1) – First Sight Memories, by Rich Baron

CC For Sale: 1980 VW Dasher (Passat) Diesel – A Historical Milestone Car, So What Are You Waiting For?, by PN

Car Show Outtakes: Five Classic Water Cooled Volkswagens, by Johannes Dutch

Curbside Classic: Audi Fox/80 (B1) – The Foxy Mother Of The Modern VW/Audi Era, by Robert Kim