Clean Caddy: 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup

I keep coming back to potentially needing a MK1 or MK2 Volkswagen in my life. Really, I need to own something powered by the DOHC 16V engine that lived under the hood of Sciroccos and GTIs, but the diesel-powered Rabbit pickups are one of the few outliers I’d consider, what with their ability to thrive as a “bugout” vehicle. This one is much too nice for driving to your underground bunker, but it’s tempting nonetheless. Find it here on eBay with an $8,700 Buy-It-Now.

Despite the diesel’s propensity for being hugely long-lived, this pickup has survived in part due to its low mileage of just 39,000. The robin’s egg blue paint looks exceptional, with no obvious signs of rust or rot despite its Maine registration. The missing rear bumper seems like an oversight on such a nicely preserved example, but the seller does acknowledge the whole truck was repainted – so perhaps the rear bumper is sitting in the garage, awaiting reinstallation.

The interior is immaculate, and the bucket seats look better than any I can recall seeing in a Caddy in recent memory. Impressively, this is an original interior with seats that have not been redone. The seller admits the carpets could use a cleaning but really, the crack-free dash and buckets that don’t need a re-do courtesy of a pricey upholstery shop more than makes up for some dirt and grime on the floor.

The bed topper has done a nice job of preserving the primary cargo area, with just some mild surface rust to report. The reason for the repaint can be traced back to a rusty tailgate, which the seller cut the rusty areas out of and then re-welded with clean metal, before deciding it was time to open the checkbook and repaint the whole truck. This Rabbit pickup is a low-mileage example with tons of recent maintenance, as reported in the listing – and the seller is open to best offers.

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Comments

  1. NotSure Member

    I had a 1981 Rabbit 2-door with the diesel. It was an economical car to drive at a time in my life when I needed economy. It wouldn’t win any races but would get you to the race on time… if you left early enough. Diesel was cheaper than gasoline back then so that was an added benefit. Sadly that’s no longer the case. This would be a fun little truck to have for picking up kegs or 5 lbs of nails!

  2. Howard A Member

    I had a neighbor that had this truck. I remember, he had to use ether even at 70 degrees. It was a gutless thing, but he got fuel like once every 2 weeks. I think the gas job was just more civilized, and got great mileage as well. I made my living with diesels, but no thanks on the diesel car.

  3. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Jeff, you’ve referred to this as a “Caddy” several times in the article-is it known by that name elsewhere?
    I ask because my wife and I went to another couples timeshare in Scotland with them several years ago-the van we rented was a VW Caddy, which struck us funny for several reasons (1)it absolutely was nothing like a Cadillac (2) we were in the country that invented golf being driven around with a Caddy!

    • Redwagon

      I know it as a caddy but I cannot recall the reason for the nickname or the correct spelling. “Caddy” may be incorrect.

    • john S
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        That’s it! Thank you, John S. It was like the white van in the photo, a diesel but drove like a well-tuned has motor.
        The only issue we really had was remembering which side of the road we were supposed to be..!

  4. john willis

    Finally! No mention of the barn finds!! Good job Jeff

  5. pzak

    I was around back in the day when these were produced and had several friends with them. I never heard them referred to as a Caddy. They were Rabbit pickups, plain and simple. Caddy sounds silly to me. There is VW Caddy in Europe, a different vehicle altogether.

    • John S

      Mk1 caddy was the same as the VW pickup in north america.

      • Donek

        And just as the vehicles were physically related, the name Caddy was a reference to Golf (at least in Europe).

  6. DRV

    It’s the slowest relatively high production vehicle ever made. The little upshift light to tell you to shift for ultimate mpg would have you in fourth at 15 mph which would make it even slower than the slowest.

    • Food.eater

      I think the Diesel Vanagon/Transporter would take that crown. Only sold in the US in 1981-3, if I remember correctly, but sold in the rest of the world until at least 1991. We only got the 1.6L n/a as the diesel option. Other markets got that plus 1.6L turbo, and the 1.9L turbo and n/a.

      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        Good point!
        A friend of mine bought a diesel Synchro in Sacramento (sea level) and drove it home on I80 (3 and 2 lane commercial truck traffic) over Donner Summit, 7100’ above sea level… once on the incline in the Sierra Foothills it never got past 18MPH!

  7. John

    I bought a 81 blue truck like this new. First ever new vehicle purchase. Mine was 4-speed, some were 5-speed. Makes a big difference.

    Who else thinks it somewhat unusual that a 40k truck had a rusted out tailgate? 3 owners? Sagging headliner?

  8. Magstar67

    My dad had one when I was a kid. It got 40+ mpg loaded with tools and a fiberglass shell on it but can recall turning off the AC compressor when we’d go up one particularly long hill in the middle of town where speed limit was 30mph in a futile effort to keep up with traffic flow

    I hated it, he still remembers that truck fondly at 88 years young. I am still bitter that he traded in his 1979 Bronco in on that damn VW.

    • joe howell

      Had an 83 Diesel, 5 speed and A/C. We loved it and drove it into the ground after 20 years Something like 260,000 miles when junked, still running but rusted up to the point where it’s safety was questionable in a crash. If I lived in Arizona we’d still be driving it. The Wife loved it and used it as daily driver, keeping miles off our Scirrocos :). She joked that she could either pass the semi trucks on the mountains and be hot or be cool with the A/C on and just fall in line with the trucks in the slow lane an crawl up with them. Her mileage reimbursements were money makers due it’s fuel sipping ways, 40+ MPG.
      These are nice but think tiny sport coupe size interior. Not much room inside and long legs will have the seat against the back of the cab, It’s very cozy in winter and like a meat locker with the A/C on in summer. Rust can be a concern on these model’s shock towers.
      I always thought the 16V engine in my Scirroco would have made a real fun Sleeper in that truck.
      I a

  9. KevinR

    I briefly had an ’81 diesel pickup that had a 1.8L DOHC 16V engine and 5 speed transmission from a Scirocco swapped in. It was a blast to drive. Unfortunately I didn’t fit very well in the cab so I sold it on to a fellow VW fanatic.

  10. PDXBryan

    This needs a TDI with a tune. She’ll handle the hills fine with 250+ft lbs of torque and still get 40+ mpg!

  11. Rob M.

    My dad had one of those things. Said he could walk faster than it would go. He bought it for the fuel mileage (which was great) but otherwise he hated it.

  12. robert w johnston...... becher ontario

    i had a 81 gasser that came from Arizona …but had been in Ontario long enuf to get the tin worm…. beat the crap out of it on the farm until it was not viable anymore… a few vw gearheads considered buying it ..but alas it was too rusty…. had to go to scrap….. these days i could sell it all week long…. oh well at least we never did that to a 356!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. David Frank David F Member

    The personalized plates on my “80 diesel said “HERRRIG” It never needed starting fluid at any temperature and wasn’t much slower than the gasoline versions. As I recall the engine was a version of the refer engines used in Mexico. German tourists thought it must have been a custom creation and one of them bought mine and took it back to Germany with them.

  14. Wayne

    I own one of these now. Nevadahalfrack could not stand to be “parked” behind me on the highway the other day on our way to the mustang auction. Mine is an ’81 with a shell and 5 speed. My wife calls it the rattle trap and refuses to drive it. I use for junk yard runs and trips to the parts store. It gets high thirties mpg just doing short jumps to town and mid fourties on the highway. We live at 4,300 feet and go up from there which means foot on the floor half the time going up the hills and 50% throttle going down hill. I am only 5’10″” and I drive with the seat back shoved into the cab back wall/glass. I originally felt at home sitting in the seat as the positioning to the steering wheel and shifter were the same as the Sciroccos that I once had. The headliner falling down is an age thing. However, from what I have seen, the tailgate is the last thing to have a rust problem with. So I would be very suspect of this one. Most likely bondo behind the last paint job. Mine is not rusty (central California /northern Nevada homes) for anyone interested in one. Yes Jessie, I will list it in a couple of months when I am done with a different daily driver project.

    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Not that it’s all that slow, Wayne, but it DID take you 17 minutes longer to get the 54 miles here as compared the time you took with your 4 pot Ranger; I suspect however you’ll reset the average time to destination when you finish your Mustang V8 powered Explorer!!

      BTW-the Lyon County Mosquito Abatement Program asked me to tell you please reset the fuel mixture again-no one can see or smell it since you cleaned up the injectors and the county can’t afford to run their program now..🤪😂

  15. Johnmloghry

    I had an acquaintance back in the early 80’s that had either a VW diesel pickup or Datsun I can’t remember which one for sure, but I do remember while riding with him on a steep incline the truck was so slow a man on a bicycle actually passed us on the right side.
    God bless America

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