22K Mile Diesel: 1979 VW Rabbit

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Some cars simply live a privileged life, never enduring the embarrassment of neglect and poor modification decisions. This 1979 VW Rabbit Diesel here on eBay is such an example, having been stored since 1983 with only 15,000 miles on it before going to auction last year and now sporting a scant 22,000 miles under its tires. The current owner is selling it with a starting bid of $6,250 with no reserve – but even for a survivor like this, is that number too ambitious? 

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I spot old Rabbits in junkyards a fair amount, and they’re usually completely pillaged inside of any interior bits still in fair shape. This car is quite blue, from the steering wheel to the window cranks, but it all looks to be in incredible condition. It’s safe to say the original owner was a fan of the color, given the exterior is dark navy. While not nearly as sporting as its GTI sibling, the accommodations are decent for an economy car.

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The 1.5L diesel engine will take you far on a single tank of gas, but driving too often will dilute the value of this museum-quality Rabbit. Many of these have been converted to grease cars over the years, so it’s refreshing to see one still built as intended. This example – if you really want to nerd out – is desirable among the VW faithful due to its early Westmoreland, or “Westy”, front end. You’ll note that the turn signals aren’t integrated into the fenders like they are on the later, and arguably more common, Rabbits and GTIs.

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Coming with the car will be the original radio, 1983 license plate from Minnesota and functional A/C. It’s a neat little find, and one I’d enjoy using around town (but no where near an interstate). While some of you may recoil at the opening bid, this still looks like a fair buy to me if it stays under $10,000. The car is honest and incredibly low mileage, and the early Rabbits are getting harder to find in any condition. But then again, that’s getting into solid MK1 GTI money. Decisions, decisions!

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Comments

  1. Gary

    If you put a tank of gas in that….your going nowhere!

  2. jim s

    even with a 5 speed it is going to be slow and when the a/c compresser kicks in you will know it. no need for cruise control just keep your foot all the way down on the pedal. the later ones with the 3+e transmission were really slow. this is a nice looking car. great find.

    • Dave Wright

      I owned and drove a similar Diesel Caddy pickup for a couple of years. It was slow accelerating but not bad on the highway. It had a lot of miles and would float the valves at about 90mph filling the highway behind with black smoke. I am sure a new set of valve springs would have been helpful but what can you expect at over 200K miles. It got close to 50MPG and ran great. I would still have it if some woman in a Buick hadn’t pulled out in front of me. I got twice what I paid for it in the insurance settlement and replaced it with a ex fire department crew cab Power Waggon. That was the last time anyone pulled out in front of me.

  3. Tirefriar

    I had a 78 or a 79 4 door hatchback diesel in red. It was painfully slow and left me stranded a few times, once on a 405 north and not in the best part of town. Unless you are a VWcollector, I don’t see any real value in this car other than being used as a DD. The seller is quite optimistic or just playing up to a European market in hopes of having this hare repatriated to Germany

  4. jumpinjimmy

    I owned one of these back in the 80s when I had a 75 mile commute to work. Had to wear earplugs the thing was so incredibly loud and rattly. It was economical though and went on to be a very high mileage car.

  5. Howard A Member

    Um, what’s a “grease car”? I assume you mean a “gas” car. These were popular, although, nothing could replace the bug. I think VW found that out. I had a friend with a VW Rabbit(?)pickup with this motor. It needed ether to start, even in warm weather. Got him to work every day, but sounded like 8 marbles in a metal coffee can. Never owned an “econobox”, but a lot of people put a lot of miles on cars like this. It sure is clean, and a bunch of gas motors around, couldn’t be that hard to switch. Neat find and there should be no problem on the interstate. Fact is, I bet the diesel would sing right along at 70.

    • Warren

      Grease car = French fry oil burner.

      • Howard A Member

        Thanks, Warren. I guess I have heard that term before. ( somebody describing a Mercedes diesel once)

  6. Donnie

    I don’t no if I’m to old our to young but I have never hard of a grease car.

  7. Dirty Dingus McGee

    These were the most misnamed car ever built. Should have been called the Turtle, not the Rabbit. A kid on a bicycle with a flat tire could win a drag race against these.

    • Horse Radish

      Yeah, but HOW FAR would that kid on that bicycle last ??
      200 000 miles, ….I don’t think so.

  8. Steve

    Back in the late 80’s early 90’s a friend of mine had one of these with 250k on it. I think I could have ran across the intersection faster than his car. It was his dads DD that he bought new and was passed down to him when his dad bought an early to mid 80’s Benz diesel with a manual to replace it. I had the opportunity to drive that car also and I still remember to this day how solid that car felt. Those two diesels had an impact on me for some reason and last year I ended up buying a Jetta TDI with a manual. I have owned at least 50 cars and my Jetta is one of the few that stands out on the list.

  9. VetteDude

    Being where it is – any mention about rust?

    • hhaleblian

      Not much snow in southern Illinois.

  10. Horse Radish

    37 year old plastic is still 37 year old plastic.
    And in these VW of that era it was ALL plastic inside and out.
    Ask me how I know (that things are falling off piece by piece…..)
    Negative on your question.

  11. sparkster

    The 1.5L diesel engine will take you far on a single tank of gas ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
    Oh really ?

  12. AMCFAN

    A friend drove these for years. Talked me into buying one as a work car. I found one for an amazing price of $300. Nearly 20 years ago. An ’80 1.5 4 spd. Looked just like this one. It ran but needed a head gasket. Common. It had 190K miles. We pulled the head and I made the comment that cylinders still had hone marks. He laughed and said he had seen them at 600K. I ordered custom Zender body parts wing, scoop and flares. Installed custom wheels. I didn’t like the square headlights and added a Euro grille and round lights. Swapped in a 5 spd. from a Jetta gas.

    Driving it was an acquired taste. First and foremost. Never be in a hurry. The noise and vibration is relentless. After long periods will begin to break you down. Regardless what the gurus will tell you an older Rabbit will require constant maintenance. Many of these were sold new to people who never owned a diesel before. Many met an early demise when their owners used regular motor oil for a gasoline engine not diesel.

    A characteristic of an early engine with a lot of miles is the intake can ingest blow by and cause runaway. This happened to me once with my wife running 65 mph and without warning the car runs at wide open throttle. Scared the shiz out of us. I tried hitting the brake and had no effect then I shut the key off with the brakes and that ended that. My wife’s last trip I might add. I also got several 5 gallon jugs of used fry oil from a local restaurant. I filtered it and poured it straight into the tank. It smelled like french fries but ran great. Certainly better then the new junk diesel fuel formulated now. At the time I couldn’t believe it. Now is common place.

    The Rabbit was a fun second car. Fun NOT in a driving sense. More like a go kart fun. It was amazing the amount of driving you could do on a tank of fuel. I never gave up my regular driver and swear I would vibrate in it while rotating between the two. As I said earlier I had it fixed up quite nice. It looked like a little rally car. I always had those curious if I would sell it. I would say with the right offer. One day it came. I sold it. Bought a used Geo Metro 5 spd. and never looked back. Yes the Geo got a little less fuel mileage. (drove an hour an half one way back then) but the Geo would run 70-75 mph and beat it all day long. It was smooth and quiet.

    This Rabbit brings back memories. More of a reminder that I do not want to repeat history anytime soon. I would gladly spend the asking price for this on the previously featured 750 mile Geo Metro.

  13. Mike

    Geez, this posting was almost worse than the 90 Toyota the other day! lol!

  14. Joisey Storm

    Driving home from my weekend job as a ski instructor in Vermont I would have my 4 door diesel wide open. Had to go flat out down the hills to get up the next one at highway speed.
    Tried to explain this to the lady trooper who stopped me for speeding. She clocked me at 85 and I offered to let her try to get the car to 85 to prove that it couldn’t be done. She laughed, but gave me a ticket anyway.
    Slower than drying paint, but I still loved it. Only left me hanging once when the seatbelt interlock broke and car would not start.
    Wouldn’t mind having another, but not at this price.

  15. DougM

    this is a 1980, 3rd number/letter in this case is A (17A0803273) designates the year, an ’81 is B and so on, had a ’79 diesel which was German built, much better build quaiity, 80-85 VW’s except cabriolets were Westmoreland Pa cars, severe body corrosion due to inferior body panel sheet stock from suppliers strong armed by the big 3 who had lost many engineers/employees to VW. 1.5 in my ’79 with a bit of pump timing tweaking gave 55 mpg thru mountains in Pa/NY, one of the best runners I ever owned, just had to keep the revs in the power band to get up the big hills, if this one was from the motherland I’d pay this

  16. Patrick McC.

    My grandma touted 54 miles to the gallon in one of these years ago.
    At her job, her boss had a tradition of giving a satirical explanation as to why a certain employee was retiring and at my grandma’s retirement party, her boss explained that “Barbra is retiring after being overwhelmed by fellow co-workers as to how loud her car is.”

  17. VetteDude

    As I was reading, my mind was fast-forward thinking like minds do, and I was having her boss say something like, “Barbara is retiring because she has to buy a second tank of fuel!”

  18. John b

    I had an 83 diesel pick-up i payed $700 for 15 years ago. One of the previous owners lost his leg and had it converted to an automatic. Aside from poor acceleration, i couldnt keep a working starter motor to last very long(were the auto and stick starters different?) Regardless…one day driving, a guy pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted to sell right there on the spot, – So long story short, I took a loss and had to find a way home…..cant say i miss the truck

  19. jim s

    sold for $6250.

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