Diesel Power : 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup LX

070116 Barn Finds - 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup LX - 1

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This 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup LX is a diesel and it’s in Wilmington, California. It’s listed on eBay with a current bid price of just over $3,000 and there are five days left on the auction. This is a one owner, all original California truck and was a “garage find”, according to the seller.

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The Rabbit Pickup was never officially called the “Caddy” in North America, although that’s what a lot of people refer to them as. In fact, it wasn’t known as the Caddy in Europe until 1982, but I can see where some sellers would refer to them by that name since it’s pretty well known. This one looks solid and the owner says that there is no “rust to be found anywhere on the truck that I can see.” Those are sometimes the sweetest words that can ever be spoken about a vehicle for sale. Although, the “that I can see” part is pretty subjective. There are a few little dings but I don’t see any rust at all anywhere, not even in the bed. They say that “the bed is in near mint condition with only scratches as it was protected with a bed liner and shell which were removed for pictures, but will be included and mounted for the sale.”

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The Rabbit Pickup for North America was “produced at the Volkswagen Westmoreland Assembly Plant in Pennsylvania from 1978 to 1984.” The odometer reads 68,800 miles and because it was stored, the seller thinks that it’s accurate but they aren’t positive. It sure looks like a 68,800 mile vehicle to me, it’s in great shape other than those few little dings.

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Nice! Other than the driver’s door window regulator needing to be fixed, it looks perfect in there! This little pickup has a “5 spd. manual, power disc brakes in front, AM-FM cassette, PS, AC, sliding rear window.” The AC works great, according to the seller, but it blows cool, not cold. And the brakes work good, too, but the front discs are glazed from not using it. I store a couple of vehicles and that happens to mine over just a few months of winter storage, so I can’t imagine that that’ll be a problem on this truck. There is some weirdness going on with the front edge of the dash, but at least it doesn’t look like there are any cracks. But, the headliner needs help.

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This is Volkswagen’s 1.5L diesel with around 50 hp, which may explain the 40 mpg that the seller mentions. Being an LX model, this one has chrome bumpers, an AM/FM radio, and a little nicer vinyl interior. This is a heck of a price for a heck of a nice truck. A diesel with a 5-speed has to be the ultimate powertrain for these and this one has it, and being rust-free and with a great looking interior is another bonus. Are you a fan of these little pickups? Would you worry about fixing the little dings or would you just use this one as it is now?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Joe Howell

    I had one, an 83 and drove it to death when rust killed it after 20 years and more than a quarter million miles. My wife drove thru all kinds of weather, great in the snow. Too bad I’m on the wrong side of the country or I would be bidding :( This truck would last me the rest of my driving days.

    Like 0
    • Andrew

      I just bought one in great shape still.. Some of the younger adults have never even seen one. It’s a bit tight inside, but I do manage. Bring back the mini trucks, so handy and easy to park anywhere, plus much better for the environment.

      Like 2
  2. HoA Howard AMember

    I had a friend with one of these. I remember it needed ether to start at 80 degrees, and the thing was pretty gutless, but he got fuel like every 2 weeks. Like Joe sez, rust put the last bullet in it. It was a good unit, but personally, I’d go with the Chrysler Rampage ( or Scamp) if I was to get a vehicle like this. Not many of these left, especially like this. Cool find.

    Like 0
  3. cj32769

    I had a couple of these back when I was a VW mechanic gas and diesel. One of the most elusive parts for these even back then were replacement taillight assemblies. I thought these little rabbit trucks were extinct until I went to Cape Town South Africa. They are alive and well down there in petrol and oil. I could not keep my eyes off of them and their siblings what they call Citi Golf. Late model rabbits everywhere new cars with HID lights, modern interiors. I was having serious delusions of importing one or at least a container full of taillight assemblies. It’s good to dream I guess maybe one day it will be affordable.


    Or a Scirocco! http://www.gumtree.co.za/a-cars-bakkies/pietermaritzburg/2013-volkswagen-scirocco-2-0-tsi-sportline-dsg/1001688808790910404404909

    Like 0
  4. redwagon

    wouldn’t be a vw w/o a bad window regulator!

    seriously nice truck – great find – honest written advertisement

    love the color scheme. will be curious to see where this one goes. there cannot be many of this build left out there in this condition.

    Like 0
  5. DAN

    real nice !
    look at the others on ebay
    all missing the belt cover, lazy people doing shody work on there cars.
    if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all,LOL

    Like 0
  6. Hans

    Had that exact same model in college. Same color. Same year. Good little truck to haul your stuff around in. 0-60 – maybe a minute! I think it was rated at 48 HP.

    Like 0

    The statement made most about the Rabbit Diesel is that they run forever. You really have to have a above average of mechanical knowledge to keep them going if not plan to make your mechanic very happy.
    Having owned both a truck and a sedan I prefer the latter. I am tall and was very cramped in the truck due to limited seat travel. The seat only goes back so far touching the back of the cab. My truck had the 1.6 which is the better engine however like the 1.5 you will not break speed records. Driving them you really can’t be in a hurry and have to let them do their thing. Never race/over rev or crowd it.

    There are mechanical issues. Watch out for a stuck glow plug relay. It can stay powered and burn up the glow plugs. Then you must plug it in at all times for it to start. Learned the hard way after ruining several sets of glow plugs. Timing belts @ 80K. Several head gaskets. NEVER have a shop plane the head. It has a natural bow in it. Doing so will ruin the cam in short order. Injection pumps are pricy to rebuild and only a few do it. Never use regular 10W40 oil for a gas engine.

    The constant vibration makes these an acquired taste so you really want to drive them by choice.In city driving and short trips they are fun to bomb around in. I was driving 80 miles all highway one way daily. I sold mine and bought a Geo Metro. Smooth and could run 70MPH. There are better choices now for fuel economy. But these are the still the champ for sure.

    FYI, I drove a newer TDI also. Fantastic power unlike the older engines it replaced. I find it hard to believe they couldn’t engineer it with a timing chain and eliminate those $1200 repair bills for belt replacements. Don’t see VW doing anything soon if ever now.

    Like 0
  8. TC

    A friend of mine from late 80’s took a tan VW p/u body and out it on a jeep chassis. Called it a “4-by-freak”. Good to see these.

    Like 0
  9. cyclemikey

    I’m sure the mileage is accurate. These things are so gutless that even running flat out 24 hrs a day it wouldn’t have had time to accumulate 168K since 1981.

    Like 0
    • Dave Wright

      I drove one for a couple of years……..they ran fine on the highway. Mine had worn valve springs after 200,000 miles and would float the valves at 90 MPH filling the road with black smoke. It was perfectly reliable, A/C was great

      Like 0
  10. Stephen

    My question is why in 1981 would a company produce a small pick up truck with only 50hp? What were they hauling, feathers?

    Like 0
    • Dave Wright

      40-50 MPG……….twice what a 1600 beetle will get.

      Like 0
      • Stephen

        But what good is it other than great mileage? I’m thinking 2 beefy guys in it and one would have to get out and push.

        Like 0
      • Andrew

        @ Stephen,
        Two beefy guys, could have a lot of fun by picking up two beefy girls. If the town is flat, no problem.

        Like 0
  11. Dave Wright

    We traveled a lot in it…….hauled anything I needed with it. Tools and fuel to my work boats, food for my crews……..what is your point? We never asked it to haul what our semi’s would……..

    Like 0
  12. SunbeamerStu

    Not my photo. Not even sure where it came from. I use it as a screen saver.

    Dig these little trucks.

    Like 4
  13. 62 Tricarb

    My Granddad had a silver one with black interior. Not sure if it was an ’81 or ’82, but I loved that little truck!

    Like 0
  14. Mike Astringer

    A guy a couple of miles from me has 4 of these sitting in his yard. They look like they’ve been there for years (I saw them for the first time 2 1/2 years ago when I moved here). One of these days I’ll see him outside and ask about them.

    Like 0
  15. chad

    will the modern ‘puter controled TDI fit?
    Buddy’s got 3 or 4 saved up…

    Like 1
  16. Smokey

    I had a 1980 diesel. Took a trip westward in 1995, 6000 miles on $200 of fuel

    Like 0
  17. Mike

    Have an ’81 Diesel. Good engine but this 5 spd has bad shift problems. When you shift to the upper right, there are 3 speeds there and almost impossible to select the one you need. any advice will surely be appreciated!

    Like 0

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